The Mummy (2017)

Before you start wondering if I’m attending the church of Scientology, and declaring all of my recommendations as suspect, this is not going to be a Tom Cruise love fest. If anything, that’s where Universal screwed up. Casting him was equivalent to building on an ancient Indian burial ground; sure it’s a gorgeous house, but, no thanks.

That said, Cruise pulled it off. His performance was a flashback to the Top Gun and Risky Business days when he wielded a swagger that inspired Christian Bale’s portrayal of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

But this isn’t about why you shouldn’t see the movie, this is why you should see it.

It’s easy to have missed this film when it was in theaters, but you can find it at Redbox. At the time of its theatrical release, it had to compete with Wonder Woman, Pirates of the Caribbean 5, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, another Transformers movie that I wasn’t going to see, and Captain Underpants. Looking at the posters, you would think it was the Tom Cruise show, with him prominently shown in all of his Cruiseness along with his name alone on the marque. Sure you got a few flashes of the Mummy (Sofia Boutella, known as the fabulously bad ass, blade-footed Gazelle from Kingsmen and Jaylah from Star Trek Beyond) in the trailer, but it did not do her justice, and you wouldn’t have known that the first character you see in the movie is Dr. Jekyll (Russell Freaking Crowe), who plays a huge role in the plot.

And then you had the “Brendan Fraser forever” crowd who boycotted the movie because of a deeply rooted love of the 1999 Mummy movie and its sequels… well, maybe not the third one, but anyway.

To that, I say there was probably an old timer who boycotted those movies as part of the 1932 “Boris Karloff forever” crowd. What’s that? You didn’t realize that the Brendan Fraser movies were a reboot from Universal Studios who own all of the classic movie monsters? Or that Universal made the 2017 movie as an attempt to start a modern shared monster universe called Dark Universe? You are NOT alone.

Luckily, I am Universal Monsters devotee. Some of my fondest memories from a very young age was watching the old black-and-whites with my dad on Saturday nights. When they announced that Dark Universe was going to start up, a venture not announced until The Mummy was about to launch due to copyright issues, I was all about it, the TC word be damned.

Side note: Universal also owns 1931’s Dracula… and 2014’s Dracula Untold, which I very much hope they pull into Dark Universe because it was just that good, and Luke Evans (currently starring in The Alienist) is still very much relevant.

THE MOVIEThe Mummy (2017)

If you are a fan of the old Universal monsters, I thoroughly recommend this movie. One of the best things about Universal making a shared universe (ala Marvel) is all of the Easter Eggs. If you watch, you will see nods to a great deal of other movies, like Creature from the Black Lagoon (COUGH*Shape of Water*COUGH). There is even a major and obvious nod to the Brendan Fraser movies, to which everyone cheered in the theater.

The premise:  We start the movie with Dr. Jekyll running a shady organization as tunneling efforts in London uncover a crypt from Crusader times. From there, he goes into a monologue flashback to ancient Egypt and where Ahmanet (the Mummy) gets her powers and why.

Flash forward to present day Iraq where Tom Cruise plays a Master Sergeant in the Special Forces who is trying to steel ancient artifacts before ISIL destroys them for sale on the black market along with his soon to be ghost friend (reminiscent of American Werewolf in London) Chris (Jake Johnson from The New Girl). Where did he get his map and info from? He stole that, too from archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis from X-Men-First Class, Annabelle, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and Peaky Blinders), who works for Dr. Jekyll. They inadvertently find the crypt and shenanigans ensue as the Mummy goes on a rampage to regain her powers and unleash the god Set in the backdrop of modern day England until reaching a climax that sets the stage for all of the other franchises.

Where does Dr. Jekyll play into all of this? Watch the damned movie. Does Mr. Hyde kick Tom Cruise’s ass in the movie? Yes he does, which is worth the price of admission.

The movie was directed by and partially written by Alex Kurtzman. He’s not known as a director, which is why there were rumors that Cruise pretty much called the shots as Universal’s bell cow on the project, but the guy has serious writing cred to his name. He wrote or co-wrote films like Watchmen, the first Transformers, the recent Star Trek movies, Ender’s Game, and the Now You See Me movies.

If you are interested in Dark Universe, go to:

The next movies in the shoot will be: Bride of Frankenstein (February 14, 2019), directed by Bill Condon, starring Javier Bardem (Frankenstein’s Monster), and then The Invisible Man, starring Johnny Depp (title role).

This really is a fun movie and worthwhile movie. I recommend you see it.

THE WINE:  Chateau La Paws Red Wine Blend Red Blend (no year on bottle) (California)

About $13.00 a bottle.

For our Ghost Night meal, rolled out the grill and BBQed some burgers. Since I’m a foodie that isn’t about to have a bottle of wine with a regular burger (okay, I probably would), we had burgers mixed with cheddar and bacon and some mixed with black pepper and bleu cheese, topped with pepper jack.  For a side, we had garlic and black pepper tots.

The classic combination with red meat is always going to be a red wine. Since these were burgers with blue cheese, black pepper spice and potatoes, a medium bodied red was the way to go rather than a heavier Cabernet or Zinfandel. This wine had a pronounced scent of dark cherry from the moment it was opened. To go with the cherry, it also had red berry flavors like raspberry up front and lingering notes of vanilla on the back end.  Perfect for the evening.

As many of you know, I am an animal lover. I was happy to buy this bottle because the winery (as the name suggests) supports No Kill Shelters around the country. Visit to learn more.


