Posts Tagged ‘Small Town Big Secret

14
Oct
15

Pet Sematary (1989)

Stephen King’s Pet Sematary is one of those flicks that was always on cable while I was growing up. How many times I’d seen it as a youngster either in full or in part I have no idea, but the only thing that really left an impression on me was the name Gage. Seriously, who names their kid Gage? Anyway, I remembered the film being in ‘good enough’ territory and worthy of a revisit as an adult, so we hit it up for this year’s 31 Days of Horror.

It's always nice wen King makes a special appearance.

It’s always nice when King makes a special appearance.

Louis and Rachel (Denise Crosby) Creed move to a new house in Maine, where Louis has gotten a job teaching medicine at the local university. Their young daughter Ellie and her cat Church look like prime horror targets, but maybe not so much as their toddler son Gage. It’s pretty clear within the first five minutes of this flick that someone is getting hit by a truck before this movie is over. See, the Creeds’ new home is situated on a road frequently traveled by speeding semis. Their friendly neighbor Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne) politely warns them to keep an eye on their cat as a result.

Fred Gwynne is the one true highlight of this movie. Too bad he's underused!

Fred Gwynne is the one true highlight of this movie. Too bad he’s underused!

But fast trucks aren’t the only spooky thing about their new digs; just down the path in the backyard there’s a creepy-ass cemetery. Crandall explains that this cemetery was built by the kids who owned the countless pets that fell victim to speeding trucks on the road. Since this is podunk Maine, we can’t expect the kids to know how to spell, so the name of the place is actually Pet Sematary. Ok?

So a few short days after starting his new job, Louis is confronted with his first human victim of the speeding trucks, Victor Pascow. The kid somehow knows his name and spouts warnings about life and death or something, and then he dies. Shaken up and weirded out, Louis bids his family adieu as Rachel takes the kids to see her parents for Thanksgiving (her dad really hates Louis so he decides not to go). Of course this is a perfect time for Church to get killed by a truck, no? Crandall finds the cat’s corpse in his yard, and breaks the bad news to Louis. But, he says, there may be a way around having to be honest with your kid and telling her what a dumb shit you are for letting the cat run into the road…

Ancient burial grounds are pretty cool looking amirite?

Ancient burial grounds are pretty cool looking amirite?

That’s right. The same shit Pascow warned Louis about is what Crandall is about to show him right now: the real cemetery, some sacred-ass earth which is of course formerly a Native American burial ground. Word on the street is you bury something here, and it won’t stay dead. It comes back. Sure, it’s evil and might kill you and you’re seriously fucking with the balance of the universe, but that’s so much better than being honest with your kid, right?

I thought I wasn’t going to give the whole plot away, but maybe I am. So the cat comes back, and is mean and evil, and somewhere along the line we learn that Rachel had to deal with a sick sister as she was growing up and it made her afraid of confronting death or something. Which is exactly what she’s going to have to do when her kid gets nailed by a truck. Unless of course humans can be buried in the sacred ground and come back to life? Hmmm…

The story of Rachel's sister Zelda seems to be there just so we can have some scary shots of her being scary. At least the make-up is good?

The story of Rachel’s sister Zelda seems to be there just so we can have some scary shots of her being scary. At least the make-up is good?

Look, I haven’t read the book, or any King beyond a handful of short stories, so I can’t speak to how well this is adapted. But I can say that this movie is pretty much shit. I just have absolutely no empathy for any of the characters. The actor that plays Louis, Dale Midkiff, seems as though he is sleepwalking through the role. You’d think a guy whose entire family falls apart and watches some shit come back to life would have some real emotion to display, but no. This guy is like a tree trunk. It is seriously painful to watch.

And let’s talk about Rachel for a second. I think Denise Crosby does a fine job playing her, but she is made so unlikeable and unsympathetic, I really don’t give a shit that her family was basically abusive while she was growing up, or that she’s going through a lot of trauma with a dead kid of her own. She is written like an irritating, one-dimensional mother; you know, the kind of woman you might see at buybuyBABY shopping for the most expensive stroller, and being really, really loud about it.

