Wicked Wendesday

Wicked Wednesday: Scream, Pretty Peggy (1973)

One of the things about horror films that is simultaneously amazing and painful to watch is golden-era Hollywood icons “lowering” themselves to the genre.

Case and point: Bette Davis. While originally known for her great dramatic roles, her later career was marked with much more horror/thrillers such as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? But the last decades of her life had her in over a dozen TV movies.

One of them is the 1973 thriller Scream, Pretty Peggy, which originally aired on ABC.

Scream, Pretty Peggy follows young art student, Peggy (go figure). Desperate for a job, she takes work as a house keeper for the wealthy Elliott family. When she arrives at the house, she’s turned away by the elderly Mrs Elliott (Davis), but her son Jeffrey stops her and invites the student in.

Bright, perky Peggy gets herself the job, and even manages to earn herself more money in the negotiations. Charmed by the weird girl, Jeffrey allows her to even bother him while he work on his sculptures. But she has one rule: stay away from the rooms above the garage.

During her first day, Peggy sees a photograph of a young woman, who Mrs Elliott explains is her daughter Jennifer. She claims that Jennifer is in Europe.

Each night she heads back home from work, Peggy notices that she’s being followed by a car. She eventually confronts the man, who says he is Thornton, father of the last girl who worked for the Elliotts. He explains that he hasn’t heard from his daughter, but Peggy is unable to help him. When he arrives at the Elliotts’ house, they claim to know nothing either.

Peggy eventually moves in with the Elliotts with Mrs Elliott injures her leg. Her first night in the house she awakes to the sound of a banging door and spots that the garage door is open. When she goes to investigate, she sees a figure in a white gown go up to the rooms above the garage.

When she confronts Jeffrey about it, he admits that Jennifer is not in Europe, but living above the garage. She’s insane, but the family couldn’t bare to lock her up. Peggy then becomes determined to make friends with Jennifer, despite being warned away by both Jeffrey and Mrs Elliott. Mrs Elliott continuously warns Peggy away, but the girl (increasingly enamored with Jeffrey) refuses.

Peggy finds an item with Thornton’s name on it, and decides to try and contact him. The place where he’s staying inform her that he hasn’t been seen in a couple days. And upon investigating, Peggy sees the man’s car locked away in the garage.

Knowing that something is not right, Peggy tries to hunt down Jeffrey. While in Jeffrey’s studio, she’s attacked by the figure in the white dress. Peggy manages to escape and finds Mrs Elliott in her room. She tells the woman what has happened, saying that it was Jennifer. But Mrs Elliott only tells Peggy, “It’s all your fault.”

Jeffrey is finally found, and Peggy tells him about Jennifer’s attack. He goes up to Jennifer’s rooms above the garage to confront his sister. Peggy and Mrs Elliott watch from outside.

Jeffrey emerges and informs them that he has killed Jennifer. She tried to attack him, and she fell on her own knife. When Peggy tries to call the police, she’s ordered not to.

Frustrated and confused, Peggy goes to Jeffrey’s studio and tries to talk to him. Only Jeffrey isn’t there – it’s Jennifer. Or rather, ‘Jennifer’ in Jeffrey’s mind (basically Jeff wearing some shit make-up). ‘Jennifer’ tries to attack Peggy, but is shot by Mrs Elliott.

Mrs Elliott neatly wraps up the story, telling Peggy that Jeffrey killed Jennifer when she tried to leave for Europe to get married. He hid her body in one of his sculptures, and ‘Jennifer’ began to take over his mind. Each time he was with a woman, the Jennifer part of his brain became jealous and violent.

So basically, don’t killer your sister.

While the ending is an exposition dump, it doesn’t detract too much from the movie overall. Scream, Pretty Peggy is a great film, TV movie or no. Honestly, Davis is such a scene-stealer. Completely magnetic with even the most mundane lines thrown at her.

