– Cecily Knobler, Live from Hollywood –
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Look I get it, everything is derivative! Well almost everything. When Prince released “Purple Rain” I’d never quite heard anything like that (although I was like 10.) Or Radiohead’s “The Bends.” Or the recent Best Picture Oscar winner Birdman seemed really fresh and unique. Okay I admit some things are more derivative than others. And some musicians and visual artists and movie makers purposely pay homage to the greats that came before them. 2013’s The Conjuring was one such project, a fun horror film that pulled ideas from so many other scary movies, it almost felt like a “Scary Movie” spoof.
I enjoyed The Conjuring, but was so often reminded of all the better movies from which it was borrowing. And now that The Conjuring 2 is coming out in June, I think we should talk about those “better movies.” It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy The Conjuring films too! But we should have a little context for what we’re seeing and give credit where it’s due:
Let’s start with the scariest film, maybe ever. Based on the novel of the same name, no one did devil possession quite as chillingly as this William Peter Blatty-penned nightmare. Logline? A preteen girl named Regan plays with a Ouija board, opens a portal to Hell and gets possessed by a demon, requiring Catholic priests to cast it out.
The Conjuring had a whole Catholic priest exorcism thing too, but the reason The Exorcist was so much more unsettling is it really took its time building the creepiness factor. A strange sound here, an odd stare there. By the time Regan is fully possessed, you’re already out of your mind with fear! So much so that according to Wikipedia, when the movie came out in 1973 “… some theaters provided barf bags.”
The Amityville Horror
How can a demon/ghost really possess someone if they don’t have a place to hang out? That was one of the themes of this 1979 horror film, also based on a book of the same name. Big, old house with one little catch: lots and lots of folks were murdered there and, ya know, their souls are like SUPER restless. Same goes for The Conjuring plot. A ‘70s family happily moves in, but the house is haunted by a horrible past and the chained spirits of ghost-kids, ghost-adults, and super vicious little beings are part of the home’s fabric. Hey, at least uneasy ghosts are cheaper than granite countertops.
Amityville, which was based on a true story, (aren’t they all?) seemed to have a less-convoluted back-story than The Conjuring. This, for me, made it much easier to focus on the scares than on remembering which ghost or demon or whatnot was bothering whom at any given moment.
The Blair Witch Project
Hey, in this day and age, having a demon and a ghost messing with your already haunted house isn’t enough. You HAVE to throw a witch up in there. While this 1999 “fake found footage” sleeper hit had an extremely different style than The Conjuring, I had to throw it in for its creepy witchery. Sure, I could have gone with another terrifying, more critically acclaimed witch-related film (e.g., Rosemary’s Baby) but because the witch stuff is mostly unseen, I thought this was a good fit.
You see, The Conjuring explains that this nightmare of an abode once belonged to a witch who did some pretty screwed up stuff. (Man those Dark Arts are not to be trifled with!) But because it throws so much at the audience, it almost becomes comical. Blair Witch, on the other hand, builds slowly and you never really know what’s happening until the end, and this contributed to most of its scares!
So The Conjuring threw in ghosts, demons, exorcists and witches. What else creeps people out? Oh I know! Incredibly creepy dolls and clowns! Kids’ toys are the worst! I will admit that The Conjuring’s use of Annabelle (who incidentally got her own simply awful movie spinoff) gave me the chills. The Annabelle doll looks like a cross between the Chucky doll, the clown from Poltergeist and modern day Mia Farrow. (Sorry, I’m just being honest.) Fun fact! The “real” Annabelle, on whose tale The Conjuring is based, was a Raggedy Ann doll who just happened to get possessed by a ghost. But the studio couldn’t get the rights, and so they created this over-the-top clown thing instead. Had they gone with the original “true” premise, I think it would have much more effective. (Because any of us could have a Raggedy Ann doll. But no one is going to buy that weird demon looking thing and not expect a few bumps in the night.)
And speaking of that clown, the reason Poltergeist scared me a bit more is because I’d never seen a clown doll lit up in a closet by lightning before. It was the originality of it that made it truly work. I will say this one was a close call, because the Annabelle story really got under my skin!
Cecily Knobler is a writer, stand-up comedian and film reviewer for over 15 FM radio markets in the U.S. and Canada. Her new book Five Thousand Three Hundred Miles is available now on Amazon.
For more info, go to: www.cecilyknobler.com