Thursday, 31 October 2013



So here we go, the third part of a long and drawn out series investigating the phenomenon of Versus films in the horror genre.
The first gave us some background, the second proposed some fun match ups including Jason Voorhees vs Victor Crowley, Pinhead vs Candyman and Freddy vs Pennywise.
In that same spirit, here are some more fantasy fisticuffs for your delectation.

In the immortal words of the guy from Street Fighter II this time…


(The Evil Dead vs Phantasm)

I’ll be honest here, I would have happily placed Ashley J Williams (Housewares) vs just about ANY of the major horror icons. Ash (as played by the inimitable BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE CAMPBELL) is the bumbling, loud-mouthed, big-headed hero of the Evil Dead trilogy, going from pretty lame sissy in the first, darker and more horrifying film, and transforming over the second to the walking quote machine of Army of Darkness. He walks tall, he talks loud and he carries a boomstick.
The Tallman on the other hand is the enigmatic antagonist of the Phantasm series. A being from another dimension, he has a host of powers and commands and army of evil followers including zombie like gravers, shapeshifters, dwarf slaves created from the bodies of the recently deceased and, most famously, the deadly flying spheres.
Little is known about the Tallman as his full story has yet to be told, but it is known that he has a plan and is slowly cutting a swathe across the United States, leaving several small towns obliterated in his wake.
As an interesting aside, the much anticipated Phantasm’s End was rumoured to feature BRUUUUUUUCE CAMPBELL. It’s just a real shame that it never came to be.
As for a plotline that could create this match up — most of you will be familiar with the ‘slept too long’ ending of Army of Darkness. What if the post-apocalyptic future in which Ash awoke was the Plague Zone of Phantasm’s End? Imagine Ash and Phantasm stalwart Reggie teaming up as they realise that the Necronomicon ex Mortis contains the way to close the gateways to the Tall Man’s home world… while the Tall Man himself realises the destruction that he could wreak if he were to seize possession of the Book of the Dead…
VERDICT: It should seem a pretty open and shut case this one. Ash’s key strengths seem to be, well, a decent if not great understanding of basic science subjects, an ability to take a bloody good hiding and, well, bravado.
The Tall Man on the other hand has shown superhuman strength, resiliency to damage, an ability to rise from the dead, psychic powers of illusion, a knowledge of hugely advanced alien technology and has command of an entire inter-dimensional army of slaves and killing machines.
But Ash wins. Why? Because those two words will ALWAYS be the conclusion. ASH WINS.
Whether through luck, sheer gutsy determination or maybe, maybe even skill, Ash is the last man standing, covered in gore, extremely pissed off and probably wielding a chainsaw. He’s the Chosen One… and I choose him.


(Manhunter/Silence of The Lambs/Hannibal/Red Dragon/Hannibal Rising vs Se7en)

OK, my original choice to square up against Hannibal the Cannibal was Saw’s John Kramer. But as Jigsaw was SO perfectly suited to The Collector (see why here) I went back to the drawing board.
And then I came across this idea. — John Doe, Kevin Spacey’s horrifyingly creative serial killer from the brilliant Se7en.
I’m sure all of you (horror fans and those who aren’t) have heard of Hannibal Lecter. Originally a literary creation to appear in Thomas Harris’ novels Red Dragon, The Silence of The Lambs, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, he first appeared on the big screen in Michael Mann’s adaptation of Red Dragon, Manhunter. On screen for a very short amount of time, Hannibal was portrayed by Brian Cox as a seething, simmering, psychotic. But it was another actor’s take on the role that truly took Hannibal to the masses. There’s very little I can say about Anthony Hopkins’ truly mesmerising performance in The Silence of the Lambs — it was strong enough to earn him the Best Actor Oscar with just 16 minutes of screentime. He went on to play the same character in the sequel Hannibal and the prequel, another adaptation of Red Dragon. He is both charming and intimidating; charismatic and terrifying. The character has proven such a hit that a new TV show, Hannibal, starring Mads Mikkelsen as the titular doctor has become a big hit with a second season on the way.
Jonathan Demme’s SotL is a thriller that blurs the boundaries with horror and has received tremendous critical acclaim. It is both horrifying and grittily realistic.
The same can be said of David Fincher’s Se7en. Following two detectives as they work to bring a serial killer whose murders embody the bible’s seven deadly sins, Kevin Spacey’s turn as John Doe is scene stealing.
In terms of plot, it is certainly no great stretch to imagine that Lecter would have heard of the work of Doe. In fact, the clearly disturbed Doe would certainly have required counselling at some point; a role an intrigued Lecter would certainly have relished. Doe’s ‘great work’ was punishing those that deserved punishment — Lecter himself is full of wrath, pride and (dare I say it) even gluttony (think about it…)
VERDICT: This would be the most cerebral of the clashes I’ve thought of. Both men have proven shrewd and highly intelligent, both are cunning, as displayed in the way they evade and escape from confinement as they please. Both work to their own twisted ideals, although, of the two, Lecter is the one most likely to do whatever is necessary to ensure his own survival.
Doe’s ultimate goal was to complete his work, but nobody can ever truly comprehend what Hannibal has planned.
While Doe’s strict and devout devotion to his twisted his cause and discipline and determination cannot be overlooked, I feel the advantage lies with Lecter. A shrewd and calculating player of mind games, I feel with a few well chosen words he could soon wreak havoc in the clearly tortured psyche of John Doe.
If Doe was lucky, Lecter may find a use for him and deploy him as a pawn as he did Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon. If he was unlucky, he’d be swallowing his own tongue and providing Hannibal with yet another course to savour with kidney beans and a nice chianti…


