Posts Tagged ‘Paranormal’


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.


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.

15. Ghostbusters (1984)

Director: Ivan Reitman

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

Let’s get this out of the way right now: I do not believe in ghosts. But what is a ghost, exactly? There seem to be many different variations out there. Some are malicious spooks that only wish to terrorize the living. Some seem to wander the Earth unaware/unable to admit that they’re dead. Others have a wrong that was done to them which they are trying to make public knowledge. About the only type of ghost I could say I have some small belief in is the metaphorical kind. I believe that, because of our memories, a small trace is left behind of the people who once graced a particular location with their presence. In this way, I can go to these familiar places and feel… odd… when I take a look around, especially in my old schools. Whatever the reason for a ghost’s presence among the living, I would be the character known as ‘the skeptic.’

There are several skeptics in “Ghostbusters.” One of them early on is Peter Venkman (Bill Murray). He’s a scientist at NYU, as are friends Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis). Ray and Egon want to prove the existence of and study the paranormal, whereas Peter just wants to use his position to pick up college girls. Although the Dean of the University (who finds their theories preposterous) kicks them off campus, an incident at a library involving a “full-torso apparition” changes everything for them. Now, the three men are ready to go into the business of catching ghosts. Along the way, a very annoying skeptic in the form of EPA representative Walter Peck (William Atherton) impedes their path. He thinks the Ghostbusters are dangerous, and wants their facility shut down. Seriously, has William Atherton ever played a character that didn’t make you instantly hate him?

One of the charming aspects of “Ghostbusters” is Peter Venkman’s hilarious repeated attempts to secure a date with his first client, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver). I think probably my favorite scene of the movie, other than the apocalypse-averting climax, has to be the scene where Dana brings Peter over to her apartment to check things out. You know, to make sure the ghosts aren’t still hanging around. Try not to break up when you hear Peter’s response to Dana’s statement about how nothing ever happened in the bedroom. I’ll bet you can’t do it. For me, “Ghostbusters” represents Bill Murray at his best.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw “Ghostbusters.” It was 1987, and I was five years old. That day, my family and I attended someone’s wedding (though if you asked me their names or what relation the bride/groom were to us, I couldn’t tell you), but all I could think about was catching “Ghostbusters” on ABC’s Sunday Night Movie. Remember when ABC regularly showed movies pretty much any night of the week? That Christmas, I got the full set of Ghostbusters action figures …which were a tie-in not with the movie but the cartoon, but I didn’t care. I still have them in a box somewhere to this day. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was always my favorite.

The cast for “Ghostbusters” almost ended up looking quite different, and yet I can see how the actors who were the original choices of writers Aykroyd and Ramis might have worked out well. John Belushi was to be Peter Venkman, however he died in 1982 before the project could get underway. The role of Winston Zeddemore was to have gone to Eddie Murphy, and Louis Tulley was to have been played by John Candy, but both turned the movie down. I can definitely see Murphy and Candy working out quite well, but I’m happy with what Ernie Hudson and Rick Moranis were able to do with those characters.

Though I was too young to see this one theatrically, I did get the chance to see “Ghostbusters 2” with my mother in the summer of 1989. A third movie has been teased ever since, but creative differences, particularly on Murray’s part, combined with the falling out between Murray and Ramis, kept that idea on the shelf. At this point, a remake is more likely, and that’s not a prospect that appeals to me, either. Since Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis seem the only original cast members interested in continuing the franchise on the big screen, maybe they could do one where Ray and Egon hire youthful ghost hunters as their own replacements, so that it would be both a sequel and a reboot.

In the meantime, the original “Ghostbusters” is here to stay, ready to entertain a whole new generation who either want to believe in ghosts or just want to laugh at their expense.