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Movie Review: the Conjuring 2

22 Jun

It was a hot and stormy night. Actually it was hot and dry, having hit almost 100 degrees in our little mountain town in Colorado. Since we do not have air conditioning, my wife and I did something we rarely do: we went to the movies.

conjuring2There we watched the latest incarnation of the semi-fictional adventures of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the original ghost hunters.
The Conjuring 2 follows up where the commercially successful original left off (The Conjuring). Since the sequel will probably be a summer box-office smash, the two will soon be a cinema franchise. Watch for the Conjuring 3 coming soon to a theater near you.

But back to our movie. A rollicking, scary, funhouse summer flick to be sure; the kind we boys used to take our high school girlfriends to for lots of clingy hugs.

SARCASM ALERT! When I get especially critical, I tend to drip sarcasm, so please forgive me if some splatters on this page. I just can’t help myself.

The plot is based on the “true” paranormal investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who back in the late 70’s allegedly looked into the haunting of a flat in London (the Enfield Haunting). It was occupied by a recently-single mom and her brood of kids, including one otherwise charming pre-teen girl who became the spokesperson for the unseen entity also sharing their quarters.

The girl is well-played by Madison Wolfe; the semi-hysterical mom also well done by Frances O’Connor. Both Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprise their roles as Ed and Lorraine. She could probably play an absolutely perfect angel if the right role came along, but I can’t vouch for Wilson’s inexplicable Elvis imitation somewhere around mid-film, even though I have to assume it was in-character for Ed Warren.

Anyway, to cut to the proverbial chase . . . the young girl character draws heavily on the female star of the 1973 release of The Exorcist, only unlike that girl, this time the possessed was up and out of bed while running around causing all kinds of mischief. Ed and Lorraine dutifully chase her (“it”) like some civilian geek squad on assignment from “the Church” that wouldn’t get itself officially involved. In the predictable end, the geek squad wins and the evil is vanquished.

Conjuring 2 is not a bad movie, but its also not a ghost movie. It is a demon movie (and not about a poltergeist, as the entity is commonly referred to). So don’t expect scary ghosts. It has instead more than the usual number of jumps and startles substituting for a dramatic build-up of genuine fear, and the setting of the house is artfully scary– what one would expect for a not-so-quiet demon who likes to party.

I concede that this movie was not made for aging paranormal investigators like ourselves; its aimed squarely at the 18 to 34 demographic. They will probably like it. But for us fully-formed (for better or worse) adults in the room, it is as they say “what it is.” What is instructive about it is the more valuable lesson for types like us. Its the distinction between “horror” and “supernatural” stories, with Conjuring 2 being an excellent example of the former.

What is true horror? Its like pornography: you know it when you see it. But instead of sexual arousal, horror causes sudden emotional stimulation characterized by fear, loathing, and an adrenalin rush that energizes a flight or fight response. Was the Exorcist horror or supernatural? When I first saw it in a theater, I witnessed grown men get up and run out of the place! But I read the novel before I ever saw the motion picture . . . I couldn’t sleep the first few nights– too scared. My opinion: definitely Horror/Supernatural for the movie; Supernatural/Psychological for the book.

To be real Horror with a capital H, a story has to exploit your primal fear at its most basic level. Not just ghost stories like the kind that scare you but don’t necessarily horrify you. Horror is visceral– biological/conscious jump-up and run away before you die fear. Supernatural is cerebral– the more subtle psychological/subconscious keep-you-up-at-night or have nightmares fear.

Beyond film genres and the depiction of the Warrens and their paranormal adventures, its also worth mentioning their real-life background. Why? Because they are yet having an influence on the minds of a far younger generation on a hot weekend in 2016.

Ed Warren (who died a few years ago) was a self-proclaimed demonologist. His wife Lorraine is a medium and joined her husband in the early 50’s as investigators of the paranormal. They were trailblazers, among if not the first to use tape recorders and other electronics of the day to scientifically measure such phenomena. Unfortunately, they had a built-in bias. They were devout Christians, and believed that all paranormal events were the result of diabolical forces.

I don’t have to criticize a major religion for its paranormal beliefs, as its a fact that in the Catholic Church for example, that belief is dogma. The priests in the Exorcist were of course Catholic, and admirably performed their duties in casting out the devil from its possession of a young girl (based on a true story). Where the Catholic Church goes awry in my opinion is its continuing insistence that ordinary ghosts are also the result of diabolical causes. They are not in most cases, which I can attest to from my own experience and most of those of my cohorts with only some rare exceptions.

I understand this misguided doctrine. I grew up Catholic, but left its confines many years ago due to other differences with its belief structure.  But let’s get back to the movies about the Warrens . . . both foster the belief that Satan is behind hauntings, and that is just not the case. That belief makes for more dramatic stories and can appeal to one’s inner religious child, but scaring grown adults into a given belief is exactly why I left that institution.

