I’ve definitely taken a bit of a break in my drunken reviewings of horror movies, but it’s not because I’ve given up drinking or quit watching movies, rather I just have this tendency to get a little too intoxicated and then I end up forgetting!
So this review has been a while in coming, but I swear it’s worth it, and I also swear to try to do these more often. Up on the block is the movie Sinister:
Now as a long time Rue Morgue subscriber I’ve seen a lot being said about this movie and many full page features advertising it, and since I do enjoy creepy dead children movies, this one seemed to be pretty legit – if only because it promised to be something different than the torture-porn-horror that seems to be currently over-saturating the genre. Well either that or just shit-garbage like Cabin in the Woods. Ugh. I’m still so bent out of shape about that movie. Regardless of all this I obtained a copy of the movie Sinister and sat about watching.
First off this movie stars Ethan Hawke, and I have to say he’s aged pretty well. He’s pretty sexy in this weird drink too much whiskey and lay his hands on you type of way, but I’m fine with that.
The premise of the movie essentially centers on Ethan Hawke’s character Ellison Oswalt (named after seminal science fiction writer Harlan Ellison and comedian Patton Oswalt), who is a failing true crime writer, who is moving his wife and two children into a house in a small town where the murder of a whole family took place. What he does not inform his wife is that not only are they moving to the town where the murder took place but into the very house where an entire family was murdered and hung from the tree in the backyard.
The movie opens up creepily enough by showing a kind of found footage home movie of the family with bags over their heads and nooses around their necks, and as a tree branch is cut, the weight pulls them upward and their bodies dangle and dance. It’s really macabre and creepy and I was generally pretty freaked out. As we learn more about Ethan Hawke’s character we find that he had previously written a book called “Kentucky Blood” about another string of murders, and due to the infamy he has received regarding being a true crime writer and having aided in bringing a killer to justice, his family has a tendency of being “run out of town” by the local townsfolk. His family does not receive a warm welcome from the local law enforcement and he is told by the Sheriff that it’s “in bad taste” to move into the house where the murder took place, which is kind of obvious. The kicker to this particular case is that not only was a whole family murdered, but the youngest child, a little girl, went missing and was never found and somehow he has the backwards ass belief that he is going to find her, and bring the “murderer/kidnapper” to justice.
Just speaking from personal experience here – living in a house where someone was killed is bad bad ju-ju, I don’t care what your religious beliefs are. So for whatever reason he moves his family into this home, and creates a kind of writerman-cave resplendent with photos of the crime scene, little notes and anecdotes and also a fully stocked bar with big bottles of whiskey. The family dynamic is somewhat strained – the wife wants him to give up writing true crime so they can have something of a normal life, but he is pretty steadfast in wanting to “solve the mystery” of the missing girl/murder. It is revealed that he wants to do this in order to get money/fame, less on the bringing the perp to justice side as he had previously stated during the writing of Kentucky Blood.
As the family moves in, Ellison finds a box of “home movies” on Super 8 film as well as projector laying around in the attic.. and he does what anyone would do – takes that shit back to his study and loads up the projector and has a watch and uh-oh it’s a film of the family being hung, as well as other films of several other family murders in which a child ends up missing afterwards.
The films include a family tied to lawn chairs with bricks on them and drowned in a pool, a family being cut apart by lawn mowers, and a family being burned alive in their car in their garage. Also at this point Ellison notices a dark figure present in the “Pool Party” film.
Aaaaannd as scary as the figure is supposed to be, it bears a striking resemblance to Abbath from Immortal and for the rest of the movie I was stuck on that thought.
I know that Black Metal is “supposed” to be scary and what not (is it?), but I’ve hung around with enough metal heads that I just find them all to be big ass nerds and not really frightening (unless you count personal hygiene), and I mean one really only needs to watch “Until the Light Takes Us” and see Varg Vikernes giggling about cornflakes to realize that metal is definitely not anything to take too seriously (my apologies to all you hardcore metalhead readers – metal is awesome, but it’s the joke the audience never got).
