Posts Tagged ‘Ghosts’


Director: Takashi Miike

Starring: Kou Shibasaki, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Kazue Fukiishi, Anna Nagata, Renji Ishibashi, Atsushi Ida, Mariko Tsutsui

Ah, yes, the Japanese ghost story. Always so bizarre! I’ve noted how this may well be my least favorite type of horror movie (werewolves run fairly close), and yet… at least technically… I’ve already dealt with two of them just this month. However, neither should count as they were not produced by Japan. One (“Pulse”) was a remake set in America, while the other (“The Forest”) was an original story set in Japan but featuring an American protagonist. 2003’s “One Missed Call” is the real deal. As batshit crazy and existing outside of anything resembling reality as the rest of its ilk, “One Missed Call” remains my one and only exception to my prejudice against this little subgenre.

A college student named Yoko Okazaki (Anna Nagata) receives a call on her cell phone, which she notices is from her own number. It goes straight to voicemail. The weird thing is that it’s dated two days to the future. Yoko and her friend Yumi Nakamura (Kou Shibasaki) listen to the message. Instantly recognizable as Yoko’s voice, the message ends with Yoko screaming. Two nights later, Yoko is having a phone conversation with Yumi which quickly becomes familiar, as Yoko is repeating the words from the voicemail. Soon, Yoko screams as she is dragged by an unknown presence off the bridge she was standing on and dropped down onto the roof of an oncoming train. From her mouth a red candy emerges, while a severed hand calls a number. Some time later, Yoko’s boyfriend, Kenji Kawai (Atsushi Ida), meets with Yumi and tells her that he received a voicemail with the exact same ringtone. To Yumi’s horror, Kenji is pulled by that same unidentified down an elevator shaft. As he dies, Kenji spits out a red candy and calls another number.

Yumi’s friend Natsumi Konishi (Kazue Fukiishi), is the next target of the deadly voicemail. The ghost has decided to mix things up a bit this time, adding photos to the voicemail. By this time, you have to be thinking that the easiest way out is to simply get rid of her cell phone, right? Well, Natsumi tries that, but it doesn’t work, because any cell phones owned by people she comes into contact with will contain the same message.

Word of the series of mysterious deaths has spread, and a TV host is interested in sensationalizing her story with a live exorcism on his program. Wanting very much to help her friend, Yumi talks to a detective named Hiroshi Yamashita (Shinichi Tsusumi). Yamashita has a special interest in helping Yumi. His sister had died in a fire after receiving a voicemail from her own number. Oh, but let’s not forget about Natsumi! So, the exorcism completely fails. Yumi is helpless to do anything but watch as her friend’s body is unnaturally twisted before her eyes. When Natsumi breathes her final breath, Yumi is next to receive the voicemail with the creepy ringtone.

Turns out that Yamashita’s sister, who was a social worker, kept a journal. In it, she talks two children whose mother was accused of child abuse. The last anyone saw of the mother, it was at a hospital which is due to be demolished soon as the result of a fire. One of the childer, Mimiko, died of asthma one year earlier. Her sister Nanako is the only living witness, but she’s unlikely to tell anyone her story as she hasn’t spoken a word since her sister died. She does have a doll which plays the same tune as the mysterious ringtone, though.

Following the one lead they’ve got, Yumi goes to the hospital, where ghosts harass her and scare the bejesus out of her. Finally, Yamashita shows up. In a dark room, Marie’s body is found, severely decomposing. Surprise, surprise… she’s holding a cellphone. The body suddenly reanimates and knocks Yamashita out of the room. At this point, Yumi starts thinking back to her own abusive mother, and this causes her to hug the grotesque corpse in front of her, which has returned to being little more than a rotting stiff.

Back at Nanako’s orphanage, Yamashita finds a nanny cam which proves that it was Mimiko, not her mother, who harmed Nanako. On this particular day, this is what caused her mother to leave Mimiko to die from her asthma. Understanding the truth, Yamashita tries to make it to Yumi’s apartment in time to save her from Mimiko’s ghost. However, when he gets there a possessed Yumi stabs him, and he falls to the ground. Not dead, Yamashita has a vision of himself saving Mimiko from her deadly asthma attack. When he awakens, he finds himself in a hospital with Yumi standing over him. From behind, we can see she is holding a knife, indicating she is still possessed. She spits a red candy into Yamashita’s mouth, and then smiles.

