Gore porn (Hostel, Saw, etc . . . ) has taken over the scary movie market, and in that genre, the more grisly, authentic and perverse a killing, the better. There is never any question of escape for the protagonists. Almost all (if not all ) will be sacrificed, mutilated, or both so that a potential franchise is not suffocated in the crib.

Films that truly create a creepy sense of dread are dinosaurs. In The Exorcist, for example, none of William Friedken’s visual frights happen for nearly an hour. The head spinning, pea-soup vomiting and levitating all follow a rigorous exposition on the characters, the time, Catholic theology, medical inquiry and the growing mystery that surrounds a little girl who keeps getting sicker.  There is no chance such a film in its current form would be greenlit today. The best Friedken could hope for would be an early shot of pea-soup vomiting followed by flashback.

Sue me, but I’m a fan of horror film foreplay, which explains my enthusiasm for this years’ The Woman in Black and the Paranormal Activity films (I’ve seen 1 and 2, but not the third installment). The premise is simple. Modern day characters live in homes haunted by demons. The story is recorded ala’ The Blair Witch Project (in the first Paranormal film, one of the residents starts with a handheld camera and when things get spooky, sets up a few security cameras to validate his claims of the supernatural at work; in the second film, after the house is ransacked, the owners also install internal security cameras, supplemented by a teenage daughter’s video journal).

 The effect is chilling though very little happens for awhile. A hanging pot falls. Doors swing open. Shadows appear. And curious noises emit. In both films, however, the demon is aggravated even as we learn the source of its existence, and from there, things move with alarming speed.  Adding to the fear is the use of unknown actors.  Because they look like you in a wedding video or security cam, you feel more vulnerable.

Sure, some of their decisions are questionable.  But when demons infest your house, you’re allowed a few bad decisions.


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A rough, gritty picture about a girl (Jennifer Lawrence) living a bleak life in the hills of Missouri.  Her father is a crank processor who put up the family land for bond and has gone missing.  Accordingly, it is up to her to navigate the familial bonds and brutal reality of her surroundings to find and convince him to appear for trial.  Her journey takes us to the core of a backward society that in many ways echoes the distrustful, independent and dangerous world of Walter Hill’s The Long Riders, although this is a modern day setting.  The film also echoes James Foley’s At Close Range, giving an insight into a foreign criminal world in our rural midst.

Ben Affleck’s follow-up to Gone Baby Gone finds Affleck sticking with his roots, again setting the film in a desolate part of Boston.  But there is no larger aim in this film; it’s a straightforward crime caper, part Heat and part The Departed, with a few nice twists, solid performances and Don Draper as the dogged FBI agent on the trail of a Boston robbery squad.  No great shakes, but it’s efficient, smooth and entertaining, and Affleck smartly plays the lead as monochromatic, keeping his lifting to a minimum.