Horror Cinema: Gone in the Night (2022)

As a teen in the 90s, I loved Winona Ryder. Her movies, from Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael to Reality Bites, shaped much of my adolescence and coming of age. I was excited to see that she recently starred in a horror movie, Gone in the Night.

Image from Cover City

I admit that I went into the movie with low expectations because I haven’t liked much of Winona Ryder’s work over the past 10 or 20 years. But her renewed popularity being on Netflix’s Stranger Things gave me hope that she could be working on a better quality movie.

Image from JoBlo.com

I enjoyed the film. The characters were interesting, and how the story unfolded kept my interest. Although it had plot reveals throughout it, there were clues in scenes well before the reveals, which I appreciated. I don’t like twists and turns that blind-side me, so I liked how I could piece together the story as the protagonist uncovered the plot’s mystery.

The movie could have ended in one of many ways, and I liked how it concluded. It felt just artsy and weird enough to make me feel satisfied that I was watching a Winona Ryder movie.

Image from Readsme

Horowitz, Eli. Gone in the Night, Vertical Entertainment, 2022.

Horror Cinema: The Sentinel (1977)

I discovered the 1977 horror movie The Sentinel on late night tv as a teenager of the 90s. With its mix of ghosts and strangeness—like the birthday party for a cat—I was hooked. By the time I saw The Sentinel, I was already a fan of Rosemary’s Baby and the 1930s movie Freaks, so, when the movie ended with the heroine being forced into the role of the sentinel after being groomed for it like Rosemary as the mother of the anti-christ along with actors with deformities crowding the halls as the denizons of Hell, I knew that this movie would be a personal favorite. Over the years, I have revisited The Sentinel, and I always enjoy its quirkiness and creepiness.

Researching trivia on the movie, I was surprised to learn that it was fraught with problems. The story’s writer, Jeffrey Konvitz, did not like the director, Michael Winner, or what Winner did with the casting or film. Konvitz commented that Winner was “too pedestrian a director” to make the film a good horror movie like The Omen and called him an egomaniacal maniac in a bluray commentary. Konvitz did not like that the protagonist looked different than the protagonist from his story, and he would have cast an unknown in the part who looked more like the story’s character.

Winner himself was not happy with the casting. He originally wanted Martin Sheen to play the male lead, but he was told that Sheen was a “tv name,” so he could not cast him. The producer wanted Chris Sarandon because he had recently been nominated for an Oscar.

For how much I love this movie, I was also surprised to find out that it is not a popular film. In fact, most people hate it.

Despite its problems, The Sentinel tells a great ghost story with that slower pace common of 70s movies that builds toward a creepy ending.

Winner, Michael. The Sentinel, Universal Pictures, 1977.

Behind-the-scenes facts from IMDb Trivia: The Sentinel (1977).

Horror Cinema: Grave Encounters

Full disclosure: I love Zak Bagans and Ghost Adventures.

The host, Zak, is endearing and kind to others but becomes angry and dramatic around ghosts and ghost activity. I live for ghosts caught on camera, and the show has some of the best audio and video recordings that send chills up my spine. I also like that the episodes are thoughtful in their storytelling about the locations they visit, with their mix of spookiness and a reverence for the past and the spirit world.

Watching the movie Grave Encounters, I was immediately connected to the characters because they were a parody of the Ghost Adventures crew, and I felt like I already knew who they were. I love jump scares and all things ghosts, so I truly enjoyed the movie. I was particularly surprised by the turn of events in the last quarter. It was not what I was expecting, but it was everything I never knew I wanted! Grave Encounters is one of a few horror movies that I liked from beginning to end, and on multiple viewings.

A sequel was made that I did not like as much, but I would recommend it for the purists who want to see it for themselves.

The Vicious Brothers. Grave Encounters, Tribeca Film, 2011.

Famous Accused Witch: Anne Hibbins

Anne Hibbins was not popular in her Boston community in the mid-1600s. There was her privilege, her demanding standards, and her penchant for speaking her mind.

When Hibbins’ husband died in 1654, she became vulnerable—on June 19, 1656, she was hanged for being a witch. It would be some 35 years before rampant accusations of witchcraft consumed the nearby town of Salem, but Hibbins’ conviction would lay bare the vulnerability of women in patriarchal New England of the 1600s. It was later said that Hibbins “was hanged for a witch, only for having more wit than her neighbors.”

“Traditionally, witchcraft was considered a ‘working class crime,’” says Emerson Baker, a historian at Salem State University and author of A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience. “That is, most of the accused were the poorer members of society. And, when wealthy and prominent people were accused, they usually were found not guilty. Anne Hibbins was the first high-status New Englander to be executed for witchcraft.”

Learn more about the trials that led to Anne Hibbins’ conviction and hanging on History.com’s This Wealthy Woman Was Hanged as a Witch for Speaking Her Mind.

Horror Cinema: X

Ti West’s horror movies are among my favorites—The Innkeepers, The Sacrament, and The House of the Devil—that I have seen multiple times. His newest feature, X, lives up to his reputation.

Like his previous movies, X takes a horror genre cliché and puts a refreshing new spin on it. Like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the Wrong Turn series, X takes place in a remote country setting with the locals as villains. Watching it, I admit that I was skeptical at first because I had seen the storyline before. But, I was intrigued early on because of the reason why the main cast of characters was going to the remote country location, which was something I had never seen before, so that kept my attention. Then, as the narrative unfolded and the villain was introduced and developed, I was hooked!

With good pacing, satisfying gore, and a strong cast of characters, I highly recommend X.

West, Ti. X, A24, 2022.

Horror Cinema: Lin Shaye Appreciation Post

I am fan of the Insidious franchise mostly because of Lin Shaye’s character Elise Rainier. I was especially happy when the movies became largely about her character, offering more of Lin Shaye’s sincere and haunting performances.

Image from screengeek.net

Did you know that Lin Shaye has been acting in the horror genre for a while? She was a high school teacher in 1984’s Nightmare on Elm Street.

Image from flipscreened.com

A more recent horror movie starring Lin Shaye is 2019’s Room for Rent.

With the same sincerity she uses to play Elise Rainier, Lin Shaye makes the protagonist of Room for Rent endearing. However, in this movie, instead of being a champion for good like Elise, her character is obsessive and dark. She certainly carries the movie, but she does it well.

Craven, Wes. Nightmare on Elm Street, New Line Cinema, 1984.
Stovall, Tommy. Room for Rent, Uncork’d Entertainment, 2019.
Wan, James and Leigh Whannell (created by). Insidious (film series), 2011-ongoing.

Horror Cinema: The Turning

I came across The Turning on Netflix. I enjoyed most of it: the contrast of the modern main character with the older estate and secondary characters; the jump scares with the mannequin; a creepy kid, who is a ghost?

My interest fell off about two thirds through when I lost touch with where the story was going. The main character was going mad and seeing things, and, instead of focusing in on the ghost story as a conclusion, I found that it spiraled out into chaos.

I have never been that impressed by Henry James’s “Turning of the Screw.” I have tried a few times over my lifetime because I love some of his other works, and I love nothing more than a ghost story. When I started this movie, I was hopeful that it would be a fresh take on the story and could change my mind on the source material.

Not successful.

Sigismondi, Floria. The Turning, Universal Pictures, 2020.

Spooky 19th-century Book Illustrations by French Artist Édouard de Beaumont