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Jan 22 13

I’ve lost count of how many horror movies I’ve seen that have tried, unsuccessfully, to imitate director William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist.”  None of them can compare, but “The Possession” comes closer in terms of quality than any other film I’ve watched in recent years. Surprising, since it’s barely ninety minutes long and has a PG-13 rating. After a visually shocking opening scene, director Ole Bornedal takes a more subtle approach, gradually building suspense and a meticulous sense of dread as the movie unfolds – proving you don’t have to include lots of CGI or bloody gore (or a jerky “Blair Witch” camera style) in order to make a story scary. Luckily for the director and the viewers, talented actors Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick have leading roles, and newcomer Natasha Calis is quite impressive as their possessed daughter.

Calis plays Emily, a young girl upset by the divorce of her parents, Clyde (Morgan) and Stephanie (Sedgwick). Clyde tries to compensate for the separation by spoiling both his daughters during their weekend visits with him. One day he’s talked into stopping at a yard sale, and gives in when Em asks him to buy her a wooden box she can’t seem to open. Bad move. Turns out it’s a “Dybbuk Box.” But the family knows nothing about Jewish folklore, and not long after Em figures out how to open the box she is influenced by the evil spirit living inside. She begins talking to a lady who isn’t there, and soon displays signs of rage and physical abuse. Stephanie blames Clyde at first, but then (in my favorite spooky scene) she comes to realize that her daughter’s problems stem from the supernatural.

Naturally, an exorcism is the only solution – by a rabbi instead of a Catholic priest. Even with some good special effects, this Jewish exorcism isn’t nearly as intense or horrifying as the William Peter Blatty version, and the film’s ending is pretty typical. (One comes to expect this “open-endedness,” since most movie makers hope for a sequel.) Despite this, for a horror flick dealing with a tired trope, it has a classy, creepy feel to it that makes it worth viewing. “The Possession” gets three out of five “goblins” from me.


Jan 6 13

Happy New Year!  My scary story collection, “The White Death and Other Ghastly Ghost Stories” is still available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc., but I thought I’d remind people of another horror tale I’ve written (not a ghost story) that is still available in print from Shroud Magazine (Issue #9), “How I Met the Pope Lick Monster.” The link for ordering is below the following excerpt, if you would like to read the entire tale.

This story is based on a local Louisville legend that began in the 1930s, or thereabouts. It involves a “monster” that lives in the vicinity of a 100 foot tall train trestle. I decided to write my own explanation of how it came to be.

“How I Met the Pope Lick Monster”

The teenager was a petite blonde and reminded me of my younger sister, but I offered her a ride anyway. Darkness fell early at the end of November, and this evening it was being hastened by ugly clouds that spit icy raindrops over the drab landscape.

The girl jumped into my silver Mercedes and gave me a dimpled smile, her blue eyes filled with relief and gratitude.

“Thank you so much, ma’am,” she said, sounding breathless and deeply southern. “I was already getting cold.” She tossed her bright red duffel bag into the backseat of my sedan and then ran her hands through her short, damp hair.

I didn’t like being called ma’am, but I turned up the heat when I noticed she was shivering beneath her denim jacket.

“My name’s Amy. I don’t normally hitch rides with strangers – especially men – so I’m real glad you came along.”

“I’m Michelle. Was that your VW I saw broken down a little ways back?”

“Yeah. I knew it probably wouldn’t make it from Atlanta to Chicago, but I had to try. My boyfriend is working up there right now with his cousin and I wanted to surprise him for his birthday. ‘Course, now I gotta call him and ask for help.”

Amy let out an exasperated sigh as I maneuvered my car back onto I-75.

“Well, I live in Fisherville, just south of Louisville. You’re welcome to come to my house and use the phone – even spend the night if you need to.”

“Wow, you would let me do that? Really?”

I smiled at her in the dark. “Sure.”

“Jeez, I was so worried back there. I was hoping someone would stop to help, but I was scared that I’d get picked up by a serial killer.”

“Monsters are everywhere, Amy. They’re not always human either.”

I could feel the girl staring at me. “Hey, you’re not saying you’re a vampire or a werewolf, right?” She ended the question with a giggle.

“Of course not. I’m just a very open-minded science professor.”

“Whew, that’s a relief! My boyfriend is real smart, but he believes in UFOs and even Big Foot, I think.”

“And what do you believe in?”

“Um, I believe in God. And I might have seen a ghost one time. But mostly, I don’t think about that kind of stuff. These days all I can think about is Malcolm and how much I miss him. I want to marry him real bad, but my parents think I’m too young.”

“Eighteen or nineteen, I’m guessing?”

“I turned nineteen last month.”

We were both silent for a few minutes. I thought about the reluctant road trip I’d taken when I was nineteen and how it had changed my life forever.

Amy shifted sideways in the seat and stifled a yawn. “So, no offense, but how did a professor who teaches science end up believing in real monsters?”

Honestly, I thought she’d never ask. It had been a long time since I’d told anyone the absolute, unbelievable truth.


Shroud Magazine #9