My new novella – When The Storm Speaks of Death


It was time to write another Voices story. So I created some characters. These characters – all of them assume they are going to die before dawn on the night of the big storm. The storm itself might not kill them. Instead it would serve as an omen – it would warn the doomed of their impending departure from this world. It would do so with a voice.

If this is true, what would the voice say?

This was the concept I was working with when I began writing this story. At the beginning, I didn’t know the specifics as to what the storm would tell them. But I knew what its general message would be – the voice of the storm would reflect the listener’s state of mind. If the character was afraid, the storm would scream out something that would terrorize the victim – something uniquely fearful to the specific individual. If the character was agonizing in grief – the voice in the storm would cry out with something that would only bring out more anguish. Finally, if the character was at peace, the voice would speak soothingly; perhaps it would lull the person into eternal sleep.

With this theme in place, I went to work. And it was quite an adventure. The plot twisted in ways I did not foresee, as I do not possess the foresight of the storm I created. But in the end, I was happy with the way the story turned out. Several suggestions from my editor helped me navigate the story into interesting directions as well. To her I say Thank You.

I hope those of you who read When the Storm Speaks of Death enjoy it as well. Thanks for your support!

Daniel W Cheely.

Review of House of Leaves

HouseOfLeavesI would have never known of the existence of this book had it not been for a certain writing project of my own. I was telling an editor friend about a novel I am writing. In my upcoming novel entitled The House Sitter, writer and haunter Brad Johnson watches over his friend’s house for a few months while he and his family are away on vacation.  While staying in his house, he decides to work out a lot of his demons by doing an ambitious amount of writing. However, he has a rather idiosyncratic writing process – he haunts things.  He studies an object, reflects upon it in an eerie way, let’s his imagination go wild and then – Presto! He has written an eerie story about the object while haunting it at the same time.  However, sometimes the object can turn around and haunt him back.

Brad finishes three short stories, all pertaining to the house.  The themes in each of his stories reflect upon his personal demons.  They are stories within a larger story.  In one story, a young boy falls down a laundry chute. Rather than being treated to a twelve- drop inside a straight metal chute, he encounters tunnels and chasms filled with possessed animals, bizarre demons, and other animated horrors.

At this point, my editor friend interrupts me and says, “You have to check out House of Leaves!”  She explained that the themes to my upcoming novel are similar to what’s inside this long and ambitious work by Mark Danielewski.   She is mostly referring to Brad’s story of mysterious tunnels occupying on house.

Well, I searched though the library of ebooks – and I found nothing.  No House of Leaves. How foolish of me to think this book would be available in electronic format! If I had only known about its rather unusual layout, its reliance on footnotes, its back-paging and forward–flipping style.

I purchased the paperback and unwittingly stumbled into a genre that has only recently been defined. Dare I say post-modern?  This genre is known as Ergodic literature.  Espen J Aarseth in his book Cybertext—Perspectives on Ergodic Literature writes:

 In ergodic literature, nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text. If ergodic literature is to make sense as a concept, there must also be nonergodic literature, where the effort to traverse the text is trivial, with no extranoematic responsibilities placed on the reader except (for example) eye movement and the periodic or arbitrary turning of pages

It is a book where the reader can easily get lost in a labyrinth of literal twists (the words flowed down in a spiral at one point) and non-linear flow (the reader will be led to a footnote that just might go on for a page or two before being set free to return to the place s/he left off. Where was that place again?) (1) (Yes this is a footnote! Go to the bottom of the page. Dooo it!)   And guess what? This book is about a labyrinth that exists inside a dark hallway within a house. Sometimes it’s a one-level hallway that is few meters long. At other times, it is a space of unfathomable lengths and depths.  HouseofLeaves2

I found that House of Leaves does have some similarities to my upcoming novel The House Sitter. They both contain stories within stories. They both have unreliable narrators that write in a diary. And they both, at one point or another, deal with houses that have expanding passageways that defy the physical boundaries of the house itself.

But this is where the similarities end.  Although House Sitter possesses a fair amount of complexity, it is far simpler than the other.  Pretentious at times, House of Leaves is a labyrinth of convolution. But as the theme unravels, the reader understands that this convolution points to the very essence of the book.

