Nasty spirits are awakened in “The Darkness” but yawns outweigh the scares

Fans of horror movies need to be grateful for Blumhouse, the production company that has the muscle to put some scary movies into wide distribution. This firm has been behind the “Paranormal Activity” series as well as “Sinister” and “Oculus,” along with the second and third “Purge” movies. Unfortunately, sometimes some disappointments manage to get out there, such as “The Lazarus Effect” and most recently “The Darkness.”

Red flags should have gone up before the production of “The Darkness” when it was evident that the screenplay was yet another story about a modern family whose house is besieged by restless or sinister spirits. “Poltergeist” and “Paranormal Activity” territory.

It is particularly a letdown in that “The Darkness” features Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell in lead roles. Bacon has had his hand in superb horror classics. He was one of those who helped establish the slasher movie maxim that if you are a sexually active young person, you are destined to be sliced and diced by a serial killer. His character Jack certainly and literally got that point in “Friday the 13th.” Bacon also is well remembered for being the reluctant hero Valentine McKee in the cult classic “Tremors” and starred in the haunting “Stir of Echoes.”

Mitchell, meanwhile, played the determined Rose Da Silva in the intense and bloody “Silent Hill.”

In “The Darkness,” Bacon and Mitchell play Peter and Bronny Taylor, a couple with a teen daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) and pre-teen son Michael (David Mazouz) who is autistic.

During a camping trip in the Grand Canyon, Michael falls into a cave when the ground gives away. He is not hurt but finds himself in a place where spooky drawings are on the wall, and he discovers five stones with etchings on them. Naturally he collects the stones and takes them home with him.

Soon after the Taylors return home, Michael reveals he has a new invisible friend. So here we have a familiar development in this horror sub-genre: The youngest child in the family, like Carol Ann in “Poltergeist” and Kristi in the “Paranormal Activity” films, are the only ones who can interact with these entities.

Also in retread mode are the usual bumps in the night to indicate some uninvited spiritual guests are romping around, as well as initially harmless pranks like water faucets turning on by themselves.

The Taylors are not as enjoyable to watch in their home environment as the Freelings were in “Poltergeist.” There is underlying tension between Peter and Bronny. Stephanie has her own psychological problems. And Michael, well, he sits around a lot and stares at the wall. He does some things that are beginning to spook Peter.

Once Bronny convinces Peter there is something strange going on in the house beside Michael’s antics, the movie segues into the now traditional computer-era scenes of people Googling things on the Internet in an effort to unravel what is going on.

And what is going in such house hauntings as these usually is either a terrible incident years earlier in the house from which the victims’ spirits are still stirred up because of no closure yet; or something has disturbed or irritated dormant entities (like: if you build a housing tract over a cemetery, it is wise to move the bodies as well as the grave markers when you relocate the burial grounds). In “The Darkness,” Michael’s innocent collecting of the five stones has set in motion a terrifying prophecy from Native American lore.

We could go into the whole story of the ancient Native American civilization known as the Anasazi and their tie-in with the stones, along with their mysterious disappearance, and what the etchings on the stones represent, but does it really matter?

Things do escalate in the Taylor home, but there just are not enough scares, even when an expert is brought in to purge these evil beings.

The screenplay, co-written by director Greg McLean along with Shayne Armstrong and Shane Krause, lacks any sense of dread or even peril. Injecting the family tensions of the Taylors obviously is a device to set up a chance at redemption for the family. Peter is emotionally detached from Michael, so that has to be fixed as a byproduct of ending the threat.

“The Darkness” is another house haunting feature that offers nothing new and in fact might have the audience stifling yawns. It is a shame, especially given the participation by Mitchell and Bacon.

Monsterpalooza, Texas Frightmare Weekend showcase scary movies

Some thoughts on screenings offered at Monsterpalooza in Pasadena and Texas Frightmare Weekend in Dallas during April (and creeping into May):

While not screened at Texas Frightmare Weekend (TFW), a creepy short titled “Oct. 23rd” and featuring Amanda Wyss (“A Nightmare on Elm Street”) went live via Vimeo over the TFW weekend. Just under 10 minutes, “Oct. 23rd” is based on a true story featuring Wyss as Karen Fernhill, who one stormy night is summoned by her friend Paige (Amanda Parsons). Paige is spooked and smoking a cigarette much to the surprise of Karen. Paige then starts talking about her young daughter Chelsea, making some unnerving suggestions about the girl’s strange behavior in the aftermath of seeing her father killed.

To Karen it seems Paige has come unhinged, and she tries to be the voice of reason. This all becomes slippery when Karen goes upstairs and talks to Chelsea (Georgia McCorkle), who offers a different slant on what’s going on.

Written and directed by Paul Santana, “Oct. 23rd” is dark and chilling and things accelerate as Karen learns too late that Paige and Chelsea are not just experiencing some sort of emotional meltdown.

Wyss, a featured guest at TFW, was saying she saw “Oct. 23rd” as having the potential to be expanded into a full-length movie. She may be right.