Denise Crosby pretty much has this look for the whole movie. And whoever's responsible for her wardrobe should be forced to pay her damages.

Denise Crosby pretty much has this look for the whole movie. And whoever’s responsible for her wardrobe should be forced to pay her damages.

In terms of characters, Fred Gwynne’s Jud Crandall is the only saving grace, but even he isn’t given enough time to explain his motivations but for a two-minute indulgence in exposition. I guess a lot of people really take a shining to Victor Pascow, who I forgot to mention spends the rest of the movie as a ghost trying to guide these idiot characters into doing smart things instead of dumb things. Honestly, I kind of felt his presence was annoying. But, uh, the make-up looked good.

I can see some truly interesting things hiding in this movie, which leads me to believe the book probably has a shit-ton more to offer than the shit piled on the screen here. Then again, Stephen King does have the screenplay writing credit, so who knows. The movie obviously tries to tackle a family’s pain in dealing with loss, but either the actors or the writing, or maybe just the two of them together, can’t make it work. There are similar problems with Rachel’s death issues; obviously we are meant to feel bad for Rachel and the crap she dealt with as a child, and how difficult it is for her to come to terms with death as an adult. But the character in the film is so god damn shrill and annoying, I don’t give two shits about how difficult anything is for her. I just want her to shut up.

You know, sometimes I sit down and start writing about a movie I’ve watched, and it isn’t apparent to me just how much I disliked it until I’m done. And, wow, I guess I really hated Pet Sematary. There are a few redeeming factors, and some legitimately scary moments, but for the most part this movie is insufferable. There are far better King adaptations out there, some of which I’ll be writing up later on this month, so stay tuned!

10
Oct
15

The Beast Within (1982)

beastwithinposterI’m not quite sure where to begin with The Beast Within. I sort of assumed, just by its name, that it was a werewolf movie, but it’s not that at all. After having watched it, I’m still not exactly sure what it’s all about. I also assumed that Ronny Cox would play a huge dick in it, because that’s what Ronny Cox does. But he doesn’t! He plays a normal dude! In fact, he plays a dad very concerned about his son. See what happens when you assume? Anyway, I’m not sure The Beast Within will overturn all your expectations, but it certainly is different than your typical horror flick.

The plot is super convoluted, which is one of the film’s shortcomings. If I were to go in-depth not only would this be a 2,000-word blog post, it would also be rife with spoilers. So I’ll do my best to keep it short and sweet. During their honeymoon, Caroline and Eli (Cox) MacLeary run into some car trouble. Eli runs to get help, leaving Caroline and their dog with the car. The dog sees something in the woods (because everyone has car trouble while they’re near the spooky woods) and bolts. Caroline of course goes after the dog, and is mauled and raped by someone… or something.

Caroline and Eli do some digging.

Caroline and Eli do some digging.

Seventeen years later, their son Michael is having some serious medical issues. Fearing they might be genetic, the couple must come to terms with the fact that Michael is the result of Caroline’s rape. So like any loving pair of parents they head to the town where it all went down to look for any information on Michael’s biological father. When they get there, they are confronted with nothing but spooky folks who refuse to cooperate, or even acknowledge that anything bad ever happened in their town. Luckily, Caroline finds a lead while fishing through the library’s old newspapers. Strangely enough, the folks tied to Caroline’s mysterious lead start dying horfiffic deaths, and Michael is becoming less and less like himself…

Yowza, this movie is so all over the place, and so strange! As I said before, the plot is circuitous and confusing and just generally batshitty, and it’s more than a little distracting. I think if it had been simplified even just a little bit, it

The beast within finally comes out...

The beast within finally comes out…

would have made a world of difference. That being said, I still admire how much this movie tries to cram into its 98 minutes, and I certainly didn’t find myself bored or exasperated by it, and for me that’s always a bonus. It even has stuff it wants to say about small-town nepotism and the beasts we all become once we grow into adults, even if it’s done a little clumsily. The performances are all pretty good too; even old Ronny Cox is convincing as a normal dude, which I never thought I’d say. But probably the best thing The Beast Within has got going for it is the practical special effects; damn, that shit looks good.

