Thoughts on ‘Insidious: The Last Key’ From a Storyteller’s Perspective


There are two healthy — and at times nearly interchangeable — haunted house/paranormal possession film series right now.

James Wan produces each, and Patrick Wilson starred in the initial films for each series, while the stories that make up the movies are said to come straight from the life of medium Lorraine Warren. I genuinely can’t recall the plot to The Conjuring after watching Insidious 2, and can’t remember which film hosted the Darth Maul Demon after sitting through the less-than-stellar Annabelle (a prequel to The Conjuring, if you’re keeping score.)

But after eight years, it seems like the Insidious films are going to continue to concentrate on the life of Lorraine Warren, while The Conjuring stories are going the route of the horror anthology. And after viewing Insidious: The Last Key, I’d have to say I’m tired of following the demonic encounters of the main protagonist of the Insidious movies, Elise (our bio-fictionalized Lorraine Warren.)


Insidious: The Last Key’s visual elements and pacing are its only strong suits. The dialogue, sound effects, music, characters, and story arc are hamfisted, disinteresting, and at times, scatterbrained. There are countless moments where Elise is expositing on the why of the haunting that I felt completely unnecessary. We’re horror fans, we suspend logic; and more often than not, the why is better left unspoken, or at least open to varied interpretation.

The film does very well in showing the development of the haunting of Elise’s childhood home in New Mexico. How it corrupted her prison guard father, then its modern-day caretaker; how the Key-Fingered Demon itself was released, and the way in which it accomplished its deeds. The visual elements surrounding the emergence of the Key-Fingered Demon in the basement of the New Mexican home was the centerpiece of the film. The demon is a worthy villain, its purpose clear: bringing out the demonic from within the living.

Thoughts on the characters

Elise and her forgettable, cringe-inducing sidekicks are called to her childhood home. She hadn’t been back since she was a teenager, driven off by her abusive father. Her only regret, that she left her younger brother, Christian, behind. Christian is a bystander in childhood, and adulthood. His only contribution is birthing two daughters who will aid Elise in confronting the demon. The girls are all-too eager to help their kooky aunt out, a woman they’ve never met nor even heard a word about from their father. One of the girls, Imogen, is a medium like Elise, and ultimately enters the Further (spirit world) to rescue Elise from the Key-Fingered Demon. There is a recurring ghost girl with more presence and personality than Imogen.


Plot misses

In the scenes focusing on Elise’s childhood, the looming presence of the nearby prison, and its light-flickering executions, permeates the story, but is never developed.

Christian never believed his sister saw ghosts and hated her for terrorizing him with her stories. By the end of the movie, he is shown no evidence, experiences nothing of the hauntings, and never considers whether Elise has endangered his daughters, or worse, but all is forgiven.   

The movie reveals that Elise’s father was guided by the demon to do hideous acts, which leads Elise to a moment of empathy for her father, but it doesn’t quite spell out whether all of the heinous acts were demon-driven, or just the most vile. It’s important, because if the violence against his daughter wasn’t also demon-driven, the empathy she shows him is out of place.

When Elise begins seeing entities in her bedroom as a child, the Darth Maul Demon from Insidious briefly appears. Everyone knows this particular demon. Why show him if he’s not going to appear again in the house? You see Darth Maul again in the final scene, which attempts to set up a new movie, but it’s completely unrelated to Elise’s childhood home, and was an unnecessary, and distracting, addition early on.


Who would I recommend this movie to?

If you didn’t like Annabelle or Annabelle: Creation, but liked the first few Conjuring and/or Insidious movies, this film is good for one theater viewing, and no subsequent home viewings. If you know nothing of the earlier Conjuring or Insidious installments, then this movie is probably a waste of your time. Insidious: The Last Key relies too heavily on fandom. There is little depth to the storytelling self-contained within the movie. You’re expected to have seen one of the earlier installments to be invested in the lackluster story.

Joe Sullivan is the author of several paranormal and dark fantasy books, available on Amazon.