“Oct 23rd” can be accessed at You might need to see it more than once to catch everything

Two movies that were screened at TFW included “Getting Schooled” and “Last Girl Standing.”

“Getting Schooled” is co-written and directed by Chuck Norfolk, who penned 2013’s “Conjoined” that earned him a FANtastic Award, along with his brother Tim, for Best Original Story / Script. “Conjoined” is a horror/comedy about a lonely man who through an Internet romance meets the girl of his dreams. Problem is, she has a conjoined twin who is a serial killer. As expected with this premise, “Conjoined” was a madcap and macabre little movie.

Now, with “Getting Schooled,” in which Chuck Norfolk collaborated on the screenplay with Tim and another brother, Steven, he delivers a send-up of the classic teen comedy “The Breakfast Club.”

Except with “Getting Schooled,” these high school students on a Saturday detention in the early 1980s have their teen angst sessions interrupted by a bloody battle to survive.

The roster of typical students is here: the outcast girl Julie (Mayra Leal), the jock Mike (Jake Byrd), the cheerleader Hillary (Morgan Tyler), the geek A student Shelly (Susan Ly) and the rebellious “criminal” Rusty (Roland Ruiz).

As if this is not an already volatile mix, the teacher overseeing the detention is a wheelchair-bound, embittered man, Mr. Roker (Tom Long), who is a cross between Lt. Dan in “Forrest Gump” and Ron Kovic in “Born on the Fourth of July.” Except that, besides holding students in contempt, Mr. Roker has completely veered off the rails. What starts out as an encounter between a teacher who hates the students as much they hate him escalates into a fatal game of cat and mouse with Mr. Roker hallucinating that he is back in Vietnam.

The dialog is silly and the students are deeply immersed in stereotypical behavior and temperament. But it is all a wink to the audience. The kills are gruesome but also macabre and comical.

Although some people walked out of the screening, those who stayed until the end reacted with applause. They got it. Sit back and enjoy a horror movie that has you guiltily giggling throughout.

“Last Girl Standing,” on the other hand, is not looking for laughs. It is instead an exploration of what happens to The Final Girl after she survives the traumatic experience of being pursued by a crazed killer.

In this movie, written and directed by Benjamin R. Moody, Akasha Villalobos plays Camryn, a young woman who manages to finally kill a man wearing a lycanthropic mask after he slaughters all of her friends during a camping trip.

Now several years later, Camryn, employed at a dry cleaner, is living a bland life except for the constant recurring nightmares. When a young man named Nick (Brian Villalobis) is hired at the dry cleaner, it opens the possibility of Camryn finally having a social life.

Unfortunately, Camryn starts experiencing hallucinations, seeing and truly believing the costumed killer somehow survived and has come back to kill her. It is one of Nick’s inner circle friends Danielle (Danielle Evon Ploeger) who reaches out to Camryn and tries to convince the woman that she has nothing to fear.

Two problems plague “Last Girl Standing.” First, Camryn is a very bland character and it is hard to develop any empathy for her. Second, it is pretty easy to see where this movie is going. The supposed plot surprise really is not that at all.

Despite that, “Last Girl Standing” is a decent effort to delve into what happens when The Final Girl, who manages to overcome overwhelming odds, still really dies in the end.

A screening at Monsterpalooza featured “The Green Fairy,” an earnest study covering almost 200 years in the history of absinthe, a cheap but vert dangerous drink. Directed by Dan Frank and written by Daniel Celestina and Caroline Posada, “The Green Fairy” transitions between interviews with historians and acted vignettes that demonstrate the horrors of absinthe when consumed. The Green Fairy in the title (played by Mindy Robison) is one of a trio of seductive apparitions (joining the fairy are the Green Goddess and the Green Demon) that are the equivalent of the pink elephants seen by drunks in the stereotypical portrayal of those who imbibe to the extreme.

These three pop up in the vignettes that dramatically show absinthe’s role in driving people like Vincent Van Gogh (Trevor Snarr) and Oscar Wilde (the late Roddy Piper in what had to be one of his last roles) to madness. Linda Blair (“The Exorcist”) also is featured in the story of her character, Mrs Lanfrey, who is murdered by her husband Jean (Casey T. Evans) after his bender with the bright green liquid that resembles Mountain Dew, and his subsequent encounter with a green beauty that plants all kinds of nasty ideas in his head.

While the vignettes are well done — Piper is especially good and tragic as a brilliant man who becomes a babbling wreck — “The Green Fairy” is dragged down by the interview sequences. These men tell stories but being Swiss, their accents make them hard to understand and they become repetitious. Tighter editing needs to be done there.

Part documentary and part drama, “The Green Fairy” seemed out of place at Monsterpalooza. People expecting to see a horror movie were instead treated to a film with little onscreen violence. While the subject was well covered, it did not succeed in holding the audience’s attention. Only a few people still were in attendance by the end of movie, and the feeling was they only stuck around to see Blair’s appearance, which occurs late in the film.