The Ritual


I’m done napping and back to recapping. I must be rusty if I chose to not delete that line, but what do you do? You see, writing is like a muscle that must be worked out via routine or ritual. Speaking of rituals, I was looking for just the right movie to watch for Ghost Night, and one movie kept popping up in my searches (Google, Rotten Tomatoes, even my Twitter friends) called The Ritual on Netflix. For those of you who are not too keen on Netflix, they’ve been putting out some quality work over the years, and it keeps getting better. Stranger Things anyone? Or for you die hard Universal nerds (like myself) there is Hemlock Grove. So I had to check out this movie that everyone thinks so highly of. It helped that I had a geek moment when I saw Andy Serkis produced it.

THE MOVIE:  The Ritual (2017)

Watch the trailer HERE

The premise of the movie is a classic, as in THE classic: do NOT leave the path. It didn’t work for Little Red Riding Hood, so why should four city slickers from London fare any better in the wilds of norther Sweden? And why would they be there you ask? Guilt. Pure and simple. You see, the movie begins with five friends in a pub discussing what to do for their annual bonding holiday. The leader of the group, Rob, all but begs for the group to go hiking on the King’s Trail in Sweden while everyone else would rather go to Amsterdam to drink. Rob is killed that night in a liquor store robbery. End of debate on where to go. And off they go, complaining the whole way until Dom twists his knee and they decide on a short cut. Enter creepy trees, mutilated animals hanging from the branches, a menacing creature of legend stalking them, and a secluded village of the damned. It’s Blair Witch meets The Village, only with the sort of friendly roasting and jabs you’d see between friends in It.

The Ritual has a lot of things I like as a storyteller. It has suspense, humor, and a creature from myth that is truly inspired. When I saw the… thing, and it was visual eye candy. To paraphrase Obiwan: whoever thought it up was twisted and evil. It was gory, but it didn’t rely on it. Unless you’re a fan of BBC or Simon Pegg films, you probably aren’t going to recognize too many of the actors, but I assure you it’s quality.

This movie is worth a rental, God knows the price is right on Netflix. If you like M. Night Shyamalan movies, this one is for you.

THE WINE: Chateau St. Michelle Gewurztraminer

Washington (2014)

Despite the fancy name, it’s only about $6 a bottle.

This is a complex wine that is half dry. It has a bit of a cut grass flavor along with cedar, and leans toward the sweeter side of things. If you are eating Thai food with lemon grass or even Chinese food, you cannot go wrong.


Thanksgiving Reflections

It’s been a topsy-turvy year, one that really gets me reflecting on the important things in life.  All things considered, I have a lot to be thankful for.  Like most of you out there, I spent Thanksgiving with a good bottle of wine, a steaming turkey, and biting down on broken dishes and light bulbs… okay, maybe not that last part, which was just a shameless segue into this week’s movie: Oculus.

Oh, I know, the obvious choice for Thanksgiving would be Eli Roth’s 2007 Grindhouse short entitled Thanksgiving, which appeared before Death Proof, but I’ll keep it a family show.  That said, if you are curious, go ahead and look it up. Be warned, it is adult content; hilarious, but very adult.

THE MOVIEOculus (2014)

I have a soft spot for psychological/supernatural thrillers and, if you haven’t seen Oculus, I recommend you give it a try.

Why see a movie about an evil mirror?  Good question.  At face value, you may be thinking o O (the plot of Oculus is dumb, how could a mirror have an agenda?).  To that I say that the mirror has the same agenda as the shark in Jaws.


Hold on… this would hardly be the first mirror-based story you’ve read or seen.  Be it the Greek myth of Narcissus enchanted by his reflection, Snow White’s Evil Queen whispering “Mirror, Mirror on the wall…,” Bloody Mary, or the Candyman staring back at you, mirrors have captivated mankind for thousands of years.

Oculus puts a grand, Lovecraftian spin on a classic culprit: the mirror (AKA your own reflection).

The premise:

We start with 12 and 10 year old (respectively) Kaylie (Annalise Basso: True Blood, Captain Fantastic) and her brother, Tim (Garret Ryan: Insidious 2 and 3), being hunted by their father, Allen (Rory Cochrane: Argo, Black Mass).

Flash forward 11 years.

Tim (now Brenton Thwaites: Maleficent, Gods of Egypt (but we’ll forgive him for it)) is being released from a mental institution where he has spent the last 11 years due to paranoid delusions and the killing of his father.  He has now come to terms with what happened, convincing himself it couldn’t have possibly been real.  Kaylie (now Karen Gillen: winner of Empire Awards Best Female Newcomer for Oculus, Doctor Who, Guardians of the Galaxy), on the other hand has devoted her life to proving her father wasn’t just some psycho who tortured and killed her mother, Marie (Katee Sackhoff: winner of the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards Best Supporting Actress for Oculus, Battlestar Galactica, Riddick), and tried to kill her and Tim.

Kaylie essentially tracks down and steals the mirror from an auction house, and has it installed in her now vacant childhood home.  Why the hell would she try to recreate the worst moment in her and Tim’s lives?  Pay back.  She has traced the mirror back to its 100 year old roots in Germany and the gruesome events that befell each family or business that owned the mirror since then, all strikingly similar to what happened to her own family. With the help of her recently mentally-well brother, Kaylie sets out to document and ultimately destroy the mirror that destroyed their lives.  The problem is, even though she has prepared for every form of retaliation, there is a difference between reading about it and suffering through the mind-bending, horrifying assault brought on by a supernatural force she cannot understand.

I have a soft spot for psychological/supernatural thrillers, and this is a good one.  A really good one.