While the twist is by no means original, it’s still fun. And Scream, Pretty Peggy have some great, subtle spooky moments that I loved. Peggy is quite an unusual character for a horror film. She’s resilient and bouncy, and a touch obnoxious (but I liked her anyway). I say give this piece a go. If anything, it’s just a joy to see Davis on screen.


Wicked Wednesday: Invitation to Hell (1984)

“What I want, Matt, is some power.”

Welcome to year two of Made-for-TV March where the movies are cheap and contain lots of lightning!

I love made-for-TV movies. The more I watch, the more I grow fond of this sort-of sub-genre. Watching Invitation to Hell only solidified all my opinions.

Directed by Wes Craven, Invitation to Hell is a horror sci-fi thriller that first aired in 1984 on ABC. By this point, Craven was well into solidifying his name as an icon of the genre with his early classics. A Nightmare on Elm Street was released just a few months later in November of that year. It was well clear that this project was in the hands of a man who really knew what he was doing.

The Winslow family move to a new town for father Matt (Robert Urich) to begin his new job. The family have led a mostly lower-middle class life, waiting for Matt’s work as an inventor to blossom. His new job is seemingly a step in the right direction.

The family learn that “anyone who is anyone” belongs to the local country club. Like all good 80’s suburbanites, their neighbours all comply with the expectations. But for the mostly-poor Winslows, they stand out with their shabby furniture and car.

But Matt is reluctant to join, and instead focuses on developing his technology for an astronaut’s suit. The suit allows the wearer to enter extreme temperatures, and the helmet is able to detect is something is human or non-human.

One day, the family are nearly in an accident when their car is cut off by another. When Matt goes to confront the driver, out pops Jessica Jones (Susan Lucci), the director of the club. She immediately takes a shine to Matt, and encourages him and his family to join their club.

Matt’s disinterest in the club continues, while it only increases for his wife Pat (Joanna Cassidy) and their kids (Bastian and Punky Brewster). At work, Matt begins to notice something strange going on. His secretary, Grace, keeps trying to slip him information that he walks away ignorant from. His friend and co-worker Tom gets promoted to a cushy job after joining the club, despite not mentioning any hint of a promotion before.

Jessica invites the Matt and Pat to have a tour of the club, and Matt agrees. During the tour, Matt wanders alone when he hears crying coming from the other side of a large, ominous door. Weirded out, Matt declines yet again to join the club.

But Jessica usurps Matt, and invites just Pat and the kids to join, which the gladly agree to. And after their ‘initiation’, things begin to get worse for Matt.

Soon Grace is replaced, and disappears. He receives a call from Grace’s husband, a vet, and is informed that Pat tried to have the family’s beloved dog put down, seemingly without good reason. When Matt confronts Pat, she snaps at him. And Matt later learns of his ex-secretary’s death.

Though not an idiot, Matt begins to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Pat’s personality changes from warm mother to yuppie bitch, and his kids become increasingly violent. And during a bit of research, Matt learns that all of the promotions in the last number of years have happened only to members of the country club.

With everything in place, Matt sneaks into the country club to do a but of sleuthing. He learns that beyond the ominous doors, the temperatures are well over 300 degrees Fahrenheit. He breaks into his lab and steals his astronaut’s suit to wear as a costume to the club’s Halloween party.

The suit allows Matt to go beyond the doors, where the temperatures reach well about 2000 degrees – a literal hell. But as he searches for his real family, he’s pursued by Jessica in her devil’s costume. Despite her begging, Matt jumps off a cliff inside the room when he hears his children begging for his help.

When he lands, Matt awakes to find himself in a sort of alternate-dimension of his world. When he enters his house, he sees Pat at her piano, seemingly unable to stop playing piano. Jessica catches him up, and insists that he has no way of defeating her or saving his family.

But Matt realises that Jessica is just a straight-up liar. A devil without any real powers. And upon understanding this, Matt reaches for his family and is able to save them all from hell.

As the family wake up back in their real home, they learn that the country club has been on fire for almost the entire night – seemingly destroyed.

