Tales from the Northside

Hello everyone and welcome to Tales from the Northside!  My name is Scott or Canadian Scott if you prefer and my area of nerd love comes from watching horror movies.  This column is going to be bringing you reviews of some of the greatest and lackluster horror movies from every era.

Time to make a little confession.  I love found footage movies,  in the last few years it seems like Hollywood has played out this genre but the mind does tend to wander when you think about the “what ifs?” of you about to watch the final moments of someone’s life before they were taken by some dark, sinister force.

In 2010, the found footage genre crossed over with demon possession in The Last Exorcism.

Set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana our documentary crew, a sound girl and camera guy, introduce us to southern minister Cotton Marcus.  He dances, sings and carries a lot of charisma which is best shown when he bets the crew that he can give his mother’s banana bread recipe during a sermon and no one would even notice because people are more wrapped up in the showmanship then the message.  As is the horror cliche, Cotton is suffering from a crisis of faith.  His son was born with some major medical issues but instead of looking to God for help, Preacher Marcus looked to science and the doctors to help him.  And this has troubled him every since.   I do wonder though, if he had such a major crisis of faith then why does he continue to preach?

He`s the guy on the right.

Cotton Marcus comes from a line of exorcists; his dad John Marcus holds a book containing the names of demons commonly occurring in possession.  This is where we learn why this movie was made.  Cotton believes that while exorcism still serves it purposes today, people should still look to medical reasons and treatment.  Preacher Marcus does not believe in ghosts, spirits or demons but he is called to provide a service and if it makes someone better then who is he to stand in the way of that but some people take things too far and kill innocent people because of a lack of understanding.  To prove his point, Cotton will pick a random letter he has received asking him to perform an exorcism and the crew will follow him as he exposes how fake these things can be.  I am excited because having worked in a mental health hospital, a lot of possession can be explained back to mental health issues and now we get to see behind the curtain.

Cotton chooses a letter from Louis Sweetzer and so begins the documentary.  While driving into town there is a pretty funny montage of Preacher Marcus asking local residents about demon possession and boy are people really open to talking about demons.  Every story is the same, crazy man started a cult, cults in the area are into livestock killing, aliens are to blame, etc.  The crew stop to ask for directions and meet Caleb Sweetzer, who tells them to leave and never come back and to add the exclamation point throws a giant mud ball at them.  Now if I was the preacher I would probably just turn around a go because clearly this is not a good sign but this is a horror movie so he goes to the house anyway.

As Cotton and the crew arrive we meet the other members of the family, Louis Sweetzer, the patriarch and writer of the letter and Nell Sweetzer, the innocent youth caught in the clutches of the devil.  Cotton gets to work right away and begins his preliminary interviews with Nell and the family.  There was a Mrs. Sweetzer but she died from cancer and the family has not been able to cope since her death.  Nell and the mom were best friends so she is emotionally fragile, the father has become ultra religious as he feels if he was more in touch with god he could have saved her yet he doesn’t believe the church in town can help and liquor may also be a factor, and Caleb has become disenfranchised and a real jerk.  Louis tells us that Nell is sleep walking and killing livestock.  Most of the time she wakes up in the morning with no recollection of what happened the night before, Cotton is skeptical and believes the attacks to be from local wildlife but Louis insists it is his daughter.

And so the testing begins…

Cotton explains that he is ready to get to the bottom of this.  This is when Cotton starts with his expose of the exorcism game.  First he decides to “test” Nell by placing her feet in a bucket; he places something in the water which causes it to boil.  The family is shocked but the crew and Cotton know better.  He decides now is the time to perform the exorcism.  The next set of scenes cuts between Cotton performing the exorcism and showing us some of his secrets to bringing about the clever tricks he plays to fool people into believing they are possessed.  He even opens up a book of demons and picks a random one, Abalam, and says this is the demon inside her daughter.  I love this moment because it shows how people can be so easily manipulated by a little smoke and mirrors.

Following the exorcism, we assume the documentary is almost over because everything appears to be okay now.  Nell is sleeping like a baby for the first time in months and Cotton has received his payment for services rendered.  The crew say their goodbyes and leave the farm.  The crew get their closing statements and settle in a hotel before going home.  Suddenly, the crew is up and running around.  Nell has made her way from the farm all the way into Cotton’s hotel room.  But now she does not look like the happy girl that was left following her exorcism but now she seems distant and catatonic.  Cotton believes that she is beyond simple solutions and takes her to the hospital to get checked out.  For some reason the hospital decided not to do any psychological testing despite the fact she walked 5 miles in her night gown and sat in a stranger’s motel room.  Physically she is okay from what he is able to be told and this is when Louis arrives to whisk Nell back home, Cotton pleads with him to seek psychiatric care but Louis is weary of medical care and treatment (thanks to his wife’s death) and heads home.  Man, Louis really hates everything.  This is shaking Cotton to the core and thinks that Nell needs more help.  He decides to visit a local preacher who used to be Louis’ preacher to seek guidance and advice.  The preacher tells Cotton that Louis gave up on the church and turned his back on the community.

