When I was a kid (and at the ripe old age of 32 "kid" means 18) I used to frequent "haunted houses" or haunted anything for that matter. Haunted woods behind the soccer field in Andover. Haunted Blairs Den in Peapack. Haunted Henryville House in PA. Haunted Shades of Death Road. Haunted Ghost Lake. The last of those is where we pick up our next strange segue that has very little to do with the actual movie The Conjuring. We went to Ghost Lake off Shades of Death Road one summer night, to see what was on the other side (that’s how the best adventures start). Smoked cigarettes and basically tried to spook the shit out of ourselves. There was cabin back around the edge of the lake and we were trying to catch a glimpse of the super creepy, urban legendy type attraction. We never made it. Half way around the lake, standing on a rock, the cops showed up. A couple of our friends went back around the lake and took the fall for the entire group pretty much saying that they were out there alone, no one else officer, thanks for the ticket (we all shared the cost of the ticket later). In that time a group of us saw lights floating through the water. Eerie, strange ethereal lights that had no origin in the sky or on our person. We watched them dance. We all remember them and that includes my sister who brought it up to me just the other day. There's nothing quite like the feeling of remembering that time you saw a "ghost". A ghost in a house. Two red, bright demon eyes in the middle of a soccer field that clearly didn't belong to an animal. "Something" running between two rooms at an old hotel in the middle of the woods in Pennsylvania after a few too many brews. It's a feeling of goose bump, adrenaline pounding, tightening of your muscles, stillness in your lungs and breath firmly held... all followed by the prospect of what you might see next. Bright, tiny lights…
Tonight I’m thinking about the ventriloquist dummy Santa got for me when I was a kid (and even younger kid). He was great. Based on the original Charlie McCarthy as manned by Edgar Bergen some time before I existed, this was a true dummy to be used for serious family entertaining. I saw him that big honking Macy’s holiday catalog that we used to get when I was a kid. I loved him. He wasn’t terrifying… yet. You play with a toy a little, and you make the toy talk, and you love on a toy enough and you dream about the toy sometimes and gradually that toy comes to life. This is before you’ve seen Magic or Dead Silence or Dead of Night or The Dummy or anything. When the dummy talks to you as you lie upside down on your bed after jumping around, you stare at him and your mouth is agape and you don’t know if you saw that or not, but you remember the smell that your mom was cooking something and it was warm but not hot but the minute you heard HIM speak you got sweaty. The walls were covered with little sail boat wall paper; sometimes those boats looked like strange, evil faces and when he spoke they all stared right at you. He was surrounded by Teddy Bears but none of them would come to your rescue, and all you could do was hope that the strange electric blue carpet below you would catch you so you could hit the ground running. Fast. Down the stairs. Straight to dinner and away for Charlie McCarthy. I tied that fucking dummy up and through him in a chest of drawers. Used rope and duct tape and a buddy of mine and I made sure our toys would never get us again. Sometimes I’d line up my GI Joes and army men and point them straight at my sisters doll collection just to be safe. They never got off the shelf. My sister can thank me for that.
I remembered my mother and the nightgown she would wear with the floral prints. The way our house would feel on a school day morning or a weekend morning. I remembered bickering or "loud" evenings when the kids wanted to be on the offensive and attack each other lovingly. I even remember playing a ghost in the graveyard, a game of tag played at night outside and as childlike morbid as you imagine. I long for my childhood. I miss most minutes from it, and I miss the 70's even though I wasn't there. I miss being a family as a kid. Now that I have my own family I have to remember how "the glue" works. It isn't that hard. I've got a good one.
The drive home tonight was a pretty great one because these memories flooded me like a stranded person in the middle of nowhere jamming the key in the ignition and pressing down way too hard on the gas pedal flooding the engine. I was on fire with strange elation. Maybe a little sad even. Remembering all of this comes with a price. You get the feeling like you were watching a portmanteau feature of your life and when you finally pull up to you house in the middle of the street, the credits roll and you have to leave the theater. Dimmu Borgir ended. Charlie was sold at a garage sale probably off to terrorize another small child or not but in my mind he always ended up burning in some kid’s fire pit cause that kid was smarter than me. Ghost Lake is still there, but I use it to scare the shit out of daughter more than anything. Those lights might still be there but I’ll be in bed before they turn on to scare the curious (getting older with every word I type). And what does any of this have to do with The Conjuring?
All of this is how The Conjuring made me feel.
The Conjuring, from Mr. James Wan, made me feel like I was a kid ghost hunting. It made me feel like a lone travel own a deserted road with the fear of God running me down like a sinner in church. The Conjuring made me feel like I was trying to trap my fears again. I wanted them in a box, locked, nailed down and thrown in the quarry. About an hour and half of anticipation and crazy sick suspense. That’s a good movie right there. Let’s get that out of the way. If you want to enjoy a scary movie, you go see The Conjuring. Cynical people… stay home and save your banter for when it comes out on Blu-ray. No one needs to hear you while their trying to be scared and suspending their disbelief. This isn’t for you. You stay away from Wan’s little creep factory. You people, you horror people, you fans… you go out and buy that ticket and bring someone you wanna creep out, and you’ll get a reaction. Just ask the girls sitting down from me in the aisle who were quite literally screaming their heads off. Just ask me, who kept getting the goose bumps and the tightened muscles and the grinding teeth. Just ask Daniela, Little Punk Person and friend, who snuck up behind me afterward and made me jump like Superman in Action Comics number 1 when she caught me off guard being very un-terrifying. Everyone jumped at least once, and they were in fact jump scares but not the kind you telegraph for a buck. These were well planned heart stoppers. That’s the scary. That’s the creepy. That’s the eerie and the gloomy and the power.