I don’t know if I can adequately explain why most Japanese ghost stories don’t interest me. By comparison, explaining why I feel “One Missed Call” works where others fail is fairly simple. You take the standard ghosts in the machine plot, hand it over to one of THE great Japanese filmmakers of the modern era, and let him do his thing. The surreal direction of Takashi Miike is why “One Missed Call” is in a class by itself. Far less disturbing than “Ichi the Killer” or “Audition,” it’s still one of Miike’s best. Kou Shibasaki is a talented lead with understated range. If you don’t believe me, check her out in “Battle Royale,” where she plays a deliciously villainous role. About the only thing I might change about this movie is to make the ending slightly easier to digest. It is a bit of a headscratcher, but doesn’t do enough to take away from the overall entertainment factor. If only more movies like it were this visually engaging, I might be able to change my mind about the genre as a whole.


20. Pulse (2006)

Director: Jim Sonzero

Starring: Kristen Bell, Ian Somerhalder, Christina Millian, Rick Gonzalez

We all have certain kinds of movies that just don’t work for us, no matter how hard we might try. Among the horror genre, mine is ghost stories. The ones where the ghosts live in inanimate objects fall under a particular level of scrutiny. Japanese favorites like “The Ring” and their Americanized remakes have to work extra hard to impress me. Only one has ever succeeded. That one (which we’ll get to) is not 2006’s “Pulse,” itself a remake of a 2001 Japanese film.

Mattie Webber (Kristen Bell) is growing concerned because it’s not like her boyfriend Josh to just drop off the face of the Earth as he seems to have done for the past few days. Her friends are making noises like she’s been ditched, but Mattie isn’t buying it. She finds him in his apartment, days later, doing nothing. His cat hasn’t been fed in quite a while, and the apartment itself is in disarray. Josh appears to have no energy, as though the life has been sucked out of him. Without much warning, Josh hangs himself with an Ethernet cable.

Some time following Josh’s death, Mattie and her friends all receive the same “HELP ME!” message purporting to come from Josh. Surely, this must be some sort of computer virus, they think. Believing that Josh’s computer is still turned on, Mattie returns to his apartment to shut it down. In fact, the computer has been illegally sold. The buyer, a man named Dexter (Ian Somerhalder), still has it in the trunk of his car and hasn’t bothered to turn it on yet. Mattie receives a package in the mail from Josh, sent two days before he killed himself.  Inside are rolls of red tape, and an attached message explaining that… somehow… it keeps “them” out. “They” are ghosts, but exactly why the red tape is so effective against them is never explained, not even vaguely. It just is.

Dexter finds video messages which Josh had been sending to a guy named Ziegler. He shows them to Mattie. They detail how Josh had somehow created a computer virus which acted as a gateway for the ghosts to cross into our world. While you’re absorbing that absurd little nugget, Josh also explains that he thinks he’s created the perfect anti-virus. Dexter and Mattie find the memory stick containing the anti-virus and go looking for Ziegler. By this time, Ziegler is completely paranoid, having covered every square inch of his apartment in red tape and hiding in his closet. He’s well within reason to be paranoid. All around him people are either vanishing into a pile of ash or are committing suicide. He tells Dexter and Mattie where to find the main server in the basement of the apartment complex.

The anti-virus is uploaded, and it appears to work as Josh hoped it would. However, the system then reboots and the ghosts keep coming. Effectively, everything since the discovery of the memory stick has been a complete waste of our time. The paranormal invasion is complete and total, spanning the entire globe. The only thing left for Dexter and Mattie to do is to find a corner of the United States which has no Internet or cell phone coverage, as that’s the only way for the ghosts to get to you.

Despite casting the always adorable Kristen Bell in the lead role, “Pulse” is a cliched, boring mess of a movie. Ghosts in the Internet is an interesting, if bizarre concept. It’s a shame it’s not handled better. “Pulse” gets points for the cameo from Brad Dourif as the eccentric, “the end is nigh” character, but little else redeems it. Perhaps if they’d concentrated a little less on the visuals and focused their time and energy into making us care about the characters and giving us a much better understanding of just what the hell is going on and why, then maybe… just maybe… “Pulse” might have been onto something.

