I’ve seen hundreds of bad horror movies in my life, and I’m willing to bet you’ve never heard of most of them. After awhile movies like Dead Girls (girl-band murdered by a psycho), Highway to Hell (pizza delivery boy vs. Hellcop), Syngenor (Syngenor!) and Satan’s Princess (the title says it all) take their toll. Unfortunately, most bad horror movies aren’t scary or even funny. They’re just dull. I’m sorry to report that Rabid Grannies isn’t as good as it sounds; the guys at MST3K wouldn’t touch this direct-to-video crap.
But once in awhile a very, very special movie comes along.
The Conjuring is the Disney Haunted Mansion of horror movies. It takes all the beats, tropes and dumb clichés of the genre, creepy dolls, possessed mommies, kids talking to their invisible friends, things that go bump in the night, stupid people who descend into the basement saying ‘who’s there?,’ and rolls them into an overstuffed Greatest Hits version of a haunted house movie.
The plot: if you’ve seen The Amityville Horror or any other haunted house movie, you know the plot. The Perron family, mom, dad and five (!) daughters, move into their new house, only to discover it’s haunted. They ask acclaimed (?) demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren to help rid them of evil spirit Bathsheba.
The point when I knew I was watching a very special movie came when one of the older kids – it’s hard to tell them apart, because the writers never bother giving them actual personalities – is awoken by her sleepwalking sister trying to walk into the standing wardrobe. When the cranky teen goes to help her sister we pan up to see Bathsheba, looking like Linda Blair on a bad hair day, crouching atop the wardrobe, whereupon she leaps upon the dumbstruck teen with a great shriek.
((A side-note: Bathsheba must have been one happy spirit. She has FIVE kids and their hapless Mom to torment, an embarrassment of riches.))
The Conjuring is set in the 70’s. Ed sports a pair of rockin’ sideburns and Lorraine favors big collars. Indeed, the movie is full of 70’s touches. There are station wagons, VW bugs, even a Brady Bunch episode. The attitudes are delightfully retro. When Mrs. Perron mentions their frantic dog outside, chained to a tree, Mr. Perron waves it off, saying something like ‘the dog will be fine (Spoiler: the dog isn’t fine).’ Today the pooch would have his own air-conditioned doghouse. In other ways The Conjuring falls down on the job. If you watch any 70’s flick, you will know that all the characters smoke like chimneys.
I am not going to get into whether the Warrens were hucksters, but will note that The Conjuring is based on the True Case Files of the Warrens. Fair enough. There are those who say Godzilla’s based on a true story, also. The Warrens ARE bad parents, keeping a treasure trove of demon-infested relics in their study. At one point Ed finds his young daughter wandering around the study and mildly scolds her.
((Side-note #2: it would be remiss to not mention the presence of Annabelle, the Creepy Doll From Hell Who Should Have Her Own Movie, in The Conjuring. I must confess that I think haunted dolls are way overrated. Annabelle is creepy, yes, but I bet I could kick a five-pound doll’s ass.))
Nobody in The Conjuring has much of a personality. Ed’s concern for his wife is cute, but he’s such a pushover we know he’ll just roll over whenever he tries to put his foot down. The Perrons are so full of domestic bliss that it’s almost a relief when Bathsheba starts her antics. At one point Mrs. Perron asks her husband if he feels up to christening the house, i.e. fucking, and my high hopes were immediately crushed by a cute domestic scene.
((Side-note #3: you have to wonder about Mr. and Mrs. Perron’s family planning skills. At first I figured they were good Catholics. Makes sense, since they have five kids, but it turns out they never got around to baptizing those kids, which doesn’t sound very Catholic to me. Maybe they’re the type of people who drift through life hoping things will turn out okay. Please note that these are the type of people who end up in haunted-house movies.))
The Conjuring has two direct inspirations: Poltergeist (the original) and the TV series Friday the 13th, about three dumb jackasses trying to retrieve an antique store full of cursed items. The monkey doll and staticky TV are direct shout-outs. Bottom line: The Conjuring is well-made, but it most definitely is not a good movie. Four out of the five flicks I’ve seen so far are better. But, honestly, I will remember this movie when the others are dim memories. The Conjuring is a true rarity, a good bad movie, and I can’t wait to see the sequel. Highly recommended!