Apologies for this rather ambiguous post, but I don’t want to give too much away. This movie was fun in large part because I didn’t know what to expect, and I hate it when I accidentally fall down the trap of wasting paragraph upon paragraph detailing the plot. I think this movie is definitely worth your time, so long as you have patience enough to deal with a rather mystifying plot and a weird obsession with locusts.

08
Oct
15

Village of the Damned (1960)

When 2015 started I promised myself I’d read a lot of books this year. Now, here we are in October and I can say with certainty that however many books I’ve read so far doesn’t come anywhere close to anyone’s definition of “a lot.” Realizing this of course didn’t make me run to my reading nook, but instead prompted me to watch a film adaptation of one of the books I did read this year, John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos. After all, it is October, and what says Halloween more than a dozen creepy kids with glowing eyes?

Just a mysteriously-induced nap in the middle of the day for the whole town of Midwich

Just a mysteriously-induced nap in the middle of the day for the whole town of Midwich

Midwich is a small, forgettable village outside of London. New folks rarely show up, and when they do they’re often met with suspicion. Everyone that lives there has known everyone else for essentially their whole lives. There’s absolutely nothing remarkable about the place. That is, until all the residents of the town experience a strange, unexplained simultaneous black-out. Literally every living thing in the confines of the village falls asleep, right in the middle of what they’re doing, at exactly the same time. Scientists from neighboring villages are unable to pinpoint the cause, and when everyone wakes up seemingly normal, it is chalked up to a harmless oddity.

Unfortunately, it turns out not to be so harmless after all. It isn’t long until the local doctor starts to notice a disturbing trend: every single woman of child-bearing age is found to be pregnant. Some even claim to still be virgins. Not only that, the babies are growing at an alarming rate, causing the doctor and the town’s one intellectual, a writer named Zellaby, to question the origin of these babies…

Beware the children with the golden eyes!

Beware the children with the golden eyes!

A few months pass, and the women uneventfully give birth to the babies. Most are strong, and they seem normal, except for their weird golden eyes. It’s when they get older that the problems start to show themselves. They seem to exert a strange control over people to get what they want. Zellaby also discovers that what one toddler learns, the rest of the group learns without being present. They’re like a unit. A big, scary, evil, golden-eyed unit. What plans do they have in store for little old Midwich?

For a flick from 1960, Village of the Damned is pretty effectively freaky. Those shining golden eyes actually look pretty good, but the actors they cast (and those awful haircuts!) do a lot of the heavy-lifting when it comes to making the kids look super creepy. Unsurprisingly though, the film doesn’t have half the bite the book does.

Cross these kids and they'll make you blow your own brains out.

Cross these kids and they’ll make you blow your own brains out.

Clocking in at under 80 minutes, it doesn’t even really give itself the chance to tackle some of the subtleties that make the book so great. Not only that, the characters are kind of just there; there is no time for any of them to develop personalities. You still get a good dose of Cold-War era paranoia, especially with those kids acting all robotic and pretty much sharing a brain, but the book offers so much more than this skimpy film does.

So, is that what I get for reading the book first? It’s always so hard to put my expectations on the back burner and enjoy a film isolated from its source material. The bottom line is, the story this film tells is legitimately spooky, and done well enough. I have to admit I’m curious about John Carpenter’s 1995 version; I wonder if a more modern adaptation would be willing to take more risks than obviously the 1960 version could, or would, have wanted to. But I digress. In the end Village of the Damned is just allright; it’s the “light” version of a seriously creepy story. Cliche as it is, I have to say: the book was better.

03
Oct
15

The Tripper (2006)

Ugh, I’m just not sure where to start with David Arquette’s The Tripper except to say, well, yeah, it’s a David Arquette film. Somehow under some distant sun I felt that was not a deal breaker. Maybe I was swayed by the cast list: Balthazar Getty has that David Lynch connection, so that’s cool right? Lukas Haas has a weird face and was in Lady in White so like, those are promising things, yeah? My nose crinkled a bit at Jason Mewes, but having just watched the entirety of Todd and the Book of Pure Evil and loving everything about it, including Mewes, I thought maybe he offered potential. The deal was sealed probably though with the inclusion of Paul Reubens. I mean, it’s Paul Reubens, I feel like I should watch it on principle just because he’s in it.