What we call “ghosts” today are the manifestations of dead people living their perfectly normal afterlives. They include those existing along either margin of the border to the Other Side as ghosts (earthbound spirits), or freed spirits who’ve successfully crossed over and are just visiting. Whoever else is lurking along the interdimensional boundary between life and death I’m not sure, but I’m fairly certain that they rarely include demons. Somewhere they may indeed exist to lead us into temptation and drag us screaming into hell, but they’re unlikely tenants of the average haunted house.

(Read another opinion on the story’s credibility)


Copyright 2016, Paul Hill
All Rights Reserved

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Seeing Ghosts

26 Apr

There are two kinds of ghosts: real ones and the made-up kind. The latter are either the phony ones you see at Halloween, or the ones you see (or can’t see) on tv and at the movies– dramatic re-creations based on a screenwriter’s script or a popular novel.  But how accurate are their depictions of the unseen? People learn from television, for better or for worse.

"Red Reddington"

“Red Reddington”

Consider the most recent episode of Blacklist, an NBC television series about the FBI, spies, master criminals, and a main character by the name of Raymond “Red” Reddington (played by James Spader). Red is a rogue ex-spy who unofficially consults with the FBI about uber-bad guys on the loose. My wife and I don’t watch that much tv, but this is one series we have followed for its excellent writing, in this case by Daniel Knauf.

Last week’s episode (Cape May) threw dedicated fans into a tizzy, showing how a ghost as a character can be misunderstood. Apparently no one understood this one. I think I did. The episode presented a paranormal experience for the main character, something totally out of character for the series. But you can decide for yourself if any ghosts appeared. I suggest watching the episode for important subtleties and clues that appear as the story unfolds. If you can’t, stay with me anyway. This should be fun.

SPOILER ALERT!  Don’t read any further if you intend to see the show first. That will be far more interesting then a written description. But if you haven’t been watching it from week to week, you still should know some background: Red’s friend in the FBI (Liz) died in the previous show, someone he had been looking after since she was a little girl when he rescued her from dangerous circumstances. The identity of her presumed dead father is unknown, as is the status of her mother, an accused Russian spy.

That’s really all you need to know, but watch the whole thing if possible. Then come back here and we’ll talk . . .

 DISCLAIMER: to over-simplify, paranormal investigators look for clues and evidence of something unusual in an allegedly “haunted” location. Then they try to “debunk” whatever strange things are discovered in order to explain them by normal circumstances. If they can’t and the phenomenon remains unexplained, it may very well be paranormal. Investigating the paranormal requires the same sensibilities as any kind of investigator, but the process is still very much an art and not a science, despite fancy hardware and claims to the contrary. In spite of confidence in their findings, they can still be dead wrong.

The opening scenes of the Cape May episode show Red Reddington still traumatized by Liz’s death and recovering in an opium parlor run by an old Chinese woman. As he leaves, she reminds him to take his gun, but he gives it back to her.  1st clue: guns don’t work in past-life environments. He then hires a car to take him to Cape May, New Jersey– 200 miles away. We don’t know why, or if he knows why. 2nd clue: Red is mysteriously drawn to this location, which he did visit once a long time ago.

Once he arrives, he visits a diner for breakfast where he spies a woman sitting in a nearby booth. He watches her get up and leave, only to see a man enter who is apparently looking for her. 3rd clue: the man picks up a shiny new pay phone and inserts a quarter to call someone. Where’s his cell phone?  Why is a pay phone even there? They’ve virtually disappeared from public places.

I can go on and on with the various clues, but it would be more fun for the viewers to find them on their own. Suffice it to say that Red was experiencing a residual haunting in the diner, which continues right through his arrival at an abandoned shoreside inn. There he sees the same woman on the beach, whom he watches trying to kill herself by walking into the ocean. He saves her, transforming the residual haunting into an interactive one as he talks to the person he saves.

Residual hauntings are like playbacks of events that occurred in the past, where the witness cannot interact with whom or what he sees. The twist the writer inserted into the story at this point was his ability to start interacting with the woman. Red had stepped back into the past, enabling himself to be part of it as it replayed its sad story. Such interactive encounters are also called intelligent hauntings.

Mysterious Woman

Mysterious Woman

The storyline continues with many additional clues that support the theory of this residual haunting flipping back and forth into an interactive one. Red is caught up in the playback of the events that were responsible for all of his troubles, including the recent death of his beloved Liz. The challenging question one can raise here is, “if Red participated in the events of the past, did he also change the future by his actions there?” This is the classic time travel dilemma, but I’ll leave the implications of that to the writer who probably has his own ideas about it.

I could go on for pages pointing out all the clues within the narrative. But I’ll leap to my own conclusions instead. Scanning through the hundreds of comments on various Blacklist fan sites, it appears no one “got it.” Instead, viewers thought Red was having a dream, hallucinations, having a breakdown, or was simply remembering past events. No. Hallucinations are irrational perceptions produced by a short-circuiting brain as the result of drugs or psychosis. Memories recalled can be vivid, but do not play out in interactive detail. Dreams, whether induced by opiates or just deep sleep, are controlled by the sub-conscious, and are for the most part illogical. Red’s experience as a still rational person was vivid, logical, and interactive.