Invitation to Hell is on many levels, a bit standard. But the writing, direction and acting really elevate it to something special. One thing the 80’s always got right was creating believable families. Each member of the Winslow family was so likable, it made it all the more enjoyable to see their spiral into possession.

There were several plot gaps, but for something that had to be under 2 hours (with commercials), it does a good job of creating a great supernatural feel. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchersthe movie makes you feel uncomfortable with suburban conformity and that sensation that you can never be too sure who to trust. Incidentally, Kevin McCarthy has a role as Matt’s boss, and he’s fantastic.

Craven went on to direct several made-for-TV movies (Invitation to Hell was his second following the also excellent Summer of Fear). I won’t spoil myself by watching all of them this month, though. But watching this just made me miss the man more than I already do. Invitation to Hell is a movie that a full-heartedly recommend, and I personally can’t wait to watch it again.

Wicked Wednesday: Sorority House Massacre (1986)

When choosing my last film for Women in Horror Month, I wanted to pick something that sounded a bit fun. When I saw this was another Roger Corman produced movie from the Slumber Party Massacre era, I thought this would be a great pick.

Unfortunately, Sorority House Massacre hardly offers up anything memorable.

Beth is a young university student who is spending the weekend at a sorority where her friends live. She spent her life living with her aunt, who had recently passed away, leaving Beth alone. As most of the students are away for the weekend, Beth and her three friends have the whole house to themselves.

When Beth first arrives, though, she begins to have some strange visions inside the house. They’re flashes of dreams or memories of the house being decorated in a different way, and a man appearing at times.

The girls agree to have a party, and as they receive the decorations, their boyfriends arrive. The kids settle in for what is definitely their last night on earth.

Meanwhile, somewhere else on that earth, a man named Bobby is spending his time as a patient at a mental hospital. He also begins to have visions, which make him act erratically. After being studied by his doctor, he manages to escape the hospital and steal a knife from a local store.

One of Beth’s friends tells the kids about the “ghost story” of the house. In a very Ronald DeFeo Jr way, a man murders his entire family one night, seemingly for no apparent reason. The story scares the pants out of Beth, who leaves the room and eventually falls asleep to have another nightmare. In this nightmare, she dreams of a stabbing.

When her friends wake her up from her screaming, she tells them about the dream. She takes them to the fireplace where she says the killer hid his knife. Though they’re reluctant to believe her, her friends do find an old knife hidden away in the bricks of the fireplace.

This is when, of course, the kids begin to get knocked off one by one. As she continues on unaware of the murders, Beth slowly realises that she has a connection to the murders that occurred in the house years before.

Bobby eventually gets in the house, and only Beth, Linda and Sara are left. But Sara gets herself killed when the girls are cornered in the back lawn. Before Bobby attacks her with his knife, though, he begins to call her by his another one of his sister’s names.

As Linda and Beth hide away, Beth admits that she thinks she’s Bobby’s sister. Bobby keeps calling her Laura. Laura being her real first name, and Beth her middle.

Unfortunately Beth and Bobby never really get that heart-to-heart siblings need to work things out. Bobby kills Linda after a few fake-out deaths, and Beth kills Bobby just as the police arrive.

Beth sees another vision of Bobby as she’s in the hospital. I think it’s meant to imply that Bobby might still be alive.

I mostly think she’s just a little stressed out. Maybe she should have taken that weekend to get away.

Sorority House Massacre was written and directed by Carol Frank. This being the only writing and directing credit to her name according to IMDB. There are some moments I did appreciate in this film, but I do have to acknowledge that Frank wrote some solid female friendships here. The girls actually felt like they wanted to protect each other in the end, and I really appreciate that.

But there wasn’t much originality in this. As mentioned, the back story was lifted from Amityville Horror with the sibling survival story from Halloween. Plus the visions of death very similar to Nightmare on Elm Street. If it’s going to be derivative, I’d at least expect some interesting little spin. But there isn’t here. No drill-guitar wielding demon from your dreams, either.

