In “The Quiet Ones,” a lot of noise adds up to very little

“The Quiet Ones” is anything but quiet.

It has people screaming, doors and walls being pounded, loud arguing and ear-splitting rock music. All this racket adds up to a standard but not standout spooky movie.

Said to be inspired by true events, “The Quiet Ones” addresses the issue of whether or not supernatural incidents are real or are just a manifestation of mental illness.

The movie takes place in 1974 at Oxford University in England, where Professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris, who plays Lane Pryce in “Mad Men”), in his class shows old films of a case he worked on years earlier in which a boy apparently is under the influence of some spiritual presence. Joseph’s experiments on the boy, he said, were terminated when the child’s mother took him away.

Now, Joseph has another subject lined up, a teen girl named Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke, who plays Emma, schoolmate and friend of Freddie Highmore’s Norman Bates in “Bates Motel” on A&E). Jane, an unwanted child, has spent her life either with foster families or in institutions and seems to be possessed by a spirit she calls Evie. Joseph has drafted two students, Harry Abrams (Rory Fleck-Byrne) and Krissi Dalton (Erin Richards), to assist him with his experiments, and then hires Brian McNeal (Sam Claflin, who resembles a young Terry Jones from Monty Python) to film the events.

When Oxford cuts off the funding for Joseph’s project, he and the three young people hustle Jane off to an abandoned house – naturally – old and creaky, multi-level with numerous rooms, the perfect venue for ghosts and other restless and possibly evil spirits to engage in their unnerving activities.

Joseph’s theory is that he can get Jane to externalize this so-called presence through energy, and once it is drawn out can be harnessed, thus curing Jane of this mental horror. In the meantime, Jane is kept locked up in a room with blaring rock music piped into it, for reasons never explained.

With Brian hauling around a movie camera and filming, the handheld point-of-view element now can be used. Thankfully, unlike other POV horror movies, most of the footage in the movie is not what is seen through Brian’s camera.

“The Quiet Ones” is lifted by the casting of Cooke as Jane, who is a cross between Regan from “The Exorcist” and Carrie White from “Carrie.” She easily presents the most sympathetic character in the film, and ultimately, the most rational, and is a sobering sight – dressed only in a hospital gown, Jane is pale, constantly clinging to a doll, and is often drenched in perspiration or bloodied by self-abuse.

The electronic equipment used in the experiments to measure the energy emitted by Jane/Evie are primitive compared to what is employed now, and Brian is burdened with the movie camera that is nowhere near as compact as today’s models.

Brian also finds himself falling for Jane, something Joseph sees as potentially dangerous but also as tool is curing Jane. As efforts intensify to draw Evie out of Jane, this entity responds with increased violence. Soon all l three young people are having misgivings about the project. And as they begin to question the validity and results of the tests, Joseph evolves into the typical mad scientist role.

On the pretense of going into town to obtain more film, Brian goes to Oxford and does some research, learning the real story of Jane. When he returns to the old house to confront Joseph, everything is set up for the inevitable horrifying conclusion.

Director John Pogue, who wrote the screenplays to “U.S. Marshals” and “Ghost Ship,” working on a script he co-wrote with Craig Rosenberg and Oren Moverman, employs a lot of quick, easy scares such as sudden thumps and crashes, but the most effective moments are when the camera focuses in close on a seemingly sedate Jane with the unnerving sense that something terrible is about to happen.

“The Quiet Ones” is really a blend of earlier stories of nasty spirits and possession, so there is nothing original here. But the work of Cooke helps lift this movie — barely — out of the muck of run-of-the-mill ghost/possession stories. The scariest aspect of the movie is when the credits role and to the side are photographs of the real people who were involved in this ill-fated project.

“Oculus” offers scary mind games

If life is full of non-excitement, there are ways to liven things up and guarantee mixing it up with restless spirits. Buy a house built on a former cemetery site where the bodies remain underground. Open a hotel on ancient burial grounds. Reside in on old, creaky house with a dark and murderous past. Or, as in “Oculus,” purchase an eye-catching antique that has mysteriously moved around a lot, with various owners.

The piece featured in “Oculus” is an old mirror with a gorgeous, intricately design wooden frame. The glass could use some Windex, but that is a minor problem compared to what this antique has in store for its latest owners.

“Oculus” is a movie that may annoy those expecting a rip-snorting, jump-in-your-seat ghost story. Instead, it unfolds with a slow but growing anticipatory dread, much like “The Shining.” The opening moments are scary, as two siblings, a 12-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy, are hiding from a gunman in their house. Soon they are facing the gunman, whose face is unseen, the weapon pointed at them.

The story then jumps ahead 11 years to the present, when a young man, Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites), institutionalized for several years, has been deemed fit to return to society on his upcoming 21st birthday.

Meanwhile, a young woman is seen at an auction where an old mirror with a beautifully carved wooden frame is sold. She has gained temporary possession of the mirror until it is shipped to its new owner, and she has some plans.

But first, she meets Tim as he is released. It turns out she is his older sister, Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan, who plays Amy Pond / Soothsayer in “Doctor Who”), and these two are the now grown siblings who were terrorized that night 11 years earlier.