(Ring vs Ju-On/The Grudge)

I’m a big fan of the Asian horror boom over the last 15 years or so. I know it became a little overexposed, but I like it, overly familiar tropes of white clad, unkempt haired female ghosts, nonsensical twisty plots and all. So this battle brings two of the biggest heavy hitters from J-Horror head to head – Sadako Yamamura and Kayako Saeki.
Sadako is the antagonist of the film that kickstarted the whole pheneomenon, Ring (I don’t do that whole Ringu thing, it just makes my teeth itch). No, I don’t mean Samara, the little girl from the inferior US remake, I mean the ‘star’ of the cursed video tape in the original film, all the way back in 1998. Now, the film version of Sadako has a complicated past, mostly revealed during the third film in the series, the prequel, Ring 0: Birthday. Long and short of it, she was possibly fathered by some kind of sea-dwelling demon/deity. She possessed psychic abilities that enabled her to split into two distinct entities, however, one a tiny, stunted malevolent thing with incredibly dangerous powers, the others a relatively sweet girl. However, upon her death these two entities re-merged and went on a mega killing spree that culminated in her own ‘father’ walloping her over the head with an axe and throwing her down a well. From here her spirit was able to possess a VHS recorder in a hotel room built over the well and create a videotape that, upon being viewed, left the watcher cursed to die seven days later.
Okay, I didn’t say this story made any sense.
Kayako Saeki’s story on the other hand is actually kind of simple (depending on which of the THREE film series she appears in you take as canon). All three state that she was kind of an odd girl who became besotted with a man other than her husband. She kept creepy diaries in which she made it pretty obvious that she was INTO this guy. Her husband Takeo discovered this diary, lost his shit, brutally murdered her in a jealous rage, than drowned their son Toshio and the family cat Mar. This turned Kayako into one of Japan’s white robed, messy haired and terrifying onryo. Her first victim was to be her husband, from here her spirit (as well as that of Toshio and Takeo) would haunt and kill anybody that sets foot in the family home where she met her messy end.
As far as storyline reasons for these two to clash — what if somebody were to watch the tape AND enter the former Saeki family home? Long-haired, white robed, BAD CREEPINESS, that’s what!
VERDICT: As both Sadako and Kayako’s powers have never truly been explored, it’s tough to compare them. Both seem able to kill at will. They are both able to teleport to their victims and both seem pretty much impervious to harm. Kayako has her other ghostly minions to help her out (in the form of Toshio, Takeo and Mar) and seems capable of possessing her victims, as well as spiriting them away. Sadako on the other hand gets her own hands dirty, inexorably closing in on her victims and dispatching them when their allotted time comes.
I have a natural bias towards Sadako — it was the discovery of Ring that opened my eyes to the joys of J-Horror. So Sadako I choose. She’s a lot more sprightly than the malformed and badly-mangled Kayako, plus Kayako is a vengeful ghost — if the hints in Sadako’s past are to be believed, she could well be a demi-goddess of the ocean. Deities trump spirits in my book. Although Sadako really needs to go digital soon, does anybody even have a VHS recorder anymore? (That was not a question that needs answering in the comments below…)