Director Mike Flanagan (Hush, Gerald’s Game) originally wanted Oculus to be told through a series of short stories, in fact, the full-length movie is based off of a 2005 short entitled Oculus: Chapter 3.  Personally, I think his decision to twist all of the segmented pieces (and timelines) together was genius.  H.P. Lovecraft may not be everyone’s cup of absinthe, but this is a movie about a mirror that drains energy, psychically attacks victims, and devours souls.  Weird is the way to go.

Back to the Jaws reference.  In a 2014 interview with Den of Geek, Flanagan said, “I got into Lovecraft in a big way and that idea of kind of this other world just beyond the veil of ours that defies understanding and doesn’t need a back story and an explanation, you know — like this is an alien force that if you even were to try to comprehend it completely it would drive you mad. I thought that was scarier than anything.”

Oculus was also produced by Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister, The Purge, The Visit, and Incarnate).

I was watching Cabin in the Woods last night, and thought about the old trope of ignoring signs and inviting evil in.  There is a moment where Allen and Marie are arguing over whether to keep the grandiose mirror, with Allen insisting he would have been happy with Ikea and Marie saying the mirror classed up the house.  After reading Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix, I’m not sure if Ikea would have been much better.

See this movie.  It will blow your mind.

THE WINE:  Boar Doe (Love the name)

Red Blend (2013) (Washington)

About $13.00 a bottle.

For our Ghost Night Thanksgiving, we went traditional… as traditional as my wife goes, anyhow.  The perfectly cooked turkey was brined in a bourbon/maple concoction for a day or so, and complimented by a bourbon-infused gravy for the homemade stuffing and garlic mashed potatoes.

As a rule, there is no “right” wine pairing for Thanksgiving due to the typical variety of foods put out.  The point is to choose a good wine that will be somewhat universal.  Your best bet is to go with a fruity Pinot Noir for those of you looking forward to Christmas.  I, on the other hand, chose a red blend to match the strong flavors of bourbon, maple, garlic, etc.

A combination of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Malbec, this blend was a smooth hit at the table.  It wasn’t overly heavy, but stood up as a sipping wine that complimented the other flavors in the mix.  The profile was of jammy, dark berries up front and cedar and tobacco on the back of the mouth.  Smooth and lasting, the finish was amazing and I was sorry to finish off the bottle.

The Nightmare Post

Our 9-year old niece was in town recently so we spent a lot of time touring Washington.  From the Space Needle to the Gum Wall to the waterfalls of Mount Rainier, we covered a pretty big footprint in a small amount of time.  As fun as the touring was, my absolute favorite moment was when she looked up at me and asked, “Uncle Brad, can we watch A Nightmare on Elm Street tonight?”  I seriously about fell over.  I asked her how she knew about a 32-year old horror movie, and she said she had a bunch of friends back home who had seen it and it was the topic of a lot of conversations.

It warms my heart to think that my all-time favorite horror movie is not only still relevant, but is somewhat popular.

Considering I was 9 when I first saw the movie on VHS in 1986 (a couple of years after it came out, but it’s not like I could run down to the video store to pick up a copy at the time), I immediately texted my sister for approval.  I got the green light and my niece was set to watch her first horror flick.

THE MOVIEA Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The trailer

As you may have noticed, I’m a little attached to the original Nightmare.  Okay, that might be putting it mildly… suffice to say I had a life-size poster of Freddy on my bedroom door when I was a kid (no joke, I lived at 911 Elm Street).  And yes, I was THAT kid, or, as my mom said to my wife when we were dating, “We didn’t know if he was going to grow up to be a serial killer or what.”  Big laughs all around (thanks, mom).

Anyway, I cannot stress enough how good this movie is.  If you haven’t seen it you should be ashamed of yourself and the rock you grew up under… now go see it.  If it’s been a while, this is as good a time as any to dust it off.  And if you are a storyteller, take notes.

The premise:  Every town has secrets – just as every town has an Elm Street – and wow does the fictional town of Springwood, Ohio (there seem to be an awful lot of palm trees in Ohio) have a doozey.  When a group of teens start having similar nightmares of the Extra Crispy Colonel… I mean, a horribly burned man in a red and green sweater, wielding knives on his fingers named Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), things go from delusional to homicidal.  Even after Nancy’s (Heather Langenkamp) friends, Tina (Amanda Wyss) and Rod (Nick Corri), and her boyfriend, Glen (Johnny Depp), are butchered by Freddy and she physically pulls things out of her dreams, the town goes deep into denial mode.

What is this secret that is so terrible that the adults of Springwood ignore the obvious?  How long can Nancy go without sleep?  Will Freddy take them all?

Watch the movie!

A Nightmare on Elm Street is the brain-child of the iconic Wes Craven (The Hills Have Eyes (both 1977 and 2006), Swamp Thing, Serpent and the Rainbow, Dracula 2000, Scream), filmed at the dawn of New Line Cinema’s rise in the horror world for a paltry $1.8 million.  Low-budget horror flicks were all the rage back then because the genre didn’t get the respect it deserved, but it did spawn Jason Voorhees, Leather Face, Michael Myers, Chuckie, so on so forth, and a host of tropes and new techniques born of necessity.  But Freddy was something special.  The villain didn’t just kill for killing’s sake; he was bent on instilling as much fear in his prey as possible.  It was cerebral, alluring.  Craven, like Freddy, plays with the audience’s perception of reality like a cat with a beetle.  He also masterfully uses the old slasher trope of morality: the more virtuous the character, the better chance of survival, which is cliché now, but that was 32 years ago (see my Amityville post).

