More Period Piece Horrors
by Kristin Battestella
These retro and recent films provide another round of creepiness, evil, and dread in intriguing period piece settings.
Annabelle: Creation – Anthony LaPaglia (Innocent Blood) and Miranda Otto (Lord of the Rings) star in director David F. Sanberg's (Lights Out) 2017 prequel opening with 1943 rural quaint, grand farmhouses, period records, church bells, and one of a kind handcrafted dolls before highway perils and screams intrude on the country charm. By 1955, the home is dusty and unkempt; there are no more smiles or laughter greeting the displaced young nun and her orphan charges taken in by the reclusive doll maker and his invalid wife. The girls explore the big house with all its nooks and crannies, but the older snobs hog the best stuff while younger BFFs making packs to stay together are divided by the farm freedom thanks to one girl's polio injuries. The others are off playing while she's left behind with doors closing by themselves, locked rooms, creepy doll parts, dumbwaiters, and maybe maybe not phantoms glimpsed down the dark hallway. Choice horror distortions, gothic architecture, and crosses everywhere accent the weird scarecrows, secret crawlspace, locked closets, and hidden playroom with tea party ready toys and an ominous dollhouse. Buzzing lights, footsteps, and creaking hinges disturb the antiques and old fashioned nostalgia – the relatable characters, setting, and mood are entirely different than the horror cliches in the first Annabelle. Distorted music, demonic looking shadows, and The Nun in the background of the convent picture set off scary claws, growling, and chilling but disbelieved encounters. Our Annabelle sure gets about, and the reflections, mirrors, masks, lanterns, and lighting schemes are well done amid haunted house or possession revelations. Evil seeking souls preys on the smallest and the weakest, and scary stories under the sheets lead to flickering flashlights and black footprints going underneath the bunk bed. Of course, some girls have more screen time than others, with lookalike brunettes and two really there for no reason – one being a black girl who isn't even worthy of receiving an individual fright. The runaway wheelchair or the doll sitting at the dinner table could also be laughable if not for the cracking bones, glowing demon eyes, and paralysis. Fortunately, fearful orphans with an innocuous pop gun reeling in more than its tethered ball strike at the sacred under the covers safety while invasive takeovers and black goo mar those in little white nightgowns. Yeah, if you have all these creepy toy secrets and evil house problems, maybe you shouldn't sign up to shelter orphans, FYI. Mistaken adults realize the consequences too late, and an exposition flashback with exorcisms and rooms lined with Bible passages to contain the evil within should have been shown at the beginning. Such two halves of the story would have been fine, for once we get the traditional tell all, the gory shocks, prayers, and screams devolve into intrusive, modern whooshes across the screen, swooping pans calling attention to themselves, flying objects, and more padding cliches including the car not starting and monsters crawling on the ceiling. Although we've seen what this evil can do, the consequences are minimal because, after all, there's a franchise to consider. With such religious characters, the spiritual answers versus demons are never fully embraced, and the police are apparently content with priests blessing the house while evil moves on for a coda from the first movie – which doesn't quite match up with what has already been shown in The Conjuring universe. This unravels in the end to make room for more sequels, however, the atmospheric chills make for an entertaining watch even if you haven't seen the companion films.
