Poltergeist III (or How I Learned to Start Worrying About Death)

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One of the more infamous yet unremarkable film anniversaries took place this past weekend in the form of Poltergeist III.  Released in June of 1988, roughly four months after the death of its’ star Heather O’Rourke, the film itself contributes little to the pantheon of cinema history.  However, its mere existence and the fervor surrounding her death caused quite the stir in this guy’s life.  Combined with the feelings I had for this weekend’s new release Hereditary, I felt compelled to share another tale of how I’ve been shaped, in part, by movies throughout my life.

The original Poltergeist, one of my ten favorite films, introduced Carol Anne and the phrase “They’re here” to the world.  I’ve experienced that movie as a child, a teen, a young adult, a parent, and now as a forty-something.  Few films have the ability to get better over time, but that’s one that somehow improved without changing a thing.  Most notably, though, director Tobe Hooper and writer/producer Steven Spielberg did such an amazing job of showcasing the Reagan-era parents of the time as fallible and routinely clueless, yet still somehow devoted.  The film acts as a relic of recent history, and warned the Baby Boomers that if they didn’t pay attention, a literal (or figurative) hole would open up in the earth and swallow their possessions, their house, and their kids.  Spielberg and Hooper knew what they were saying.  My parents were much like Steve and Diane Freeling, and I was much like Robbie or Carol Anne- so when I saw the film at the ripe age of four (!!), I sensed the understanding that yes, my parents would also save me from the child-eating tree.  I had nothing to fear except, well, my closet opening up and sucking me in.

The sequel (Poltergeist II: The Other Side) is fine, and gave 7-year-old me a handful of scares, but it certainly doesn’t measure up to the original, and had little impact on my life (save for a hesitance to drink tequila worms).  This second sequel, though, lacks the cohesive story of the first, the campy gore of the second, and well, is missing most of the Freeling family.  For reasons I can only assume have to do with a dearth of ideas and/or contractual obligations demands, this film has no Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, or Oliver Robins.  Veteran actors Tom Skerritt and Nancy Allen play Carol Anne’s uncle and aunt, and their apartment is up in a Chicago high-rise.  For whatever reason, Steve and Diane feel it is now safe to let their daughter out of their site.  Obviously, that follows as a poor decision.  Kane, other-worldly villain behind the whole trilogy, has no problem following Carol Anne, and you can imagine what ensues.

Again, Poltergeist III as a film is completely forgettable.  What sticks with me is how I felt following the death of Heather O’Rourke.  In 2018, it would only be a matter of minutes before a good portion of the population knew of a celebrity’s death, but in June of 1988, shortly after the new film’s release, I knew nothing of O’Rourke’s passing.  I visited my grandmother one day, and upon her kitchen table I very clearly remember a People magazine cover with the headline “Heather O’Rourke’s Mom: My child didn’t have to die”, and a small photo of the 12-year old actress.  My heart sank to the floor.  9-year-old me, who had experienced the light pain of losing an unborn sister the year before (per my parents’ explanation), finally realized that even kids can die.

Oh sure, I should never have been so naive, and if I had just done some reading, I’d have been keen to mortality much earlier.  Child Me just felt there was something so wrong about “God letting Carol Anne die”, and even the need for the studio to proceed with the film’s release even though it was clear that cast and crew had been shaken.  I remember saying a little ‘prayer’ of sorts that night for Miss O’Rourke, probably along the lines of “I hope you stay safe up there” and “please look out for me”.  She was just an angel to me- that sister I never got to protect, and she was gone.

It was at that point in time when I started to wonder if what adults told me was actually true.  After all, as her mother Kathleen O’Rourke pointed out in that 1988 People article, if physicians can misdiagnose someone to the point where they died, how could I trust them?  The kid that was already mortified of needles?  I was surely a goner if I ever went back to the doctor.  Furthermore, if Carol Anne, the child whose parents risked their own lives to save, could actually die, how strong could that bond have been?  Would my parents give up on me if I was taken?  Were there real-life people like the Kane of this series?  For a good time thereafter, I no longer felt infallible.  I no longer felt that I could be anything I wanted to be.

