Earlier in 2015, the Sky Living channel premiered THE ENFIELD HAUNTING, a three-part series based on the 1977 book by Guy Lyon Playfair called 'This House Is Haunted'. The series chronicles the events that took place in an average suburban house where witnesses claim to have experienced "supernatural" phenomenon, including a malevolent poltergeist. The three-part series stars Timothy Spall (who mainstream audiences will remember as Wormtail from the HARRY POTTER films) as Maurice Grosse, an amateur paranomral researcher who becomes involved in the case. The series also stars Matthew Macfayden as author and paranormal researcher Guy Lyon Playfair, Juliet Stevenson as Betty Grosse and Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Janet Hodgson, the young girl at the centre of the strange events that took place in the house.
The series has just been released on digital download and is available through Google Play.
The first episode is the best of the three, as the element of mystery surrounding what's happening carries all the way through to its final moments. Given this is a TV show (not a movie), there's some elements that prevent the episode from going "over-the-top" in terms of impact. While some effort has been made to create a 1970s look and feel, the show feels like it's been made quite cheaply. Many of the effects are created through traditional in-camera techniques with only a few computer-generated visual effects to create the supernatural presence. The focus of the show is on the characters; mainly Timothy Spall and Matthew Macfayden as Grosse and Playfair. Spall's character is coming to terms with the tragic death of his daughter and the case becomes an opportunity for him to attain forgiveness in not preventing the motorcycle accident that claims her life.
After experiencing the malevolent presence firsthand, Macfayden's Playfair takes a more active role in the second episode, as he and Grosse start acting more like a team. The "emergence" of the poltergeist, by way of young Janet (who starts speaking with the entity's voice), provides Grosse with the opportunity to find out who the spirit is and what it wants. Playfair takes the chance to bring more paranormal researchers into the Hodgson's home, but their presence becomes an unwelcome one for the family.
The series starts to falter once the identity of the poltergeist is revealed and more time is spent communicating with it. Despite the distorted, unnatural voice it speaks with, there's nothing especially frightening about what it says and its motivation for its actions are not especially clear.
The final episode resolves the two key threads of the series, as the focus comes back to Maurice Grosse and his involvement with the Hodgson family. Timothy Spall continues to do a nice job as the show's central character, but the pace of the story slows to a crawl as a lot of time is spent examining the psychological state of Maurice and his wife Betty, who feels abandoned by her husband in the wake of her own grief for their daughter's death. Maurice does get an opportunity to deal with the circumstances of his daughter's death, but poor old Betty gets short-changed.
The most troubling aspect of Episode Three is writer Joshua St.Johnston's reliance on young Eleanor to move the story forward as the adults around her seem all consumed by their own problems. The poor kid (along with her sister) is being subjected to all sorts of nasty stuff (mutilation & weird voices to name a couple), but no one really seems to give a toss. In the end, it's Eleanor who works out why the poltergeist is persisting and manages to get Maurice (along with Guy) out of his funk long enough to see an end to her supernatural molestation.
THE ENFIELD HAUNTING is interesting because it is based on a "real" case and the characters in the story are real people. Director Kristoffer Nyholm tries to inject some visual style into proceedings and manages to create some effective sequences throughout the three episodes. The series is much more of a "Haunted House" story than anything else, so anyone looking for gore factor, violence and lots of jump scares will be disappointed by THE ENFIELD HAUNTING. The show's theme is more about the impact that death has on the living and how families touched by tragedy deal with it. The series is definitely worth watching, but it's one that's been made on the cheap. There are some problems with the story, but the quality of the acting outweighs this. Timothy Spall is excellent and Matthew Macfayden provides Playfair with some Upper Middle Class toff that's entirely appropriate. Eleanor Worthington-Cox is also very good and helps sell the reality of the paranormal happenings wit her under-stated performance.
2015 has not been a good year for the Horror genre, as far as mainstream feature film releases are concerned. Local (Australian) film distributors have been careful with the horror titles they have released, confining themselves to mostly supernatural thrillers that have a relatively low gore factor. This strategy makes sense, as the promotion of a feature film is a costly exercise and the market for the genuinely horrifying is not large enough to book cinema screens around the country for any great length of time.