To be a little less nostalgic and emotional… you’ve got some damn talented folks making moves and acting in them. James Wan brings a little bit of Dead Silence to the table alongside a whole lot of what worked in Insidious. Dead Silence is not one of my favorite movies, but I truthfully didn’t see all of it. I’d like to revisit it Insidious gave the muscles in my urinary tract a run for their money (no I didn’t soil myself). James Wan peppered hints of both movies or at times smashed some rehashed themes into your skull. He even brought along Patrick Wilson for the ride who also showed up in Insidious. Vera Formiga deserves something. Flowers or a poem. Just make one up and give it to her. A passionate performance. A raging performance. Her face is so emotive, creating pain and a sense of familiarity and compassion. You’ll love her. The whole bunch of the actors in this movie are to be loved. I will admit that once I saw Lili Taylor I kept thinking, “are we about to get another The Haunting”? No. She is also very good and very far from the days of a lackluster remake based on one my favorite haunted house flicks. Lili Taylor still excites me even though I haven’t seen I Shot Andy Warhol in years.
This is a ghost story first, but it’s also a story of everything that bumps in the night. From religious tale of possession (making me feel guilty that I don’t subscribe to a Judeo-Christian religious philosophy) to the outright destruction of a family not unlike the Amityville Horror via ghost or goblin or whatever, the whole time you are left guessing. Just what is it that hurts you this way? How does it fit in the shadows like that? How do you stop whatever it is and why can’t I run? Throw in a truly menacing house with plenty of character as if it had lived its own lifetime, seen its own ghosts, banished them and tried to put a nice white coat of paint on top only to watch it fade and crack. Your effects are fine though not overly prevalent. This is not the Evil Dead gore fest of April. This is subdued. At times it’s even a little corny or funny or maybe has a hint of camp. Don’t the most entertaining horror stories do that? I think so. This is a movie that dares to entertain you by scaring you, but also knows that the audience needs a story and needs to laugh. The audience needs down time.
This movie knows how to use sound; I mean physically arouse your body using the speakers in the room as opposed to the big screen. It has an amazing score that is big and bold and versatile. Those are all goods things to be, but it’s also quiet. The sound, and not just the music mind you, pulses at you. It gets in your belly. It swells so loud you think they’ll lose a woofer. It’s so quiet, you can hear reality. Make sure you see this in a good theater or just a theater or you better own a good surround sound unit when it hits video.
The whole time you wonder if you’ll make it out. You’ll wonder if they’ll ruin the ending or if you’ll have to sit through a sequel. The whole time you’re waiting for a man in a pig mask to throw a tricycle at you. Don’t worry. That’s my advice.
Last thoughts, not on The Conjuring… I watched the moon overhead through the sun roof. I know I’m supposed to be staring at the road, but how can you do that when the mood is surrounded by gorgeous haze casting a warm glow. A misty feeling. Comforting. The air was moist in my car and the only thing that kept it from being uncomfortably warm was the air from the open windows. On my way home from watching The Conjuring and I’m thinking about that one scene… it was a set up shot for some spooky business, but it was just a house with a layer of foggy moisture. Nothing more. You’ve seen it a thousand times. The Beyond… other Euro stuff… you’ve know what I mean. I thought of that and it had nothing to do with anything. It was just setting the mood. It was waiting. The scene was waiting. And in that moment I was transported back to a soccer field at the end of my street being dragged in a sleeping bag, drunk, lungs filled with smoke from the fire we accidentally started in the abandon house at the end of the field. I had to be dragged because I couldn’t walk. I could see the sky and I could smell the haze and burning and Old Granddad and that must old smell of untaken care of house. I didn’t die in a fire. I got out of through the basement and someone dumped all the beer on the fire to put it out. I remembered the basement as I left… getting out over the mud floor. I was getting out. I was driving home. I was almost home, and the music was dark and the smell was of hot, sticky summer night, and The Conjuring was starting for another group of kids and they were screaming too. I hope they enjoyed my Ghost Lake and my dummy and the little scares I left at the theater for them. I bet they’ll leave some of their own.
As promised... Dimmu Borgir's "Puritania"
One of my new favorites. Thanks Beyond the Pit.
Note: The movie experience is always heightened when someone you know mysteriously Facebook wall posts that they can SEE you in the theater and you have to look around feverishly waiting to be scared to death. Of course they waited until AFTER the movie to terrify me. Good to catch up with Daniela and Justin of LITTLE PUNK PEOPLE! You go check em out and love on the product like I do.