Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Rite – The Making of a Modern Day Horror Flick

It’s too bad, really, that when walking into a movie these days, high expectations are a bad attitude, that it’s expected of you to prepare for disappointment.

The moment I heard chatter of an upcoming exorcism movie going into production featuring Anthony Hopkins this time last year, inspired by real life events based on a newly rejuvenated exorcist “school” at the Vatican, I raced to the bookstore to find the source material. Written by Matt Baglio, The Rite; The Making of a Modern Day Exorcist was the story of an American priest shipped off to Rome to learn the ways of battle against the ever-growing problem of possession, seen through the eyes of a journalist who followed from the shadows. The book is a must-read, circling those issues of not only the ramifications of the church’s denial of the devil’s work for the last hundred years (until only very recently), but also the very real issue of possession in the world today and its lack of theatrics and head-spinning glory.

Generally story purists read a book and attack the movie for not being exactly like the book – see Harry Potter, Twilight, the Lord of the Rings, others. But novels and books cannot translate to the big screen word for word, scene for scene. Cinema is an art radically different from the long form. If I may go so far, it’s like comparing an interpretive oil painting that expresses the innerworkings of a story and calling it poor for not sticking scene by scene, to the story. They’re two different forms, apples and oranges.

And so I approach movies as their own devices. They take the important themes and general premise of the story and make something fresh.

The moment I saw the trailer for the theatrical adaptation of the Rite, I was pumped to see how the story would change to be successful on-screen. Hopkins, bringing a kind of grandfatherly feel intermingled with a tired, darker side, discusses the more personal, intimate translation of the book’s broader, cultural observations, that of doubt and the skeptic, belief and those crises thereof. Yes, the trailer climaxes at veiny faces and hoods and whispers intermixed with screams for salvation, which of itself seemed to speak against the very message of the book, but it’s a movie, that’s to be expected. The message of the book is that demonic possession is too often more like a sickness, and an exorcism is little more than a prayer and a cough (no pea soup there.) I was willing to throw this aside. Hollywood has to tell the story is their own way, and the groundwork here was exciting, reminiscent even of the potential in 2009’s the Last Exorcism (which also blew every thematic element in the mess of an ending, but that’s another review).

Some movies are best left to trailers.

Everything was lost with the Rite: The mood established in the trailer, (darkly gorgeous, a give-and-take between the light and the night at the dawn; the cityscape and play between the ancient and the new; the plot, both intense and philosophical) was lost. The problem? Dare I say having Matt Baglio as co-writer?

See, the movie was lost in this very translation from story to screen, afraid to embrace the opportunities presented in this new form, but reluctant also to fully leave the messages of the book. And so we were caught in this strange, flatly contemplative story with cheap scares.

To go farther, I can’t discuss the movie without discussing the end. Spoilers ahead.

The movie deals with themes of father figures and faith throughout, stemming from Michael Kovak’s (O’Donoghue) relationship with his father. But it was all very tacked on, and that’s what’s most painful about these types of movies, is their potential that falls apart. The film is filled with father figures fighting for Kovak’s future, from his biological father, to his various teachers, to Hopkins’ Father Lucas, to God, and by extrapolation, even the devil himself.

There comes a layering; as these various priests compete to convince Kovak of the reality of god, they do so through the avenue of evil. If the devil’s greatest trick is convincing man he doesn’t exist, how does the experience of a possession both serve and counter Satan’s very own intentions? Father Lucas battles the darkness in non-traditional fashion, fighting to convince Kovak of the existence of God and Satan, and eventually falls into being possessed himself.

Some might call this final element over-the-top, that the movie ends ridiculously. Perhaps, but I loved it. In idea though, and not execution. The study of Lucas’s trustworthiness was utterly under-represented. His methods are shifty and he becomes a character that deeply, in both Hopkins portrayal and the writing itself, shifts between manipulative, devout, and mentally unstable.

His possession serves as the final straw that pushes Kovak into his faith, finally, as he comes to exorcise his very teacher.

