Apartment 143 (2011): Legend of Hell House in Shorthand

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The White family live in a haunted apartment, but that’s nothing new to them, the last house they lived in was haunted as well. Convinced that the vengeful ghost of his dead wife has followed him and their two children to their new home, papa White asks a paranormal team of investigators to find out what’s happening.

This is a Spanish film, written by Rodrigo Cortés (Red Lights 2012) and directed by Carles Torrens as his first feature-length film. The cast is a real amalgamation of actors.

Michael O”Keefe plays Dr Helzer and I spent the entire film wondering why he looked so damned familiar. It was not until setting down and researching this film that I found out t he was the young caddy in the 1980 film Caddyshack. He’s put on a bit of weight since then and aged, of course, but once you see his publicity photo, you realise who he is.

One of Dr Helzer’s assistants is Ellen Keegan. She is played by  Fiona Glascott, a more than capable actress who’s been treading the boards for some time now. She made me think of a young Catherine Deneuve and I found it hard to take my eyes off of her in any scene she appeared. I think it’s safe to say that I was “crushing” on her a bit. But Deneuve reference aside, she’s a good actress.

Fiona Glasscott, lovely to look at, delightful to watch act.
Fiona Glasscott, lovely to look at, delightful to watch act.

Rick Gonzalez does a more than capable job as Helzer’s other assistant  Paul Ortega, the techie of the group and he comes across as quite likeable.

The White family consists of dad Alan (Kai Lennox), daughter Caitlin (Gia Mantegna) and son Benny (Damian Roman). The only problem I had with the Whites was that I did not like any of them except for Benny. Damian Roman is brilliant as the four year-old youngest member of the family. I enjoyed it when he was in scenes. Dad and sis Caitlin, turned me cold and it was made very obvious that the daughter was the “trigger” that set these hauntings off.

I was impressed with the way Torrens set the technical side of this film up. It could have been an episode from the Sy Fy channels TAPS Ghost Hunters. The matter-of-fact way that the equipment was handled and the explanations could have come from Jason Hawes or Grant Wilson.

Unfortunately, for me, I felt that the plot and the mechanisation of the film very closely resembled the atmosphere of the 1973 film The Legend of Hell House (Roddy McDowell and Gayle Hunnicutt) especially after the inclusion of the “machine” that supposedly “cleaned” the house of spirits.

Of course it doesn’t have the convoluted back story that Hell House had, but it’s damned close; if not in nature at least in the area of being convoluted. Over all the film impressed but, at the same time, it underwhelmed in some areas. A lot of the stunts were brilliantly pulled off and some of the “filmed” ghostly effects, again, looked like they could have originated from the Ghost Hunters televised footage.

Michael O'Keefe as the humourless Dr Barrett.
Michael O’Keefe as the humourless Dr Barrett.

In keeping with the focus on “real” ghost hunters and a sort of tenuous LOHH connection,  even Dr Helzer seemed like he could be a close relative of the humourless scientist Dr Barrett (Clive Revill) in the Hell House movie. Which reminds me of another “nod” in the film, doesn’t the name Helzer evoke images of Hans Holzer, paranormal investigator extraordinaire?

All in all the film was good, but not overly scary. It has few “jump” moments and a “surprising” twist in the plot and then falls on a “cheap” scare at the very end of the film. I don’t count that as a spoiler as you are (as the viewer) expecting it.

So I’d have to give Apartment 143 a 3.5 out of 5 stars. It gets the .5 because of Michael O’Keefe, Catherine Deneuve look-a-like Fiona Glasscott and little Damien Roman.

Hans Holzer, a real life paranormal investigator. (1920 - 2009)
Hans Holzer, a real life paranormal investigator. (1920 – 2009)

 

Poltergeist (1982): Too Much TV is Bad For You

Watching the Tobe Hooper classic again today, I was struck again about how “anti-television” the film is. The family in the film are your typical middle to upper level income family. They have a television in every room and they all watch the ‘boob tube’ until they fall asleep and the stations stop broadcasting.

*Remember the old days before 24/7 TV?*

The littlest child in the family, five year old Carol Anne (the late Heather O’Rourke), is mesmerised by the static that transmits when a TV channel goes ‘off the air’. Towards the beginning of the film, before the family discover the ‘poltergeist’ that will plague them and their house, Carol Anne is watching the ‘mini’ TV in the kitchen. Face right up to the telly, she’s watching the static. Mom as she passes by says, “Dear you’ll hurt your eyes, don’t watch that.” She then turns the channel so that Carol Anne can watch a ‘proper’ program. A war film.