(Psycho vs Scream)

Here we have a true clash of the ages — the grandfather of the slasher genre versus the cheeky young(ish) upstart. Unless you have recently woken from a 50 year coma, I’m assuming you’ll be familiar with the tale of Norman Bates, proprietor of the Bates Motel and all around Mummy’s boy from Hitchcock’s seminal classic Psycho. Based on Robert Bloch’s novel, Bates has gone on to appear in three film sequels, a (dire) shot-for-shot remake and a new and highly acclaimed TV series. Most famously portrayed by Anthony Perkins, Bates was an eerily believable psychotic killer, influenced by his domineering mother to such a degree that (SPOILERS!) after her death he kept her body in his attic and would dress in her clothes and adopt her personality to act out her vendetta against ‘bad girls’. But of course, you know this because you haven’t spent the last half-decade beeping.
Ghostface is the name given to those under the Edvard Munch inspired costume of poor Sidney Prescott’s tormentor in the Scream series. Since first appearing in the 1996 original (SPOILERS!) no fewer than seven individuals have donned the hood and mask and gone kill-crazy around Ms Prescott. With motives ranging from revenge to seeking fame and glory, the various Ghostface killers have shown a pop-culture savvy M.O and exceptional cruelty and viciousness (plus a willingness to kill the most famous actor/actress in each instalment of the franchise!). However, despite this the iconic Ghostface distorted voice used during his various menacing phonecalls has always been provided by the same actor, one Roger L Jackson. Good work there fella!
As a lovely little aside, one of the very first Ghostface killers (SPOILERS) Billy Loomis actually quotes Norman directly in the first film with the classic line: ‘We all go a little crazy sometimes.’
In terms of plot line, hell, I don’t know, some meta storyline involving the cast of Scream deliberately heading to the Bates Motel for a creepy party. When bodies start to pile up, the obvious culprit would be creepy Norman the manager. But what if somebody among the group is using this cover for their own plot?
VERDICT: I’m going to have to apologise here. I KNOW Norman is the first of the modern horror icons. I KNOW that without him there would be no Ghostface…
BUT Ghostface wins. Ghostface is tech savvy, has a richer and more advanced M.O. and well, the numbers game definitely favours the white masked one(s). Pretty much the only advantage Norman has is if they decide to have a wee shower before getting on with the usual slashy shenanigans they love so much. Sorry Hitchcock fans, but in this case the young upstarts walk away with the big win over crotchety old granddad Bates.


(Leprechaun vs Trick ‘r Treat)

So, so, so tiny! The teeny terrors here may be small but this battle could be EPIC. I know Leprechaun is awful. It’s one of those franchises that has become a franchise for reasons I TRULY cannot comprehend. To date, the series boasts no fewer than 6 films.
SIX. WTF????
The series has seen rent a small person Warwick Davis’s (you know, the one you get when Vern Troyer is just too little) Lubdan travel from Ireland to the United States (including, ahem, Da Hood) all the way to OUTER SPACE. DOUBLE WTF?????
Mr D plays Lubdan, a forest spirit summoned to protect the gold of an ancient king. When the king died and the rest of Lubdan’s race returned to the earth, the Leprechaun could not rest, remaining to guard his gold forever.
As if that isn’t weird enough, there is a reboot/prequel on the way, Leprechaun: Origins starring WWE teeny tiny wrestler Hornswoggle. I give up.
There’s obviously an audience for these films, alas I’m not really a part of it. I will give the character and films credit for the often insane ways in which Lubdan deals with anyone who comes between him and his pot o’ gold. When it comes to creativity and fun, Lubdan is the big man.
Well, um, er, you know what I mean.
While I may not be a massive fan of the Leprechaun films, the same cannot be said of Sam’s Trick ‘r Treat (and it’s JUST ANNOUNCED sequel). Sam is a marvellous little creation. A child (or IS he?) in a custom made Halloween costume, complete with a big round burlap sack mask, he crops up enforcing the rules of Halloween, cameoing in a host of horrible tales before his true nature is revealed in the final portmanteau story. That true nature?
Sam is short for Samhain and the loveable little tyke is actually the demonic and spiritual embodiment of Halloween. He may be little, but when it comes to getting spooky, Sam packs a VERY big punch.
As for why they’d fight? Well, the Leprechaun is notoriously greedy, refusing to part with his gold. Would he refuse to offer treats to trick or treaters? If so, Sam would have something to say…
VERDICT: Despite their diminutive stature, both Lubdan and Sam are surprisingly powerful. Over the course of the Leprechaun series, Lubdan has displayed magical powers such as teleportation, levitation, telekinesis, shape-shifting, casting illusions and even an ability to create Leprechaun-human hybrids by mixing his blood with that of humans. His power is seen to increase depending on how much of his magic gold he possesses. If his magic doesn’t do the job, Lubdan has also been shown to be a deadly opponent with frightening physical attributes including: superhuman strength, resiliency to damage and even an ability to reattach severed body parts.
The pumpkin-headed Sam boasts an almost identical set of otherworldly skills and abilities. He can disappear and reappear at will, teleport, use telekinesis and even raise the dead to do his bidding. Physically he is seen to scuttle along walls and ceilings in an eerie, kid-spider fashion, plus he also demonstrates incredible strength and resiliency. Like Lubdan, he even reattaches severed body parts when necessary.
So who wins?
Well, call me biased (I am, it’s fair) but I’m going with Sam. The Leprechaun is reliant on his gold to achieve maximum power, while he has been shown to have a whole host of weaknesses including four-leafed clovers, wrought iron and a bizarre compulsion to clean shoes.
Besides he’s just A forest spirit, Sam is the spiritual embodiment of a whole pagan festival. As long as there is Halloween, there’s Sam.
And as long as there’s Halloween, I’ll be watching Trick ‘r Treat!
Speaking of Halloween…