The psychic connection between brother and sister reminded me of Laurie Strode and Michael Myers. But I wish that this connection would have been more explained or explored further. I dunno. Just because she survived doesn’t really mean much to me. I think the film got sidetracked by throwing in a sorority (though there was very little sorority going-ons in this one).

I can see why this is a bit of a cult thing. For one, the script can be pretty bad. (“Do you think this place could be haunted?” “I think you’re haunted.”) But it also seems to have a bit of heart. It didn’t work for me, but such are things.

Also, at this point I’ve surely watched ever sorority-themed horror movie. Right? How could there be any more?

Those answers next time on Women in Horror Month.


Wicked Wednesday: XX (2017)

I’ve been wanting to watch XX since I first read the festival hype around it last year. But I was a good blogger and persevered and saved this baby for Women in Horror Month. Needless to say, there was a lot of anticipation here.

Unfortunately, I have to say that this wasn’t worth waiting for.

XX is an anthology film directed by Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clarke, Jovanka Vuckovic, and Karyn Kusama with Sofia Carrillo directing the framing story.

The Box

The first segment was directed by Vuckovic, whose short film The Captured Bird I watched for last year’s Women in Horror Month. And really, she’s made great strides. Her shots were great and the cast was charming. Unlike The Captured Bird, though, this short was based off a short story by the late horror writer Jack Ketchum.

“The Box” begins when a woman’s son takes a peek at the inside of a stranger’s Christmas present. After seeing what was inside, the boy stops eating. His sister follows suit within the week. And when his concerned father asks him what’s wrong, the father also begins to starve himself. One by one, the woman’s family starve to death, leaving her alone to endless search for the man and his box.

It’s a haunting story, but ultimately, it’s a little too open-ended to feel satisfying. It’s a pretty tricky thing to get right with a short film. Sometimes there is such a thing as too much mystery. Perhaps it works for the more philosophical of us, but I personally felt that it didn’t dig enough.

The Birthday Party

This quirky short was filled with plenty of kitsch charm. Directed by Clark, and co-written with Benjamin, “The Birthday Party” begins with a mother getting ready for her daughter’s birthday party. She’s determined to make perfect, but her plans are derailed when she finds her husband dead in his study.

Not wanting to spoil the party, the mother hides her husband’s corpse in a panda bear suit bought off a party performer. And while the guests look on, the dead body is accidentally knocked into the cake. And when the panda head is removed, the guests (including the children) all see the corpse beneath.

It’s a cute piece, but again doesn’t explain enough of its imagery. Shelia Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) plays the nosy nanny dressed in stark black. It certainly looks good, but there isn’t enough of her character to make sense of it.

The performances from Vand and Melanie Lynskey are great, but I don’t think enough development was really given to either. If this short meant to make a statement, it missed it. If it was trying to be cartoonish, it didn’t go far enough. But Clark’s style was certainly cute enough to make me want to watch more of her future work (even if short went weirdly music video-like half-way through).

Don’t Fall

“Don’t Fall” is easily the weakest of the four shorts. It’s unimaginative and sloppy. Four kids go out into the desert and camp in a protected land. An ancient evil awakes and possesses one of the girls. She kills the friends off one by one. With really basic creature design.

I’m not sure Benjamin was trying to do with this. Unless I missed something subtle, I didn’t understand why she made something so cliche. The girl who becomes possessed is made fun of by her friends. So I don’t know? Push a bitch too far and she’ll get possessed?

Bonus points for Angela Trimbur. She’s hilarious in The Good Place.

Her Only Living Son

The final short was from Karyn Kusama, who showed off here as the writer and director with the most experience. Single mom Cora lives with her son Andy. As his 18th birthday approached, Andy becomes more violent and evil. But most people around them seem to be very forgiving. Many people even tell Cora that they’ll do anything to protect him.

