Horror movies have been in a bad, albeit relatively profitable, rut for the past forty years. Ever since The Omen (1976), Halloween (1978), but especially Friday the 13th (1980) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), the focus has shifted from victim to killer, and from triumphant heroism to elaborate certain death.
Since then, virtually every horror/slasher/murder movie’s plot is the same. Fresh meat is introduced, a homicidal force targets them, various children or teens are tormented, someone tries to save themselves or their loved ones, but, inevitably, because the force is supernatural so the filmmakers don’t have to play by any rules (even ones they have carefully established) everyone fails, and everyone dies — if not in one movie, then in the sequel – whether they deserve to or not.
I’m a huge horror film fan (I was creative consultant on Famous Monsters of Filmland and head writer for the first issue of Fangoria for pity’s sake) … or, at least I was until about forty years ago. There were exceptions, but, for the most part I found what passed for horror movies boring, repetitive, predictable, imbalanced, and even dishonest. I realize those may be the very reasons certain audiences love them, but I am not one of them. I thought the best horror-flavored films of the last four decades were Jaws, Saw, Alien, Scream, and evenDirty Harry.
Then The Conjuring (2013) came along. As a Connecticut resident, and author of three horror novels, I knew of the Warrens — real life paranormal investigators and fellow Connecticuters. They had visited my school and I went to a talk they gave at a local library. As soon as I heard a film about them was being made, starring the great Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, I was already on line.
It was far from a slam dunk. Director James Wan had done Saw, but he had also done Insidious, another “fight all you want, the demon is winning” flick. But then again, he had the Warrens as his guiding light, with Lorraine Warren serving as consultant. Long story a bit shorter: I thought The Conjuring was the best “pure” horror (fear of the unknown) film in, well, forty years. It dealt with real (at least reportedly real) forces, not filmmaker-controlled, anything goes, forces (Ricinema rule #1: When anything is possible, nothing is interesting), as well as likeable, credible, knowledgeable, passionate, and compassionate protagonists.
So I came to The Conjuring 2 with high hopes and fears. Sequels are where series go to die, but again, Wan, Farmiga, Wilson, and Warren were part of the package, and, I’m happy to report that Conjuring 2 is the second best pure horror movie in forty years. Based on another reportedly true story from the Warrens’ case files, some wags have whined about the opening hour of this two hour and fifteen minute classic. But just like in, of all things, The Raid 2, a two hour and thirty minute sequel to an Indonesian martial arts thriller, that first hour beautifully establishes the emotional stakes, which makes the on-coming battle all the more effective and resonant.
Although I’m loathe to reveal anything of the plot (better you should just go and enjoy) I will say that this is more of a scary action adventure drama than a “horror movie” – at least a horror movie of the past, you guessed it, four decades. It serves thrills, but also satisfaction, hope, and caring. I left feeling that faith in good and courageous knowledge can triumph over evil, and even makes love stronger. And that’s no spoiler folks.