Red’s Discovery of the Mysterious Bracelet

The mysterious woman was depicted as a ghost who really did kill herself in the past. She drew Red back to Cape May to explain her actions when she was alive, and also to help Red deal with his own guilt, which was slowly killing him. Such is the nature of paranormal events . . . supernatural interventions with a purpose.


For those of you really into this, learn more . . .


Copyright 2016, Paul Hill
All Rights Reserved

For ALL Light in the Dark Paranormal postings
(most recent at top), visit our home blog:
Visit our website:

All posts on this blog are written and owned by Paul Hill.





Every love story is a ghost story*

22 Oct

I’ve been a follower of Laurie Anderson for a long time, and I just came across this trailer of her latest work, a film called Heart of a DogHaving seen the trailer, I know I now have to see the movie.

What does this film have to do with the paranormal? Everything.


*a David Foster Wallace quote in the film, and another short video

All Things Preternatural

25 Sep

If the above title read All Things Supernatural, would we be talking about the same thing? What if it was All Things Paranormal? Same subject? While bigfoots, zombies, mutilated cattle, UFO’s, and ghosts* are certainly not ordinary, are they supernatural, paranormal, or something else?

Let’s get some definitions.  Merriam/Webster’s online dictionary says supernatural is …of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe, especially of or relating to God, a god, demigod, spirit, or devil. Whew! Surely a ghost fits somewhere in there, but is a dead cow the result of a supernatural event? That’s a bit presumptuous.

What do they say about paranormal? …not scientifically explainable: supernatural. Wait a minute! I’m not buying this either. There are lots of scientific theories supporting all of these things…zombies even! A theory is just somebody’s explanation that’s not (yet) proven—its hypothetical. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is just that: a theory that just about every white-coated scientist believes despite lack of absolute proof.

Theories are cool. Though unproven, you can still believe one is true and rely on it day-to-day. So when it comes to having a less than rickety frame of reference for otherwise crazy things like UFO’s and ghosts, I think there’s no better concept than my old fav, the preternatural. I first heard this term uttered by a fictional character named Dr. Markway (played by Richard Johnson) in the 1963 film the Haunting  (the original movie; not the stupid re-make. It happens to be my favorite ghost movie, and I highly recommend it to any serious believer or skeptic.  I also blame it for my continuing preoccupation with ghosts decades later).

Dr. John Markway: A closed mind is the worst defense against the supernatural… If it happens to you, your liable to have that shut door in your mind ripped right off it’s hinges!-from the Haunting

Early in the movie, the parapsychologist is trying to explain to a skeptical but curious investigator his theory of why things keep going bump in the night in an old mansion in New England. He tells his dubious associate that there were lots of phenomena that were not explainable at the time they happened, but were later proven scientifically. He gave the example of magnetism. What self-respecting peasant in 16th Century Europe didn’t think that a (magnetic) rock causing a metal knife to inexplicably slide towards it wasn’t the work of Satan? It was supernatural then. Its Physics 101 now.

Markway’s term for this kind of stuff was preternatural. You know, as in before nature; before it was proven to be a natural part of it.

In this 21st Century we now have the words to talk about weird things, the theories that might explain them, the hardware to measure them, and the growing evidence that could eventually prove they exist. But most of us still don’t get it. What’s happening “out there” (where the truth is) is still beyond common understanding.

Enter the Valley by Christopher O’Brien is his second book about one very strange locale in southern Colorado, the San Luis Valley. It has a little bit of everything, including ghosts, UFO’s, and cattle mutilations. Trying to put all this into perspective, he offers up not only experiences and theories, but rules of how to investigate them. One of his theory/rules is “the (sub) culture itself may cocreate manifestations of individually perceived phenomena.”   If he’s right, some paranormal occurrences could be in our collective heads… as if our brains are responsible for conjuring up the very things our brains are anxiously trying to figure out!

Or instead do these “non-ordinary” events happen in a Castanedan universe–
a Separate Reality that exists independently of our own thoughts?

In the long run, only you know what you saw, heard, or felt if you were lucky enough to have a preternatural experience.  Don’t ever let anyone convince you it was just your imagination!

Paul Hill

all rights reserved

*Author’s comment:  10/1/2012–I was just reminded by a reader as to why no vampires are on this list at Halloween season:    “From my all-time favorite TV show, the legendary “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer” comes the notion that the one night of the year that you won’t find vampires and other demon-y creatures about is Hallowe’en.  They take the night off because, as one vamp in the show, said, it’s just too much of a mess out there, can’t always tell the real vamps from the make-believe, you could end up biting one of your own.”

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