This still doesn’t sit well with Cotton and he decides to go back to the farm house and make one last plea for Nell to receive help.  As the crew pulls up, they see Nell sitting on the front steps, her night gown covered in blood.  Apparently not freaked out despite protests from the film crew, Cotton goes to investigate.  While talking to her, Louis and Caleb approach and Caleb’s cheek has been cut up like the Joker (finally someone put a smile on that guys face).  Louis said that Nell attacked her brother with the knife.  Nell now looking normal again is in a panic because she doesn’t remember attacking her brother, once she has been settled; Louis decides to take Caleb to the hospital to get checked out.  At no point does anyone decide to call the police!?!?  Classic horror mistake.

If this person attacks you, shouldn`t you probably call someone?

While Nell is sleeping, the crew stumble across a phone message from the doctor at the hospital where Nell was checked out…she is pregnant!  This is quite a twist in this story, for all intensive purposes she is a home-schooled loner with no friends.  So who is the father?  The implication of incest is pretty heavy here and does not make for a good promotion for “Visit Louisiana”.  Again, no phone calls to the cops?!?  Instead of asking Nell what is going on, they decide to catch some sleep.  Now we get something which is pretty unique, Nell (under possession I hope) grabs the camera from the sleeping camera guy.  We are treated to POV walk through the house, outside to the barn and then the murder of a cat with the camera.  Thankfully, Nell is nice enough to bring the camera back into the house where she wakes up from her cameraman duties unaware of what just happened.  Even the crew themselves are a little unaware what happened…another classic horror mistake, why not check the footage?  I mean you are a documentary crew.  But now isn’t the time to review footage, let’s just fix the lens, scrape off the cat bits and move on.  Nell is taken back to bed and we discover her new drawing…Preacher Cotton is seen in a large pit of fire, the director/sound lady is seen cut up into a million pieces and the camera guy has lost his head.  Just a couple questions, one how much creepier and weirder must it get before you decide that a 16 year old, incest victim can probably look after herself and take off?  And two what is taking the dad so long?!?

We get the answer to the second question as Louis arrives home and I think he has a few questions to answer.  When approached about his daughter’s pregnancy, he is dumbfounded and only believes that the demon Abalam has done this to her.  But that can’t be true, Cotton made the whole thing up!  Louis pleads with Cotton to perform another exorcism but Cotton believes she is deeply psychologically disturbed and needs more help.  Louis said that if Cotton doesn’t help then he will deal with Nell in his own way and let’s just say it involves a gun.  Cotton is backed into a corner; he has no choice but to help her.  Louis takes her to the shed, throws a little sawdust on the cat smush and now we’re good to go.

Just lie down here, ignore Mr Sparkles…

Cotton begins and calls forth the demon that is quite the jerk.  He decides that if Cotton would be quite for 10 seconds, he’ll release her and leave her body.  Now when I count sometimes I use my fingers but Abalam/Nell doesn’t mess around by actually breaking her fingers as she counts.  Unfortunately she only makes it to two before Cotton steps in to stop it.  The exorcism is cut short with a pretty interesting revelation that will blow your mind and definitely came out of nowhere.  Even I didn’t expect that ending.  But in a move that appears to have inspired Quentin Tarantino this movie is far from over.

As a new day rises, the world seems to be back in order, Louis has decided to reconnect with his church and meet the Pastor he turned his back on, and Nell appears to have settled nicely and is going to embrace her impending pregnancy.  Cotton and crew begin to make their way home when a brand new revelation comes forward that is another twist to the story which causes the crew to return to the farm and confront Louis and Nell.  The movie wraps up like the last 15 minutes of the Blair Witch Project.  A lot of running around in the woods and the prophecy of the kids drawing come to fruition.

Smokey the Bear does not recommend crosses to fight forest fires

Overall, this movie was great.  It involves my favourite sub-genre of horror, it was well acted and the twists towards the end made sense and really added to the story.  Although there was a scene at the end that almost ruined the whole movie for me because it was really far-fetched and seemed like it was added to give the FX guys some work but like I said everything else worked out well enough that I forgot about it after the movie was over (well until I had to write in this warning).  I guess it wouldn’t be a proper review if I didn’t give it a pretty wicked rating system so I give this movie 9 found footage reels out of 10.  So until next time, enjoy those movies that give you the willies and see you next time on Tales from the Northside!!

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