Let’s talk origin stories. Specifically origin movies within the horror genre. Every so often a franchise is born—or reborn. Recently, I noticed an influx of origin stories for both new and classic horror franchises building up in my movie queue.
The biggest issue I have with origin movies is the failure to expand upon the existing mythology while retaining the continuity and mystery of the quintessential villain like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, or Pinhead. After several successful movie productions, a franchise faces the dreaded issue of becoming formulaic: naive teens having fun wander into dark territory and one-by-one get picked off by the ax murderer. Normally the ones having sex are always the first to get picked off. Yet, every once in a blue moon a director comes along and takes the formula of a franchise and flips it on its head and makes the franchise desirable again, but in most cases the opposite happens more often in the horror genre and we (the viewers) are left wanting a real horror movie that isn’t gimmicky.
So, in the spirit of Halloween, I am reviewing a few of the horror origin movies on my “To Watch” list: The good. The bad. The ugly.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead!
Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
Ouija (2014) is a fairly new franchise based on the Hasbro game. Having missed the first movie, I decided to watch them out of order since Ouija: Origin of Evil is the origin story of the house and the girls attached to the Ouija board. Of the two films, Ouija: Origin of Evil is the better version.
Side note: The Ouija Experiment (2013) and The Ouija Experiment 2: Theatre of Death (2015) are not a part of the Ouija franchise.
For me, the set-up is everything. If a movie fails to set-up the story in the opening scenes then I am bored from the get go. My biggest issue with Ouija is the predictability of the entire movie. Even with the jump scares it is not worth the time and effort. In Ouija, the plot is a standard slasher horror where teenagers discover something they shouldn’t mess with and they each die one by one. The end. Typical horror movie—a BIG, FAT let down.
Unlike Ouija, the origin movie has a better plot and interesting characters. Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) is a widowed mother of two daughters. In order to make money, Alice and her daughters are scammers conducting seances for customers trying to contact their loved ones on the other side. In the set-up, Alice’s older daughter, Lina (Annalise Basso), sneaks out to party with friends and they end up drinking and playing with a Ouija board. Upon getting discovered, Lina is picked up by her mother and convinces her mother to implement the Ouija board into their scam. Alice briefly ponders the concept and decides to use the board in their performance. Unfortunately, a house spirit calls to the youngest daughter, Doris (Lulu Wilson), through the board portraying a friendly spirit. The bad news: the spirit is not so friendly! From there, all hell breaks loose.
Ouija: Origin of Evil is a great Halloween movie if you are looking for something a bit creepy but not over-the-top scary. This movie is plot driven and focuses on telling the story of the Zander family which is probably why—in the realm of slasher-gore—Ouija is tame like The Exorcist (1973) because it focuses more on the plot than relying on a gimmicky tool like jump scares. Although there are not a lot of jump scares, you can expect some predictable jump scares, as well as some extremely creepy moments when Doris spouts off weird stories about how people die in the house. Little kids in horror movies always creep me out.
As an added bonus to the movie, you will see Elliot from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) all grown up and playing Father Tom (Henry Thomas). I will admit that it took me awhile to figure out why he looked so familiar. The sad part is grown-up Elliot looks exactly like he did in his youth, but with better hair, so there is no excuse for my not being able to identify him immediately.
As far as ratings go, I would place Ouija: Origins of Evil below The Conjuring (2013) but above Annabelle (2014).
Annabelle: Creation (2017)
Speaking of Annabelle, let’s talk about Annabelle’s origin story.
Being a huge fan of The Conjuring, I had high hopes for Annabelle: Creation. However, I am not a big fan of Annabelle, and now I am not a fan of Creation.
The funny thing is that Lulu Wilson, who played the youngest, and possessed, Zander daughter in Ouija: Origins of Evil, is also in Annabelle: Creation. This girl is really starting to creep me out, and her acting is really good for being so young. In Annabelle: Creation, Lulu plays Linda, the youngest orphan taken into the Mullins’ home.
In this creation story, Annabelle is the daughter of a doll maker and in the opening scene she is hit by a vehicle (very predictable) and dies. Grieving over the loss of their daughter, a brooding, dark Geppetto-like character, I mean Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife pray to anyone that will hear their plea to bring Annabelle back to the living. Unfortunately, the ghost that appears as the Mullins’ daughter is not Annabelle. Insert the shock and awe. Once they lock up the demonic spirit in the doll, they feel the best way to repent for their sins is to take in a group of homeless orphans. How could anything possibly go wrong? However, the presence of the orphan girls awakens Annabelle and terror ensues.
This entire movie is a giant horror cliché. Not only do the characters use verbiage that is not common of the period but the plot and jump scares are predictable. Being an anxious person by nature, I am not a fan of excessive use of jump scares. Using too many jump scares is like being heavy handed with salt while cooking; they should be used just enough to elevate the project. I felt like Gordon Ramsay cursing at the TV to lay off the jump scares. For the record, I don’t feel that I am being overly critical of the jump scare tool in this instance because the entire movie is one giant jump scare. The problem I have with jump scares is that they lose their momentum after the first couple of viewings. Once a viewer knows where the jump scares are, they lose their power and if the movie doesn’t have anything else to rely on, like good plot or interesting characters, then the movie is no longer desirable after one or two viewings. I prefer my horror flicks to be interesting enough that I will watch them several times and not lose interest. Unfortunately, Annabelle: Creation is a one-trick pony with a short shelf life.