Kids do the darndest things.

Kids do the darndest things.

Anyway, for some reason writers Arquette and Joe Harris thought it would be a great idea to make a film about a serial killer obsessed with… Ronald Reagan. Maybe because in 2006 we were in the thick of the Dubya presidency, they thought it would be like, smart or meaningful to remind us all that Ronnie happened or something? Huh.

Paul Reubens plays the patriotic capitalist greedy music guy!

Paul Reubens plays the patriotic capitalist greedy music guy!

So the movie starts off, oh, I don’t know, sometime in the 1970’s in rural Northern California. There’s an honest Scotsman who just wants to chop down enough redwoods to buy medicine for his dying wife, but those god damned tree-hugging hippies have a different plan! They’ll stop at nothing to save the trees, even if it means this guy’s wife dying, or maybe even sacrificing their own lives? Well, maybe they didn’t actually want to die for the trees, but one of them did anyway – at the hands of the Honest Scotsman’s son who gets his hand on a chainsaw and kills the shit out of that loudmouth hippie.

Jason Mewes finds his muse among the marijuana plants.

Jason Mewes finds his muse among the marijuana plants.

Fast forward to 2006, where money-grabbing concert promoter Frank Baker (Reubens) is throwing a music festival among the very same redwoods. Real, live, modern-day hippies show up to be naked and do drugs and shit like that. Ok, ok wait, real, live, modern-day hippies don’t really exist anymore. No, the folks at this gathering are just a bunch of kids interested in getting high, and the local law enforcement is none-too pleased to have to deal with this sort of riff-raff. Despite this, the mayor insists Officer Buzz and company play nice with Baker and the kids. After all, buttloads of money could be made if everything is handled right. The only problem is there seems to be someone out to get all the hippies! Efforts to turn the stinking hordes away from the site of several gruesome murders is futile, and the hippie blood flows.

Killer Ronnie

Killer Ronnie

The Tripper is little more than standard slasher fare, except perhaps slightly more confusing than most. Not that the plot is confusing, because it’s not; it’s pretty predictable in fact. I just can’t figure out its targets. Like, why hippies and Ronald Reagan? It’s like they decided to make a movie about irrelevant shit, while sort of trying to tie it to present-day woes, I guess? Maybe they just thought the idea of a conservative maniac wreaking havoc at a music festival was funny fodder for a horror movie?  Spoiler alert: it’s not. Or rather, perhaps it could be, but it isn’t here. The bottom line is, don’t let the cast list fool you. You can skip this movie and I promise you, you won’t be missing anything at all.

02
Nov
14

Fear No Evil (1981)

There are terrible horror movies, and then there are terrible horror movies. Surely ‘so bad it’s good’ is a phrase you’ve heard uttered before in reference to a terrible horror movie that does nothing right, but still manages to keep its audience engaged and entertained. Then there are the terrible horror movies, the ones that are just so incredibly poorly made and make no sense, but in this really terrible, irritating way. Unfortunately Day 29’s selection of 31 Days of Horror, Frank LaLoggia’s Fear No Evil, falls into the latter category.FearNoEvilposter

Part of the problem with this movie is there is just absolutely way too much going on, so synopsizing it isn’t going to be easy. Basically, a couple living in small-town upstate New York (LaLoggia obviously has a preferred setting) give birth to Lucifer (or Andrew). It just so happens that two of three archangels reside in the same small town. The eldest angel (Mikhail or Margaret, depending on who you are) tries to convince the local Priest she needs help slaying the monster, but the Priest is still pissed off at her because her brother killed the last incarnation of Lucifer, and that was murder! All the while, Lucifer has really neat hair, gets straight A’s, and makes out with boys in the shower at the local high school. Everyone there listens to really awesome New Wave.