Ellison begins to get something of an obsession with this figure and also notices an occult symbol present at all of the murders and enlists the help of an occult professor to track down information as to the “ritualistic” nature of the murders. He also opts out of involving the police and showing them the “home movies”, again because he wants the fame and glory involved in “cracking the case”, and rather gains something of an informant in a junior officer who agrees to give Ellison information about other multiple murders to see if any fit the bill for his “serial killer”. what Ellison learns is that all of these home movies correspond with a string of murders in which whole families were killed while one child “went missing”, and at this time we are treated to some disturbing scenes of Ellison’s own children (a son and a daughter) doing weird creepy child things like randomly hiding in boxes and acting possessed:
and painting disturbing Abbath like imagery on the walls:
It would good to note at this point that Ellison’s daughter is a painter of sorts and this does tie in later with the ending of the film.
By this time in the film Ellison has really degraded into drinking constantly and is having disturbing visions of the “Black Metal” killer, and strange encounters with neighborhood dogs. He is not doing well emotionally which might come from having borne witness to multiple snuff films over and over during the course of a week. As Ellison’s mental state and marriage both begin to fall apart he is informed by the occult professor that the symbol he has found in the snuff films belong to the pagan deity known as “Bughuul”, a deity believed to take children into his realm and consume their souls. Ellison is sent several images in poor states of repair and is informed that ancient peoples believed that simply looking at Bughuul or images of him were gateways into his realm, so not a lot of information remains in existence about this deity. During the Skype conversation Ellison has with the professor, there is a hilarious and random reference to Norwegian black metal, where in the professor says “this isn’t a symbol like a pentagram some Black Metal band would paint on a church wall in goat’s blood”, which tipped me off a bit as to how this movie came to be, but I will come back to that.
After having a particularly disturbing vision involving the missing children (whose makeup is pretty subpar and lame) where Bughuul appears before him and realizing the true depth of what he has walked into, Ellison destroys the projector and film and moves his family out of the house and back to their old home. At their old home he is dismayed to discover the same box of film and projector hiding out in his attic, only now it contains an envelope labelled “extended cuts”.. and being the sane and obviously rational person he is, he of course loads it up and re-watches all of the snuff films with their extended endings in which he finds that the missing children present themselves as the killers of their own families. He also receives a phone call from the junior police officer informing him that the connection between the families involves all of the houses they have lived in and each family lived in the house where the previous family had been murdered and the murders are triggered by moving, meaning that Ellison and his family are next. At this point Ellison is horrified and also possibly drunk and looks into his coffee cup and sees a kind of greenish substance floating in his coffee that is also for some reason glowing, and finds a note from his daughter reading “Good Night Daddy” and he promptly passes out. I should mention to at this time that all of the families in these murders had previously been drugged as well, so I guess that’s what that glowstick fluid was, as to why someone would go to all the work of planning a gruesome multiple murder only to sedate the victims beforehand is beyond my realm of thinking. Maybe it was pagan deity magic potion?
Anyways, our Good Buddy Ellison wakes up to find himself bound and gagged with his wife and son also bound and gagged while his creepy painter daughter wields simultaneously an axe and a Super 8 camera. She leans forward and tells him “I’m going to make you famous again” and then murders her father, mother and brother and paints pictures on the walls using their blood and then rewatches the murder tape she has just made and in the tape sees the missing children watching her. As she watches the children watch her, Bughuul appears behind her and the children flee and Bughuul scoops the little girl up into his arms and they disappear into the movie. The movie end cuts with the box of film containing a new reel of film called “House Painting” and then Bughuul appears meaning I guess that he’s watching us?
