Terrifyingly Titular Ladies
by Kristin Battestella
This eponymous trio of period pieces provides Victorian, religious, and folklore scares for our ladies as well as their husbands, children, doctors, and priests.
Angelica – A Victorian couple spirals into paranormal horrors thanks to puritanical repression in this brooding 2017 tale starring Jena Malone (The Neon Demon), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), and Ed Stoppard (The Frankenstein Chronicles). Ghostly photography, flashbulbs, and empty chairs contrast the bustles, parasols, and formalities before lanterns, carriages, fine townhouses, and storms. Bedridden confessions lead to earlier courtings with circus sideshows and talk of Darwinism versus the stiff upper lip British tapering their animal appetites. The microscope revealing disease causing organisms is almost as fantastic as the camera capturing spirits, and while it's okay for a young lady to work in stationary store selling nibs and ink, she can't see her future husband's laboratory. Our humble orphan now in elaborate red dresses is called a counter jumper by the aristocratic ladies, and she's fearful of the bridal bed before enjoying it in a scandalously active montage. Bells toll amid talk of losing a mother nor wanting to be one, and this birth is graphic not maternal bliss thanks to scalpels, screams, and both lives at stake. Unfortunately, the doctor says another pregnancy is not worth the risk, and the couple should “desist entirely” and close her garden. Our husband doesn't want to seek pleasure elsewhere, but she can't get into other..options...and favors their toddler over him. Soon, she's completely revolted by her husband and obsessively attached to the child, and the wife is made to feel guilty about her health and desires by everyone in tense Victorian melodrama. Men in suits have no trouble warping her mind, but they are shocked to see a woman enter the medical theater amid animals in cages, exposed brains, and disturbing experiments that put the creepy back into the complex characterizations. Strange noises, visions of germs in the air, bugs in the woodwork, and wardrobes that open by themselves lead to more anger as the husband dislikes the chaos his overprotective wife is causing in their home. She won't let these apparitions prey on her daughter – who also sees this floating ectoplasm man in her room. Is she putting more notions in the imaginative child's head? Is this mental illness or is the repressed sexual energy seeping into the house itself?The maid calls in a scam artist spiritualist to ring bells, burn sage, and banish the banshees. Rather than a charlatan taking advantage, however, there's a woman to woman understanding and courage – a protection spell is more like piece of mind somewhere between being a modest mother and the shame of enjoying sex. There are also unspoken lesbian veils, entertaining women while your husband's away, putting their feet on the table, showing their legs, and drinking his best port. Drunken undressings provide laughter instead of rattling doors, swarming entities, prayers, and fires against evil. If he is not at home, who is festering this supernatural activity? The drama before the horrors may be slow to viewers expecting in your face scares a minute, but the intriguing characters are intertwined with the fear. Our mother needs to destroy the snake manifestations and demon man coming for her daughter before her husband sends her to Bedlam, and the once beautiful interiors become stifling as ghostly sexual encounters escalate to mind and bodies becoming one with blood and penetrations of a different kind. Although the bookends are unnecessary and this seems caught between two audiences – too much drama for horror fans and intrusive paranormal activity for period piece viewers – such Victorian horror drama with a touch of LGBT is perfect for fans of gothic mood and psycho-sexual dreadfuls.
The Nun – This 2018 R-rated spin-off opens with the creepy demon portrait and premonitions from The Conjuring before 1952 abbeys, on location Romanian filming, eerie forests, derelict cemeteries, and crosses everywhere. Fog, lanterns, crows, bloody hands, and screams in the dark accent chanting prayers, Latin warnings, and forbidden doors while relics, dark tunnels, gothic windows, and an upside down crucifix add a medieval panache. Evil shadows and soulless reflections need a vessel to escape, and a post-war chaplain and a habit-less novice are assigned to investigate the hangings, bloody bodies, and deceased nuns. Local villagers spit to ward off evil and fear talking about the cursed cloister – there's a cross on the wagon and a scared horse only goes so far on the dirt road toward the bombed out, overgrown castle. Crosses surround the now unholy ground to keep the evil in, not out, and the intimate cast, foreign touches, and blood on the church steps create an old school horror atmosphere. Eponymous reflections and shadows of unknown origin prove the simplest chill is the correct one, and foreshadowed Chekhov's clues are indeed used. The body preserved in the spooky food cellar is not in the position where it was left, bells on graves from when people feared being buried alive ring, and one and all cross themselves before using the crossed shaped keys. Dripping candelabras and marble thrones set off the barren stone interiors – not to mention the veiled figures among the sarcophagi and headless statues. What should be an enchanting, spiritual place is frightful and full of darkness amid vows of silence, ghostly phantoms in the woods, maze like structures, and lone figures in white among the stone columns. Vintage radios and old photographs give the convent a war time look, and brief flashes of past exorcisms gone wrong lead to snakes, empty coffins, and previous visions of Madonna guidance. The characters' histories are directly involved in the current good versus evil fight. Red glows and pointy gates lead to an empty inner sanctum, perpetual adoration, and researching leather bound volumes for our not so good friend Valak. The remaining nuns hide behind locked doors – afraid to speak of Dark Age history, witchcraft, rituals, and bloodletting. However, returning to the village