As you can see, 9-year-old me was never quite clear where the line was to be drawn between story and reality.  One always informed the other.  On the other hand, her passing eventually provided a valuable, long-lasting lesson to me- to always hold close that which you find dear.  A standard, if not difficult illness like Crohn’s Disease (O’Rourke’s original diagnosis) could take a turn, and you could find a loved one, or yourself, in real danger.  This has all evened out, of course.  Maturity, time, and experience have helped draw the line between the anxiety of death and the acceptance of mortality.  It was the Poltergeist franchise, of all things, that provided the stark and visual definitions of safety and danger for me.  Most films simply mark time, never leaving an imprint.  As the third film in this franchise turns 30, as unmemorable as it may be, it does help serve as a precious reminder to value this life, and to never, ever give up on those that you love.

 

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Big Turns 30

Coming Attractions/News:

Peppermint – Trailer
Suspiria Remake – Trailer

New Movies

Adrift – Based on the true story of survival, a young couple’s chance encounter leads them first to love, and then on the adventure of a lifetime as they face one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history.

Upgrade – Set in the near-future, technology controls nearly all aspects of life. But when Grey, a self-identified technophobe, has his world turned upside down, his only hope for revenge is an experimental computer chip implant called Stem.

Action Point – A daredevil designs and operates his own theme park with his friends.

The Rider – After suffering a near fatal head injury, a young cowboy undertakes a search for new identity and what it means to be a man in the heartland of America.

Undisputed Classic
The Poseidon Adventure – A group of passengers struggle to survive and escape when their ocean liner completely capsizes at sea.

Top Five – Jackass characters

1988

1) Big (Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Penny Marshall): After wishing to be made big, a teenage boy wakes the next morning to find himself mysteriously in the body of an adult.

2) Funny Farm (Chevy Chase): A couple swap city life for the country, but their picturesque new hometown turns out to be overrun with a gauntlet of crazy inhabitants.

3) American Gothic (Yvonne De Carlo, Rod Steiger): On a lonely island in the Pacific Northwest, a group of travelers find themselves targeted by a crazed, homicidal family.

4) My Best Friend Is a Vampire (Robert Sean Leonard): After a sexual encounter with a beautiful client, a teenage delivery boy finds himself being turned into a vampire.

5) Shy People (Jil Clayburgh, Barbara Hershey): New York journalist visits her distant cousin for the first time to write an article about her hard life in the bayous of Louisiana. Journalist’s wild drug addicted daughter just adds to tensions between two families’ cultures.

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Solo: 2 Hours and 15 Minutes of Sodom

Coming Attractions/News:

Various Trailers

New Movies

Solo: A Star Wars Story – During an adventure into the criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.

Fahrenheit 451 – In a terrifying care-free future, a young man, Guy Montag, whose job as a fireman is to burn all books, questions his actions after meeting a young girl…and begins to rebel against society.

Best F(r)iends Volume 2 – As Sestero’s drifter makes a run for it, he finds himself on a desert expedition, where wild characters and dark foibles intersect. As his misadventure teaches him about friendship and loyalty, Wiseau’s mortician surfaces a surprise or two.

Undisputed Classic
Salo: 120 Days of Sodom – In World War II Italy, four fascist libertines round up nine adolescent boys and girls and subject them to one hundred and twenty days of physical, mental and sexual torture.

Top Five – Shitty Movies

1988

Rambo 3 – Rambo mounts a one man mission to rescue his friend Colonel Trautman from the clutches of the formidable invading Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Crocodile Dundee 2 – Australian outback expert protects his New York love from gangsters who’ve followed her down under.

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Deadpool 2: Lord of the Fitbit

Coming Attractions/News:

The Happytime Murders – Red Band Trailer
Bohemian Rhapsody – Trailer
Lars Von Trier – Irresponsible Filmmaking

New Movies

Deadpool 2 – Foul-mouthed mutant mercenary Wade Wilson (AKA. Deadpool), brings together a team of fellow mutant rogues to protect a young boy with supernatural abilities from the brutal, time-traveling cyborg, Cable.

