Ouija: No Need to Tell Yourself It Is a Game (Review/Trailer)

Ouija: No Need to Tell Yourself It Is a Game (Review/Trailer)

Ouija has a tagline that goes, “Keep telling yourself it’s just a game.” In reality, there is no need to do that, the film is not that scary. While it attempts to fall fully into the horror genre it really is a combination ghost story/mystery. A group of youngsters have one of their number kill herself and the gang attempt to track down what really happened. This is after the one girl who dies tried to unsuccessfully destroy a Ouija board by burning it and the planchette that goes with it.

When a Stranger Calls (2006):Agonisingly Slow

Cover of "When a Stranger Calls"
Cover of When a Stranger Calls

I remember seeing the original of this film, the 1979 one with Carol Kane as part of one of those Drive-in Special features where you got three films for the price of one. Not too different from the $1.00 a car night where no matter how many hot and sweaty bodies you crammed in the car, it only cost a buck.

I say not too different because the concept was the same, you got two films that were kind of crap and one  “big” feature. If memory serves me correctly, the 1979 When a Stranger Calls was not the main feature, something else was and it wasn’t as good as the Carol Kane film, which scared the crap out of everyone in the car.

The whole premise came about because of an urban legend. I still remember it making the rounds ages before the film came out. It was, funnily enough a girl who was about 3 to 4 years younger than me (who had an embarrassing crush on me, if I’d only known how she was going to be when she grew up, I wouldn’t have been so embarrassed…I know, shallow; uh-huh) who was going to be doing her first professional baby sitting job.

We’d just finished messing around (With a Ouija board! Get your mind out of the  gutter!) when she relayed to me in a kind of breathless yet horrified way the story as she’d heard it.

“This girl? Well, she goes to baby sit these twin boys…or girls…I don’t remember which and she starts getting phone calls. Which she isn’t supposed to get cos she’s meant to be babysitting, right? So this guy keeps asking her if she’s checked the kids. So she keeps checking on them and when she gets tired of this whole rigamarole, she calls the cops. They then put a tracer on her phone and then they call her and say get out of the house! He’s upstairs!”

Incredibly, everyone believed this particular boogeyman story, as folks were just getting into having separate phone lines put in for their kids to have their own phones, so it sort of made sense. Of course it was easier in the days before the internet to spread those kind of urban myths because it was a lot harder to check up.

Presumably the film makers who decided to make the remake thought, quite rightly, that cell phones (or mobiles over  here) could facilitate the plot just as well.

Unfortunately the film moves at a snails pace and no one ever explained to the director that suspense that drags on too long becomes tedious and then boring. The addition of loveable Clark Gregg (aka Agent Coulson from S.H.I.E.L.D.) in a minute part as the babysitter’s pop, could not save this yawn fest from dragging on and on and on and on….

Camilla Belle is too stunningly attractive to be a real teenage babysitter in the real world and although her performance convinced me that she was about to have a major league panic attack or heart attack, the films agonisingly slow, almost backward, pace wouldn’t let me care.

So, as this is on Netflix right now (in the Uk anyway) and  if you’re having trouble sleeping, pop this puppy on and you’ll doze right off.

A 2 out of 5 stars only because. dammit, Belle is gorgeous and hey, it’s got Agent Coulson in it.

Phil Coulson
Phil Coulson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Long Time Dead (2002): Djinn See that Coming

Long Time Dead
Long Time Dead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Directed by Marcus Adams and written by him and five other writers Long Time Dead centres around a Ouija board party that goes wrong. The group of 20 some-things who “have a go” at contacting the spirits are not taking the whole thing very seriously and that’s a big mistake. The film starts with a montage of scenes showing a 1979 Ouija board seance in Morocco that goes horribly wrong. As the film shifts into present day we meet our core group of folks who will accompany us on this short journey of fear.

The cast only has two ‘notable’ names. The late Tom Bell as Becker, the creepy landlord of the huge house that part of the group share and Joe Absolom as Rob. Tom Bell was a real jobbing actor who was constantly in demand. Absolom got his big break on the BBC soap EastEnders playing Matthew Rose. Absolom could be seen as this generations Tom Bell, he is always working and you’ll see his name appearing in a lot of credit lists.

But then the same can be said of James Hillier, Lara Belmont, Lukas Haas and the rest of the main cast. The film is made up of jobbing actors who can be relied on to deliver. Of course a few of them have improved since their performance in Long Time Dead. The only two actors who stood out were Lukas Haas and Tom Bell.  Of course they would stand out, Haas has been in the business since he was 5 years old and Bell had a lifetime of experience.

