FANTASTIC BEASTS and the Horror Movies That Inspired It
Today, JK Rowling's Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them comes out. While it's a very dark film about witches and wizards, it's not exactly scary. Even still, I couldn't help but spot similarities to a few famous horror films!
If you've seen even a single trailer for Fantastic Beasts, you know the movie is ostensibly about Newt Scamander, a wizard in over his head, desperately trying to recapture all the magical creatures he has accidentally let loose in New York City (Listen to our full review on the podcast Book Club Shmook Club). When you actually see the movie though, you'll find that it's really about growing tensions between the magical world and the humans, and that there is a monster called The Obscurus wreaking havoc. The Obscurus is a dark energy that builds inside children who are forced to hide their magical ability, eventually exploding outward and causing wild destruction. On screen, The Obscurus rampages through the city not unlike King Kong or Godzilla, but there are quite a few other horror films that contribute to this creature!
1. EVIL DEAD
Shortly after the movie starts, we're treated to sequences of The Obscurus destroying buildings, and rushing through New York city streets. The crucial element here is that we see the destruction from the monster's point of view!
Evil Dead director Sam Raimi utilized experimental techniques to film his cult horror about an evil force attacking a group locked up in a remote cabin. At times we watch the movie from the point of view of this evil entity, speeding along through the woods, turning, weaving through trees, chasing the main character Ash. It's all done in a seamless single take, accomplished by riding a bike through the woods with the camera mounted to the front.
Is this an intentional homage? A borrowed technique? We can't know for sure, but if we were watching The Obscurus raging through the woods of upstate NY, this movie would feel like an Evil Dead remake! All we're missing is The Necronomicon and some deadites!
2. THE CONJURING
Jump scares, while polarizing, are nothing new, but few film-makers have used them more effectively than James Wan in The Conjuring franchise. You know that feeling when you're on a roller coaster that is quietly ticking up a ramp? Of course you know the drop is coming, but it the expectation doesn't diminish the impact when suddenly you're pitched down and screaming to the ground! James Wan's methods for a jump-scare are the same: he slows down all action, you know something is coming, and yet you can't help but feel that rush when a screaming face suddenly appears!
In Fantastic Beasts we meet a fringe religious group known as The Second Salemers, run by Mary Lou Barebone, a frighteningly intense woman who beats her children and forces them to spread the word that witches and wizards are evil and must be found and stopped. Little does she know that one of her children is magical, and not only that, but he is in fact the host of The Obscurus!
As Mary Lou prepares to beat her son Credence one night, The Obscurus begins to manifest, stunning the cult leader, and knocking her whipping-belt to the ground. All sound fades as she slowly reaches for the weapon, but straight out of the Conjuring, when she stands and turns to face Credence we're greeted with a glimpse of The Obscurus RIGHT BEHIND Mary Lou! Mary Lou is ripped off-screen, we hear a loud shriek, and eventually the thud of her dead body hitting the ground. For a lot of the kids in the audience, I'm sure this will be there first encounter with horror! Who knew that this movie would include actual horror film tricks!?
3. THE EXORCIST
This one is more obscure. In William Peter Blatty's novel The Exorcist, we meet a girl named Regan MacNeil, who becomes possessed by a demon. Eventually a priest named Father Merrin is called upon to perform an exorcism on the girl, as he is one of the few priests who has experience performing exorcisms. You see, he once encountered a possessed child in Africa, and while he saved the kid, the demon got away.
In Fantastic Beasts, Newt Scamander eventually helps explain what exactly an Obscurus is, and we learn that just recently, he encountered one attached to a young girl in the Sudan in Africa. Though he tried to separate the explosive parasite from its host, the girl died. Now, encountering this new Obscurus feeding off Credence Barebone, Newt feels compelled to try again. Can he stop The Obscurus and save Credence? Is it possible? Sadly he's not quite as successful as Father Merrin.
Are there other homages/similarities I've missed? Do you think I'm out of my mind? Sound off in the comments section below! I had a great time watching Fantastic Beasts and an even better time realizing that some of my favorite horror films may have actually found their way into a giant mainstream franchise!