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Sunday, October 20

The Conjuring: The More the Scarier?


Directed by James Wan

Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor

Release date July 19, 2013

Running time 112 minutes

Budget $20 million

Box office $309,894,466!!!!!!!

I was so sure that The Conjuring would be scary that I was nervous going into the dark theater. And I did not come away unscathed. Months later, the film still troubles me, but not because of how scary it was. The pathology of this film, to quote Hannibal Lecter, is a thousand times more savage and more terrifying (like the $box office compared to the $budget). I even feel like I have been cursed by the experience of seeing it. Because I keep asking myself, what were they thinking when they made this film, and why can’t I think like that and make that much money? 
 
Scary movies about the paranormal are made scarier by the subtlety with which unnerving and unsettling events are evoked and unfold. The makers of The Conjuring did not adhere to this formula. In fact, the film is a masterpiece of subtlety eschewed. 
 
Soon after the Perron family moves into their new house, it’s obvious that something isn’t right. The creepy antique grandfather’s clock ticks like the Telltale Heart in the wee desolate hours. Suddenly it stops. That’s even worse. But wait, there’s more! EVERY clock stops at the same time! Wrist watches, electric clocks, the oven clock, the egg timer. That’s even scarier, right? Well, maybe if it means that aliens have invaded, like in The War of the Worlds, and made every mechanical device crap out (except Tom Cruise’s car). But in that case not knowing the time is the least of your worries.

It’s the middle of the night again. Mrs Perron (Lili Taylor) is standing at the top of the stairs investigating a strange noise. The suspense is unbearable. Uh oh. It seems that since moving in a week ago she has managed to frame every photo ever taken of her five daughters and crammed all of them on the wall going down the staircase, and suddenly they all fly off the wall. The ensuing maelstrom of glass shards rivals the scene in Deep Blue Sea when the shark smashes into the wall of the undersea laboratory, but how scary is it given that The Conjuring is not an underwater film (conceptually or financially)? That much broken glass is more of a janitorial nightmare than a paranormal one. 

The demonic presence in The Conjuring is a witch, whom Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) spots dangling from the tree just like in the movie poster when she first visits the house (in this case the film itself provides the spoiler). In this day and age, many of us have warm fuzzy feelings toward witches, so it’s not easy to make them scary. Like the Blair Witch Project, The Conjuring goes for a disturbing backstory. The Conjuring witch was the sister of a Salem witch! Eeeeeek! Right? Well, not really. Because the thing about the Salem witches is that everyone knows they weren’t witches at all. The scary part was how they were tortured and hanged anyway (and unlike The Conjuring witch, theirs were not do-it-yourself hangings). To their credit, I think the filmmakers wanted to have The Conjuring witch be the sister of an actual bad witch, but a house fell on that one.

Many scary movies that eventually drown their chills in overdone special effects start small, and it’s the little scary things that can be the most unnerving. The Conjuring starts out with a haunted doll, Annabelle. It’s terrifying when a cute little doll turns out to be evil, but Annabelle in The Conjuring is inexplicably big and hideous. Who would buy a doll like that for a child, and given that the story takes place in the 1970s, where would they have found one? Nowadays scary demonic dolls are very popular. If you’re lucky can get one on e-bay that is guaranteed to be possessed, and you can buy an evil Chucky doll without even having to outbid someone. But the original Chucky was a cute doll, and the real Annabelle was a Raggedy Ann doll. I think Raggedy Ann is much scarier than the doll created especially for The Conjuring, because Raggedy has not aged well, now seeming about as appealing as Betty Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
To their credit, the makers of The Conjuring tried to get a doll who is a thousand times more savage and more terrifying to play Annabelle. But George had other plans for the Estelle Costanza lookalike doll.

About the Author:

Linda Sherman is a freelance scientific editor and cartoonist who loves to watch bad scary movies while editing and good ones in her free time.

2 comments:

  1. OMG I am so glad I am not the only one this film had that effect on! I just purchased it tonight after seeing it in the theater - it is one of the very few movies that REALLY scared me :) Awesome!

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  2. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I probably will because Vera Farmiga from Bates Motel is in it. I'm not a fan of the recent horror movies (though I did like the Curse of Chucky and Evil Dead) as the movies are crammed with special effects and are lacking real scares.

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