On the night of his 18th, it’s revealed that he is the spawn of Satan. But unwilling to give up her son to the Devil, Cora asks Andy to choose staying with her instead of taking his place with the Devil. When he chooses her, they embrace, and they are crushed to death by an evil force.

Kusama’s story is ultimately about a mother’s determination to keep her children safe and loved. Throughout the short, Cora gets it both right and wrong. She tries to be supportive, but at times becomes invasive. While the story is extreme, in many ways the relationship between mother and son makes it feel very real.

Some of the effects seemed cheap, but it can be easily overlooked as this is by far the strongest story.

With a title like XX, I was expecting some female-driven stories. While women actors feature as mains in every short, the film never seemed too interested in exploring more complex female experiences. Half of the shorts didn’t seem interested in saying anything at all.

Horror is a fantastic genre to use when trying to tell stories from a female perspective. It can be gross and insightful. It’s possible to do it, as seen in work like Anna Biller’s shorts and Jill Gevargizian’s The Stylist. 

That’s not to say that female directors always need to tell a female story, but I do feel slightly misled. When you have the platform and make such a big deal about being all-female, then maybe someone should have had the nerve to try something more gutsy.

I did, though, love the theme of family that ran most of these films. It’s an underrated asset in horror. But none of these films tackled sisterhood or even female friendship to any sort of degree. There’s plenty to explore without doing the same basic tropes (or maybe that was the point?).

This anthology felt like four short films that were made separately. Then someone decided they should throw them all in together as an after thought. As stand-alone films, I think they would almost fare better. But I guess this does defeat the notion that women are stronger together.

I do recommend watching XX. I was more let down by my own unnecessary anticipation and expectations than anything. It’s a good, solid anthology. If only a bit frustrating.


Wicked Wednesday: Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

For last year’s Women in Horror Month, I watched Slumber Party Massacre, the first in a series of films that were directed exclusively by female directors.

I watch a lot of 80’s slashers, so I found it slightly difficult to recall the first movie without having to look up the synopsis online. But never fear, Slumber Party Massacre II is a film that will never leave my memory.

Written and directed by Deborah Brock, this sequel is more ridiculous and zany than it’s predecessor. It’s also quite a bit more fun. And why? Well, it still has a driller killer as with the first one. But this drill? This drill is on the end of a guitar! A GUITAR! No explanation needed!

(I’m only saying that because we don’t get one anyway.)

Young Courtney is no longer young. Her older sister Valerie is now in a mental hospital after the horrors the two faced years ago at the first slumber party massacre. Courtney has nightmares about that night. Nightmares about scenes she wasn’t even in. Freaky.

But Courtney has developed a life away from that. She’s in a kickin’ band with her pals, and her crush, Matt, is interested in her. Under her friend Shelia’s insistence, Courtney invites Matt to Shelia’s dad’s new condo over the weekend. It is, after all, Shelia’s birthday.

A slumber party in an out-of-the-way condo? What could go wrong? Well, Courtney’s mom certainly doesn’t want her to go. But her daughter pulls the water works and cries that she doesn’t want to spend her birthday in a mental hospital. Fair enough. Her mother cracks and allows her daughter to do.

The band head off to the condo together, and all seems to be well. While at a stop, Courtney falls asleep where she dreams of a man warning her to not go “all the way”. In her dream he drills through Valerie, who’s on her bed in the mental hospital, with his guitar-drill thing. Courtney wakes up, and assumes that it was just that: a dream.

But the girls arrive at the condo, which means Courtney can’t be bothered to worry about her stupid sister’s fate. The girls get settled, have a pillow fight and strip off (as ladies do). Meanwhile, boys TJ and Jeff arrive to build the sexual tension.

That night while Shelia has sex with one of the boys (I think it’s TJ. Lord knows.), Courtney falls asleep to another nightmare of the Driller Killer. The nightmare tires her out, and in the morning, she’s barely registering anything. The day gets progressively gets worse for her as she begins to have more visions.