Book Club – Four lifelong friends have their lives forever changed after reading 50 Shades of Grey in their monthly book club.

Show Dogs – Max, a macho, solitary Rottweiler police dog is ordered to go undercover as a primped show dog in a prestigious Dog Show, along with his human partner, to avert a disaster from happening.

Undisputed Classic
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – A meek Hobbit from the Shire and eight companions set out on a journey to destroy the powerful One Ring and save Middle-earth from the Dark Lord Sauron.

Top Five – Movie Props

1988

1) Willow (Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Ron Howard): A reluctant dwarf must play a critical role in protecting a special baby from an evil queen.
2) Call Me (Patricia Charbonneau, Stephen McHattie): A journalist agrees to meet an obscene caller at a bar, and ends up witnessing a murder.

Next Week: Solo: A Star Wars Story, Top Five Shittiest Movies of all time (Figuratively or Literally) and our Undisputed Classic is Salo.

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The Three Way Bookend

Coming Attractions/News:

Predator – Trailer
Blackkklansman – Trailer
RIP Margot Kidder
Bill and Ted 3

New Movies

Life of the Party – After her husband abruptly asks for a divorce, a middle-aged mother returns to college in order to complete her degree.

Breaking In – A woman fights to protect her family during a home invasion.

Undisputed Classic
Mean Girls – Cady Heron is a hit with The Plastics, the A-list girl clique at her new school, until she makes the mistake of falling for Aaron Samuels, the ex-boyfriend of alpha Plastic Regina George.

Top Five – Movies you thought you’d hate but ended up loving

1988

Bulletproof – Bulletproof follows two cops, Bishop and Pike, as they chase down hardened criminals in London’s East End. On the surface Bishop and Pike have a lot in common they are cool, smart, unapologetically street-wise and tough; they share a deep, fraternal relationship – and are always there for each other. However, they come from very different backgrounds and their personal motivations and emotional lives outside the police force differ as a result: Pike is an aspirational family man, the son of a decorated police officer who’s determined to follow in his father’s footsteps, but not be in his shadow. Bishop grew up in care homes and on the streets, and never knew his father. Despite these differences Bishop and Pike are bonded by the same moral code and work brilliantly well together even when the chemistry between them looks set to explode.

Illegally Yours – Called up for jury duty, Richard Dice finds his first crush and only real, but unrequited love, on trial for murder. Richard desperately tries to prove Mollys innocence while untangling a complicated web of murder, blackmail and perjury, and still trying to win over the girl of his dreams.

The Wrong Guys – Five former cub scouts have a reunion and go camping on the mountain they never conquered. High jinks ensue due to their childhood enemies and a group of escaped convicts who mistake them for an FBI unit.

Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood – Years after Tommy Jarvis chained him underwater at Camp Crystal Lake, the dormant Jason Voorhees returns to the camp grounds when he is accidentally released from his prison by a telekinetic teenager.

Next Week: Deadpool 2, Book Club, Show Dogs. Our Undisputed Classic is Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring and our Top Five is Iconic Movie Props

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My Original Review of Mean Girls from May 2004

Mean Girls is our classic on this week’s Everyone’s a Critic Podcast and that inspired me to seek out my original, 2004 review of Mean Girls for the now defunct website, GuesstheGross.com. Gross in this case meant box office gross, it wasn’t a website dedicated to guessing the titles of Italian horror movies, though that would have also been a good use for that name.

May 2nd, 2004

Rosalind Wiseman’s book “Queen Bee’s and Wannabes” is a sociological study of the lives of teenage girls. The book covers important teenage girl topics like cliques, fashions, friends, sex and drugs and provides parents with helpful advice for understanding their teenage daughters. I’m told it’s a good read, entertaining even, but as a non-fiction book, it was an unlikely and difficult choice for a big screen adaptation.

This difficult task fell to Saturday Night Live head writer Tina Fey whose challenge was to create characters and a story arc from what were essentially intellectual observations of behavior. The characters and the story had to incorporate the book’s many important themes and ideas. Oh, and it had to be funny.