(Halloween vs The Texas Chain Saw Massacre)

Two proper heavyweights collide right here — the star players of two huge horror franchises, the monstrous madmen that star in quite possibly the two greatest slasher films EVER. The reason for pairing these two in an epic confrontation should be all too apparent – they really aren’t too far apart at all.
Michael Myers is the William Shatner masked antagonist of Halloween. A mute, cold, psychotic human-shark, silently gliding from kill to kill on the streets of his home of Haddonfield, Illinois.
From the day he killed his own sister, Judith, Myers has been a terrifyingly blank slate – no longer a human being, just a killing machine.
The convoluted backstory of the franchise soon added a strange twist with the druid-like Cult of Thorn.
Michael himself was shown to bear ‘the mark of Thorn’. Thorn was believed to be a demon that would spread destruction. To appease Thorn, a child from every tribe was chosen to bear the curse of Thorn and sacrifice their whole family to spare the others.
This is a bit daft, but what the heck, at least it explained his bizarre urge to track down sisters, nieces, second-cousins, granny’s dogs and whatever else the writers tried to shoehorn in.
Leatherface was the hulking masked protagonist of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre franchise. After the local slaughterhouse closed, Leatherface’s family (punnily named the Sawyer clan in later films in the series), would capture and kill those passing by their Texas home, kill them and then cannibalise their remains. In later films the family would even sell this meat as award winning chilli.
The biggest and toughest of his clan, although also the most childlike, Leatherface would also fashion masks from his victims faces, which he would use to indicate his mood. Leatherface is almost animalistic, killing when he feels threatened, when startled or ordered to do so by his bloodthirsty kin.
While both of these icons have starred in two of the highest-regarded horror films of all time (both Halloween and TCM are ESSENTIAL viewing for any fan of the genre), they have even featured in recent remakes of their defining films — which in turn have spawned their own sequels/prequels!
As for a plot reason for them to throwdown — maybe the Sawyer clan are forced to flee the authorities upon the discovery of their ongoing killing spree and find themselves seeking sanctuary in the old Myers house?
Or maybe one Myer’s few surviving family members is abducted by the Sawyers on their way through Texas. The Sawyers don’tgive up their food easily… but that target is Michael’s and Michael’s alone…
VERDICT: In terms of appearance, there’s a clear winner here. Leatherface is huge bear of a man, well over 6ft tall and heavy-set. He proves himself capable of braining victims with a single blow and easily brandishes a whopping great chainsaw. And lets not forget the damage that chainsaw can do. It’s the most devastating of weapons, it can inflict tremendous damage and even affords a decent reach to its brandisher. Taking Leatherface’s size into account, this really adds up. Furthermore, he has his family for back up. The numerical advantage purely lies with Leatherface.
Leatherface is simple. Childlike and intellectually below par. Myers has proven himself to be calculating and unflinching in his determination. While the Sawyers are prone to infighting, petulance and random acts of savagery, Myers is driven, determined and unstoppable. He has the mindset of a true killer and is always one step ahead of his victims.
While Leatherface may appear more intimidating, Myers is still no slouch when it comes to physicality. He has been seen to list grown men with one hand, crush and rend flesh and bone with his fingers and lift and lower his own considerable frame with ease. Furthermore, Leatehrface may be a huge man, but he is just a man. Myers has shown an almost supernatural level of resiliency to injury and harm, shrugging off several life-threatening injuries with ease. Perhaps this is due to the Mark of Thorn and his embodiment of a walking curse on humanity?
Finally, the chainsaw seems a perfect weapon at first glance… but it brings its own limitations. First, it’s noisy. It would allow Myers to locate his foe while also covering any noise he makes as he approaches. Second, it is fuel powered. It can stall. It needs to be revved into action. These are time consuming and make the weapon unreliable at best. Myers only needs a tiny opportunity to eliminate anybody or anything in his way.
In this case, Leatherface is the one who winds up in the meat grinder while Myers continues his relentless rampage.