Ghostbusters 2 (1989)

Director: Ivan Reitman

Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts

When I was a kid, the Ghostbusters were just about as cool as anything else in popular culture. You had the 1984 classic movie, the cartoon series, and you had the line of toys which were connected with said cartoon. (I had just about all the toys, which have since been passed on to the next generation.) The trouble with all of that is that it creates high demand for “More! More! More!” regardless of whether or not anyone involved actually wanted to return to the project. Now, I was at the age where I was still unaware of all the behind-the-scenes crap that goes on. Probably wouldn’t have cared one way or the other. All I knew was that, in the summer of 1989, I was getting another “Ghostbusters” movie.  This news had me very excited.

Five years have passed since the events of “Ghostbusters.” In that time, the team has gone out of business, having been sued by the city for the property damage caused in the act of saving the day, and have become something of a joke to fellow New Yorkers. What a bunch of ingrates! In any event, the foursome have gone their separate ways. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), ever the shameless shyster, has his own talk show specializing in pseudo-psychology. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) runs an occult book store, while he and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) use their former jobs as a gimmick for extra cash at children’s birthday parties. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) appears to be the only one enjoying life as an ex-Ghostbuster, using his time to run emotion-based experiments. It’s his work that the team will need to rely on when the slime hits the fan.

Venkman’s ex-girlfriend Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) has an infant son named Oscar from a recent marriage that didn’t work out. Though things between Dana and Venkman went sour due mainly to his being an immature jerk (surprise, surprise), it is clear that Venkman regrets the fact that he did not wind up as Oscar’s father. Though still a cello player at heart, being a mother comes first for Dana, and so she has taken a job restoring artwork at the Manhattan Museum of Art. You know that feeling we sometimes get about portraits whose eyes seem to be tracking us? Well, Dana actually has that problem, coming from a painting of an ancient, malevolent sorcerer/dictator known as Vigo the Carpathian (Wilhelm von Homburg). Through investigation, the Ghostbusters are able to connect the dots between the painting, an incident on the busy New York streets which put Oscar in danger, and a horrifyingly massive river of slime flowing underneath the city.

Oscar is placed in further peril when Vigo places a spell upon Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol), charging Janosz with the mission of finding a child to serve as a vessel for Vigo’s resurrection, an event which Vigo has scheduled to take place at the start of the new year. Meanwhile, the Ghostbusters make a breakthrough in their analysis of the sample they collected from the slime river. It seems this stuff reacts differently depending on the emotions it channels from the living. This “mood slime” has been building up underneath the city due to all the bad vibes put out by the citizens of New York. When you get doused in the slime, it causes you to react violently. The opposite is also true. The slime can also react to positive reinforcement and to certain forms of good music, and can therefore be used by the Ghostbusters as another weapon in their arsenal against Vigo. When the evil overlord enacts his final plan, he encases the museum in a seemingly impenetrable slime mold. To get through the roof, the Ghostbusters use positively-charged slime to bring the Statue of Liberty to life (which sounds ridiculous, but looks awesome) and open a hole with the good vibes that Lady Liberty inherently provides. You’d think the sight of this would create a city-wide panic… but I guess that, once you’ve seen a 100-foot tall Marshmallow Man, a mobile Statue of Liberty is nothing to be overly concerned about.

Considering the mortal danger that the guys put themselves in last time against Gozer, which included “crossing the streams,” their battle with Vigo is stunningly anti-climactic. That’s the main problem with “Ghostbusters 2”: It’s one of those been there, done that type of sequels. Because the main cast is unchanged, you know that the laughs will come when and where they should. Because there is a baby involved in the danger, there is a level of terror that the first film didn’t go for. The story that puts all these pieces together, however, is a little too familiar. The music this time is also a bit lacking. A lot of the apparent lack of creativity can be blamed on a studio pressuring director Ivan Reitman and actors Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis and Hudson into committing to a sequel they never actually wanted to do. Not even an amusing set of cameos from the likes of Cheech Marin, Ben Stein, and Bobby Brown (who also contributed the song “On Our Own”) can change that.

Although “Ghostbusters 2” clearly has not held up the way that its predecessor has and always will, I find that I still enjoy it almost as much. Part of it is seeing the talented cast gathered together for a second time (and Peter MacNicol is a welcome, hilarious addition). But I think some of it is due to the memory of having seen it as a kid in the theater. If you weren’t that young in 1989 (or hadn’t even been born yet), I could understand your having much different feelings from my own. I won’t deny that “Ghostbusters 2” deserves much of the criticism it gets but that doesn’t make it a bad movie. I maintain that, as in the context of the story it tells, the good vibes FAR outweigh the bad.