The film begins with the US National Anthem playing as the station that dad has fallen asleep in front of goes off the air. Static and flashing light from the flickering TV screen dominates the scene. The family dog roams around the house snacking on the bits of food that the family have left scattered about.

Carol Anne wakes up and goes downstairs to the family set that dad has fallen asleep in front of. Sitting right up on top of the static filled flickering screen she begins to talk to it. “I can’t hear you,” She says twice before ‘answering questions’ that are apparently coming from the static transmitting TV.

The rest of the family wake up and the conversation is cut short.

Steve and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams respectively) are a ‘modern’ couple. They are smoking pot while they simultaneously read, watch TV and discuss Carol Anne’s little conversation with the static filled screen.

The arrival of a storm ends with both the younger children sleeping with Mom and Dad. Son Robbie (Oliver Robins) sleeps soundly between his two parents. But Carol Anne is again drawn to the TV’s static filled screen and in the film’s most often repeated line says, “They’re here.” Light shoots out of the television and enters the wall over the sleeping occupants of the bed.

At  the beginning of the film Steve and few cronies are watching football on the family set. Next door neighbour Marty has a remote control television that is on the same frequency as Steve’s. The TV’s channel starts changing from the football game to Mr Rogers. Marty and Steve indulge in a battle of remote’s.

Carole Anne refers to the ‘ghosts’ as the” TV people.”  Later in the film when the ‘ghost-busting’ team film some of the spectral visitors and tell the couple that they will have to publicise their findings. Steve says, “As long as it’s not with 60 Minutes.” Debbie then chimes in with, “Or with Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”  Two very popular American television programs of the time.

The family communicate with Carol Anne through the television in most of the film. And at the end of the film when they flee their house for the relative safety of the local Holiday Inn, Steve removes the hotel room television and puts it unceremoniously on the balcony outside.

The Freelings represent the ‘Hollywood’ ideal of the average American family. Dad has a successful job selling houses for the very estate that they live on. Mom is a ‘stay-at-home’ mother who looks after the youngest Carol Anne. Robbie is the highly imaginative ‘middle child’ and Dana is the oldest. Dana (played by the late Dominique Dunne, who was tragically murdered by her boyfriend just five months after the films release) is a confident teenager who skillfully handles the amorous  attentions of the men who are putting in the family swimming pool.

They even have a few pets. One of which, Tweety the canary, dies at the start of the film only to be replaced with two goldfish. Another favourite line from the film occurs when Diane, upon discovering the dead canary, says, “Damn it Tweety couldn’t you have picked a school day?” The family’s other pet is the snacking dog we met at the start of the film.

Of course being Hollywood’s representation of the ‘all American family’ they love their televisions.

Tobe Hooper (who really never made anything else this good apart from his delightfully scary Texas Chainsaw Massacre) does a great job on this film. Unfortunately because it was written by Steven Spielberg, and produced by him as well, it seems more like a Spielberg film. I kept expecting E.T. and company to appear at any moment at the beginning of the film. The film’s soundtrack is also very ‘Spielberg-ish.’

Some of the special effects are a bit dated and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this film doesn’t get marked for re-imaging in the near future. But despite the apparent ageing of the CG, the film still works. The ‘child eating tree’ still manages to scare quite nicely and that damn clown; the type of toy that a well meaning (or cruel) relative gives children that is guaranteed to creep the kid out for years.

The rotting food, the bathroom mirror and the swimming pool scenes still work brilliantly and don’t require too much suspension of disbelief.

It was only upon viewing the film today that I realised that the, not-so subliminal,  message seemed to be that TV is bad for you. Or rather too much TV is bad for you. Too much in that you sit in front of the glass teat until you fall asleep and the stations all go off the air. This obviously gives any ghostly occupants of the house an entrance into our world.

Of course that was the old days, before twenty-four hour telly. I suppose that if ghosts and ghoulies what to find an entrance into our world via the TV nowadays, they’ll have to wait for a long commercial break.

An Arkansas Razorback in Queen Elizabeth Country 3

Flats for let.

