It’s here! Halloween is my favorite holiday, and horror movie season is upon us! That means that I have spent my last two weekends seeing the new releases in the genre. Here’s my report:

Sinister Grade: D+ to C-

I was pumped for this movie. The trailers made it look like it was going to be at least as entertaining as I find Insidious. Sadly, my elevated expectations always lead to horror disappointments. Ethan Hawke, much like Patrick Wilson, is a very good actor, leading credence to a movie that does not earn it.

When I watched Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, within the first 15 minutes when I saw the ring of mushrooms, I thought “Oh my god, it’s fairies.” It took less than 15 more for me to realize that it was tooth fairies in particular. I don’t know what the current fascination with turning childhood stories and lore into horror movies, but I would like to give a word of advice to all those horror writers: it’s stupid. Really stupid. This movie followed in those footsteps:

Ethan Hawke is a true crime writer who moves his family into the home of the violent murder of four family members, and one of the daughter’s mysterious disappearance. He finds a box of old 8mm film in the attic, and watches it to discover footage of the deaths of the family whose house he’s in, and then multiple other family murders where a child disappeared. Less than halfway through the movie, he looks at the inside lid of the box and finds child-like drawings of the murders that all have a “Mr. Boogey” watching the murders. At which point, you hit yourself in the forehead and say “Are you f–ing kidding me? I paid to see a movie about the BOOGEYMAN?!” Yes, yes you did.

Then he finds the creepy face of a man watching in all the videos, then he contacts an occult expert who of course tells him yes, this is an ancient myth about blah-blah-blah, not the Boogeyman. From there, you see a small army of really badly made-up (like, maybe they just glued oatmeal to their faces?) children who haunt Ethan and his family. They establish a pattern in which each family had previously lived in a house where another family had died.

And as Ethan’s family flees their haunted house, you again hit yourself in the face and say oh good, they’re going to die now that they move, and their kid is going to do it. From there they draw all this out piece by piece, in case you were too stupid to figure out what’s coming, and then you are left to wonder which kid will off them. I won’t ruin that or how the Boogeyman takes the kids, but I promise you, it doesn’t improve the quality of the movie.

To be fair, production quality is high and the jump moments are worthwhile, even though they’re mostly noises. The movie is fairly full circle, it is just easily figured out, and fairly ridiculous. But, I guess you’ve been warned, sometimes it’s not the haunted house, but the move from it that kills you.

Paranormal Activity 4 Grade: F

This movie was terrible. I expected it to be, but it served up better than I could’ve imagined. The first movie is so good, and the second two so silly that I didn’t think it could get worse. Not only do they follow the same conventions they always have, but they further complicate a story that has nothing but questions while answering none of the old ones.

This movie involves a whole new family that lives across the street from Katie and presumably the boy she stole from her sister. When Katie is taken away in an ambulance, the boy comes to stay with the neighbors, and naturally ruins their lives. The boy is dressed fabulously, with socks and sandals for one, and he brings his imaginary friend, presumably the demon, with him. We follow the story through a girl who sets up the cameras through her family’s computers with her funny boyfriend (who you know will die when he cracks his first joke.) Robby the neighbor boy starts to convince her little brother of his friend’s existence, and generally scares the girl.

From there, you get a few cheap thrills like a disappearing, and later reappearing, kitchen knife, and a lot of little boys talking to walls. Eventually, Katie comes home and tells the little neighbor boy that he’s adopted and it’s time to go back to his family. The name Hunter (her nephew’s original name,) gets attached to him by Katie and the demon, and you are left to wonder why she would steal her sister’s son, give him up for adoption, and then come back 5 years later with another boy his age to steal him back. Naturally though, the demon and Katie kill the girl’s boyfriend and family. And when she goes over to Katie’s to get her brother, she finds a Katie with a demon face and the coven of witches, who attack her.

The jumps in this movie aren’t even good; they mostly result from setting down things loudly and cheap cutting of the film which makes people move instantly from where they should be. The scares are hollow, rare and cheaply achieved. There’s not one redeeming quality to it, and not a single explainable plot moment that contributes to the franchise. Do not waste your time.

Recently, as is tradition, I rewatched Halloween. While watching it, I am reminded why so often today, horror movies fall short. That movie’s greatest weakness is poor acting, but everything else hits home. The filming isn’t perfectly tracked and smooth, there’s a shake to the picture that gives you the feeling of spying in on the story, deepening the creepiness and your relationship to and position as the largely unseen villain. The music truly makes Myers’ creepiness and his death-defying ghostly masked face. The plot is simple, straightforward, original, and mostly reasonable for a deranged killer. Do we want more information on the villain? Yes! But sometimes not getting it is precisely what makes the character haunting. What happened to an original horror movie that remembers it’s a movie with a score and purpose without wasting millions?

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