But the visions come to a head when Courtney has her own Nightmare on Elm Street bath filled with blood. She screams for help, and her friend Sally arrives in the bathroom, but sees nothing. When Sally tries speaking Courtney, Courtney sees the pimple on Sally’s face grow and eventually melt her entire face (or something).

Courtney runs out of the bathroom to get helps from the others, but they can’t find Sally anywhere. Hours later, they assume something has happened to her and they call the police. The police believe the kids are making things up (especially Courtney, who does herself no favours be describing what happened literally instead of making up stuff that sounds real).

But Sally waltzes back into the house like nothing happened, saying that she went to the shop. The police are then pretty convinced that they never need to believe these kids again…despite the fact that Sally had been missing for hours. But whatever.

Since Matt arrived at the condo earlier that day, he and Courtney now have their time alone. And in what has to be one of the more incredible scenes of the film, the couple have their own Sixteen Candles moment and it is fucking hilarious. Matt brings her a cake that looks like it has been set on fire, and they make out over it.

As the two get busy, Courtney starts to think about the Driller Killer again. And just when things get intimate, Matt gets drilled through the back. The Driller Killer, now out of Courtney’s dreams and into her car, is officially there to terrorise the kids.

As Courtney rushes downstairs, her tries to tell her friends what happened. They all try to split, but no one goes in the same direction. Shelia and TJ go off alone while Courtney, Jeff and Amy head in the opposite direction.

Sally gets killed off first, but she deserved it for being an asshole earlier.

But it hardly matters anyway, as the guitar/drill-wielding dancing killer gets them all in very quick succession. It takes no time at all, and it’s down to Amy and Courtney.

The two girls try to escape the killer through building sites, but Amy eventually falls to her death. When Courtney is finally cornered by the Driller Killer, she’s able to escape him by setting him on fire. This seemingly ends things, but in yet another Nightmare on Elm Street moment, Courtney wakes up from a dream and finds herself in a room in a mental hospital.

It’s great. It’s really great.

The scenes where the Driller Killer peruses the kids are fucking great. While many slashers really tend to drag in the final chase, Slumber Party Massacre II really keeps things (hilariously) interesting.  I like the scenes that are send ups of John Hughes films and the little nods to other horror films.

Do I get what any of this means? Hell no! But it’s certainly something that’s bonkers enough that you need to make all your friends watch it just so you can talk about it.

One of the biggest mistakes the movie made was making these girls likable. Sure, they’re a bit much. But they all feel real and fleshed out. Plus they love Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, and they’re all super terrible dancers!

There’s actually a lot of familiar faces in this one. Heidi Kozak from Society and Friday the 13th pt VII and Juliet Cummins from Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. 

The music is pretty great, too. The band Wednesday Week provided the music for the girls’ band. They were a part of the Paisley Underground scene, which explains why the songs are so Bangles-esque. But the highlight has to be “Tokyo Convertible” by First Born.

I loved Slumber Party Massacre II for all of its insanity. It probably won’t work for everyone, but it certainly made itself memorable. Props to writer and director Deborah Brock. You owned it, lady. Whatever it was that you were trying to do.

I just want to add that Women in Horror Month has been fantastic these first two weeks. The most fun I’ve had watching films in a long time.


Wicked Wednesday: A Visit From the Incubus (2001)

Happy Women in Horror Month! Where our realities are terrifying, and the movies just reflect that!

And what better way to start the celebration than with a short film that was written, produced, directed, edited by the woman who also starred in the film as well did the costumes, sets and score. (And I’m pretty certain she sang her parts in the musical as well. Who says a woman can’t have it all?)

Anna Biller’s A Visit from the Incubus is a western horror musical that is as good as it sounds. Biller’s style has to be one of the most visually recognizable contemporary filmmakers. It’s in full effect here.

Young Lucy (Biller) is a woman in the wild west. Each night she is haunted by an incubus, who torments her by raping in her sleep. She goes to seek advice from her friend Madeleine, who admits she used to be haunted by the incubus as well. But Madeleine tells Lucy that she was able to get rid of her demon.