Kaylie has been researching the past of the mirror and has learned that it seems to have supernatural powers that have led to deaths of previous owners. She has brought the mirror to the Russells’ old home, which is outfitted with all sorts of gadgetry to record events and prevent the mirror’s powers from derailing her quest for truth. Now she is asking Tim to help her not only amass evidence of the mirror’s sinister history, but also to “kill” it.

Tim, fresh from years of therapy, is skeptical of Kaylie’s claims, having been convinced over the years that the horrifying night he and Kaylie endured was the result of simple mental madness, not some supernatural manipulation.

“Oculus” jumps back in forth in time, as the terrible story unfolds. The Russells, Alan (Rory Cochrane), a computer software designer, his wife Marie (Katee Sackhoff from “Riddick”), along with children Kaylie (the young version of is played by a marvelous Annalise Basso) and Tim (Garrett Ryan), are moving into a new home, and among the items carried into the house is the antique mirror that Alan has purchased and placed in his home office.

The audience is forced to really pay attention as the movie recalls the days leading to that deadly night, with madness overtaking the parents and the children becoming increasingly confused and helpless. Some scenes are shown from the differing perspectives of Kaylie and Tim, but before long, Tim witnesses things that have him conceding Kaylie may be well on target in blaming the mirror’s power on the deaths of its owners.

Incidents escalate as the battle is on and the mirror appears to be fighting back. As the characters become more baffled by what is real and what is not, so does the audience. This is where the movie flourishes.

“Oculus,” co-written by director Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard, adapting a short screenplay by Flanagan and Jeff Seidman, is not going to startle viewers with ghosts leaping out from nowhere. Instead, it feeds upon dread. As resourceful as Kaylie seems to be, there is a an unnerving feeling that the mirror’s powers will trip up her and Tim.

As mentioned above, Basso is exceptional as the 12-year-old Kaylie, a girl forced to keep her head and protect her brother amid the growing peril. Gillan and Thwaites as the adult Kaylie and Tim spend a lot of time debating, then trying to analyze what is happening, and in the end may find themselves over-matched despite the preparations.

Cochrane also is effective as a father who is not overly demonstrative but dedicated to making a good home for his family, and Sackhoff is particularly tragic as a loving mother whose life unravels into a living hell.

Horror movies are designed to ensure you do not walk out of the theater feeling good. If its creepiness sticks with you, it succeeds. “Oculus” may not induce nightmares, but it may cause just a little apprehension every time one faces a mirror.

Amid misgivings, Captain America saves the world — again

A sign these days that winter is fading into the past is that Marvel hero characters are back in action on the big screens throughout the world. Get ready for more movie chaos and heroism as summer approaches.

Having been offered recent updates on Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, and Thor — still wrestling with family issues — it is now time for Steve Rogers to grace the screen, hence “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

The title is misleading, making it seem like Captain America is the winter soldier instead of the hero’s latest nemesis.

The story picks up about two years after all the superheroes banded together to thwart the total destruction if New York, as shown in “The Avengers.” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is living in Washington, D.C., and still employed by S.H.I.E.L.D. even though he has concerns that all the power and weaponry the agency has amassed may be a threat to the very freedom it is designed to protect. He is even more alarmed by the new Project Insight, three massive Helicarriers that are linked to spy satellites and designed to preemptively eliminate threats.

While out jogging, he meets and befriends Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a former pararescue war veteran now serving as a counselor for those with post traumatic stress disorder.

When a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel is hijacked by Algerian pirates, Captain America and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) are dispatched with a team to recover the boat. There, Rogers’ trust issues deepen when he sees that Natasha has another objective that S.H.I.E.L.D. chief Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) had assigned without Captain America’s knowledge.

But before Captain America can brood any more about being out of the loop, things go horribly wrong. Fury is attacked and has to find refuge in Rogers’ apartment and after giving Steve a USB flash drive with some key data, he is gunned down.

Meanwhile, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), in the top echelon of S.H.I.E.L.D., is pushing for the initiation of Project Insight amid resistance by the World Security Council. Redford’s Pierce is one of those impeccably dressed, cool characters well positioned to disguise true motives under the shield (pun intended) of making the world safe. Rogers, warned by Fury not to trust anybody, refuses to divulge to Pierce the information Fury gave him, thus Captain America is now a fugitive from S.H.I.E.L.D. and finds himself in mortal peril at just about every turn.

His only allies are Natasha, apparently taking a break from hanging out with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner in “The Avengers”), and Sam Wilson.

The Winter Soldier in the title is an assassin who has been on a tear for decades, something like a Manchurian Candidate project programmed to kill with no conscience.

Understandably, Captain America has to learn to trust Natasha, and with Wilson declaring loyalty to the cause, the trio must overcome massive odds to prevent whatever horrors are being cooked up. A lot of this has ties to Steve’s past  and brings up personal issues — as if saving the world is not enough to occupy his time.

The brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (“Arrested Development”) get their first chance to direct a Marvel superhero action fest and do a credible job with the battle scenes while also falling into the trap of using handheld cameras for the one-on-one fighting sequences, making them hard to follow.