So that’s the basics of the movie Sinister – my opinion on it is that it was alright, worth the watch but a little bit hyped up in my opinion. The movie had a bad habit of showing you something really creepy, like the Super 8 footage and then degenerating into relying on the “jump scare” shit popping out at you tactic, which is alright but got way overused after the first couple of times. I didn’t really find the Bughuul character to be spooky, again because of the connection to Black Metal and that I don’t find Black Metal frightening. It is interesting to note that the director of the film was inspired by black metal singers and photos in the making of Bughuul’s image, which might also explain the really random and forced black metal reference that I point out earlier in my summary. I was researching information for this review and apparently the director of this film had a nightmare after watching the movie “The Ring” and then typed “darkness” or “despair” into tumblr and found pictures of black metal musicians and decided that was what he wanted to base his killer/pagan deity thing on. Overall I found the concept of Bughuul to be pretty fucking weak, mostly because black metal doesn’t scare me in the slightest, and also that the movie used really really forced psuedo occult materials such as Satanic woodblock prints from the Dark Ages and tried really hard to spookify a dude who looked like he stumbled out of a black metal video. Then again I don’t really find the occult to be really frightening subject matter so the combination of the two was just weaksauce for me. In my opinion you just have to scratch the surface of the so-called “occult” and see that it’s all a bunch of misinformation and malarkey but I will save that rant for my other blog!
I also took a bit of issue with Ethan Hawke’s character, who spends the entirety of the movie either knowingly or unknowingly referencing Ernest Hemingway – he’s drinking a shitload of booze, writing and wearing a crazy cable knit Grandpa sweater and is also named after Harlan Ellison.
The boozy, crazy writer cliche invoked a lot of Secret Window/9th Gate thoughts for me, and I found Ethan Hawke wasn’t really convincing as a writer? He makes a lot of flow charts and writes himself a lot of post it notes but he’s not actually doing a lot of writings.. He is certainly dressed the part and looks like a writer but I don’t buy it. Also at one point someone makes a reference to Stephen King and I practically died, because everyone on set must have just been jerking each other off big time, and elbowing each other in the ribs and winking.. Crazy writer *wink* Harlan Ellison *wink* Stephen King *wink* Ernest Hemingway sweater *wink wink wink*. This is all high risk stroke behaviour – you can give yourself an aneurysm from that much ridiculous irony. Even a hipster with a pencil thin cop-stache, riding a fixy, carrying a typewriter and some PBR while wearing a vintage letterman’s jacket would agree that yeah it was just too much.
Also more to the point here, did anyone tell Harlan Ellison they used his name for a (all things considered) super wimpy writer character in a super half asses horror movie? Because I’m pretty sure he would PISSED. You know what would have been scarier than having Ethan Hawke play a writer named after Harlan Ellison? Have Harlan Ellison in the role.
The man is a fucking nut job, and scares the shit out of me. If you want to read some creepy ass science fiction that will surely make your stomach turn and your blood run cold then go pick up a copy of “Deathbird Stories” by Harlan Ellison and read the first one. I had nightmares afterwards I swear. So I think that was my additional problem – you take a character and name him after someone pretty bad ass and then don’t deliver with the bad-ass goods… which was kind of the fundamental theme and also flaw of this movie. Sinister, for me at least was like a 90 minute cocktease.. it kept you on the edge of your seat with lots of creepy potential but failed to deliver. I will say however that the Super 8 footage of the family murders was spot on (minus the stupid parts with the little kids), so all 15 minutes of that footage looked dope as fuck but the rest of the movie was just really iffy and at times felt really forced, like no one seemed to know where it was going or what it was trying to say beyond the crazy writer joke and the stupid black metal references. Even having 6 or so dead children in the movie didn’t really add any scare for me – their makeup looked like shit, it was just ridiculous.. They had the dreaded Dawn of the Dead blue-dead face paint and all these random ass wound/scars/stitches on their faces (but nowhere else on their bodies) and they all looked like those fake glue on things you can buy at costume stores around Halloween. Simplfying and having the kids be pale and creepy like the Ring would have been better, and the character of Bughuul would have been a lot scarier/more “believable” had he just been a dark figure. They tried to make a killer who looked like Abbath but it just looked more like this:
Like I’m saying to everyone – the movie is worth a watch, but it’s not going to blow your mind. I’ve seen worse movies *cough* Cabin in the Woods*cough cough*, but I’ve also seen better ones. If you want to watch a creepy dead baby child movie go watch the Orphanage – but if you wanna watch 90 minutes of bad in jokes and super wanking then watch Sinister. Sinister is also made better if you have a couple of drinks first.. however, no amount of Cotton Candy vodka made Abbath/Bughuul scary to me.
Pretty lame, Milhouse.