Lindsey Lohan stars as Cady Heron who, for her entire school career, has been home schooled…in Africa. Her parents are Zoologists who have decided to move back to America and enroll their daughter in a real high school. Once inside poor Cady must navigate the wilds of high school cliquedom from the popular kids to the nerds to the various sub-groups of each. Cady quickly realizes that high school is quite similar to the African bush with any number of obvious and hidden dangers. The jungle comparison is a good joke the film uses more than once.

After a rough first day Cady finally makes friends with a pair of outcasts, Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese), who help her navigate the difficult waters. The first lesson is to avoid the “Plastics,” the meanest clique in the school and also the most popular. The plastics are three super hot girls, Regina (Rachel McAdams), Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and Karen (Amanda Seyfried), who run the school. Later when Cady is being harassed in the lunchroom Regina saves her and the Plastics invite her to join there clique.

Though Cady isn’t quite comfortable with the Plastics way of belittling people and their constant focus on clothes and their bodies, Janis tells Cady to stick with it as a way of exposing the Plastics as the evil that they are. However once inside, being popular becomes kind of fun for Cady and her time as a double agent becomes more and more out of control until she has alienated pretty much everyone.

The film sets up along the familiar territories of high school movies but with Tina Fey’s sharp-eyed observations sprinkled in along the sides. Fey, who also has a small role as a teacher, uses this setup for a number of outside the plot observations, the best of which are quick parody of the stereotypical home schooled kid. Also, Amy Poehler of SNL shows up in the role of the Mom who desperately tries to be her daughter’s friend entirely at the expense of being good mother.

Fey’s observations are witty, smart and at times a little uncomfortable. Tackling the thorny issue of teenage sexuality, Fey glosses over the rough spots but makes a very cutting observation of how teenage girls in the post-Britney era have become hyper-sexualized. Check the scene where the Plastics with Cady perform a dance routine to the tune of Jingle Bell Rock wearing outfits more at home in a strip club. Any adult male who is not a little bit disturbed by this scene needs to take a step back and imagine that it’s your daughter on that stage. The point hits home quickly.

Many reviewers have drawn comparisons between Mean Girls and the 80’s classic Heathers because both films share a cynical edge. Heathers is far darker than Mean Girls but it’s not a bad comparison. I would like to introduce a different comparison between Mean Girls and a high school movie of a very different genre, Thirteen. With it’s serious source material, Mean Girls addresses some of the same issues as Thirteen but from a comic perspective. Both films detail the way new friends shape how a young girl becomes a woman and how a seemingly normal teenage girl can in a short time can become an entirely different person.

Being a comedy, Mean Girls cannot give these issues the depth that Thirteen has. But as a funhouse mirror version of Thirteen, Mean Girls has value to it beyond entertainment. I like how Mean Girls avoids melodrama while acknowledging it’s serious source material. Serious for parents of teenage girls who may find watching Mean Girls, and it’s candy coated satire, a convenient way to raise important issues with their daughters.

Most importantly, though, the film is funny. Tina Fey has a quick wit and a great ear for satire. With so many characters to manage, the character development tends to get lost but each of the actors is likable enough to sell the jokes and the character types they inhabit. Lindsey Lohan shows the same acting chops and comic touch that places her a step ahead of her teen rivals Hillary Duff and Amanda Bynes. If Lohan can continue to choose good material, she could have a very good future.

It’s Tina Fey however who may have the brightest future. Taking the themes, observations and conclusions of a non-fiction book and creating characters and a story arc that employ those important elements and managing to make it funny is a monumental task. For the most part, she succeeds. The film lacks a realistic edge to provide a real catharsis, especially in it’s ending which raps up a little too neat, but it’s still funny and smarter than most comedies of recent memory

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Never Go Full Nic Cage

Coming Attractions/News:

Adrift – Final Trailer
Robin Hood – Trailer
A Simple Favor – Trailer
Rambo V is happening
He-Man and Skeletor will be brothers in the upcoming Masters of the Universe movie

New Movies

Overboard – A spoiled, wealthy yacht owner is thrown overboard and becomes the target of revenge from his mistreated employee.

Tully – A mother of three hires a night nanny to help with her newborn.