The Shining (1980)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers

Stanley Kubrick was an absolute genius behind the camera. Great actors and actresses will continue to come and go through the years, but I don’t think we’ll ever see a director in the caliber of a Stanley Kubrick ever again. I’m especially fond of the attention to detail he gives to an entire room in certain scenes, asking the viewer to pay attention to anything and everything in the shot. As much as Stephen King has meant to the world of literary horror, that’s how much Kubrick has meant to film… and then some! What’s even more astonishing about the man’s career is how very few movies he actually directed. From the best of them to the least effective of his efforts, every one is a masterpiece. “The Shining,” which many Stephen King purists have decried for straying from the original narrative, is as innovative and influential as any of them.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a former schoolteacher from Vermont now residing in Boulder, Colorado, who has accepted the position of caretaker at the Overlook Hotel up in the mountainous region of Sidewinder, Colorado. Jack, his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their son Danny (Danny Lloyd) will spend the next eight months, from October to May, in a place where a previous caretaker once went mad and killed his family. What are the odds of something like that happening again? Besides, to Jack, this hotel seems like the perfect spot for him to get his creative juices flowing and start working on a new novel.

Before the family has even had a chance to move in, already several bad signs have presented themselves. It’s revealed that Jack has a history of alcohol abuse, but has been sober for five months after an incident at home where he accidentally injured Danny’s shoulder. This shows that Jack is a man who only requires that someone or something give just the right push to send him over the edge. Also, it is revealed that Danny himself is not what one would call a “normal” boy. He has an imaginary friend named Tony and experiences the occasional visions. The violent images that have recently popped into his head are graphic and disturbing, so much so that, during the family’s initial tour of the hotel before moving in, he asks the head chef Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) if there’s anything he should be afraid of there. Dick demonstrates that he has a gift similar to Danny’s, and can speak to him without even opening his mouth, a gift which Dick calls “shining.” He says that objects, just the same as people, sometimes have the ability to shine. The hotel is one such example.

Time passes on, and we see things are not running quite so smoothly. Colorado is in the middle of an unprecedented season of snow. The phone lines are down, and will be for the foreseeable future, leaving a radio as the only source of communication with the outside world. Inside, Jack is becoming increasingly unhinged, even experiencing a nightmare about killing both Wendy and Danny, whose own visions are becoming increasingly horrific. Occasionally, ghostly images appear to both father and son. The hotel, it seems, knows just the right buttons to push. With Danny, who earlier complained to his mother about having no other children his age to play with, often finds himself confronted by the image of twin girls, presumably the murdered daughters of the previous caretaker. In Jack’s case, he is relapsing into his past dependence upon alcohol. Despite the fact that it’s been made clear that all the booze on the premises had been removed for insurance purposes, Jack is able to go down to the Gold Room and order up as much Jack Daniels as he can throw back, courtesy of a bartender who also shouldn’t be there.

After an incident with a ghostly woman in Room 237, Danny reaches out with his powers to contact Dick, who is on the other side of the country in the warmth of Florida, prompting Dick to jump on a flight to Colorado. All of this makes the hotel very nervous. A ghost in the form of Mr. Grady, the previous caretaker, encourages Jack to put a stop to Wendy and Danny’s efforts to call for help by “correcting” (i.e. killing) them. When Wendy discovers that Jack’s manuscript he’s been working on all these months has consisted of nothing more than “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” repeated over and over, it becomes clear that Jack’s been out of his mind for longer than previously thought. A confrontation between the two leads to Wendy hitting Jack in the head with a baseball bat and locking him up inside the pantry with the dried goods. The ghost of Grady unlocks the door and Jack gives chase to his family, stopping only to murder Dick who has just arrived. Wendy gets control of Dick’s snowcat, while Danny strands his crazed father inside the hedge maze. Mother and son escape, leaving Jack to freeze to death. The film’s final image is of a 1921 photograph from a July 4th ball, which mysteriously includes Jack in the foreground.

