Recent fright films offer a slight escape from pandemic woes


You’d think it was creeping up on Halloween instead of summertime with all the horror/suspense films populating local theaters.

Maybe it’s a backlog of unreleased films from when Covid-19 shut down theaters and made distributors antsy about releasing new films?

“The Unholy” is still haunting local theaters after its April bow. “A Quiet Place Part II” opened last weekend to gonzo box-office numbers, and today “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” hits the big screen and HBO Max with the tag line, “The Demonic Case That Shocked America.”

Very spooky, but it’s not uncommon for horror movies to make a splash when society is crawling out of hard times like those we’ve been facing during the pandemic.

Films like “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” and “King Kong” debuted between 1931 and 1933 in the throes of the Great Depression. “The Wolf-Man” started a B-movie monster craze the weekend of the Pear Harbor bombing in December of 1941 that did not end until after the troops all came home from World War II.

Some film scholars believe that the success of films like “The Exorcist,” “Jaws,” and “The Omen” in the early to mid-1970s was an outgrowth of the Zeitgeist as society continued to deal with the turbulence and ramifications of inflation, the energy crisis, political disillusionment, and the outcome of the Viet Nam War.

So maybe it’s not so odd that folks want to gather together in a theater to experience the cathartic release that scary movies have traditionally supplied as we creep toward the end of the pandemic and begin to discover what our new normal might be.

While I grew up a fan of Universal and Hammer horror movies and still am nostalgic for them today, the genre doesn’t hold much for me anymore. By now, I’ve seen so many jump scares, which are really more of a function of film’s sound than what’s been captured on film, that I can anticipate them.

Subject matter that was once shockingly fun to me has grown tired and boring. When films do broach subjects which actually do frighten me or set my mind to considering uncomfortable topics, I no longer find such thoughts all that fun or appealing.

Maybe, I’m too old, or death is too near?

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and Keith Arthur Bolden in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It / New Line Cinema

While most films attempt to cast a wide net, all films aren’t made for all people. “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” and “The Unholy” (see April 9 review) fit into that category. Both movies are decidedly creepy. I’d say “The Unholy” offers more of a fright impact, but the mythology around “The Conjuring” franchise is superior because it creates a degree of investment on the part of the viewer.

Stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson do solid work as always, which helps you sink into the movie’s narrative. They do the heavy lifting in the movie playing real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.

James Wan, director of the first two films in the series, developed the story with scripter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, but Michael Chaves (“The Curse of La Llorona”) directed the movie that is based on a 1981 murder case where the suspect claimed he was possessed by a demon, who forced him to kill his landlord.

Again this movie wasn’t made for my particular tastes. For those who find these films fun or engrossing, the movie is more of what Wan served up in the first two movies in the series, just with Chaves’ sensibilities. The movie is effective and scary if you are willing to buy into it. However, it’s not a movie that escapes the borders of its genre for those who aren’t horror aficionados.

Grade: C

A Quiet Place Part II

Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place Part II / Paramount Pictures

As for “A Quiet Place: Part II, it’s a well-made sci-fi horor/thriller directed by John Krasinski, but one I didn’t particularly care for.

I did enjoy the original movie to a degree, but not nearly as much as others, who championed it as an instant classic. It was good, but it’s not a film I’ve revisited. Once was enough.

And that’s likely where my problem rests with the sequel which stars Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, and Noah Jupe. It’s in many ways the same film as the original, just with some new situations and a couple of new characters.

Murphy’s character Emmett is introduced in a flashback when the sightless alien monsters first invade Earth. I did enjoy this background information, but from there the film went back to the familiar trope of the family sneaking around to try and avoid the monsters. Been there; done that.

The main plot takes Emmett and the hearing-impaired Regan (Simmonds) on a quest to find other survivors, while Evelyn (Blunt), her son Marcus (Jupe), and the baby stay at Emmett’s hideout, which of course leads to a showdown with one of the aliens.

Frankly after the prologue, I became bored with the movie. However, if you really enjoyed the first film, this movie might be very entertaining for you. The movie, again, is well made. It just didn’t work for me.

Grade: C

New in Local Theaters

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (watch trailer) / (PG-13) 2 hr. 14 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Rogers Towne

Spirit Untamed (watch trailer) / (PG) 1 hr. 28 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Rogers Towne, Skylight

Classic Corner – Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Harrison Ford and Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark / Paramount Pictures

If aching knees, a receding hairline, and a seemingly never-ending mortgage doesn’t make you feel old, then wait until one of your favorite childhood movie turns 40. Then see how you feel.

Honestly, it’s hard for me to believe that Steven Spielberg’s action-adventure extravaganza “Raiders of the Lost Ark” turns 40 years old this summer.

I vividly remember waiting in line to see it on a steamy Tuesday evening, which was dollar night at the Malco theaters in Memphis, Tenn., even at the “luxurious” Park Theater, which was the first in the Memphis area to get Dolby Sound the year before when “The Empire Strikes Back” made its debut. I still remember the dark room shaking from the thunderous sound when the Imperial Cruisers passed over the screen, just after the opening crawl.

But I digress.

As much as I enjoy the first three Star Wars movies, I feel “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was a movie made for me.

Indiana Jones was a throwback character to the movie serials and adventure films of the 1930s and 1940s, which I literally grew up watching when those films were a staple of afternoon and late-night TV programing in the 1970s.

I doted on those old movies set in exotic places, featuring cryptic mysteries, way-out adventures, and death traps from which our hero barely escaped. Raiders was all of that but with the volume turned up to 11.

While Johnny Weismuller’s Tarzan rivals him in my heart, Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones is my favorite cinematic adventurer of all time. The whip-cracking, hard-drinking, pistol-toting, snake-fearing Indy was a man’s man who wouldn’t let a bunch of Nazis get away with raiding ancient antiquities to use for nefarious ends. “They belong in a museum.”

Harrison Ford is just perfect in the role. He might not have been the first choice — Tom Selleck was but couldn’t get out of “Magnum P.I.” TV contract — but Ford was the right one.

The movie is a true globe-trotting, thrill ride that still puts the best super-hero movies made today to shame. Sorry Iron Man and Batman, Raiders set the high mark for big-screen adventure that no other franchise has topped yet.

I don’t know if “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is my all-time favorite movie or not? But there is absolutely nothing I would change about the movie from Lawrence Kasdan’s script to John Williams’ exhilarating score to Douglas Slocombe’s gorgeous cinematography to Michael Kahn’s deft editing. Spielberg assembled a crack crew, and they made a movie for the ages.

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” is showing on the big screen this week at the Malco Razorback in Fayetteville and the Malco Pinnacle in Rogers at a reduced price.

If you want to go back to the movies, but can’t find anything new that tickles your fancy, consider going to visit your old buddy Indy on the big screen. Maybe introduce someone who has never seen the movie to one of the true summer-time classic films.