Of course the sequels grew increasingly bad until we landed in a steaming pile of Freddy’s Dead.

Oh, and if you are wondering if the niece liked it, she was glued to the TV and had a few, “Oh…. my… gosh…” moments.  Was she scared?  Oh yeah, but she handled it like a champ.  She did have a hard time with Child’s Play the next night, though.  Must be a doll thing.

THE WINE:  Charles & Charles Rose

Rose Blend (2015) (Washington).

About $9.00 a bottle.

The latest Ghost Night meal was a lightened up version of mini meatloaf pepper rings.  For those of you not familiar (I wasn’t), you slice bell peppers into rings and fill them with a meatloaf.  Cindy made hers with ground chicken, onions, bell peppers, Worcestershire sauce, aged parmesan cheese, a spicy tomato puree, and plenty of seasonings.  They were sweet, savory, and had a spicy kick on the back end.  But what to drink?

This was a tricky one because it could go many different ways.  A red could overpower the flavors of the meal* and most whites would be lost in the background.  In this case, go rose.  The one we chose is mostly Syrah, which is a bolder flavor palate that complimented the sweet peppers that brought out the watermelon in the wine, and the sharp cheese and acidic tomato accents brought out notes of unripen strawberry.

A wonderful choice if you are looking for a wine to compliment a lighter dish with some spice.

* Completely random cooking note: when making pasta and use a wine to flavor it, don’t add a red… unless you like purple food.

Lights Out

This has been a great year for movies.  From Captain America to Star Trek to The BFG, I have spent a lot of time and money at the theaters.  And it’s only getting better.  I’m especially excited about the horror movies coming out, which is nice when my son is in town.  We have a custom of going to see whatever horror movie is in theaters (if there is one).  It just so happened that Lights Out came out very recently so we jumped at the opportunity.

I remember seeing the trailer earlier this year.  My wife said, “hell no,” and I brought up that it looked a lot like a video short from a few years ago where a ghost/monster appeared when the lights were shut off and disappeared when the lights were turned on.

My wife reiterated, “hell no!”  I was pretty excited.

THE MOVIELights Out (2016)

I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend this movie.  Lights Out didn’t waste any time jumping into old-school scare tactics (without relying on gore) and did not let go until the end credits were rolling.  I even said, “Oh, damn,” a couple of times out loud.

I watched the trailer again to make sure there are no spoilers below.

The premise:  We start the movie with Esther (Lotta Losten, who starred in the original video short) flipping on and off the lights in an already disturbing mannequin warehouse, revealing the twisted silhouette of a ghost/monster in the dark.  Esther immediately lets her boss, Paul (Billy Burke), know that there is something in the building.  Of course Paul is busy dealing with his mentally ill wife, Sophie (Maria Bello), so he dismisses Esther.  This doesn’t end well for Paul.

Flash forward a month or two after Paul’s death.  Sophie is off her meds again and her special friend Dianna, the ghost/monster, is haunting Sophie’s house, terrorizing her young son, Martin (Gabriel Bateman).  Martin, if you can imagine, is not sleeping well and Child Protective Services gets called in.  The only member of the family they can get hold of is Martin’s adult half-sister, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer).  The two soon find out that Dianna is not bound to Sophie’s house… any dark place will do.

It’s a fight for their lives as they uncover family secrets that must come out of the shadows.

This movie really did have just about anything today’s horror movie-goer could ask for.  We had a modern family dynamic, a theme of family values and unity, and a strong and independent protagonist.  From a story-teller view, I loved the relationship between Rebecca and her boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia), which was brilliant and more realistically complex than expected.  Best of all, we had an original, creepy, well thought-out villain that taps into a primal fear shared amongst most of the people on Earth.  Who hasn’t been scared of the dark at some point in their life?

I came across some reviews saying that Lights Out is a blatant dig on the mentally ill.  To that I suggest the various critics watch any scary movie since 1920.  The mentally disturbed killer has been a hallmark of the horror genre since people started telling scary stories around campfires.  I wonder if critics dismissed Phantom of the Opera or House of Wax or Psycho as just making fun of the mentally ill.

In 2013, director David Sandberg made that really creepy video short (link above) entitled Lights Out.  With a little perseverance, Sandberg was able to join forces with producer James Wan (The Conjuring) and writer Eric Heisserer (I guess I’ll forgive him for writing the 2010 version of A Nightmare on Elm Street) to turn his 2:41 minute video into a feature film.  A successful feature film by my standards.

See this movie… with the lights off.

THE WINE:  Chateau La Paws Red Wine Blend

Red Blend (no year on bottle) (California)

About $13.00 a bottle. For our Ghost Night meal, rolled out the grill and BBQed some burgers.  Since I’m a foodie that isn’t about to have a bottle of wine with a regular burger (okay, I probably would), we had burgers mixed with cheddar and bacon and some mixed with black pepper and bleu cheese, topped with pepper jack.  For a side, we had garlic and black pepper tots.  Byron made some weird “fancy sauce” that was comprised of BBQ sauce, mayo, and God-knows-what-else… which resulted in a light brown goo that tasted like BBQ sauce.  He swears by it, but we respectfully declined.

The classic combination with red meat is always going to be a red wine.  Since these were burgers with blue cheese, black pepper spice and potatoes, a medium bodied red was the way to go rather than a heavier Cabernet or Zinfandel.  This wine had a pronounced scent of dark cherry from the moment it was opened.  To go with the cherry, it also had red berry flavors like raspberry up front and lingering notes of vanilla on the back end.  Perfect for the evening.