Despite the offer of refuge at Madeleine’s, Lucy goes home alone. That night, she’s visited by the incubus again. Only in the morning, Lucy doesn’t feel like taking the incubus’s shit anymore. In fact, she feels like a woman.

Taking her new confidence out for a spin, Lucy goes to the local saloon to ask for work – “that kind of work”.

That night, Lucy appears in her first show at the saloon. But her opening act is none other the incubus himself, trying to steal her limelight from her. The two begin their ultimate showdown the only way possible: with song and dance.

The incubus takes the stage and is booed off not once, but twice. And when Lucy hits the stage, she’s an instant success. She becomes the star of the saloon, and is immediately offered a new contract for $100 a week by the saloon manager. Lucy’s victory is her own.

It’s obvious what the message is here, but A Visit from the Incubus never feels heavy-handed. In fact, it also manages to elevate the genre it emulates, something a lot of similar writers and directors often fail to do. There’s a touch of The Harvey Girls with just enough Satanic fun. It’s amazing to see a character have a full story arc (with development!) in under a half hour.

This short was everything. It was smart, funny, provocative, and it can original songs! I’m a sucker for it all.

Women in Horror Month is an initiative to promote the work of women filmmakers throughout the month of February (and all year!). Whether that be behind or in front of the screen, it’s a celebration of a bad-ass group that’s largely underrepresented in the film industry. This month I’ll be highlighting female-directed movies, and I’m really excited about every single one of them.

Visit Women in Horror Month‘s website to learn more about their cause! If you’re a creator, it’s a great space to meet with others in the community.


Wicked Wednesday: The Exorcist at the Phoenix Theatre

Thanks to a friend who has seemingly endless connections and belongs to something mysteriously referred to only as “The Club,” I’ve been able to see a lot of West End shows for free. I’ve never been a theatre person, but London is filled with oddities that I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of experiencing. This week’s show brought me into home territory with The Exorcist, based on William Peter Blatty’s novel and film of the same name.

Seeing The Exorcist performed on stage marked my first horror play. The show was okay, but largely forgettable with strange pacing and inconsistent acting. Not that I’m any sort of expert on the subject (I’m not an expert at anything, but that’s besides the point). But one thing that did stand out to me was the practical effects.

Making a good horror movie is not easy. Even if it is “successful,” you’d be faced with one very large problem: nothing scares everyone. Making people suspend their belief takes a true skill, one that I would imagine is even more difficult when you’re on a stage.

The original 1973 film had a lot going for it. It had a wealth of locations and an absolutely fabulous cast. But it was shocking at the time. Filthy and uncomfortable.

My mom told me stories of how when she saw The Exorcist in cinemas for the first time, she had to leave to be sick.

Once something sets the standard, it can be impossible to replicate the feeling years later. While I think the original Exorcist film holds up incredibly well, many people don’t. And it’s for the same reason: the special effects. Regan, the young girl possessed by demon Pazuzu, has that iconic pea soup vomit and vibrant red blood.

The stage adaptation at the Phoenix was much more subdued. White vomit and an increasingly large wig to convey that the young girl was increasingly becoming more ill. I imagine it takes a great deal of stage magic to produce what this show did. At one point Regan tries to cut herself with a knife, and no blood is seen. She tries desperately to cut into her bone, but nothing happens.

But perhaps the most convincing effect was when the face of Father Damien Karras’ mother was superimposed over that of Regan’s. It was the time I felt the most “thrilled” by what was happening on stage.

It’s clearly not an easy story to bring to the stage. Many of the visual effects done electronically were missed because we just had really crap seats. But I still feel like the staging was fantastic.

Scaring a crowd of jaded viewers has to be difficult. But there were plenty of moments that The Exorcist truly creeped me out. It’s certainly a different feeling to watching it on screen, but it was definitely worth the experience.