Bad Samaritan – A pair of burglars stumble upon a woman being held captive in a home they intended to rob.

Undisputed Classic
Juno – Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, an offbeat young woman makes an unusual decision regarding her unborn child.

Top Five – Movies that Reference Star Wars

1988

Stormy Monday – A crooked American businessman tries to push the shady influential owner of a nightclub in Newcastle, England to sell him the club. The club’s new employee and the American’s ex lover fall in love and inadvertently stir the pot.

Dead Heat – Two policemen are brought back to life to chase down supernatural criminals.

Judgement in Berlin – American judge in Germany must decide if the hijacking of an East German plane into West Berlin was justified.

Salsa – Fatherless barrio Puertorican Rico is a menial car mechanic by day, but lives for the nights, when he dances and dates hot dancing girls, cockily convinced the title of Salsa king in fancy nightclub La Luna’s upcoming contest is to be his. He encourages his best friend, courteous gentleman Ken, to date his sister Margarita so he gets a free hand with her flirtatious classmate Lola. The reigning salsa queen Luna’s interest in Ruco as dance-partner threatens his on-off relationship with Vicki. More jealous trouble follows when Ken and Margarita fall in true love.

Shakedown – A legal attorney and renegade cop team up to stop a corrupt cop.

Next Week: Breaking In, Life of the Party. Our Undisputed Classic is Mean Girls and our Top Five is top five movies you thought you’d hate but ended up liking.

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Masters Of The Universe: The Legend Of Grayskull- Synopsis & Opening Scene Treatment

 

Note to the reader:  I’m fully aware that Masters Of The Universe was made to launch a toy line.  But as I always hope for on our show, my preference is to have filmmakers elevate the source material TO something relevant.  Here’s me putting my money where my mouth is.

 

http://beckenhamtheatre.co.uk/2015-season/hoodwinked/306-audition-snoopy-the-musical Synopsis & Screen Treatment by Josh Adams & Beth Uhrich

 

Synopsis:

Across the universe from Earth lies the once powerful and mysterious world of Eternia.  Eviscerated by decades of defeat at hands of the ruthless Hordak and his minions, the planet now exists as a barren wasteland amongst the stars- a constant reminder to the remaining survivors of Hordak’s wrath.  The remaining Eternians, worn and weary and yearning for hope, are awoken one morning to a deafening noise.  In these, the darkest of times, Clan Grayskull and their ancient friend the Sorceress Teela-Na now have the power…

 

Scene 1

THE PLANET ETERNIA

A middle aged man walks desperately along a dark, ravaged beach on the outskirts of Eternos City, searching for valuables or food.  The alien tide washes backwards, in an odd, ethereal fashion. The gravity is native to the planet, very unlike Earth. The sand and colors of the water shimmer with a dim cosmic glow, evoking the beauty of days past.  The rain is endless, and the skies remain dark with ominous clouds. The man appears meek- perhaps on his last legs, as he comes upon a cave near the beach. A faint glow emanates
from the cave; the desperate man sees it as a beacon, a potential shelter. An oasis. His faint, perhaps last hope.

The man crawls through a narrow opening in the cave, and comes to find the source of the faint glow. In a wading pool, he finds the source.  Streaks of what appear to be lightning cross the wading pool. With trepidation, he reaches down and peers closer into the watery opening.  Inside the pool is a translucent cask, made of crystalline material, housing an object inside.  The desperate man lunges forward to see what the beautiful object is.  He puts his hands in the pool, but the ‘lightning’ does not affect him.  He pulls the large crystalline case out, as we hear the low drone of an unknown, almost cosmic power source beginning to grow in intensity around him. He cannot open the case, and he cannot clearly see what is inside.

He decides to break it upon a sharper ‘stalagtite’ nearby. An immensely powerful, luminous force knocks the man back as the case shatters. When he picks himself up, he can see with great anticipation that which lingered inside. It is a weapon- unlike anything he has seen or heard of before.  It is beautiful.  It is not of Eternia.  At first, he cannot lift it, but the sword appears to bond to him.  Frightened, he steps back as he sees his body begin to change. He is filled with a power, a lifeforce he cannot imagine.  He begins to feel fear- but the force of this cosmic power begins to soothe him.