“The Shining” has been analyzed and debated about for 35 years now, and will continue to be for a long time to come. I myself have seen it many times, and even I’m not certain about everything I’ve seen. However, one thing that does seem to have revealed itself is that Kubrick’s “The Shining” is all about mirror images. The times we see Jack talking to Lloyd, the bartender, a mirror is present behind Lloyd. Is Jack really talking to a ghost, or is he talking to himself? We hear about Charles Grady, the caretaker who killed his family, and are later introduced to “Delbert” Grady the ghost, which Jack recognizes as being the same person. Yet, they cannot be, can they? The same is true of the girls, reported to have been aged 8 and 10 when their father killed them, yet their “ghosts” appear to Danny as twins… or as mirror images of one another. The walls both in front and behind Dick in his Florida room each feature a portrait of a naked woman. Danny writes “REDRUM” on his parents’ bathroom door which, when seen through the bedroom mirror, reads “MURDER.”

There are several other examples one could cite, the most important one being the issue of the 1921 photo. Many equate this final image with Jack being absorbed by the hotel. We’re never shown this photo up close until then, so there’s no way to know if 1921 “Jack” was always in the photo, or if he was added only after 1980 Jack’s death. In keeping with the theme of mirrors, it seems more likely that 1921 “Jack” was always in the photo, and that the two Jacks are perhaps separate incarnations of one individual. The same, but different. Kubrick’s “The Shining” and Stephen King’s “The Shining” should be looked at much in the same way. Both are classics. Both feature the same cast of characters in the same setting facing the same set of circumstances. Yet there is enough to distinguish the two as separate entities. The same, but different.

The Fog (1980)

Director: John Carpenter

Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, John Houseman, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook

See if you’ve heard this one before: A quiet, peaceful town gathers together for a big celebration when all hell breaks loose. People start dying, apparently the victims of silent, slow-moving ghosts. This continues until somebody realizes, “Hey…. we might actually have something these guys want!” The stolen property is then returned and the ghosts leave, but not before finalizing their vengeance upon those who wrong them. Sounds like a pretty standard ghost story to me. That’s pretty much what you’ve got here, and “The Fog” would be just another throwaway supernatural flick (a horror sub-genre which I grow more and more tired of as time goes on) if it weren’t for the group of professionals who helped put it together.

The town in question is Antonio Bay, located somewhere in Northern California. The date is April 21st, 1980, exactly one-hundred years to the day that the town was first formed. That day is also remembered as being synonymous with the destruction of a clipper ship named the Elizabeth Dane, which carried a crew composed of lepers. Not surprisingly, the fog that rolls into town…. against the wind, no less…. carries within it an old and beaten up clipper ship. The fog catches up with a smaller, modern-day fishing vessel and ghosts emerge from within to quickly dispatch the boat’s three crewmen in gruesome fashion.

At that same time, we are introduced to our other main characters as they each notice peculiar things going on around town. Adrienne Barbeau stars as radio DJ/watchtower operator Stevie Wayne. Stevie gets her weather reports (and presumably other favors) from Dan O’Bannon (Charles Cyphers). Nick Castle (an obvious homage to the actor/director of the same name), as played by Tom Atkins, has the honor of ferrying hitchhiker Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis) back to his house just as the craziness begins and blows out all the windows in his truck on the way home. Janet Leigh and Nancy Loomis also star as Kathy Williams and her assistant, Sandy, respectively.

Father Malone, played by Hal Holbrook, has made a horrifying discovery inside his church. A brick is knocked loose at midnight, revealing behind it a diary written by Malone’s grandfather 100 years earlier. The diary details the events that came to pass which led to the birth of Antonio Bay. The only trouble is that what is written in the diary contradicts what is written in the town’s history books, as no mention was ever made of the fact that the lepers from the clipper ship had originally tried to bargain with the colonists at Antonio Bay for a piece of land to call their own, offering a hefty sum in gold coins as payment. The colonists balked at the idea of living so close to a leper colony, opting instead to lure the lepers to their own annihilation and take the gold, anyway.