(Supernatural vs well, the internet)

Following on from my slightly out-there final set-to last time around, here’s another odd one for you to peruse.
Sam and Dean Winchester are the unfeasibly good-looking stars of the ongoing TV series, Supernatural. A pair of brothers who have carried on their father’s work as a ‘hunter’, the boys travel around America in a black 1967 Chevrolet Impala, to a classic rock soundtrack, hunting out otherworldly and paranormal threats and killing the living crap out of them. The rapidly spreading and expanding backstory has seen them take on everything from ghostly urban legends, vampires and werewolves to demons, ancient deities and angels to the truly horrifying Jefferson Starships (This blog is already long enough without an explanation, just take my word for it). They rely on street smarts, a handful of custom weapons and sheer gutsy determination.
Dean (Jensen Ackles) is the rougher, more roguish of the two, Sam (Jared Padalecki) the more sensitive one with a deeper, darker secret.
The original showrunner described them as Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, and this vibe completely runs throughout the series.
In short, they’re ace and so is the show.
The Slender Man on the other hand, could very well be the first horror icon created by the internet. Originally appearing in a couple of doctored images on the forums for web site, Something Awful, Slender Man soon became an internet meme, appearing in plenty of fanart and creepypasta stories. In time it took a major role in the damn good Marble Hornets web series, and eventually it even appeared in its own game, Slender: The Eight Pages. This game is a genuinely terrifying experience and comes highly recommended.
But what exactly is The Slender Man?
While much of its motivation and nature are unexplained (or even contradictory since so many people have been involved in its development) its description is always the same — tall and thin, dressed in a smart black suit, the Slender Man has a smooth, bald, blank head, completely devoid of any facial features. Furthermore, it has long thin arms, sometimes turning into tentacles.
It is closely linked to forests and is usually depicted as being responsible for individuals disappearing, particularly children. Several victims are alleged to have become mentally disturbed while stalked by the creature, often scrawling notes. A recurring slogan from these notes is ‘No eyes. Always watching.’
A story bringing the Winchester brothers into conflict with the Slender man writes itself: several children disappear and the Winchesters are called to investigate, only to find that The Slender Man is responsible.
VERDICT: It’s very tough to quantify the Slender Man’s powers as no two resources on it are exactly the same. It is often shown to have the power of teleportation and a degree of hypnosis like mind control. It is seen to toy with victims and is often presented as otherworldly yet ancient.
It’s a formidable foe and a legitimately scary bad guy to boot.
Now the Winchesters are just two lads (with some handy allies over the course of the series, most notably grizzly senior Bobby Singer, the prophet Kevin Tran and angel Castiel). A lot has been made of the fact that both have been chosen to play a senior role in the upcoming war between good and evil that will form the Apocalypse, including Sam’s ‘demon blood’, but at the core of it, the boys are just two men who stand up for what they feel is right and protect those that need it. Probably their biggest strength is their bond with one another, the fact that both will fight to the death (and both have died a few times!) for one another.
As for who’d win? Well, despite the fact that the boys may seem outmatched, they have CONSISTENTLY come out n top. Sure, they’ve both taken their fair share of hidings, but they always get straight back up and get on with the job at hand. They don’t give up and they get things done. I think this gives them the edge over the undoubtedly powerful and ancient Slender Man.
Besides the boys have overcome Lucifer and the machinations of the entire legions of Heaven and Hell AND lasted for a whopping NINE seasons on US TV. If that doesn’t show staying power, I don’t know what does!