At least The Conjuring had a decent plot and character development mixed in with the jump scares. Don’t expect to find strong character development either, everyone plays a flat character. However, I do like Lulu Wilson as an up-and-coming actress, and tiny human. Other than Lulu being the only saving grace, the entire movie feels like Hollywood’s attempt to bank off of a successful franchise while it still has steam, which is probably why they used “The next chapter in The Conjuring universe” as a marketing tool. The movie needed that extra marketing ploy to convince viewers that it would be as good as The Conjuring franchise. Unfortunately, that is the perfect way to turn a successful franchise into a steaming pile of poo, and lose your cult following when the movie doesn’t meet expectations.
As far as ratings go, I would not have rated this movie as generously as IMDB did. In the scheme of horror films, if you enjoy jump scares and are looking for a female Chucky to haunt your nightmares, then Annabelle: Creation is the perfect choice. Personally, if I wanted to watch a movie about a little kid dying and coming back to life, I would watch Pet Sematary (1989).
I think the major lesson to walk away with after viewing Annabelle: Creation is to never go into a movie with high expectations because movies never meet your expectations. However, going into a movie with low expectations might be the better choice. It (2017) turned out to be a dark horse for me. Going into the theater I was thinking there is no way Bill Skarsgard would be as good as Tim Curry in the 1990 version. And I like Bill Skarsgard as an actor, but I wasn’t expecting him to surpass Curry’s version of Pennywise. Boy was I happily surprised. So the lesson here is maintain low expectations for an entertaining evening of horror binging and never watch a movie with high expectations, because 9 out of 10 times the movie will be a huge let down in some way, shape, or form.
We have discussed the good and the bad. Now let’s look at the ugly.
Leatherface is a tough origin story to evaluate because this is not the first origin story created. However, I will admit it is the better of the two because trying to convince the audience that Leatherface is the way he is because of a skin condition is not as appealing as having his jaw blown off. I had some issues suspending disbelief with Leatherface and there were some over-the-top stereotypical characters, but this is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise and it is known for its comedic presentation of over-the-top acting—it is a trademark of the series in the same way the chainsaw is synonymous with Leatherface.
In the opening scene, Jed Sawyer is presented with the chainsaw for his birthday. Jed is presented as early tween age, so everyone is younger. The movie comes full circle by the end because in the opening scene Jed can’t use his chainsaw on a pig thief—accused of stealing a pig from the Sawyer homestead—but by the end of the film he uses his chainsaw on the pig (Sheriff Hartman).
The set-up is after the opening scene when Jed sits in the middle of the road wearing the cow head as portrayed in the movie poster. A truck, with the sheriff’s daughter and her boyfriend, swerve to avoid the boy she ends up chasing after Jed believing he is in trouble. Jed leads her to a barn where the older Sawyer brothers await and ultimately they kill Sheriff Hartman’s daughter and get away with murder. Since Sheriff Hartman can’t prove anything, he takes Jed away from the Sawyer homestead and places him in foster care. Ultimately, Jed is labeled an undesirable due to his rage issues and he is placed in a mental facility with other disturbed teens. In the facility, all kids are given new names, so there is an attempt to create suspense by not telling the viewer who Jed is. Personally, I knew which character Jed was but I noticed there was an attempt to get the viewer to believe that Bud is actually Jed because his body type looks more like Leatherface from the earlier movies.
As far as set-up and plot goes, the story is interesting, but there are small details that the movie asks the viewer to suspend their belief that I took issue with. One scene that really bothers me is when Jackson (Jed), Bud, and nurse Lizzy hide from a posse of police with K-9s. I have a hard time believing that all three could, one, fit under that cow carcass and, two, how did the dogs not detect their scent? Sorry, but no. I have seen K-9s sniff out drugs inside sealed crates and inside trunks of cars. I’m not buying it. There are several details like the one I listed that bothered me about this movie, and don’t get me started on the ending (super predictable) but also a tad funny, in a disturbing dark humor way. Also, I am not a fan of how Jed is portrayed as an innocent character until the very end of the movie. Why can’t villains just be dark and disturbing? Do they really need to be portrayed as innocent before they become evil? Am I the only one that doesn’t want to empathize with my villains? Maybe I am on my own in my way of thinking.
Anyways, I will give Leatherface credit for being worthy of a second viewing. It is rewatchable since the movie doesn’t rely heavily on a single tool like jump scares. However, I wouldn’t recommend eating while watching this movie. Just a friendly warning. There is a very disturbing sex scene where two of the teens are having sex on top of a dead body. It is an extremely cringe-worthy scene and I will admit to vomiting in my mouth a tad. In a way, Leatherface reminds me of The Devil’s Rejects (2005) in the presentation, gore, and overall storytelling method.
As far as ratings go, I am not sure how to rate this one. If you want to watch something severely disturbing and can overlook a lot of outlandish details then this movie is worth a watch.
All-in-all, origin movies very rarely contribute anything worthy to an existing franchise. For some reason, Hollywood thinks that by adding an origin story we (the viewer) gain more from the franchise by empathizing with the villain. Personally, I don’t want to empathize with my villain. I want my villain to be cringe-worthy, scary, and bad to the bone. If someone can make an origin movie that makes the villain even more terrifying, then I will get excited about origin movies. In my opinion, the only person that should understand a villain’s motivation is the writer because knowing a villain’s motivation helps contrast the villain against the hero—or in the case of slasher movies, the survivor. I am sure there are instances when origin stories are successful. I just can’t think of any of the top of my head. But, Ouija: Origin of Evil is one of the few origin movies that is more successful than its predecessor (Ouija)—for that reason I will give it credit as a descent origin story. However, I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it made the villains scarier. So, as far as origin stories go, I am still unconvinced. Maybe I am alone in my way of thinking or there is a movie containing an origin story that portrays the villain in a disturbing way, but I just don’t have any hopes for anything new.
What are your thoughts? Sound off in the comment section below.