What a scene! What potential. Not only in the dynamic between role reversal and crisis, but the questions posed by whether or not Hopkins is even himself possessed! Could the entire experience be a ploy to convince Kovak? This, indeed, could have carried the entire second half of the movie, rather than the just climax. What drama between the two as Kovak is pushed to doubt his own teacher. To extend trust, to manipulate the audience into the same kind of doubt he experiences, and gradually our own experience of watching Lucas fall into the clutches of the very foe he’s spent his life battling, is an incredibly rich kind of interaction.

Can you imagine then? The scene where Lucas stands overlooking the city, trembling, fighting the evil itself inside, finally, his own body? When he slaps the child, confirming that there really is something else inside? What a moment of truth for the audience! In that very scene, we could have realized, in the same way as Kovak eventually experiences, the reality of this darkness.

And then to further up the stakes with the discussion of the father dynamic, all of his fathers; His biological father, his dead father, his mentor, the devil speaking through his mentor, quoting his real father, all adding up to the reality of his ultimate Father. What would each of those mean? If Lucas is only performing, what does that say about God? Is all faith a performance? Can you imagine what the loss of trust in his mentor, Father Lucas, would do to his faith in general, and how much power the demonic would have to manipulate that very loss of faith in Kovak?

The implications and drama between the two could pave a destructive path through the movie far more horrific and far more human, than a pregnant girl rolling about with purple veins standing out on her face and the weakly-fleshed-out significance of finding a name for the demon.

With such exciting themes and directions of the movie, I was willing to forgive the technical errors that Baglio’s book was written to clarify and reveal. Though on a kind of ethical level, this might seem very conflicting (the book illustrated the real Father that Hopkins portrayed, who had lines outside his office of people needing exorcisms, and that all too often their rites were brief and unspectacular. Still, his stress with the work was the point, not that there are Linda Blairs peppering the world.) but I was willing to sacrifice in order to experience a thematically challenging movie.

It’s worth seeing for the way Hopkins slides into the role so naturally, playing every angle of his character with the kind of deft that makes him one of our greatest actors in the last thirty years, and for the thematic undercurrents, but not for the execution.

And that’s the letdown. This movie fell into the classic tradition of guttural voices and screams, failing to illustrate any kind of reality beyond it’s curtains, but equally failed to illustrate the true drama of the search for faith, the influence of our fathers, and the internal violence that can come from turmoil as much as the devil.

Short Stories and Short Term Goals

Last night I appeared on Dead Time Radio with Scotty Tepperman of Ghost Hunters International and some of the guys from ALPHA. Had a great conversation with a lot of curious questions posed throughout the evening, one of which was directed in by a fan who wanted to know about my goals and whether any new short stories will be posted. It made me take a step back. Though most of my plans are all bouncing about my head, and I give out regular clues, it’s all a bit disjointed. So I thought I’d clarify.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m an aspiring novelist. I write horror stories, supernatural stories, and in essence, whatever genre it is that blends the energetic world of the supernatural and inter-dimensional creatures with the intensity of our own emotions. (The same thing I address in my lectures, about when it comes to justification of empaths and psychics and terms of the vertical).

For those who aren’t writers, breaking into the market is a difficult process. I want a career of it, and so I’m trying to find an agent. It’s very hard to get your work reviewed by an editor at a major publishing house without an agent pushing it already, though of course sometimes this works.

To get an agent, one must send out query letters. The agent wants to know two things; if your book is interesting and if you can write well. So, like any job, one wants to build a resume of work to pitch themselves.

This is where the short story comes in. For the beginning novelist, it helps to have your work published in a few larger magazines to tip off agents and publishers that other people like your work enough to publish you, and might suggest some worth to them.

This is where it gets difficult. Two years ago I wrote the short story Dreamland Crocotta, and after getting a few rejection slips, decided to publish it online to cut out the middle man and go straight to my fans to build a readership base. This was last summer. The problem with this is that agents and editors don’t really look to internet success on the query letter. And it doesn’t pay well. Despite my constant harassment, it only actually made me a couple bucks. Which is fine, to start with. I’d rather have readers.

