Richard and CP24 anchor Stephanie Smythe have a look at the weekend’s new movies, the up-close-and-personal action of “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” the supernatural thrills of “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” the spy comedy “Keeping Up with the Joneses” and the new Canadian indie “Mean Dreams.”
Richard sits in with Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the weekend’s new movies, the up-close-and-personal action of “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” the supernatural thrills of “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” the spy comedy “Keeping Up with the Joneses” and the new Canadian indie “Mean Dreams.”
For almost 100 years Ouija Boards have caused trouble on the big screen. From the 1920 movie Ouija Board to this weekend’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, characters have used witchboards to communicate with the dead to disastrous results.
The most famous Ouija design features the alphabet, numbers from 0 to 9, and the words yes, no and goodbye printed on the board in an elaborate font. The spirits use a wooden heart-shaped planchette or a pointer to answer the living’s questions from beyond.
Changes have been made to the basic design over the years. There have been glow-un-the-dark versions, a pink board marketed to teen girls and one with a light up planchette that illuminates the board’s hidden messages.
Whatever the look, the spirit board has also been a springboard for many movies.
The 1960 film 13 Ghosts begins when a wealthy occultist bequeaths his home to his nephew. In a scene that almost plays like a commercial for Ouija, the home’s new residents soon discover a spirit board. “Ouija, the mystifying oracle, “says Medea (Jo Morrow), “the most modern method of fortune telling. Anyone want to try it?” They gather round the board and ask, “Are there any ghosts in this house?” The answer is yes and soon the spirits make their presence known.
The kitschy movie was a hit and helped spark the Ouija craze of the 1960s, which hit a high in 1967 when sales of the talking boards surpassed Monopoly. “In the late 1800s continuing all the way into the 1960s, the Ouija board was considered good, clean, family fun,” says designer Roman Mars. Then in 1973, along came a movie that scared audiences and consumers alike.
The Exorcist, the most famous of all demon possession movies, is based in part on the 1949 case of an anonymous Maryland teenager. The Catholic Church declared the boy to be under a diabolical spell when strange things started happening — levitating furniture and holy water vials crashing to the ground — after he played with a Ouija board.
In the famous film a teenage girl is possessed by a demon after she finds an old Ouija Board in a closet. Playing with the board, she encounters Captain Howdy, a.k.a. Pazuzu, king of the demons of the wind. “I ask the questions and he gives the answers!” she says before her head starts spinning.
Ouija historian Robert Murch compares The Exorcist’s effect on the decline in popularity of the boards to a famous thriller’s influence on everyday hygiene.
“It’s kind of like Psycho,” he says. “No one was afraid of showers until that scene.”
Immediately following the release of The Exorcist witchboards were suddenly perceived as an instrument of the devil, a conduit between demons and regular folks.
Sales of the boards took a hit but filmmakers were quick to respond. The Turkish movie Seytan and Spain’s Escalofrío were first out of the gate, opening the floodgates for dozens of films like Witchboard, What Lies Beneath and the wildly popular Paranormal Activity who all used the boards as a tool of terror.
Not everyone is afraid of the boards, however. “People have told me ‘Betty, Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with old friends,’” joked ninety-four-year-old actress Betty White. “At my age, if I wanted to keep in touch with old friends, I’d need a Ouija board.”
Ever since a Ouija Board connected Captain Howdy to Regan MacNeil in “The Exorcist” filmmakers have used the spirit boards as a way to plunge their characters into deep demonic trouble.
In 2014 a group of friends uncorked some supernatural woes in “Ouija.” Now comes a prequel (insert spooky Theremin music here), “Ouija: Origin of Evil.” Set almost fifty years before the events of the first film, the action takes place in 1967 Los Angeles.
Looking for a way to freshen up their sham séance business Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) a.k.a. Madame Zander Fortune Teller and her daughters Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson) run a home séance business, specializing in parlour tricks to comfort the living relatives of the recently deceased. “We give them closure,” says Alice. “We heal their hearts and you can’t do that without some showmanship.”
To freshen up their act and attract new customers Alice adds in a Ouija Board. “What this?” asks Doris. “A new prop for work,” replies Alice cheerily. What she doesn’t know is that the harmless looking board is also a gateway for demons and all manner of unspeakable supernatural strife.
When young Doris uses the witchboard to contact her dear, departed father she becomes possessed by a most unwelcome spirit. “I believe she is channelling powers,” says Father Tom Hogan (Henry Thomas), “we cannot understand.”
Is “Ouija: Origin of Evil” a vast improvement on the 2014 original? The planchette (the Ouija’s triangular cursor) points to Yes. “Ouija” was one of the lamest mainstream horror films of recent memory, its prequel is one of the best.
Director Mike Flanagan provides jumps scares, creepy visions and a suitably spooky visualization of the demonic possession but brings generally more atmosphere than actual thrills. Instead he builds tension throughout, slowly working up to a ghost story climax that delivers solid scares.
He’s aided greatly by the youngest member of his cast, Lulu Wilson, who has a face that switches instantly from endearing to eerie. As the spirits possess her she takes on a creepy kid face that could win her an award for weirdest kid since “Children of the Corn.”
Add in some Nazi doctors, spirits nosier than whoever is spying on you through your iPhone right now and a mysterious hole in the basement wall and you have a welcome addition to the Ouija Board genre.