After the move to present day we meet the guys and gals who will make up the protagonists of the film. Rob, Stella, Liam and Spencer share a house and they are in the process of getting a new house mate, Joe. They all decide to go to a rave type party where Spencer will meet up with girlfriend Lucy and Liam will meet his girl Anne, also attending is mutual friend Webster.

Once the group get there, Liam starts filming everyone on a hand-held camera. Everyone gets bored (sorry about the pun) and decide to break off from the party. Finding a conveniently desert room on the top floor of the warehouse the rave is in, the group decide to make a Ouija board from a large broken pane of glass and some paper.

Lucy is the resident Ouija board expert as she studies witchcraft. Using a small glass as a pendant the group start their seance. Most of the group don’t take the exercise seriously but they all put their index fingers on the small glass. Lucy tells everyone that they must not break contact with the glass pendant until they’ve said goodbye otherwise the spirit that they summon will be earthbound.

The glass  pendant then spells out the word Djinn. Someone asks if the board can tell the future and it goes to the “yes” and then spell out, “All die.” It then goes on to spell Anne’s name.

Liam suddenly flips out and smashing the glass runs out of the room. This breaks up the seance and Anne goes out to the roof where Liam ran. After a short talk, she realises that she has left her inhaler in the room. As she suffers quite badly from asthma she goes to get it.

Anne is, of course, the first of the group to die as the Djinn from the Ouija board hunt them all down.

The movie moves at a good clip and there are enough suitably creepy moments that help to sell the scares.  The lighting and cinematography work well together to paint a great atmosphere. And although the film does rely on some horror clichés some of what they do is pretty original.

The acting is a let down, as I said earlier, and the plot isn’t blazingly original either. Using the glass pane for the Ouija board was annoying to say the least, the noise of the glass scrapping across the glass was worse than fingernails on a chalkboard. Of course this noise was manufactured by the sound effects department, so they and the director should both share the blame.

The film’s definition of a Djinn (that’s evil genie to me and you) was defined as a “fire demon” which I found quite funny. In the 1997 film Wishmaster (a Wes Craven presents film) a Djinn was just an evil genie, although in that film it was also divested of a twisted sense of humour.

Still the film is a “good un” and well worth a watch. It’s scary enough to cause the odd jump and some of the effects are quite good. For some reason it has always ranked as a favourite of mine and re-watching it, I found this was still the case.

Let me know what you think.

Can You Spell Ouija Board?

Cover of "Long Time Dead"
Cover of Long Time Dead

We were watching the 2002 film Long Time Dead tonight which centres around a Ouija board and the evil Djinn (a fire demon according to the film) it releases. The resultant death and carnage all go a long way toward warning the audience of the perils of Ouija boards. Specifically if you operate one under the influence of booze or drugs (and if one of your party is the survivor of a previous Ouija board party gone bad).

When I was a whole world younger (and several worlds dumber) I had a fascination with these boards that allowed you to talk to the spirit realm. I never got too carried away though, I was too impatient to use a system that slowly spelt out any messages that your dead Uncle Fred or next door’s cat might want to relay.

Just in case you have led such a sheltered life that you don’t know what a Ouija board is I’ll just pass on the Wikipedia definition of this “game.”

The Ouija board (play /ˈwə/ wee-jə) also known as a spirit board or talking board, is a flat board marked with the letters of the alphabet, the numbers 0-9, the words “yes”, “no”, “hello” (occasionally), and “goodbye”, along with various symbols and graphics. It is a registered trademark ofHasbro Inc.,[1] which markets and distributes the Ouija Board as part of its line of board games.[2] It uses a planchette (small heart-shaped piece of wood) or movable indicator to indicate the spirit’s message by spelling it out on the board during a séance. Participants place their fingers on the planchette and it is moved about the board to spell out words. It has become a trademark that is often used generically to refer to any talking board.

A modern ouija board plus planchette
A modern ouija board plus planchette (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh and in case you were interested? The thing was introduced into the retail world in 1890! 

Like many other young people I’d heard the odd urban legend (although  I can’t think of a single specific one, I do remember hearing about inadvertently calling up demons) about how these parlour games could be scary and even deadly.  I never really gave much credit to these scary stories.

I mean, how deadly could they be? They were made by Parker Games and Hasbro and were marketed as games! I remember sitting down with my mother’s best friend’s daughter and asking the board the stupid kind of questions kids at 12 and 9 years old ask. Will I get married? Does K like me? What does death feel like?

Generally, if someone wasn’t cheating and pushing the planchette, you got nonsensical answers like, “Blue,” to every question. But as I said, I never really had the patience to “play” with the board too often.