As many of you know, I am an animal lover.  I was happy to buy this bottle because the winery (as the name suggests) supports No Kill Shelters around the country.  Visit to learn more.

The Amityville Post

I had plenty of time to think during a recent bout of the flu.  With the way my mind works, I started wondering if this is how George Lutz felt and even left the house for a bit to see if my symptoms were proximity-based to an ancient Indian and/or Satanic curse (depending on the version of Amityville you see/read).  No such luck, just good old-fashioned muggle flu.

With The Conjuring 2 opening with the Warrens investigating the Amityville house and a new Amityville Horror movie coming out later this year, I feel it’s a good time to take a look at the murders and subsequent hauntings that have shocked, horrified, and enticed us for over 40 years.  Let’s take a look at the reality of it and do a comparison of the 1979 and 2005 versions.

THE BUILD-UP:  (I did a ton of research which I largely scrapped because it became a 10-page report)

On 13 November 1974, Ronald “Ronnie” DeFeo shot and killed his parents and 4 siblings in their sleep.  On 21 November 1975, Ronnie DeFeo, known heroine and LSD user diagnosed with antisocial depressive disorder, was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences.

WAIT!  Didn’t the house make him kill?  What about the ghost of Ketcham in the basement whispering sweet nothings at 3:15 am and the hidden “red room” that’s the source of all evil?   Well, apparently, Ronnie did a lot of drugs in the basement so he could have heard things, and the “red room” was really just a closet.  Fun fact: the Ketcham family was prominent in Amityville going back to the 18th century (there’s even a Ketcham Ave.), but no connections to witchcraft.  As far as ghosts making Ronnie kill, according to various interviews, the whole “devil made me do it” story was unfortunately concocted by Ronnie’s attorneys seeking an insanity defense.

Yeah, I was bummed about that, too.

On 19 December 1975, the Lutz family moved into the DeFeo house.  28 days later, the Lutz family moved out stating supernatural events made the house uninhabitable.  Their family priest, Father Ralph Pecoraro, said in a 1979 interview that he was chased from the house by an unseen presence that said “GET OUT!”  There was no mention of flies in the Father’s interview.

On 13 September 1977, Jay Anson published The Amityville Horror: A True Story.  The book became an instant hit and bestseller… and criticized for claiming to be complete fact.


Both movies, 1979 and 2005 versions, have the same premise:  the Lutz family (newlyweds with three kids) come across a once in a lifetime opportunity with the Amityville house.  Of course a family of six was slaughtered there the year before, but houses don’t kill people, right?  The family priest gets chased from the house by a swarm of flies and an ominous voice saying “GET OUT!”  Almost immediately, George Lutz becomes ill and starts hearing/seeing things.  He becomes a hot-tempered insomniac and takes it out on the family.  The daughter, Missy, gets a new imaginary friend named Jody (supposedly one of the DeFeo girls).  The babysitter gets locked in the closet and loses her marbles.  The ghosts get more active and the family is compelled to leave when the poo hits the fan. Okay, so the differences.

The Amityville Horror (1979)

This version runs pretty much parallel with the Anson book, sometimes to a fault like how a porcelain dog moves around the house biting George when he isn’t looking.  Not exactly horrifying stuff if you are the pet guardian of a small dog like I am.  The biggest drawback is that its content was decades ahead of what special effects could provide.  I did like how somebody actually drew eyes on the already creepy eyes-like windows to really sell the idea.

The movie is slow moving and, if you are looking for ghost activity, you will be disappointed until the last 5 minutes or so.  It’s nice for nostalgia or for the sake of comparison, but that’s about it.  On the other hand, if you are a deeply religious person looking for a watered-down Omen, this might be your movie.

This version focuses on crisis of faith.  The priest, Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) plays a significant role as he struggles to find the strength to save the Lutz family and suffers the beat-down of the year from the “demonic entity” at every turn.  Seriously, by the end of the film it’s almost funny.  Also, faith, apparently, isn’t going to save you or your plumbing from evil.  Following the faith theme, George Lutz (James Brolin) is given a lecture by his co-worker about how he changed his religion for Kathy (Margot Kidder), who was a Catholic.  The snooty babysitter gets locked in a closet and walks out of the house scared.  Kathy finds out that the house is on a cursed Indian burial ground (where they banished the souls of their insane) and the property was owned by the Satan-worshiping Ketcham at one point.  George’s personality changes (as does his hair, which is the ultimate barometer of sanity), but he never turns psychotic.  The walls bleed and the house shakes as the Lutz family escapes together with George leading the way, cross in hand.

George saves the dog and all ends well.

Interestingly, I was watching Dead Files (episode 6-12: The Whispering) where a woman in Concrete, Washington was plagued by whispers and apparitions.  Oh, her health was failing and she was becoming an insomniac, too.  The real kicker was when Amy Allen revealed that the area had a sort force field around it, an ancient Indian curse, which did not allow the dead to escape.  According to her, this is where they banished their insane tribe members.  Was this a common practice amongst Native Americans since we find the same thing on both coasts?  #deadfiles

The Amityville Horror (2005)

I highly recommend this movie.

To say Director Andrew Douglas took some creative liberty with Anson’s book would be an understatement.  BUT, the result being he amped up the family dynamic, sprinkled in an exaggerated version of the horrific events (without the little dog), and added of all the paranormal visuals you would ever want.