My cold-water flat was getting claustrophobic. Despite having a huge window, the room was oddly airless. Smells seemed to ‘dig’ into the room, refusing to leave no matter how much you ‘aired’ it out.

The final straw came when a girlfriend, after a particularly amorous night, threw up a horrible mixture of Yukon Jack and cheese savouries on my duvet. This momentous event occurred while I was in my communal toilet and she struggled to reach the sink which was  an arm’s length away.

Our relationship sort of cooled after that night though the memory of it remained. I was reminded of it every time I entered the flat. Despite air fresheners and freezing the room out by leaving the window wide open in the winter, the smell lingered. Even the duvet’s chemical smell from the dry cleaners didn’t mask the rooms pong.

As I went to pay my monthly rent to the landlady, I noticed someone was moving from a huge ground floor flat. I inquired about it and Lady Luck was on my side. No one else had even looked at the flat yet, so I transferred my deposit from my tiny flat to the new huge one. I was able to move my things the same day.

The new flat was an old shop, I don’t remember what type of shop it had been, but, it still had the full window street footage in front. A giant floor length curtain covered the room sized window and it was separated from the rest of the flat by a ‘false’ wall.

My front door was a glass ‘French’ door. As you walked in the flat if you looked immediately to the right you could see another door that led into another flat. This door, though permanently locked, was very thin and let a lot of sound through. One night my ‘neighbour’ had two local ladies in for entertainment.

They were very vocal about their obvious enjoyment of my neighbour’s love-making techniques. When the noise began to mimic the ‘When Harry Met Sally‘ moment in the diner, I banged on the door.

“Hey!”, I said. “Either keep it down or invite me in!”

There was a startled silence followed by muffled whispering. I did not receive an invite, but they did lower the decibel levels of their appreciation. I took a couple of cold showers and was finally able to go sleep.

Back at the front door, if you looked to the left you had the sleeping area and a door leading to a short hallway. The hallway when entered from my end had a shower room to the right and a little further down from the shower room was the toilet.

The toilet was a small windowless room with a door that was hard to close. The door itself had ‘bolt’ lock on it. The ‘bolt’ lock was as hard to use, old and a bit rusty, you had to really shove the damn thing to lock the door.

At the other end of the hallway was the other flat that I shared the shower and toilet with. He was a nice enough chap who had a lot of fondness for drink. I can honestly say, I don’t ever remember seeing him sober.

He was a very amiable ‘drunk’ who liked to laugh and loved getting ‘massages’ from the local working girls which he paid for in steaks bought from the USAF commissary for a couple of dollars that would have cost a fortune if purchased down town.

One day I came home from work and really needed to use the toilet. Rushing in, I ran for the littlest room in the flat only to find it closed and locked. Peeved, I went back to my flat and waited for a minute or two.

Nature was dying to take it’s course and I soon rushed back to the toilet door. Trying the door again, I found it was still closed tight and locked. I tapped on the door.

Frank? Dude, I really need the toilet. Can you hurry up?”

Silence. I knocked louder.

Still nothing.

I was worried now. What if my drunken neighbour had passed out in there? What if he had died in there.

This time I kicked the door. Hard.

“Frank!”

Panicked now, I pushed myself back against the narrow hall’s outside wall and shoulder down slammed against the toilet door. I had to do this two or three times before the door smashed open.

The door rebounded off the inside wall and something tinkled on the floor.

The room was empty. There was no slumped body on the actual toilet or on the floor. The only thing in the toilet was the door frame bracket for the bolt lock. Looking at the inside of the door, I saw that the bolt lock tongue was protruding.

The door had been locked and the only way to lock it was from the inside. 

It was impossible to lock the door from the outside.

So who in the hell had locked it? Or more accurately, what had locked it.

After I was finally able to answer my ‘call of nature’ I got a screwdriver and re-attached the bolt lock’s end bracket to the frame. I went to the pub and promptly forgot all about it.

One week later, I came home from work and went through the little hall to use the toilet. The door was hanging forlornly off of one hinge. I drug the door closed and paid my compliments to Mother Nature. As I came out, Frank exited his room and faced me in the hallway.