It wasn’t until years later when I was the reverse age of my initial Ouija experience (I was 21, just in case I was being too esoteric there) and my first wife and I lived in Southern California.

Our best friends lived in the flat above us in a house that had been sub-divided into two apartments. K and N were the closest friends we ever had and both K and I cried like two little school girls on the day my wife and I boarded the bus for home.

About a month before we left, my wife and I were visiting K and N and we started talking about the old Ouija board. A book had come out about a séance in Long Island or Rhode Island (I cannot remember which) and all the participants had been victimized by a “demon.” It was reportedly a true story and it impressed the hell out of me.

N said that the whole story was ridiculous and that if you followed the rules nothing bad would happen. Her husband K stated firmly that he did not like the boards and would not ever participate in the use of one. For some stupid reason, N and I decided to have a go on a board that they had.

K immediately went outside. He refused to be in the apartment while we were using it. N set the board up and grabbed some blank paper in case the words got too long for us to spell out quickly. My wife volunteered to write down what was being spelled out.

I remember that N and I sat there for what seemed like ages with our fingers just resting lightly on the planchette. Suddenly after asking repeatedly if anyone was there, it moved. It suddenly changed from being a cheap heart-shaped wooden heart to a live moving thing. It jerked and twitched and started gliding towards letters.

N and I both accused the other of moving it. After we both emphatically denied moving the thing, it glided to the “yes” on the board. My wife and N and I all looked at each other and grinned nervously.

N started by asking who was there. The mists of time have shrouded the name given, but it was a servant or serving girl who had lived at the house just after it had been built. I remember N and I asking a lot of questions about who the owners were and when the house was built. Things that we could check against records to validate if the “spirit” was real or just something messing us about.

The spirit girl had a fixation with me and for a long time would only “talk” to me. N got a bit frustrated when I had to ask her questions because the board would not respond unless I did the asking. We finally ran out of validating questions and asked how the girl had died.

She told us that she had died in childbirth. Something had been ruptured or broken and she had bled to death. N and I sat looking at each other and tried to think what to ask next. I suddenly had an idea and asked, “Who was the father of your baby?” The girl replied that it was the house owner’s child.

I immediately thought of every Gothic romance novel I’d ever heard of and decided that she must have been having an affair with the owner. I blurted out my next question without thinking. “Were you pretty?”

The planchette, which had been so alive during our session suddenly stopped. The slight electrical charge that N and I had both felt was gone. I started to ask the same question again. I was puzzled by this turn of events. As I opened my mouth I got the word were out  and N shook her head.

“I don’t think that was a good question. Try another one.”

I asked about her age (going back to familiar ground as we had asked before and gotten a reply). Nothing. I could not get any response from the board. Not even when I asked N’s questions for her. Frustrated and confused, I looked at N and said, “You try.”

N shrugged and asked, “What’s wrong.”

The planchette started moving. H…E…I…S…N…O…T…A…N…I…C…E…M…A…N. I was stunned! What had I done wrong? N asked what I had done and it continued to say that I was not a nice man and that the spirit had liked me but it did not now and would not talk to me.

The planchette stopped moving for about two minutes and then it changed. The electrical charge that N and I felt was gone, in its place was a weird cold/hot feeling in the ends of our fingertips. The planchette suddenly moved very fast. It began to spell out N’s husbands name.

It spelled out K’s name three times. It then spelled out the sentence, “Tell K that Ned is dead.” The message was repeated three more times. At the last letter of the message it stopped and nothing we could do would entice it to move again.

We all sat in silence. N jumped up and shouted out the window to K. “We’re done. You can come back in now.”  When K came in he looked at the board and asked why we hadn’t put it away. He glanced down at the paper by the board where my wife had written down the board’s repetitious message for him.

His eyes widened and his face turned white. “Shit! I know three Ned’s. Are you sure that was the message?” We all nodded silently. He spun around and ran to their wall phone in the kitchen.

It took him some time, but he finally rang all the Ned’s that he knew. All were alive and well and he came back into the room calmer than when he had left. Glancing down at the board he said to N, “I’m burning the damn thing.”

And he did. He took it into our communal back yard and placed it on the barbecue grill, doused it with lighter fluid and burned it.

My wife and K and I talked about the change in the board after I’d asked the spirit if it had been pretty. We all agreed that the atmosphere in the room had changed. It felt malevolent when it gave us the message about Ned’s death. We were all a little “freaked out” by the nasty turn that the Ouija board session had taken.

Suffice to say that I’ve never participated in the use of one again. I don’t know how they work or even if they work.

I do know that I don’t want to feel that malevolent, nasty feeling again.

Ever.