The Ghoul – Freddie Francis (Torture Garden) directs Veronica Carlson (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave), John Hurt (Only Lovers Left Alive), and priest turned doctor Peter Cushing (Curse of Frankenstein) in this 1975 Tyburn production fronting heaps of flapper glam with pearls, fancy frocks, furs, and champagne. Disturbing hangings are just a lark for the twenties parties before phonographs, Charlestons, and sweet roadsters. Sure, the terribly dated rear view projection is bemusing, but the tight races, perilous bends, tense speeds, accidents, and blind cliffs lead to no petrol, stranded survivors, strangers in the woods, animal cages, and a nearby manor on the soggy moors. After the rapacious chases, the regal home with divine woodwork, antiques, medieval touches, chapels, and – most importantly – tea seems safe, quaint, even sad. Knowing Cushing filmed under the duress of his own late wife adds to the past family tragedies in India, somber violins, and loss of faith. Searches are called off thanks to fog that may not lift for days, however candles, red curtains, ominous melodies, creepy portraits, and maniacal laughter suggest something is going on behind the manor's locked doors. Whispers from the attic, red wraps, and white gowns lead to something decrepit coming down the stairs, and the camera follows the ugly feet, boils, blood, and ritualistic blades. Tearing the bed curtains and penetrating, bloody knives provide symbolic violence to the gruesome murders as we started with one happy group but lose them to something more sinister. Bodies on the table, kitchen utensils, ritual cuttings, and barrels of salt escalate to sobbing before the altar and suicides while police and trespassers are foiled with decoy explanations. The spooky atmosphere builds to choice horror moments with claustrophobic shacks, bog perils, crosses, and desecration, and prowlers hoping to lure fresh supple dames culminates in near rescues, fleshy confessions, screams, and blood. Granted, the print is flat, the subtitles don't match – they're even nonsensical at times – and the film's summary on Amazon Prime gives away the tasty what's what. After all the xenophobic monstrosity undertones, it's also a bit of a letdown once we finally see the eponymous creeper saved for the twisted finale. Considering the Hammer pedigree both in front and behind the camera, this lacks a certain polish and an over the top of the time ferocity perhaps understandably expected. Fortunately, this eighty minutes plus doesn't overstay its late night macabre welcome thanks to Cushing's bittersweet performance.
You Make the Call
The Lodgers – Dark lakes, Loftus Hall locales, heartbeats, and racing to beat the midnight clock chimes open this 1920 set 2017 Irish production. Torn wallpaper, water in the woodwork, trap doors, boarded windows, and shabby furnishings intrude on the once grand staircase, and there's a sadness to these orphaned twins, their meager meals, and their fear of the very thing that keeps them together. Dirty mirrors, covered furniture, dusty birdcages, and more turn of the century than post-war clothing add to the old fashioned atmosphere alongside a creepy nursery rhyme that reminds the siblings of the house rules. Our sister, however, takes more risks than her sickly, skeletal looking brother – she's ready to leave as their eighteenth birthday promises only more bleakness with suspect letters, nosy lawyers, family curses, and apparitions in the water. Hooded capes, lockets, ravens, a prohibited gate, and overgrown ruins in the woods likewise provide a morose fairy tale feeling against the underlining interwar versus at home issues, tense village, and local hooligans. Their finances have run out but selling the house is not an option thanks to nude shadows, whispering entities, whirlpools, and phallic eels in the bathtub. Dim lanterns, bridal beds, velvet curtains, and virginal white satin accent the obviously icky suggestions and forbidden fruits growing in the family cemetery, and locked in scares create chills because of the invasive, no privacy nature of the manor. Our brother is regressing while his sister takes charge, and this all feels very similar to Crimson Peak – complete with a watery ceiling instead of snow, nature seeping up to the surface, and stabbings in the front doorway. This however, is bitter rather than colorful, a mix of supernatural versus psychological with a young lady's innate fears over the one thing a man wants. Touching the local soldier's amputation injury is just as intimate as sexual relations, and if there is not sex according to the family needs, there will still be killer motivations, stabbing penetrations, and blood. Viewers feel the shameful secrets and sinful oppression, but sometimes logic does intrude. All that dampness and mold in the house would surely make them ill and shouldn't four generations of incest make them deformed? The atmosphere here is heavy, however the tale never goes far enough with the housebound horror or mental torment answers. Are the men gaslighting the women to accept rape and incest? The ambiguity doesn't explain the supernatural phenomena and laughable dream sequences with naked floating hold back the moody metaphors. Thankfully, stormy action, sickly pallor, and an eerie family parade complete the gothic dread and distorted environs in the finale, and although there's little repeat value, this is watchable if you don't expect frights a minute and can enjoy a creepy sense of period unease.