So there you go. A somewhat belated final entry on this subject to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve. Let me know your thoughts below — have I got it right or am I wrong wrong wrong?

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

Thursday, 3 October 2013



'Cinematic what?'
Well, I've decided that as I'm going to see a fair few horror films at the cinema (A LOT in fact), perhaps it's worth my while coming up with a suitable review format for these. Obviously I can't write the detailed notes I use when I review a dvd (I do that honest) so these reviews need to be punchier, shorter, sharper and, well, maybe a bit less fun but certainly a LOT less time consuming. With that in mind, here's my very first attempt to do this — the first Scary Cinematic Snapshot.

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Dir: James Wan
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil things TOO much here, but read on at your own risk.
The film starts with a cool little flashback to the first time young Josh encountered psychic ghostbuster Elise thanks to new character, Carl (who looks just like my doctor!)
Interestingly the younger version of Josh's mother, Lorraine, is played by Jocelin Donahue, from the AWESOME House of The Devil. This scene further explores the creepy ghost lady stalking him as a kid sub-plot from the first film. So far so good.
After the hilariously melodramatic screaming strings of the title card, the film picks up where the first left off: Dalton and Josh have returned from the Poltergeist-esque Further, but Elise has been found dead. Could the Lambert boys have brought something malevolent back with them?


The end.

Ok, I'll give you a bit more. While the police investigate the Lambert home as a crime scene, Josh (Patrick Wilson), Renai (Rose Byrne), their sons Dalton and Foster and baby daughter Kali move into Lorraine's (Barbara Hershey) home.
They are there for approximately 30 seconds before terrifying shit starts to happen again, yet Josh is alarmingly resistant to doing anything. Oh, and his teeth fall out.
Meanwhile Elise's comedy ghost hunter sidekicks Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (writer Leigh Whannell) team up with Carl (Steve Coulter) to work out exactly what happened to their dearly departed friend.
From here the film branches into two distinct stories: the ghostly goings on at home with the Lamberts and the ongoing quest to find the entity that did for Elise. 
This second one is actually the more complicated, itself featuring flashbacks to Lorraine's previous career in a suitably creepy hospital and a serial killer known as The Bride in Black.
Ultimately these two plot lines converge (by way of more shenanigans in the Further that niftily uses some time travel fun to strengthen the ties to the first film, minus a Delorean or Doc Brown) and build to a  suitably grim conclusion.

And Insidious: Chapter 3 next year, no doubt.

BEST BITS (spoiler warning): First off, I'm going to say this film does an AMAZING job of tying in with the events of the first film. It is a seamless sequel and feels like a natural and organic expansion of the first story.

It even adds more depth to seemingly inconsequential events in Insidious. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give it is that straight after watching Insidious: Chapter 2, I wanted to go home and rewatch the first one.
This tight plotting and excellent storytelling really made the film fun, with very few head-scratching moments. Everything (well, nearly everything) that takes place on screen happens for a reason, so the film is a surprisingly rewarding experience.
One area in particular that I was happy with is the way that some of the supporting characters (such as Tucker, Specs and Lorraine) who, let's be honest, felt like a bit of a waste of screen time in the first film have suitably expanded roles and actually feel relevant here. Good work.
In terms of performances, one leaps out at me. Patrick Wilson is fantastic.
Portraying what is essentially a couple of characters, he has much more to do rather than look confused and say how much he cares about the people close to him this time round. When portraying the woman-hating, serial killer Parker Crane (who is still in contact with his dead mother on the other side) he is excellent and clearly has fun with the role. James Wan clearly likes Wilson — after this performance and his turn in The Conjuring, I can see why. Good work, Paddy!
Now a possible bone of contention — I quite enjoyed the stuff in The Further in the first film. Some people HATED it. This time, the Further is MUCH better and it feels as if the production team have learnt from their experiences making Insidious and put that knowledge to good use here. I'll be intrigued to hear what anybody who hated the first film's Further scenes thinks of these. Feel free to drop a comment below!
A last couple of big pluses now: the period details during the flashbacks in Our Lady Of Angels Hospital; the short found footage-esque scene in that same setting later in the film (that ratcheted up some creepiness right there!); a brilliantly crafted jump scare involving a tin-can telephone and a wardrobe; and Carl's dice. They made for some great atmosphere in two key scenes!
Finally 'Hunter, Ninja, Bear'. As ace a variation on 'Scissor, Paper, Stone' as Nathan Barley's 'Cock, Muff, Bumhole'.
Oh, and 'BRING IT!!!!!'