When blood explodes all over the place from an unknown origin while your kid is getting baptized, maybe he is Lucifer.

When blood explodes all over the place from an unknown origin while your kid is getting baptized, maybe he is Lucifer.

Mikhail/Margaret fails to convince the priest he should postpone the church’s annual free performance of the Passion play, even though she is certain some terrible evil is about to take over the town. That same night Andrew/Lucifer somehow raises the dead from this dilapidated castle place where the old Lucifer ran a company and killed a bunch of the workers or something and now they’re all zombies and they’re going to do Lucifer/Andrew’s bidding. I really hoped at this point the zombie horde was going to overtake the peaceful parishioners at the Passion play and the movie would end in a crescendo of zombie vs. churchgoer mayhem, but instead in the end Lucifer just ends up being a glam-rock version of Dracula, swooping his cape and sacrificing women at altars and stuff.

Lucifer likes birthday cake and tidy hair cuts.

Lucifer likes birthday cake and tidy hair cuts.

Holy moly, this movie just makes one mistake after another. Where do I even start? I guess its worst offense is that it has no idea what kind of movie it actually wants to be. Is it a zombie movie? A vampire movie? A religious movie? A teen slasher flick? A family drama? The movie is none of these, but aspires to be all of them. The film can’t even manage to hold a tone for an entire scene. Not only that, scenes seem to end prematurely; just when you think there’s going to be an interesting confrontation, we cut to a different movie entirely. There is no cohesion from one moment to the next. If you played a ‘what the hell’ drinking game while watching this movie, you wouldn’t get through it without downing a few bottles of liquor.

Never a good sign when Lucifer's eyes turn yellow and he's sweaty...

Never a good sign when Lucifer’s eyes turn yellow and he’s sweaty…

I’m not even sure if it’s worth getting into the lack of character development here. Put it simply, there is none. Lucifer’s parents hate each-other, and the dad is convinced it’s because his child is evil incarnate. He is right, of course, but he and Lucifer’s mom never actually have a conversation about it. They get into a fight over Lucifer’s birthday cake and she gets brain damage as a result well before they can actually discuss repairing their marriage. Then there’s the slew of high school kids we come into contact with. Most high school movies have a range of stereotypical characters, and Fear No Evil is no different, but here even having most of the high school scenes is pointless and irrelevant to what I think is supposed to be the main plot. I haven’t decided if the weirdest high school scene is where Lucifer possesses the gym teacher into dodgeballing a boy to death, or the part where Lucifer is taunted in the gym’s shower by a couple of bullies and ends up making out with one of them in front of everyone.

DEATH BY DODGEBALL

DEATH BY DODGEBALL

Then there is Julie/Gabrielle, another high school kid whose boyfriend was the poor kid that got dodgeballed to death, right after they got engaged. She’s confused and sad and also an archangel and has dreams about fucking Lucifer. Did Lucifer kill her boyfriend specifically because he knew she was an angel? Or was it because he liked her like a human boy likes a human girl? No sense in pondering a question to which there’s no answer, I suppose. But she goes and hangs out with the creepy old lady/Mikhail/Margaret and they get their hands on a glowing staff in hopes of slaying Lucifer before his zombies can kill everyone in town, or something.

I'm sorry, when did Lucifer turn into a vampire?

I’m sorry, when did Lucifer turn into a vampire?

If you’ve ever eaten a burrito bowl at Chipotle, you’ll know what I mean when I say Fear No Evil is missing the guacamole: there is no cohesive element to keep all the fragments glued together; there’s an errant grain of rice everywhere you look. LaLoggia really likes the look of seemingly every movie he’s ever seen and tries to incorporate it all in one film with absolutely disastrous results. It is easy to see the roots of Lady in White here, especially in the first fifteen minutes of the film, which is dripping with sentimentality and nostalgia. But then he must have gone to a new wave concert in the middle of filming and decided Talking Heads, Ramones, Richard Hell & The Voidoids among other great bands should be included in this film about angels hunting Lucifer on earth.

