Okay, so this used to be a blog where I created fake posters, novelization covers, and VHS art for nonexistent horror films, all under the guise of a made-up dude named Dell Grodak who was obsessed with scary stuff. It was great fun for a while, and I reserve the right to occasionally still use this blog for that purpose if the mood strikes me, but I lost interest in it after awhile and I haven’t updated it in forever. So for now, I’m just going to use this blog to review all things horror that happen to catch my eye. I thought about creating a new blog, but who the hell knows how long I’m going to keep at it this time (I leave abandoned blogs in my wake like a trail of breadcrumbs), so I figured I’d just start this one up again. Let’s see how long I continue with it.
Before I move on to the first article of the ALL-NEW, ALL-DIFFERENT HOUSE OF HAUNTS, though, I’d like to send some props to James White of Signalnoise Design, who graciously provided me with my snazzy logo and then, even more graciously, allowed me to mangle it by taking off Dell Grodak’s name. See more of this ferociously talented dude’s work at his website. Now, on to new business…
Eddie Murphy has a memorable bit in his 1983 comedy concert film Delirious where he pokes fun at white families in haunted house flicks like Poltergeist and The Amityville Horror. He is astounded by the fact that, when these families experience strange phenomena like blood gushing out of their toilet bowl, or their youngest daughter being sucked inside the TV set, they never flee the obviously haunted house—they merely respond with a befuddled “Well, that’s peculiar”. That observation clearly stuck with Saw alumni James Wan and Leigh Whannell, whose latest terror flick, Insidious, could be seen as a response to that nearly-thirty-year-old comedy piece. Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) and their three young kids move into a new house, and things go from weird to worse almost immediately. Otherworldly voices are heard on a baby monitor. Spooky sounds emanate from the attic. And after precocious youngster Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls into a mysterious coma following a head injury, all hell breaks loose as ghostly beings begin popping up all over the house. Josh doesn’t believe any of it, but Renai is, quite rightly, freaked out, so they pack up and move to a hopefully less-haunted home, just like any sane family would. Unfortunately, the ghastly goings-on follow them, and the Lamberts turn to a team of ghost hunters to try and drive away the malevolent spirits, particularly the devilish figure seen lurking around Dalton’s bedside—the one with Freddy Krueger fingers, Darth Maul makeup, and goat legs. The key to solving the mystery may lie with token skeptic Josh, who, it turns out, has more experience with these matters than even he knows.
The most remarkable thing about Insidious is its reported budget of $1.5 million, a figure that seems almost impossible unless nearly everyone involved worked on it for free. It easily looks as though it could have cost twenty times that figure, if not more. The film works best in its early domestic scenes, where the talented duo of Byrne and Wilson give endearing, naturalistic performances that would feel perfectly at home in Poltergeist or The Exorcist, two movies that were obviously big influences here. Lin Shaye (best known as leathery neighbour Magda in There’s Something About Mary) shines as Elise, the head ghostbuster; a character that could have easily turned into a Zelda Rubinstein ripoff becomes, in Shaye’s hands, a very credible, likeable, woman who might well be the nice lady next door if not for her oddball profession. I’m still not quite sure why she wears a World War II gas mask during the séance scene, but it does make for a neat visual. However, when the scares start coming fast and furious, Insidious starts heading into sadly familiar territory.
Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell (who also appears as one of the paranormal investigators) are clearly compelled by glassy-eyed, smiley-faced mannequin people in the same way that Rob Zombie loves to populate his films with images of clowns, skeletons, and hillbillies. Insidious is fairly crawling with these kinds of specters, who all appear to have escaped from a book of old-timey photography. Sometimes these are used to startling effect, but mostly it’s the same old, same old—creepy dancing kids in newsie attire, pale-faced little girls in white dresses, and skeletal old women in gowns with veils creep around every corner, flickering like faulty projector images (and all announced with deafening piano chords—it’s like a cat keeps jumping on the keys after awhile). I wondered at times if all of these fairly stock ghost types were ever going to amount to anything, and rest assured, they do—the mystery surrounding these spirits is explained in reasonably satisfactory fashion, eventually. But would it have killed the filmmakers to come up with some ghouls who didn’t come straight from an early Nineties Marilyn Manson video? Insidious makes for a nice break from the current onslaught of horror remakes, but in its attempt to bring a modern flair to the haunted house genre, it sometimes mistakes cliche for homage.