And if you ever question Ryan Reynolds’ range as an actor, watch this movie.  He starts out as the witty and charming Ryan that we all have come to know, but becomes an abusive monster chasing his family with a shotgun by the end.  Yes, Ryan Reynolds can act and he can scare us.  As an added bonus for anyone seeking a little P&A (“pecs and abs” as my wife says), Ryan was in better shape than in Deadpool and wasn’t shy about showing it off.

This version focuses more on how the ghosts in the house are affecting the Lutz family.  From the moment the shady real estate agent steps into the house, you see shadows moving and know this house is legit, but the Lutz’s take it anyhow.  The priest, Father Calloway (Philip Baker Hall) plays a less significant role as he gets chased off by the “GET OUT” entity and later confesses to avoiding the Lutz family because their house scares him.  The Father, like the 2005 Lutz family’s plumbing, isn’t turned into evil’s bitch.  The skanky babysitter is locked in a closet by Jody, who scares her into near catatonia (one of my favorite scenes).  Kathy Lutz (Melissa George) finds out that the house is on property once owned by the Satan-worshiping Ketcham, who tortured Natives and cursed the land with his blood, and that their daughter has been carrying around a teddy bear that was buried with Jody DeFeo.  George’s personality changes dramatically (more than just his hair), and he turns VERY psychotic.  The walls don’t bleed and the house doesn’t shake as the Lutz family escapes together after ax-wielding George is knocked unconscious.

The dog gets mistaken for a demon by hallucinating George… let’s just say he’s not in the final shot.

THE WINE:  Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier

Chenin Blanc + Viognier 2014 (California)

About $12.00 a bottle.

Though I certainly would entertain the argument, you can’t live off of red meat alone.  Sometimes you just need something lighter and spicy.  For our Ghost Night meal, Cindy made some delicious, spicy shrimp quesadas with plenty of fresh cilantro, jalapeno, onion and tomato.  Personally, I love to add a little sour cream and Siracha.  When pairing a wine with lighter, spicy seafood dishes, you want something that will cut through the acidity and bring a slightly sweeter element.  A good viognier is great for this, bringing a lot of fruity aromatics like peach and melon, and the spicy cheese will draw out a honey flavor that is just dynamite as it mellows the acid from the peppers.

This is a great bottle of wine on a hot day or enjoying a summer evening on the patio.

Conjuring a Great Blend

Cindy: So, what do you want to do for Father’s Day?

Me (sporting my serious face): I want to see The Conjuring 2 and eat some BBQ.

Last week I made a pledge to see The Conjuring 2, and I’ve made good on that pledge.  Many of you know that I have a deep, almost unnatural, love of all things “scary” (if I didn’t, I would have chosen the wrong blog subject).  There is just something about a good scary movie that gets my imagination going and has me sitting on the edge of my seat, not from fear, but to see what’s around that darkened corner where an ominous floorboard squeak is coming from.  The first Conjuring movie did just that and I was hooked on director James Wan’s style.  So, if you can imagine, I’ve been looking forward to this movie ever since I saw the trailer months ago.

THE MOVIE:  The Conjuring 2 (2016)

(Serious face again) GO SEE THIS MOVIE.  There is a reason it was the #1 movie in America.

The premise:  It’s 1976, and, like the first movie, we find Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) engaged in another case, only this time they are investigating a house in Amityville.  You know the one.  It’s here that we see a premonition of Ed’s death and a demon dressed as a Catholic Nun (cameo by Marilyn Manson… okay, not really, but now try NOT seeing him) who follows Lorraine home.  We also get a glimpse into Ed’s artistic side.  Flash forward one year and 3,500 miles East to dreary old London, where the Hodgson family is being plagued by an extremely intrusive and violent spirit that is way too powerful to simply be a run-of-the-mill ghost.  The Catholic Church, not wanting to get directly involved in this high-profile paranormal media circus, call in the Warrens to look into what is really going on.  What Ed and Lorraine find when they get there is that the demon from Amityville has gone international.

James Wan’s team of writers is solid.  We have back the same crew that wrote the first Conjuring movie (Carey and Chad Hayes) and added David Leslie Johnson (who also wrote for The Walking Dead, Red Riding Hood, and the upcoming 2018 Aquaman movie (suddenly interesting, huh?)).  From a storyteller’s point of view, The Conjuring 2 delivers on just about every level.  We have a well-thought out plot that ties it to the first movie, it has a creepy atmosphere and the distinct style that makes it instantly recognizable as a James Wan movie (like the Insidious movies and Dead Silence).  There are plenty of twists and turns, and it really explores the general public’s common disbelief in the paranormal.  The movie was creepy, stylish, had just enough jump-scares, and was even sentimental at times.

THE WINE:  Chop House Red Wine Blend

Red Blend 2011 (California)

About $8.50 a bottle (your average 6 pack of craft beer will run about $9.50).

Like I said, I wanted BBQ.  Unfortunately, I got spoiled by living in central Texas for the last few years and you never really hear about Pacific Northwest BBQ.  After an attempt to find a BBQ joint that was open on a Sunday within driving distance, we settled on Famous Dave’s (a chain place, but decent).  As per the norm, I loaded up on ribs and heaped on the burnt ends.

When pairing a wine with savory meats and spicy/sweet BBQ sauces, you need something that will compliment and stand on its own.  I was drawn to the Chop House Red Blend from the first sentence of the description as it boasted rich flavors of boysenberry, leather and cedar, all of which would complement the smoky char on the ribs.  It absolutely lived up to the hype.  The accompanying flavors of raspberry jam, chocolate and black pepper did will to bring out the flavors of the spicy BBQ sauce.  It was smooth enough that I would have had another bottle if one was available.