Now, with confidence, the man sheds his tattered animal skin overcoat, eagerly leaning back to grab the weapon.  He holds it up.  The ‘lightning’ courses over his body, invigorating him.

The man, who moments ago was on the verge of collapse, retreats from the cave, and looks upon the vast, beautiful alien ocean. D’vann Grayskull, so recently near death, begins his journey home, armed with the weapon.  With the power.  And, finally- hope.

**TITLE SCENE**

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: THE LEGEND OF GRAYSKULL

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Avengers: Infinity War

Coming Attractions/News:

Venom – Trailer

New Movies

Avengers: Infinity War – The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.

Kodachrome – Set during the final days of the admired photo development system known as Kodachrome, a father and son hit the road in order to reach the Kansas photo lab before it closes its doors for good.

The Week Of – Two fathers with opposing personalities come together to celebrate the wedding of their children. They are forced to spend the longest week of their lives together, and the big day cannot come soon enough.

The Ritual – A group of college friends reunite for a trip to the forest, but encounter a menacing presence in the woods that’s stalking them.

Undisputed Classic/Defend It

Knowing – M.I.T. professor John Koestler links a mysterious list of numbers from a time capsule to past and future disasters and sets out to prevent the ultimate catastrophe.

Top Five – Bad Movies Josh Likes

1988

1) Critters 2: The Main Course (Scott Grimes): Eggs of the small, furry alien carnivores are left behind on Earth and, after hatching, again set their appetites on the town of Grover’s Bend.

2) Sunset (Bruce Willis, James Garner, Blake Edwards): Tom Mix and Wyatt Earp team up to solve a murder at the Academy Awards in 1929 Hollywood.

3) Bagdad Cafe (CCH Pounder, Marianne Sagebrecht, Jack Palance): A lonely German woman ends up in the most desolate motel on Earth and decides to make it brighter.

4) Appointment With Death (Peter Ustinov, Lauren Bacall, Carrie Fisher): When a former prison wardress who dominates the lives of her three adult stepchildren and her daughter is found dead at an archaeological dig near the Dead Sea, there are a great many suspects. Hercule Poirot is on the case.

Next Week: Bad Samaritan, Overboard, Tully. Our classic is Juno and our top five is movies that reference Star Wars.

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Buck Futter: Bob and the Shrek Doll

Coming Attractions/News:

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – Trailer
Incredibles 2 – Trailer
Equalizer 2 – Trailer

New Movies

I Feel Pretty – A woman struggling with insecurity wakes from a fall believing she is the most beautiful and capable woman on the planet. Her new confidence empowers her to live fearlessly, but what happens when she realizes her appearance never changed?

Traffik – A couple off for a romantic weekend in the mountains are accosted by a biker gang. Alone in the mountains, Brea and John must defend themselves against the gang, who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets.

Super Troopers 2 – When a border dispute arises between the U.S. and Canada, the Super Troopers are tasked with establishing a Highway Patrol station in the disputed area.

Undisputed Classic

Super Troopers – Five Vermont state troopers, avid pranksters with a knack for screwing up, try to save their jobs and out-do the local police department by solving a crime.

Top Five – Bad Cops

1988

1) Casual Sex? (Lea Thompson, Victoria Jackson): While attending a singles retreat, two female friends– one promiscuous, the other unlucky with men– share their philosophies on love, sex, men, and dating in the wake of the 1980s AIDS epidemic.

2) The Unholy (Ben Cross, Hal Holbrook): A priest battles a demon that kills sinners in the act of sinning.

3) Lady In White (Lukas Haas, Katherine Helmond): An author tells the story of how, as a young boy growing up in a 1960s small town, he was haunted after witnessing the murder of a little girl.

4) Permanent Record (Keanu Reeves, Alan Boyce): When David Sinclair, a popular and talented high school student commits suicide, his best friend Chris takes over many of his responsibilities.

Next Week: Avengers Infinity War & The Week Of. Classic: Knowing. Top Five: Bad Movies You Think Josh Likes.

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