Last but not least, there’s the whole Lucifer thing. I don’t know what kind of Lucifer LaLoggia grew up with, but I never got my Lucifer mixed up with Count Dracula. By the end of the film, Lucifer/Andrew is a cape-swooping glam-rock vampire, which sounds amazing, and probably would be in any other movie, but here it is just like… WHERE THE FUCK DID THIS COME FROM? It just does not make any damn sense no matter how you slice it.

I didn't even mention the really shitty special effects. Look at the shitty special effects. And crying Lucifer.

I didn’t even mention the really shitty special effects. Look at the shitty special effects. And crying Lucifer.

While this movie may seem like it has all the perfect elements for a so-bad-it’s-good joke-a-thon, it’s missing the most important thing: watchability. This movie is just so absolutely dreadful, frustrating and exhausting to watch, I can’t imagine anyone having fun with it. It’s not often I insist in the middle of a movie we pause it and venture out into the world for ice cream, because only ice cream can make it tolerable, but that is exactly what happened with Fear No Evil. It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the ice cream did not help improve my feelings towards this piece of garbage. All that being said, though, I think there is a very, very small audience of folks who would want to spend the time to watch this movie. If you have the sort of tolerance for a legitimately terrible, horrible, irredeemable movies and this blog post has poked your curiosity, it might be worth your time, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

12
Oct
14

Dead and Buried (1981)

Pretty scenery in Potter's Bluff...

Pretty scenery in Potter’s Bluff…

For day 11 of 31 Days of Horror, we check out what kind of horror Alien writer Dan O’Bannon can dream up right here on earthly soil. Dead and Buried is a seriously creepy story exploring the weirdness of the American small town, and what big secrets all those seemingly happy and smiling faces can be keeping from you!

Welcome to Potter’s Bluff, a tiny town on Rhode Island’s shore. What better place to get some leisurely photography in? George Le Moyne sure enjoys shooting the scenery, but he never dreamt it would get as sexy as it did! A beautiful blonde walks into his camera’s frame and starts taking her clothes off. Hot damn, looks like Le Moyne’s hit the jackpot! That’s what he thinks, of course until some ominous-looking locals close in on him, cover him in a fishing net, tie him to a post and burn him alive all while snapping photos of his face. Bummer!

Sheriff Gillis (James Farentino) wonders what the hell could be going on in his hometown.

Sheriff Gillis (James Farentino) wonders what the hell could be going on in his hometown.

Cut to Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino), a local boy who left town to get an education (shame on him) who’s come back to re-plant his roots in Potter’s Bluff. He’s on the scene of a terrible car accident, and though the victim has no identification, you and I know that it is Le Moyne. Unfortunately for the locals, it looks like Le Moyne has survived. Unfortunately for Le Moyne, our beautiful blonde is out to get him yet again!

More out-of-towners start dying, and Gillis smells a rat; especially when one of the locals comes knocking on the door saying Freddie, the smiling face at the gas station, looks exactly like Le Moyne. Are the dead coming back to life? Suddenly everyone is looking suspicious, even his wife. Can the sheriff solve the mystery before it’s too late?

The local mortician (Jack Albertson) has been getting a lot of work lately.

The local mortician (Jack Albertson) has been getting a lot of work lately.

Dead and Buried is a surprisingly good and effective horror movie. I think I must be so used to watching movies for style and comedy that I forget how nice it is to watch a legitimately chilling movie. I definitely spent the entirety of the movie wondering what the hell was going on, and was pretty surprised by the ending. I rarely experience this nowadays; usually I can see where a movie is headed from the very beginning, and so I expect the movie to wow me in other ways.

I’m hesitant to say much more about the film for fear of spoiling its surprises. If you’re looking for a film that might actually freak you out, this one is your man. It’s also got pretty good make-up effects that are worth seeing. It’s not the most amazing movie I’ve ever seen, but it achieves the job it sets out to do, and it works. Additionally, the cast includes Robert Englund and Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) in his last film role. Worth a watch!