Preview: A Strange Love & Relationship-Themed Paranormal Anthology from Cemetery Gates Media


In February 2018, we (Brhel & Sullivan) will release a book of ten short stories entitled Her Mourning Portrait and Other Paranormal Oddities. With this collection, we aim to present the difficulties of sustaining flesh-and-blood relationships through a novel lens — through the weird and uncanny.

Paranormal themes and plot elements help us explore interpersonal relationships in unique, often amusing, ways; but at their core, these tales are not about ghosts or strange premonitions — they’re about flawed, everyday individuals navigating the complexities of dating, marriage, and loss. If anything, the strange situations that our characters encounter only parallel the seemingly arbitrary, uncertain nature of real-life love and companionship. And while you may not ever communicate with a dead lover or have a preternatural insight into a different time or place, you can likely relate to the tragedy, the euphoria, the insanity that the act of loving often entails.

The stories can be considered romances in the broadest sense. Each tale is built around a central character’s quest for a more secure, fully actualized, and loving intimacy. However, most of the stories would not properly fit within the expectations of the already established, paranormal romance subgenre.

With books like Tales from Valleyview Cemetery and Corpse Cold: New American Folklore our goal was to entertain readers with spook stories, featuring uncomfortable plot elements that approach real-life horrors. And in Carol for a Haunted Man we portrayed a helpful, Dickensian apparition, and a mortal protagonist who was struggling to rebuild his personal and professional lives. While this collection is a mix of both thematic styles, we hope to satisfy readers who’ve enjoyed our campfire oddities, as well as those who’ve preferred our more literary moments.

TFVV cover    cemeterygatesone_final_cover .   haunted-man-cover

Some of the highlights from the new collection include:

  • “Her Mourning Portrait” is the story of an artist who immortalizes his dying wife, and then must face the consequences of aging without her.
  • “Side by Side” is a quirky cemetery tale about a confrontation between a long-deceased man and his widow’s second husband, regarding the final resting place of their beloved-in-common.
  • “Lady of Cayuga Lake” recounts the last hurrah of a separating husband and wife, a final vacation which takes a turn toward the paranormal when they both spy a ghost over the lake. Will they have what it takes to work together, confide in each other, and solve the mysterious disappearance of Mary Gold?
  • “The Lost Cache” tells of the strain an obsessive hobby can have on a marriage. Hillary appears to give Eric every chance to engage her, and work his way back toward an intimate companionship, even going so far as to plan out a special evening of hiking and geocaching in an old cemetery with her husband.
  • “Play It Again, Sam” is a science fiction story regarding the discovery of a technology that can influence recorded memories. Sam is an engineer hoping to alter his ex-wife’s perception of their seminal, shared moments together, enough that she has a more positive view of him in the present.
  • “Her, He, and a Corpse Makes Three” focuses on a love triangle between a living couple who work in a funeral home, and the woman’s recently deceased, yet spiritually returned ex-boyfriend.

Ben Baldwin is once again responsible for the cover art. Ben previously designed the cover for our episodic novel, Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop.


The following is a complete short story from Her Mourning Portrait and Other Paranormal Oddities, entitled “Beyond a Blood Moon.” It is a brief homage to the chillers of Guy de Maupassant and Edgar A. Poe.

“Beyond a Blood Moon”

I was awoken one night in bed, likely due to the absence of my fiancée. I can only assume that it was this silence past midnight, which a light sleeper can’t help but notice once they’ve become attuned to the constancy of their nightly, bedroom environment. And this absence, was likely what my unconscious found unsettling enough to stir me. Sara’s breathing was often measured, hypnotic, a comforting layer to my night. Her respiration, often the last thing I took hold of in my twilight mind before plunging into the great unknown, and then my first lifeline back to cognizance each morning. But when I stirred that night, due to the silence, and reached for her — I couldn’t help but convulse, in considering a multitude of fears and possibilities.

I left our bedroom and wandered my home. Her sneakers were gone. She enjoyed jogging late, and I hated that she had no fear of the night. As I dressed and put on my shoes, I considered whether I was the reason for her jogging well past midnight. That she wouldn’t want to worry me if I were still awake, while she took the path around the block and through the cemetery. So, since there was no way I was going to fall back to sleep without seeing her safely home, I headed out into the night.

