Spooky Movie Festival 2013: “Spirit Cabinet” Reviewed

Posted by Michael Parsons on November 4, 2013 in / No Comments


A fun, old-fashioned ghost story called “Spirit Cabinet” premiered at this year’s Spooky Movie Horror Film Festival, breezing in amidst a slew of slasher flicks and zombie movies with the snappy wit and ambience of an “Amazing Stories” episode. This micro-budget delight follows eight people who gather in a historic old home in the Bronx to attend a séance after Lily (Marian Brock) becomes convinced that the spirit of her mother, who was recently killed in a car crash, is still hanging around. Enter Marina (Marina Franklin), an aspiring journalist whose abrasive, short-tempered boss Trevor (Mickey Ryan), who used to work with Lily’s mom, promises great things for her career if she can help him debunk the psychic (Mina Sands) and her creepy assistant Erroll (Joseph Francini). Tagging along is Marina’s long-time friend Gideon (Jun Naito), a perky pastry chef who’s hoping his relationship with Marina will develop into something romantic, but who’s really just being used as a “stand-in” for her boyfriend to fill out the roster.

spirit_cabinet_2_largeWriter M. Sweeney Lawless establishes the film’s tone with quick-witted dialogue and complex characters, which transcend some of the film’s obvious twists, and director Jay Stern (read our interview here) seems to use the confines of the house as an additional character rather than just a prop, which lends a rather sinister undertone to the picture. As the story progresses and opinions over the validity of Lily’s claims, as well her use of a medium to try to communicate with her mother, are divided into different camps, it becomes apparent that this film is as much a mystery – and perhaps a comedy – as it is a supernatural thriller (think “Stir of Echoes”, R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” and an Agatha Christie novel all rolled into one). Lily is desperate to find answers, while her stoner boyfriend David (Paul Herbig) seems either ambivalent or just completely oblivious. Marina, who’s desperate for a job, is skeptical but not entirely dismissive, while Gideon seems to make an immediate, somewhat mysterious connection with Ramona, the psychic. Trevor, who’s in attendance with his sweetheart of a wife Helen (Mary Micari), makes it clear that he’ll do anything to prove that Ramona is a hoax, including filming the entire event.

“Spirit Cabinet” is a clever, subtly humorous (and yes, sometimes creepy) movie that feels a lot like watching actors performing in an off-Broadway production. It’s no wonder – comedians and stage actors make up a good portion of the cast, and Sweeney Lawless, a former comedian herself, writes assuredly to their abilities. Though it’ll certainly be easier for mainstream audiences to digest than some of the more gruesome fare at this year’s festival, its creepy setting and suggestive elements are more than enough to induce goosebumps.

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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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