WORST BITS (spoiler warning): Perhaps the biggest problem here is that Insidious: Chapter 2 isn't the best film about a haunted house starring Patrick Wilson and directed by James Wan that I've seen this year — The Conjuring is. It may seem unfair to compare them, but, well, it's bloody hard not to. And The Conjuring trumps Insidious: Chapter 2 in most areas.
Perhaps the most important of these is scariness. While it has a few memorable moments, I:C2 just ISN'T as frightening as its predecessor OR The Conjuring.
I feel a lot of the blame for this lies with the villain(s). Mrs Crane is just a little obvious and really doesn't inspire much more than the odd spine tingle when viewed as anything more than a shadowy vague presence at a distance. And one of the few mistakes Wan and co make is to give us far too many close ups of the malevolent spirits in the film in perfectly fine lighting conditions.
While the cliche of ghostly figures in the darkness has been done to death, the reason it works is that shadows work on two levels: they hide the actors, robbing them of some of their human features and covering any obvious uses of make up AND they encourage us to fill in the gaps with whatever horrors our imagination can conjure up. There's a reason that wardrobe scene worked so well!
Also while the Bride in Black made for a nice eerie presence in the first film, here it seemed to lose some of her/his scariness. Perhaps the problem was that when compared with the first films red-faced demon, it came off as decidedly second rate.
Another niggle came during a scene where a nice plot point comes full circle and we realise the relevance of an earlier moment. 'Ah ha!' thinks the audience, 'So that's what that was about!'
Then one of the characters onscreen delivers THAT EXACT LINE. 
Ffs Hollywood, we aren't all morons out here. Give us some credit, we don't need to be clubbed over the head with a plot to keep up.
There were very few plotting missteps. One moment that stretched credibility to breaking point for me went a little something like this:
So a possessed psychopath is attempting to smash through a door to slaughter you and your family? yeah, I'm sure you can just fall asleep in mere seconds. You do that now. I'm calling BOLLOCKS on that one right there.
Also it was a little too convenient how often somebody would arrive at the very last second to save somebody in mortal peril.
Sadly, some of Wan's horror staples seem to be losing their edge. Toys showing a life of their own are always good for a few scares, but Kali's walker was just a bit naff.
Finally, there was also a point quite early on where I was unable to focus on the scene playing out onscreen because I was trying to work out whether Lindsay Seim was doing the greatest impression of Lin Shaye EVER or whether Shaye's voice was being dubbed over her scenes. I concluded it was the latter.

VERDICT: There are two ways to review this film. First, as a straightforward horror film, it’s alright. It has some creepy moments and pulls together several plot strands to make for a thoroughly satisfying film. Okay, it got a little jumbled at times, and the nature of the Further really needs a little explanation as it seems to exist between life and death, directly overlay our own world at various time periods AND somehow house areas which exist purely in memory (or something), but all in all, the film tells the story it needs to without pulling plot points out of its arse or wandering up any dead ends. 
I also liked the whole backstory to the Bride in Black — it felt a lot like Psycho, complete with cross-dressing murderer scarred by his cruel and overbearing mother, but just ramped up a little.
Unfortunately it wasn’t as scary as either the first film or its studio sister, The Conjuring. This could be a big problem to some people. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a snoozer, but the comparisons must be made and it comes out worse off.
As a sequel however, it is exemplary. It TOTALLY does everything a sequel should — builds on the story, adds a new layer of understanding to previous points and boldly and bravely expands on everything we've seen before. Previous mistakes are NOT repeated, in fact when it comes to the likes of Tucker and Specs’ sometimes suspect comedy relief, they are actually corrected. 
Rumours are this will be James Wan’s last horror film. This is a shame as it’s arguably his weakest offering (although perhaps that is a sign that he should branch out?). Still even mediocre James Wan is better than 90 per cent of horror films out there, so don’t be TOO put off.
To conclude, if you enjoyed Insidious, I THOROUGHLY recommend you see Chapter 2. If you didn’t, this may just do enough to change your mind. 
If you’ve not seen it? Go watch The Conjuring, you'll thank me for it.

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