whispers breaks the ominous atmosphere and tales of gateways to hell, monsters from below, crusader defenses, and recent war bombings freeing something unholy. Although the snarling is more effective when we don't see what we fear most, this shape shifter terrorizes with separation, isolation, cracking bones, and demonic winds as the spinning camera invokes a swoon, fainting against evil's power. Incessant prayers, clenched rosaries, and lone candles don't help against broken pews, demonic scratches, and pentagrams carved in the flesh. We're disturbed by the habits with blacked out faces and looking over our shoulders, doubting what we're seeing thanks to some great deceptions – leaving the purely for the fantastics visuals unnecessary. Old maps and blueprints lead to interior wells, sinking catacombs, torches, drownings, stabbings with crosses, holy water, and possessions. Sacrifices to stop the demon include relics of Christ, holy sacraments, and sacred revelations in a whiff of commentary about their being a time for prayer and a time for action. It is however totally odd that the casting of Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story) – sister of Conjuring star Vera – serves no onscreen purpose but to dupe viewers into thinking it would lead to more. The rushed narrative also resorts to standard horror trappings rather than taking its time with a very intriguing story. Hammer would have milked five movies out of this, and a prequel with all the crusader versus witchcraft action leading up to this movie's opening death seems more interesting than a sequel squeezed into The Conjuring timeline. Alas, the franchise connections are prioritized over truly realizing the spiritual introspection – faith as a force against evil is conveniently dropped for horror movie deus ex machina. Why does Valak have to tease them in some kind of religious themed house of horrors finale with typical whooshes to and fro? Fortunately, the repossessions, levitation, vessels made unholy, and body sacred re-sanctified keep this a mature and entertaining parable.
The Curse of La Llorna – Spanish lullabies, lockets, and 1673 Mexico sunshine open this 2019 tale also tied to The Conjuring universe before murderous figures in white, drownings, and screams. Come 1973, it's feathered hair, typewriters, station wagons, and the family morning rush with funky music to match as a widowed case worker investigates a violent mother claiming she needs to keep her boys safe from the eponymous lady – with candles, boarded windows, crosses, garlic, and more protective talismans. Unfortunately, the authorities open the door where her sons are hiding, and putting them in protective custody leads to hospital scares, creepy corridors, phantom reflections, and some terrifying little looks on their child faces. Bodies in the river, red police sirens, sobbing ghosts, and veiled figures build mood, however the big roars and in your face screeches intrude on the chilling atmosphere. Kids in fear are upsetting enough – as is the window that rolls down by itself. Although our ghostly lady is always after a set of two boys, a weak reason is given for why she's pursuing our case worker's boy and girl instead. Their late father was apparently a religious, Hispanic cop, and chats with the priest from Annabelle seemingly only exist so our white mother can dismiss the spiritual cleansings at the funeral, rosary gifts, and recommendations to have faith against evil. Symbolic umbrellas shield the children before being ripped away while pools, rain, and water of any kind become ominous. Her son is trying to be brave, yet his mother doesn't notice the changes in her kids' behavior or the burns on their arms. In fact, it's almost more disturbing how the children become stoic and silent because they know they won't be believed. Are we supposed to sympathize with a white woman who intruded without listening and doesn't consider the paranormal happenings until she receives a welfare check of her own? Does the ghost continually scare and screech at the kids rather than killing them and being done with it just so their mom can get a clue thanks to the doors whooshing open by themselves? She certainly doesn't recognize our lady despite being told exactly what she looks like, and the audience also doesn't have enough time to get a chill up our spines over her titular appearances in the mirror thanks to time wasted on cliché frights. The creepiest moments come when the dead hands reach out for a little girl in the bath tub – there's no music or camera excess, just held under terror. Outside of the seventies touches in beginning, the busy editing, zooms, and crescendos make this story feel too contemporary, and CGI Los Angeles skylines are useless in setting the spooky scene. Tablecloths, curtains, and linens obviously become billowing ghost skirts, and our medieval figure almost looks out of place rather than scary thanks to the frustrating horror mistakes made by our current mother – like holding the door knob is really going to keep the phantom in the bathroom, and it's her children who remain in jeopardy while she doesn't take this threat seriously. Three people recount the eponymous consequences twice each, but the church has technicalities about this sort of ritual and can't condone if she seeks the local shaman instead. The protection methods, however, are scoffed at as silly tricks, and I suppose not everyone grew up with a superstitious Italian nonne like me, because no one knows how to pray or spread salt, and the candles, crosses, and sage are treated like Mystical 101 against this equally foreign evil. Fading in and out snippets montage the finale like a trailer with wind whooshes and more human stupidity as a plot device. Although watchable for its attempted ethnic strides, this devolves into one unnecessary set piece after another, resorting to modern horror trappings rather than embracing its own folklore. If you are really interested in atmospheric pictures steeped in Catholicism and Mexican traditions, it's better to stick with the Abel Salazar classics like the 1961 Curse of the Crying Woman or the 1931 Spanish Dracula. Ultimately, I'd rather have seen the colonial crimes of passion here instead.