Because it was six of the original colonists who made this fateful decision, the vengeful ghosts now intend to take six lives for a sort of balance. With the men on the boat, they already had three. The fourth comes on the second night, when the ghosts pay Dan a visit. He answers the door like an idiot, despite pleas over the phone from Stevie. The fifth victim is the babysitter for Stevie’s son, Andy. The boy, whom had earlier discovered a wooden board with the word “Dane” on it, nearly becomes Victim #6 before Nick and Elizabeth get him out of the house just in time. Stevie, after pleading over the radio for Andy’s safety, is herself attacked and chased up to the roof of the watchtower. Meanwhile, all the surviving main characters retreat to the church, where Father Malone figures out just in the nick of time that the big gold Holy Cross inside the church is made from the melted-down gold coins the townspeople stole from the lepers, and of which Malone’s grandfather was the keeper. When the ghosts barge into the church, Father Malone offers the cross and himself to satisfy them. They take the cross but leave Father Malone alive and bewildered. “Why not me?” he asks. Father Malone should have kept his mouth shut, because the ghosts later return and behead him, thus claiming their sixth and final victim.

By no means is “The Fog” as suspenseful as John Carpenter’s first entry in the horror genre…. but few films could make such a claim over 1978’s “Halloween.” “The Fog” is also not terribly original. In spite of this, John Carpenter holds your attention throughout the film, especially with the soundtrack (which, as he usually does for his movies, he composed). Many cast members from “Halloween” return for this one, and Carpenter himself has a cameo appearance…. Early on, he has a scene (as Bennett) with Hal Holbrook. As reliable as Holbrook is, the real strength in the cast, in my opinion, comes from Adrienne Barbeau. Usually saddled with the tough chick or nagging wife role, here she is allowed to be vulnerable. Her position as a single mother who is unable to protect either herself or her son as she is stuck inside the watchtower (both out of self-preservation and a sense of duty to warn everyone else in town about the fog) makes her stand out as the most sympathetic character. Without Barbeau and the eerie soundtrack by John Carpenter, this movie, a modern horror cult classic, would have long ago faded away like a dissipating cloud.

Poltergeist (1982)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Starring: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O’Rourke, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Hudson, Zelda Rubenstein, Beatrice Straight

There is both an upside and a downside to the fact that none of the channels on our televisions have intentionally gone off the air since sometime back in the 1990’s. The downside is that you run the risk of losing sleep. We’ve got so many channels to choose from, all of which stay on the air all the time, not to mention what our DVDs and various online streaming sources provide, that it’s a wonder how anyone gets any rest at all. The upside, of course, is that ghosts no longer have that source through which they can communicate with your little five-year old.

The story of “Poltergeist” revolves around the Freeling family, headed by real estate agent Steve (Craig T. Nelson) and wife Diane (JoBeth Williams). Part of the project that Steve’s real estate company is experimenting with involves the house that he, his wife and three children occupy. One night, as the broadcast network signs off with the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” youngest daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) is drawn to the dead air signal and eventually appears to communicate with something or someone. Early on, something isn’t right. A sequence of bizzare events follows, including one more instance of Carol Anne communicating with some invisible force…. and then uttering the movie’s most memorable line: “They’re HEEEEERE!” In the kitchen the next morning, glasses full of milk break and ruin the kids’ homework, utensils are mysteriously bent, and the chairs seem to move all by themselves. Diane seems to find this latest event with the chairs simultaneously frightening, fascinating, and a little amusing. The amusement fades when the old tree outside takes hold of her son Robbie (Oliver Robbins) while, left all by herself, Carol Anne is sucked into some kind of portal.

Who are you gonna call? Well, you can’t call the Ghostbusters, since they won’t be invented for another two years, so Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight) is the next best thing. With the electronic monitoring devices she and the rest of her group brings along, they are able to capture on video the poltergeists moving down the Freeling’s staircase. Unfortunately, they can do nothing either to drive the ghosts out of the house nor to retrieve Carol Anne. The solution? Introduce the creepiest element of the film by far: Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubenstein). This tiny old woman with psychic powers and a child-like voice is sure to create unease within even the strongest of souls, however unintentionally.

With Tangina’s help, Steve and Diane are able to rescue their daughter. Diane acquires a few grey hairs from her trip to “the other side,” but since Tangina has assured them that “this house is clean,” she feels free to dye her hair back to its original color and soak in a hot bath while Carol Anne and Robbie are resting in their room. Before long, the poltergeists make it clear that their business with the Freelings remains unfinished, as they make a second attempt to kidnap Carol Anne, even going to great lengths to keep her mother from getting to her. Steve gets his family out of the house just in time to watch as it collapses in on itself and disappears into nothingness, but not before confronting his boss from the realty company. Seems the houses in that neighborhood were built over an old cemetery. Steve has just realized in horror that his boss only had the headstones relocated, but left the buried corpses right where they were!