This leaves Horror fans with very few options when it comes to indulging their desire for the genre on a cinema screen. Enter Jason Blum. In a relatively short period of time, Blum has created a catalogue of low-budget horror films that operate in the M to MA rated space here in Australia and the PG-13 to R rated space in the United States. It's hard to believe that since 2007, when Blum helped produce the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, he has either produced or executive produced 52 films. That's 52 films in 8 years; most of which have been in the Horror genre in some shape or form. Blumhouse Productions have become so synonymous with the genre that the major studios all work closely with Blum to secure the distribution rights for properties built around his production model. The reason for this is simple. Blum makes sure that films either developed in-house or outside productions brought in under his tent can be made cheaply and quickly. With the right marketing, a studio can distribute one of Blum's films and get a cut of the ticket income with very little financial risk.
The problem with the quality of the Horror films released in 2015 has been a result of the diminishing creative returns from a number of key Blumhouse franchises. INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, SINISTER 2 and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION all looked as though they had nothing left in the tank by the end of them. The latest PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is a special case in point, as it was the sixth film in the series and was trying to tie up a whole heap of loose ends from the previous five entries. The result was a couple of jump scares, some cheap looking visual effects and an ending that had cinema patrons audibly asking "Is that it?" as the credits rolled. INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 tried to pull a swifty on audiences by doing a prequel but trying to set the franchise up to prolong the participation of key carry-over characters. The result was just a confusing hotch-potch that only made sense if you applied the film's own internal, flimsy logic to your own way of thinking. As for SINISTER 2, that didn't even get a cinema release, as it appeared and then disappeared off the local distributors schedule.
Perhaps in recognition that the franchise well was about to run dry, Blumhouse found a couple of "Found Footage" newbies to release on an unsuspecting public. UNFRIENDED and THE GALLOWS. The former remains my pick for worst film of 2015 to get a cinema release. The story pitch must have sounded like high concept horror and, to a certain extent, had the premise been executed with a better level of professionalism, it may have been a good film. The problem is, it's an incoherent shambles that has no logic - internal or otherwise - to make the viewer believe what they are viewing is remotely plausible. Similarly, THE GALLOWS stretches the "Found Footage" technique to absolute breaking point, using a combination of a video camera and smartphones to construct the in-camera point-of-view. This film is also an example of Blumhouse Productions developing somebody else's work and shepherding it through their production system. Despite my negativity toward the movie itself, I do feel that Jason Blum and his team should be credited for taking film makers Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing under their wing and securing the distribution support of New Line Cinema. Unfortuantely, this does not change the concern that THE GALLOWS suffers from the same problem as INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3
If sequels and new releases weren't bad enough, 2015 has also brought viewers one of the most pointless movies to ever see the dark of a cinema - POLTERGEIST. The 1982 version of POLTERGEIST isn't really a horror film; it's a piece of stunt film making to demonstrate that no matter what Steven Spielberg was associated with, it would be commercially successful. It's memorable for a couple of set-pieces, but it's pop culture status has seen the film viewed through rose coloured glasses. Not that much really happens and the opportunity to explore the supernatural dimension is contained to the last part of the story. At some point in time, Sam Raimi thought it was a good idea to co-opt right owner MGM into a remake starring Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt with Gil Kenan. Unfortunately, this turned out to be not such a good idea after all and the finished product came and went from cinema screens pretty quickly.
In October 2015, Guillermo del Toro threw Horror fans a curve ball with the release of CRIMSON PEAK. What many thought was going to be an upmarket horror film turned out to be an off-kilter Gothic romance whose main character just happened to be able to see Ghosts. Director del Toro stated as much after the film's release, but there was no hiding the disappointment among both the Director's fan base and viewers looking for more in the way of genuine scares.
The final stretch of 2015 sees a couple of new Horror entries which may or may not add to the woes the Horror genre has experienced in 2015. SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE and KRAMPUS are both scheduled before Christmas 2015. SCOUTS GUIDE looks like a ridiculous Zombie romp (as the title suggests) and the film is very much geared toward the young adult end of the market whose fascination with series like THE WALKING DEAD has sparked commercial interest in the "Undead". KRAMPUS looks to be a more serious affair and the film's first trailer suggests that it could actually have the most suspense of any Horror genre releases in 2015. The big issue for Horror films in consideration of what has been released in 2015 is the originality of stories and the technical quality of their production. Too much quality is being sacrificed in order to maximise the return-on-investment. The "Found Footage" technique is undermining the genre. Distributors and production companies need to agree to develop properties that display the skill, technique and production values afforded mainstream genres, otherwise, the most frightening thing about Horror films is whether the genre survives as a viable option for the big screen.