However, in all my time off, I’ve been working on novels and not shorts. But these last few months I embraced the short story for a workshop and turned out a few pieces I’m very proud of. It’s now come about time to release another short story online and keep those few lovely readers I’ve scraped together interested. But I’m still trying to build a resume for my novels, which will go through much the same slow process. (If they are turned down enough that my list is exhausted, I’ll publish them online for a price. I’ve read enough success stories of authors frustrated with the industry finding success with eBooks and die hard fans. And, of course, writing that people want to read, which is the real catch).

And so right now, these short stories are waiting at magazine editors hands for rejection (or the rare publication), and when they’ve exhausted the market will they end up directly in your, the reader’s, hands. But this process takes a long time. (Especially in the horror/supernatural market, which is very very dry and very very selective. It’s dying.)

Around the new year, over Christmas break, I decided to write a short story directly for my online readers, to satisfy them while the others made their rounds. But due to a few projects and job opportunities that came up, I again lost the time. I could probably have just turned a piece out, but almost more important than the editors, I want to impress you guys, and I don’t want to give you anything less than my best. And so it did not happen.

So what does all this mean for you?

Well in summary, it’s essentially this. You will be seeing writing from me in the next month, but in a different form than you expect. Details will come shortly. Do hold your breath.

Also, you WILL be seeing my short fiction, but it won’t be as soon as you like, unfortunately, much as I’d rather have it all out for you now. But I’m trying to build a career. It’s not all talk, it’s just that the wheels turn slow.

And most importantly, I haven’t forgotten you guys and I’m not just teasing. I’m as serious about this as you are, and you humble me by even giving the work a chance, lest of all demanding more.

Without you, I am not an artist.

Most of all, I want to again thank you for your readership and enthusiasm. With all luck, we’ll be seeing some of the fiction in the near future in a very professional format. Fingers crossed 😉

Vlog – Another SEVEN Times?

Also, I didn’t mention in the video, it did begin last night with the same kind of odd coincidence of the week before. Where earlier it had waited to close until minutes after everyone left, last night it closed the first three times while we were in different parts of the building. Yet, we’d stayed in the room for three hours prior and the door didn’t budge an inch. Coincidence or spiritual mischief?

An Elemental Update

Following my last post (Found here) about my vision of the pig-man in room 1302 in the Manor House at the Stanley Hotel, which immediately skyrocketed to my most popular, being shared and discussed across social networks (my eternal thanks for your interest), new details have come to light.

Callea got into contact with Madame Vera, asking about the pig-man that she saw a year earlier in the same room. Vera described the entity as an Elemental left from the days of the Native Americans and older than the hotel itself.

Pigs, she went on to describe, are also for luck in the new year. Considering the new year I’ve had so far, there could be something to that.

But upon doing a bit of preliminary research on Leap Castle for a project, I came across descriptions of the infamous elemental that haunts the Irish castle. Mildred Darby, married the property owner in 1889, was a rumored occultist who is said to have discovered the entity, and describes it in an article. “It’s face was human, or to be more accurate, inhuman, in it’s vileness, with large holes of blackness for eyes, loose slobbery lips, and a thick saliva-dripping jaw, sloping back suddenly into its neck! Nose it had none, only spreading, cancerous cavities, the whole face being a uniform tint of grey.”

I was struck by this description. Though no comparison was drawn between the Irish Elemental and a pig, I was interested by the description of the hollowed eye sockets and suggestion of a missing nose, in the same way as I described.

You can find more information on Leap Castle and their Elemental here


Edit to Add: Nic, who runs the Leap Castle website, just added an interesting update in the comments section down below that also seems to fit nicely. “In many cultures, elementals and lower astral entities take on a hybrid form of both human and animal…it is quite fascinating.”