The person credited with directing “Poltergeist” is Tobe Hooper, but this movie is quite tame when compared with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “The Funhouse.” Looking up the screenwriting credits for “Poltergeist” will tell you all you need to know. With the addition of one of John Williams’ most beautiful scores, it’s quite clear that this is much more of a Steven Spielberg movie. That being said, certain scenes in this movie could have led to it being saddled with a stronger rating than “PG,” and it was one of the films which led to the eventual creation of the “PG-13” rating in 1984. As successful films often are, “Poltergeist” has been copied to death over the years. In addition to its two sequels and TV series, many other ghost stories have taken their cues from this one, most recently the “Insidious” franchise.

Of course, one cannot escape the discussion of “Poltergeist” without addressing the elephant in the room, the so-called “Poltergeist Curse.” Among the many reports of on-set weirdness, akin to similar reports from the set of “The Exorcist,” there is also a cloud of great sadness surrounding the murder of actress Dominique Dunne (who played the eldest Freeling child, Dana) in November 1982, at age 22. Further tragedy followed in February 1988, when Heather O’Rourke died at age 12. Now, of course, there is no actual curse involved here. It would be easier for some to accept if there were, but really it’s just a series of unconnected events which were much more horrific than anything seen in the movie.

Insidious (2011)

Director: James Wan

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey

Despite the fact that I am not a believer in the paranormal, and don’t find ghost/possession stories particularly scary in any way, I still reserve the possibility of finding one entertaining. If the story is well-told and takes the tired formula into previously uncharted territory, it deserves all the praise it can get. If the approach is not a serious one, I can laugh along with the movie. If the approach is too serious, I can laugh at its expense. When a ghost story is so mind-numbingly unoriginal that it makes me wish I were watching the movie(s) it reminds me of instead, it has failed me completely. So it goes with “Insidious.”

Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) have moved into a new home with their three children. Almost immediately, Renai senses something isn’t right. Josh is supportive, but skeptical. It isn’t long before their son Dalton slips into a coma that they believe had something to do with a fall from a ladder in the attic, but the doctors at the hospital have no explanation for. Disturbances, strange sounds, and images of people moving through the house begin to freak out Renai, and eventually the family moves again. Unfortunately, the disturbances follow. Josh’s mother (Barbara Hershey) puts the couple in touch with a paranormal investigator named Elise (Lin Shaye). Together, they hope to restore Dalton to normal and rid themselves of all the trouble from the Other Side. Oh, I’m sorry, I meant “The Further.” Same thing.

Mixing “Poltergeist I & II” with “The Amityville Horror” and “The Exorcist” wasn’t a terrible idea. I’ve been spending a great deal of time lately watching movies which at their core are obvious clones of films from their genre’s previous generation, and having fun in the process. “Insidious” inspires neither fear nor admiration in me. Even when Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” appears as the demon’s theme/calling card (one of the few clever moments in “Insidious”), I laugh out loud when I’m probably supposed to be creeped out. That said, there are highlights provided by the casting of Patrick Wilson and Lin Shaye. To further the “Poltergeist” comparision, Wilson’s character starts off skeptical like Steven Freeling, as played by Craig T. Nelson in the 1982 classic. However, as the movie digs deep into Josh’s past, we find he actually has more in common with JoBeth Williams’ Diane Freeling. As for Lin Shaye’s Elise Rainier, she’s more like a combination of Zelda Rubenstein’s Tangina and Beatrice Straight’s Dr. Lesh. Elise has her own team with equipment that seems borrowed from the Ghostbusters to record the event, but she also knows how to contact those who’ve crossed into “The Further.” Lin Shaye is particularly fun to watch, especially if you’re a “Nightmare on Elm Street” fan who remembers her part in the 1984 original and can’t help but wait for Elise to tell Josh that, to find his son, he’ll need a hall pass. Sadly, that moment will only come if you’re watching the movie in a group, “Mystery Science Theater”-style.

Aside from not being scary, “Insidious” also takes a few steps too many. In what seems like a “gotta have a sequel” move (and indeed, one was released in September 2013), the ending leaves me cold. The movie would work better as a stand-alone, I think, and in blatantly leaving room for more story, I feel it cheapens what could have been a decent, if a bit too familiar entry into the paranormal genre. As it stands, it’s not much more than mediocre.