17
Feb
14

Lady in White (1988)

When I was a kid, there was a handful of movies I watched over and over and over and over. The more of these movies I watch as an adult, the more I wonder to myself: what the heck kind of kid was I? I am very thankful to have had parents that trusted me to watch basically whatever I wanted, because the movies I considered favorites as a kid obviously have had an enormous impact on my taste in weird stuff later in life, and for that I am forever grateful! Though I wouldn’t call Lady in White a particularly weird movie, I think it’s at least safe to say that, despite the fact there are children in the movie, it is not a movie made for children! Just what the appeal was to an 8-year-old me, I can’t say, except I did have a thing for ghosts…

The story is set in Small Town, NY, 1962. It’s Halloween, and little Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas) is super pumped for his favorite holiday; the boy is, after all, an aspiring horror writer. He dazzles his class with his giant monster story, but two young boys are less than impressed, and decide it would be a great idea to lock Frankie in the coat room all night long. They trick him into thinking he’s left his hat, a gift from his father, in the coat room. While he goes in to look for it, they slam the door, lock it, and leave him to spend Halloween alone in the dark, conveniently overlooking a cemetery!

Frankie telling stories

Frankie telling stories

Frankie finally drifts off to sleep, but soon he is rudely awakened by the ghostly figure of a young girl, skipping and singing her way into the coat room. She is talking to someone, but we can’t see who. Their interaction becomes dark very quickly when the unseen person throttles the ghost and drags her out of the coat room by her hair. Frankie tries to keep silent and hidden, but eventually the unknown man notices him and starts choking him, too, until he passes out.

When Frankie wakes up, he is unable to identify the person who choked him, though according to the racist community all signs point to the African-American janitor, who had passed out in the school’s basement while drinking. The situation doesn’t look very good for the janitor; Frankie’s attack has been linked to the murder of eleven children over the years, one of whom is Melissa Ann Montgomery, without a doubt the same girl Frankie saw dancing in the coat room. Frankie senses the janitor isn’t the killer, but he has no proof. His only hope is to retrieve the man’s ring from the vent in the cloak room, which he is certain will identify the true murderer.

The ghost girl gets it

The ghost girl gets it

The film tells the story of a pretty standard murder mystery, intriguing for kids I guess because it’s kids who actually solve the thing, not the adults. And while there is definitely a lot of eye candy here for kids, there are some uncomfortable moments of violence against children that are definitely super creepy and must have scared the crap out of me when I was little. Perhaps the adult-world scary stuff was mitigated by Frankie’s friendship with Melissa the ghost girl; the two become “friends” and it becomes Frankie’s mission to reunite Melissa with her mother who committed suicide after her daughter’s death.

Then there is, of course, the actual story of the Lady in White, a local legend about an old woman who haunts a scary old house by the cliffs. The characters mention her throughout the film, and her true story is something Frankie uncovers while figuring out just about every other secret of his small town. So, there are an awful lot of dirty little secrets for a nine-year-old boy to stumble upon; good thing he likes a thrilling mystery.

All in all, this movie is good enough, though it must be said that it is absolutely dripping with sentimentality. Frankie is re-telling us the story years later, so I guess it’s understandable that a trip back home after years of being away would evoke strong nostalgia, but they lay it on pretty damn thick here – there’s Frankie’s grandmother, who is always yelling at the family to get out of the cold, and Frankie’s grandfather, who does his best to hide behind various buildings to get a smoke without being caught by his wife. There’s the general store with all your favorite old Halloween toys, goofiness between Frankie and his brother Geno; anything you can think of that would make you yearn for days long passed, it’s here and it’s a bit much. This is obviously something that didn’t strike me as problematic as a kid, but it’s virtually impossible to watch the movie now without vomiting a little in your mouth over its sickly sweetness.

The lady in white is... Katherine Helmond!

The lady in white is… Katherine Helmond!

If you can get past the overt nostalgia and the weird adult-on-child violence, this movie’s pretty okay, but it’s a far cry from a must-see. The best mysteries always involve a ghost here and there, so it’s got that going for it. But, the best part about the movie is probably the casting; Lukas Haas and his big eyes are just about perfect for the role of a budding mystery novelist. It is hard for me to see that guy as anyone other than Frankie Scarlatti.




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Old Wave