There were intermittent clouds, but the moon was full and bright, illuminating the areas where the amber-yellow street lamps fell short. As I turned from the sidewalk and into Valleyview Cemetery, I noticed the beginnings of a lunar eclipse. I hadn’t seen one since childhood, and stood in awe as the Earth’s shadow consumed the reddening lunar surface. At the time, I considered how strange and seemingly unimportant such a spectacular astronomical event had been to me. It had been over twenty years since I’d stood in my parents’ front yard and last waited for the moon to vanish.

I rarely consumed local media, there had to have been some mention of it in the newspaper that morning. To think that ancient societies would plan for months, and even years, in advance, to celebrate a full lunar eclipse — and here I was, casually catching one as I searched for my missing companion.

I continued on through Valleyview after the blood moon passed. The lunar disc retained some of its reddish hue, but the street lamps on either end of the cemetery were enough, for me to find my way down the winding paths of the hillside graveyard. I came upon Sara, not far from the central outcropping of mausoleums. I ran to her crumpled form. I knew her instantly by the powder blue sneakers with their pink bands.

I screamed her name as I attempted to revive her. She was lifeless. I could make out the strangulation marks on her neck, her bruised face, as I gave my best effort at resuscitation. She had been murdered. I’m still not sure whether she had even been robbed. I called 911 and the paramedics, fire department, and police drove into the cemetery. It was the last time I saw Sara’s body, as her family wouldn’t allow me at the wake or funeral, since I was awaiting arraignment for homicide.    

I had no choice but to put my hands on her, and attempt my best at reviving her. I had to touch her, feel with my own hands the bruising on her cheek, her broken right orbital bone, the sinewy strangulation marks on her neck. I began to mourn her, long before the first medic arrived on the scene.

There was no one else to charge, imprison, and punish. It really made sense for the police, community, my friends, and family, that I was the one who extinguished a loving, generous, woman — one who I had long imagined as the mother of my children, my lifelong partner. For eight years I went mad in a single cell at Shawangunk Correctional Facility. I had no visitors, no one waiting for me — no one to serve my time for. I wrote letters to Sara’s family, my own family, pleading my innocence and the truth of my unabashed love for her. They went unanswered.

During my eight years I married Sara in my mind, had children with her. We went on family vacations, advanced in our careers, even had spats, and differences which we eventually overcame. She and I advanced into old age, and I was ready to die alongside her when I was granted parole.

The first night I was able to leave the halfway house, I went right to Valleyview and lay upon her ornate altar-tomb. It was a frigid, overcast February night, and I intended to fall asleep and become a part of her monument. A monument to my love for her, the love we had shared the four years we were together, and the eight I had shared with her in dream.

With my finger I traced her name in the granite, then the inscription beneath which read: “Devoted daughter and fiancée, a beautiful soul taken too soon.” I shivered at the mention of ‘fiancée,’ that her parents left her connection to me at her burial site. It surprised me, and gave me some small consolatory pleasure in my waning hours.

The chill had already consumed me, and was now leaving my body along with my life’s energy. It began to snow. A thin white blanket covered me and the altar on which I began to drift into that place between conscious and unconscious. But as I resigned myself to my end, and was preparing to embrace my final sleep, the altar moved beneath me. The shock of the tomb cracking mere inches from my face, gave me the rush of adrenaline I’d need to be fully cognizant of what then occurred.

From the few inches of darkness, revealed by the cracked top piece of the altar, a waxen, partly shriveled, human hand emerged. I pushed myself onto my side, to avoid the ghastly intrusion by my beloved. The aged, embalmed hand proceeded to scratch out the inscription on the tomb. I watched as an eerie incandescent green glow passed from the fingertips to the stone, bright enough that I had to momentarily shield my eyes.

It wasn’t half a minute when the task was complete, and the hand returned to the dark of the tomb, the altar gently scraping back to its settled position. I looked to the inscription, to see what damage had been done, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. I assumed I had experienced some sort of delusion, brought on by my deteriorating condition.