Overall, “Captain America: The Dark Soldier” is another satisfying Marvel adventure, boosted by the charm and chemistry between Evans, Johansson and Mackie. And as is the custom with Marvel, audiences must sit through the entire credits to get a glimpse of what is coming soon.

Rod Serling’s daughter offers insights on the man as a writer and father

serlingDuring a brief film retrospective on Rod Serling that was shown as part of a presentation by his daughter Anne Serling on March 30 at Monsterpalooza in Burbank, a clip was shown of one of the more popular episodes of “The Twlight Zone,” the anthology television series that ran from 1959-64. It was titled “Time Enough at Last,” in which the henpecked bank teller Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith), a lone survivor of a nuclear holocaust, finds himself at a crumbled library but with all the books he would ever want to read. But then his thick-lenses glasses fall off his nose and shatter, a tragic event in that the text on the pages now were an unreadable blur to him.

That sad scene, shown even 50 years later, drew moans and gasps from the audience, a testimony to the enduring impact of this brilliant show created and overseen by Rod Serling — who also wrote many but not all of the episodes.

Because “The Twilight Zone” was often scary or spooky, loaded with irony and harsh looks at the darker side of mankind, the prevailing image of Serling was that of a serious, driven and maybe humorless man. Add to that his powerful dramas such as “Requiem for a Heavyweight” and “Patterns,” and his passion for characters and stories was evident.

Anne Serling, the youngest of two daughters of Rod and Carol Serling, was only 20 when her father died in 1975. For years she grappled with the loss, and like her father, used writing as a means of addressing her pain and dealing with the challenges of life. The eventual result was her book, “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling.” It is a loving recollection of the man only his family and close friends knew, a talented writer who endured the horrors of war and who felt, as Anne said, that prejudice was the greatest evil of our time and who did not hold back whenever he wrote about it.

“Writing is what my father believed in,” Anne said on March 30 to open her presentation, “what he was passion about, what he thought had a chance to save society.

“My father felt that radio, television and film are the vehicles of social criticism, and that writers should menace the public’s conscience.”

In the early days of his career, Rod had to battle advertisers and network censorship whenever he focused on issues that many felt would offend people. His writings often were watered down, characters’ ethnicities changed.

Anne quoted her father’s recollections about how as a writer he believed it was his responsibility to continue to offer critical views, via his intense and candid prose that delivered with powerful mental images.

But really who was my dad? Anne continued. Who was he beyond his work?

“He was a husband and a dad, he was brilliantly funny, a practical joker, passionate about civil rights and humanity, a lover of animals, and a killer paddle tennis player.”

Speaking of his death on a personal level, Anne said she was blinded by grief and did not know how to manage the loss.

“Eventually I found the same catharsis that worked for him — writing.” Out of that, Anne’s “journey of reflection of learning” and a realization that no true story of her father’s life was out there, led her to write the book.

For years as a child, Anne was not aware of her father’s work on “The Twilight Zone.” He had an office on their home property and all she knew was that was where he worked. Sometimes, defying the orders from her parents not to interrupt her father while he was working, she would stand outside his office, and when he noticed her, he would go out and greet her, never showing any irritation or impatience, but offering only affection for his daughter.

Rod attached many nicknames to Anne, including “Pops,” and father and daughter loved to watch “The Flintstones” together — a “don’t tell Mom” indulgence in that Carol was strict about how much television Anne and her sister Jodi could watch.

In the latter portion of her presentation, Annie noted that she saw in her father “a kind of desperateness, an urge to go back, a need to touch home plate, a need to have things the way they were.”

His nostalgic yearnings, she said, were most evident in “The Twilight Zone” episodes of “Walking Distance,” “A Stop at Willoughby” and “They’re Tearing Down Tim Wiley’s Bar.”

Anne then read a moving and beautifully written excerpt from her book — her speculations on what he might have been thinking in 1965, at age 40, as he visited the hometown where he grew up. Upon driving up the street on which he lived, she writes, “Perhaps he sees the ghosts of his boyhood friends, running barefoot along side the car, or calling out to him from their porches, waving to him and calling, ‘Come on, Roddy, come on,’ until the sounds of the present bring him back, and the passage of years and everything he has imagined are gone.”

Anne also quoted her father as saying he did not care if any of the lines he wrote in his many pieces could be remembered and quoted. To him, Anne said, being a writer was reward enough.


Also present at Monsterpalooza on March 28-30 were Billy Mumy and Richard Kiel, who were in memorable “Twilight Zone” episodes. Kiel was enjoying himself as he reprised his role as the Kanamit being,  visiting Earth on a supposed mission to help the planet but with gruesome ulterior motives. He sized up fans for their potential ingredients in the “To Serve Man” cookbook.


For fans who want to get a regular dose of horror movies, Urban Death offers screenings at 8:30 p.m. Saturdays at 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Tickets are $15. Information: 818-202-4120;;;

Vernor's Ticket gets sized up as a potential ingredient for the Kanamit cookbook.

Vernor’s Ticket gets sized up as a potential ingredient for the Kanamit cookbook.