“Hey Holmes (Frank called everybody Holmes) I got home today and I really needed to use the toilet. I come in here and the door’s closed and locked.” He pointed to the door. “I thought that you were in there and I left. You know? Then when things got a little more urgent, I decided to knock and ask you to hurry up. You know? But you didn’t answer Holmes, cause you weren’t in there. But I didn’t know that. I thought that you were like, passed out or had a heart attack or somethin’. So I kicked the friggin door open? And Holmes? There wasn’t any body in there!”

He looked at me, clearly puzzled. “Holmes? How did that damn door lock itself?”

Shaking my head, I recounted my bathroom adventures from the week before. We both decided that we’d better fix the door back on its hinges and not tell the landlady that we were trying to destroy her property.

The door went back on the hinges no problem, but the bolt lock bracket was a little worse off. It hung loosely on the door frame and the bolt that slid into it was very wobbly.

Exactly one week later, I returned home to find the door closed and ‘locked’ again with no one inside. This time, however, it was very easy to force the door open. I told the landlady about the ‘self locking’ door when I moved.

Everyone I told about the door said the same thing. “The place must be haunted.” My ‘new’ girlfriend, after looking at the door and the room, said the same. “There is no way ‘humanly’ possible to lock that door from the outside. It’s definitely a ghost or poltergeist or something.”

I never did find out what had locked that door, but I did move. I had a mate at work who had rented a huge house in the country and wanted someone to split the rent with him. He asked me if I was interested.

I said yes and then moved into a house that was more haunted than the flat I’d just moved from.

Insidious (2010): Tiptoe Through the Terror


Insidious (film)

Directed by James Wan (Saw, Dead Silence) and starring Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy and recently Prometheus) and Rose Byrne (28 Weeks Later, Get Him to the Greek) with a cameo by Barbara Hershey (playing another mother, are they trying to tell her something?) and Lin Shaye (as the eccentric “ghost buster”) Insidious starts out by screaming in the audiences face only to whimper out at the end.

I do have to digress for a moment to talk about Lin Shaye. I first became aware of this actor when she played the mother in the horror film Dead End (this film also had the iconic Ray Wise, wow). I have since watched out for her in other films as I just adore what this woman does. 

The film starts with the Lambart family moving into their new home. Through the mad scramble that is moving, things get lost and the house looks a shambles. As they start to settle, things are getting very strange and scary in their new home. Literally minutes after the family bed down for the night, the strange and scary things up the tempo.

Soon after, their son, Dalton goes exploring in the attic and falls off a ladder. In the morning he does not wake up. The parents take Dalton to the hospital, where they can find no reason for him to be in a coma.  After a couple more scary nights,  not made any better by brother Foster’s claim that the comatose Dalton is walking the halls and  it is frightening him,  Ranai (Rose Byrne) convinces hubby Josh (Patrick Wilson) that they need to move.

They move into a bungalow style house. While they are moving into their new home Josh’s mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) tells Ranai that Josh used to walk in his sleep. Ranai is taking out some of the rubbish when she spies someone in their house. Through the open windows we can hear Tiny Tim singing Tiptoe Through the Tulips coming from the record player. Ranai rushes back into the house to get the crap scared out of her.

Lorraine contacts a medium friend Elise Reiner (Lin Shaye) to come and cleanse the house.

The first three quarters of the film scares the crap out of you. I watched this in the cinema with my daughter and our butts left the seat of our chairs multiple times. It had the same effect when we watched the DVD at home. The whole first part of the film is brilliantly written and expertly woven to provide the maximum amount of scares per frame of film.

Then in the last quarter of the film it did something strange, in a kind of weird metamorphosis it turned into Poltergeist. I’m not kidding here, the last quarter of the film was straight from the Poltergeist film plot. All that was missing was the short tubby little medium who called everybody “Pumpkin.”

I remember sitting in the theatre in a daze. “What just happened?” I asked my daughter, who at that point had not seen Poltergeist. “I don’t know,” she shrugged, “It’s like it became two separate films.” She has said that the first of the film, you could see was done by the same folks who did Paranormal Activity, and the second half of the film was the Saw input.

I just feel like they spent all their time setting up the scares in the first of the film, only to run out of gas for the ending. Insidious is a damn scary film, in the first three quarters anyway, but the rest of the film is a tremendous disappointment.

I will close by saying that this film almost gave me a heart attack in the first five minutes of the film. I can also say that the acting talents exhibited by the cast was top notch and made you really care about what was happening to them. It is just a shame that the script kept this from becoming an iconic masterpiece in the horror genre.