When I lay back on the tomb, resigned to complete my purpose, I looked up into the overcast sky, and the clouds soon parted — revealing the Earth’s colossal umbra as it consumed the moon. I had no prior knowledge of an impending lunar eclipse, and I had to shield my eyes, as I was shaken to my core by the specter of the blood-red disc.

I turned away from the dreadful astronomical event — and when I did, I caught sight of the inscription on the tomb, which was now illuminated in a reddish hue from the heavenly body. Where the inscription had once read: “Devoted daughter and fiancée; a beautiful soul taken too soon.” now read, in an ordered (what I can only describe as ‘angelic’) script: “Devoted mother and wife; to be together again, if only in dream.”

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New book of illustrated spook stories inspired by ‘80s and ‘90s horror launching on Kickstarter on Sept. 30




New book of illustrated spook stories inspired by ‘80s and ‘90s horror launching on Kickstarter on Sept. 30

Corpse Cold: New American Folklore to feature 17 fully illustrated campfire tales

BINGHAMTON, NY — Corpse Cold: New American Folklore, a new book inspired by horror from the 1980s and 1990s, is coming to Kickstarter on Sept 30.

Corpse Cold: New American Folklore features 17 chilling campfire-style legends, written in homage to classic horror series like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Fear Street, intended for adult readers. The book is co-written by authors John Brhel and Joe Sullivan, and each story is accompanied by a macabre illustration by artist Chad Wehrle.

“We grew up watching Twilight Zone and Are You Afraid of the Dark? and reading books like Washington Irving’s The Sketch Book and various American horror anthologies,” said Brhel. “The unsettling stories and imagery found in books like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark made an impact on Joe, Chad, and myself, all the way back in elementary school. In fact, those books are one of the biggest reasons why we write today. With Corpse Cold, we hope to provide that same sort of reading experience for people like us — readers who are grown up, but still nostalgic for creepy art and new takes on well, and lesser known, urban legends and folktales.”

Brhel and Sullivan have co-written several books of paranormal and weird fiction, including Tales From Valleyview Cemetery (2015) and At The Cemetery Gates: Year One (2016). They are launching their Kickstarter campaign to cover production costs for the book, as well as artist fees.

A selection of stories to be included in Corpse Cold: New American Folklore:

“Moss Lake Island”

A carefree getaway in the Adirondacks takes a terrifying turn when two friends stumble upon an island inhabited by witches…

“Two Visions, 1984”

A journalist on his way to cover an event with President Ronald Reagan picks up a hitchhiker with a series of visions regarding his future…

“The Woman on the Campus Green”

A college student with a dark family history finds himself the subject of a strange secret admirer…

“Black Dog”

Two teenage brothers encounter the strange creature that their father had warned them about since childhood, while hunting in the woods near their home…

“Autoplay On”

A man falls asleep watching a playlist of internet videos and ends up playing a clip he was never supposed to see…

To view a preview of the Corpse Cold Kickstarter campaign, visit

For more information on Brhel and Sullivan, visit the following pages.




Whoa, it’s been a while.



Since it’s been more than eight months since we last posted, it’s high time we provided an update on our doings.

Corpse Cold: New American Folklore is the title of the short story collection we are working on Chad Wehrle, the immensely talented artist who created the covers for our books Tales From Valleyview Cemetery and At the Cemetery Gates: Year One. Unlike those books, however, this one will feature illustrations for each story, some with multiple drawings. We’ll provide more news on that in the near future.

We will be making an appearance at the annual RoberCon, a two-day science-fiction/fantasy convention that takes place in our hometown of Binghamton, N.Y.  Our four books will be available for sale, and John will appear on two panels: one discussing the hit Netflix show Stranger Things and the other covering the history and current state of the horror genre.

We are working on a collection of paranormal love stories, tentatively titled Her Mourning Portrait and Other Paranormal Oddities. We will announce more as we get closer to completion.

Enter to win a signed copy of MARVERLY’S CURIOSITY SHOP!


Marvelry's Curiosity Shop coverWe’re giving away three copies of our latest book, MARVELRY’S CURIOSITY SHOP, via a Goodreads giveaway. Enter now for your chance to win a signed copy! Ooh, fancy.