This is a great bottle of wine if you are in the mood for BBQ (steak, ribs, whatever).

A Boy and His Zin

It was a nice, relaxing weekend.  And with any relaxing weekend, there is a laundry list of things I did not get around to doing, namely I didn’t do a James Wan marathon in prep to seeing The Conjuring 2.  I did, however, see about a third of the first movie.  So I make a pledge to do that next weekend.  The wine choice was a combination of craving and inspiration.  I went to Walmart to grab some garlic bread, etc, and found the protest du jour to be the proposed banning of co-ed bathrooms.  Honestly, I don’t remember the Bible saying anything about which bathroom to use, but the guy telling me to sign his petition was convinced it was in there.  I didn’t sign the petition, by the way, citing the sin of Pride (# 7 on the deadly sins list) for thinking that his beliefs gave him permission to force said beliefs on others through legislation and taking the Lord’s name in vain (# 3 on the 10 commandments list) for trying to tell me it’s in the Bible.  I walked out of Walmart with a bottle of The Seven Deadly Zins… which is delicious.

THE MOVIE:  The Boy (2016)

Since I hardly got off of the couch this weekend, I surfed the new releases on Amazon and found The Boy.

The premise:  An elderly British couple (the Heelshires) intends to go on their first holiday in many years, but have to hire a nanny to watch their son, Brahms.  Enter the young American (from Montana) nanny named Greta, who is running away from an abusive relationship.  I’m going to assume the elderly shut-ins didn’t find Greta on Craig’s List, but it’s never explained how she got a job with no experience watching over a mysterious child in a foreign country.  To Greta’s surprise, Brahms is a porcelain doll (honestly, you would think that would have been in the Craig’s List add), is shown a grave, and told the real Brahms died in a fire 20 years ago.  After a day of adjustment, the Heelshires take off on holiday for the next couple of months (the mother says “I’m sorry” before walking out), leaving Greta with the doll, a creepy mansion to care for, and a list of rules to follow as if the doll were alive.  Shockingly, Greta does NOT abide by the rules and that’s when things start going downhill.  Stupid American.

I won’t spoil the ending, but Cindy did say, “Oh God, that’s even creepier than the doll.” The Boy has some things I like as a storyteller.  Like The Haunting, we have misdirection – always a good thing.  It’s a little predictable if you look for the signs like I do, but it won’t kill the movie.  The director, William Brent Bell – the guy who brought us 2012’s The Devil Inside, knows how to build tension out of what seems obvious, giving us just enough to question what we are seeing.  The movie sets up a dreary atmosphere that will have you leaning in as you look for ghosts.  The plot, despite the obvious holes, has not really been seen in about the last 20 years, so it will surprise most viewers. This movie is worth a rental, or a buy if creepy dolls are your thing.  If you like movies like Halloween (the Carpenter version, and yes, I said it), this one is for you.

THE WINE:  The Seven Deadly Zins

Zinfandel 2013 (California)

About $11 a bottle.

Like I said, I had been craving a spicy Zin for weeks, and Cindy’s pasta dish – rigatoni pasta, tomatoes, garlic, onions, mozzarella, red pepper flakes, and olive oil – and garlic bread gave me a great excuse.  I’m telling you right now that there are few things more I like than a spicy dish with plenty of garlic and a good Zin.  A Zin will actually mellow into a sweeter taste and mouth feel, making the pipe tobacco flavor pop, when paired with garlic.  The Seven Deadly Zins is a wonderful example of a full body Zin with its notes of raspberry jam, molasses, cinnamon, pipe tobacco, oak, and its soft tannins (making it dry but not harsh) that will not break the bank by any means.

This is a great bottle of wine if you are in the mood for something spicy.

Haunted with Chardonnay

This was an interesting weekend.  My wife left me to my own devices while on a trip to Chicago to see the Dixie Chicks with her BF from college.  In the spirit of the 1990s, and after a conversation with an old friend (thanks, Conn), I decided to go slightly classic with this week’s movie.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t drinking wine this Ghost Night since I started off the day at a brewery and the first rule of drinking is to NOT mix your drinks unless you are a glutton for punishment; however, I will plug in the wine I had a few days ago.

THE MOVIE:  The Haunting (1999)

Full disclosure, I had to look up this movie before a recognized the name.  There have just been so many movies of similar name in the last 17 years that it didn’t stick out.  That being said, I did have an overwhelming “ohhhhhhh yeeeeaaaahhhhh” moment when I looked it up on Netflix.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record in my advocating for undervalued movies, I think this one is worth a couple hours of your time.  Okay, so the movie did not do well when it opened in 1999.  In fact, it was nominated for 8 Razzie Awards for everything from worst actress (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to worst screenplay, director, and picture.  That’s rough.  Sure it had some awkward uses of CGI by today’s standards and some questionable plot points, but it also had some stiff competition in 1999.  That year we had: The Blair Witch Project, Johnny Depp’s Sleepy Hollow, The Sixth Sense, Stigmata, End of Days, Lake Placid, the list goes on.  It’s easy to get buried in that lineup, especially when critics say it’s just a remake of a 1963 classic of the same name.

The premise is that you have Dr. Markway (Liam Neesen) who is researching fear responses by introducing research subjects who are “impressionable” to a creepy mansion.  It’s all very Ahab in search of his whale as he ignores professional ethics.  Little does he know, the mansion is actually haunted and capable of killing.  Enter the unlikely research subject named Nell (Lilli Taylor) who seems to have an unnatural connection with the spirits of the house, both malevolent and benign.  As things spiral downward, Dr. Markway (pronounced “Marrow” for some reason) and the others believe Nell is having a psychotic break until they experience the full wrath of the mansion themselves.

The Haunting has a lot of things that I really like as a storyteller.  First and foremost, this movie is loosely based on a novel by the same name by the brilliant Shirley Jackson; a book that has been said to be possibly the greatest ghost story of the 20th century according to Stephen King (tall words when I am a HUGE fan of The Shining).  We have classic misdirection of modern minds believing the supernatural is just in the head (a technique I LOVE using in my own work) and heavy nods to Edgar Allen Poe (both The Raven and Masque of the Red Death – find them, I dare you!).

When I say “loosely adapted” from the 1959 novel, it is just that, but in a good way.  In the novel, a group of paranormal investigators are led by Dr. Montague (essentially Neeson’s character) who sets up camp in Hill House with his psychic helpers, interfering wife and her companion.  All of the characters from the novel are present, but few in the same roles in an attempt to modernize the film and depart it from the 1963 version (successfully so, I think).  As a side point, one of the more scandalous parts of the novel and 1963 movie is Zeta-Jones’ character “Theo,” who is a lesbian.  Imagine this character in the 1950s and 1960s (hell, even the 1990s), not as a predator or stereotype, but as an independent and feminine person.  Jackson was ahead of her time in many ways with her novel, and I think Zeta-Jones did an amazing job.

This is a good movie that is worth another look.  If you like movies like House on Haunted Hill, this one is for you.

THE WINE: Radius Chardonnay 2013 (Washington State)

About $10 a bottle.

Again, I was a beer drinker on Saturday, so I reached back to the last bottle I had.  Cindy made a panzanella – olive oils and a variety of vegetables (tomatoes, onions, peppers, zucchini, etc), croutons and cheese (goat and blue).  It’s an Italian dish that is creamy and filling.  Considering the creamy nature and mild acidity from the tomatoes and onions, a Chardonnay was the way to go.  You want a crisp, sweeter wine to cut through and compliment in this case.

The Radius Chardonnay was sweeter than I expected when compared to other Chardonnays.  I would have mistaken it for a Riesling, but it worked for this meal.  It wasn’t overly sweet, but pushed it, with notes of pear, apple, and butterscotch on the backend.  It was definitely a buttery and mildly oaky Chardonnay, which I can get on board with.

This is a great bottle of wine if you aren’t accustomed to the dryer versions or have a date that doesn’t really like wine.  It’s sweeter, not pretentious, and not expensive.

Pizza and Yuletide Wishes Come True

Sorry this is hitting the proverbial stands a little late, but it was a whirlwind of a weekend. Hopefully you all took advantage of this Memorial Day weekend and got out and about. I was fortunate enough to have my 17-year-old son drive up from Oregon for a few days to celebrate. With him and my wife in tow, we saw a couple of movies, hiked over 5 miles in the Quinault National Forest, and ran/walked over 6 miles in the DuPont, WA, Wear Blue to Remember event on Monday.

There wasn’t much down time, but we did squeeze in a movie… after we saw a couple of movies.

THE MOVIE: Krampus (2015)

I probably should hold off on this review for another 5 or 6 months, but Krampus recently came out on video and my son hadn’t seen it.

Krampus got a pretty brutal lashing from the trolls when it came out in theaters. I honestly don’t know what people expected; perhaps a movie on par with The Exorcist or A Nightmare on Elm Street, whatever your favorite scary movie, which it clearly wasn’t advertised as being (cough-the Gallows-cough-gag). I knew exactly what I was getting into from the trailer and the fact that it was written in part by Michael Dougherty (the genius who brought us Trick r Treat). If I had to compare it to another movie, I would say it’s like a Christmas-themed Cabin in the Woods.

If you haven’t seen this movie, and I highly recommend you pick up a copy to break up the A Christmas Story marathon, it’s a story of a highly dysfunctional family in the suburbs who have to spend Christmas together because that’s what families do. If you think that premise is unrealistic, I challenge you to enjoy one of my family get-togethers (sorry, mom). Enter the one kid in the family who is a true believer in Christmas. When his cousins bully and publicly shame him for believing, he tears up his letter to Santa and wishes for them all to be taken away. Little does he know that his wish is granted, unleashing Krampus and his minions upon the family as a massive snow storm isolates them.

This is a great movie with rock-solid storytelling, a few jump-scares, a creepy atmosphere, and loads of laughs. If you like movies like What We Do in the Shadows, Trick r Treat, Gremlins, or Cabin in the Woods (creepy funny movies), this one is for you.


Casalino Chianti Classico 2009 (Italy)

About $14 a bottle.

After an afternoon of movie-going, we weren’t really in the mood to make anything so pizza it was. Not just any pizza, but MOD Pizza in Lacey, WA ( where made up out personal brick oven pizza. I know what you are thinking and the wine snobs out there would probably sooner drink Mad Dog 20/20 than drink a good wine with pizza. To that I say, “It was yummy,” and give my best impression of Judd Nelson walking away with his fist in the air at the end of Breakfast Club.

The wine was a perfect match for a tomato-based pizza with jalapeno chicken, garlic and basil. Had I added extra garlic I’d be talking about a Zinfandel. A good Chianti is fruit forward and somewhat dry (man do I miss Tuscany!). This medium-bodied dry red had lush, tart cherry flavors and subtle spice on the backend (not overpowering) with plenty of character to go around.

If you want to impress a date without breaking the bank, you could do worse than adding this wine to spruce up an ordinary meal.

Chianti: It’s not just for pairing with liver and fava beans.