When I finished House of Leaves, I was imbued with the uncanny ability to utter both “huh?” and “wow!” in a single breath.  Baffling yet intriguing, the “huh-wow” effect prevailed from beginning to end, through the smooth and the rough, and believe me there are plenty of rough passages to tread through.  At times I asked myself “Why am I even bothering to read a book where I sometimes have to turn it upside-down to understand what I am reading?” At other times I exclaimed “How cool! Twenty five pages in a row where there were only four words on the page!”



Huh-wow, huh-wow, huh-wow.


But I refused to hold the book up to a mirror for the parts where the words were inverted.  Some things I just won’t do.

The narrator of House of Leaves is Johnny Truant, a sex-obsessed and drug-addled tattoo parlor employee. Well, Johnny boy here seems a little unhinged.  Zampano is a blind author who has recently died.  He has left behind the scattered remains of a literary project.  Notebook pages litter the floor.  Words are scribbled across napkins. Truant embarks on the project of assembling the notes into a cohesive whole, adding his own comments via footnotes.  The result is an exhaustive critique of The Navidson Record – a documentary film of a family that lives in a home with a mysterious hallway that exceeds the boundaries of the house.  Will Navidson, the homeowner, sends explorers, equipped with video cameras, into the hallway.  They are lost for days. Will himself ventures into the dark and claustrophobic hallway on several occasions. At one point, all the walls and floors disappear. It appears that he will forever be trapped in “nothingness.”

It seems as if every academic snob and pretentious critic has an opinion of this film.  Journals of art, science and culture have published critiques and analyses of the film, their accounts carefully researched and documented by Zampano and later complied by Truant in footnotes. The thing is – many of these publications do not exist. Neither do many of these critics. Nor does the film. There is nothing! “Nothing” becoming a terrifying something is common theme in this book.

Truant goes off the deep end trying to assemble this piece.  He breaks down in fits of anxiety, experiences depersonalization, and ends up locking himself away in his apartment, alone with these pages.

So, what the hell is going on here?  For me, this sums it up = you feed it and it will grow. Spend a taxing amount of energy on something small and in the end that which was minute will be enormous. It will be overwrought with complications, possessed with a polarity to suck you in.  Spiral

The Navidson hallway and the staircase within reflects the mindset of its occupants. Feed it fear and it will grow terrifyingly large. The film The Navidson Record is overanalyzed. As a result, the book that was written about it sprawls manically in all directions via footnotes and references. Truant, the one left to sort out all this mess, gets pulled into the void of, so much so that at one point, he discovers that he is part of this book. People he hasn’t met have read about him from his journal that was never published.

But I shall say no more. Perhaps it’s dangerous to overthink this book.  (Ohh, I said more!) The less said the better. (Yes! Less, please!)  Anything more than a modest analysis may cause the reviewer to be sucked into one of the abysses the book warns against. (No, not that!)  Or maybe it doesn’t warn again such voids at all! (Stop it!).  Maybe…

No, I won’t “fall” for it.  I will not be sucked in. The book is what it is and that’s that!

I liked it even though it was a pain in the ass to read. Why did I like it? If I go searching around my brain for the answer, you will never see hear from me again.

But I mean to continue on, with this blog, and with my novel The House Sitter.  At least I know where the hallways of that house lead.

Until next time!

Daniel W Cheely


Review of The Fall of the House of Usher

Poe At young age, I remember being fascinated by The Fall of the House of Usher because there were no ghosts in this tale, and yet the house is haunted. If there are no ghosts, what is haunting the house?   Because this question was only vaguely answered in the movies and children’s books that I absorbed, my curiosity about this dreary tale by Edgar Allen Poe grew.   A few weeks ago I finally read the original version. And I am still intrigued by the question.

I first encountered this story as part of a book series that adapted the classics into easy-to-read books for children. They were small books; the left page had the words and the right page contained the pencil-drawn picture. I remember the picture of the book’s main character, Roderick Usher, agonizing in his reading chair. He had buried his cataleptic sister Madeline in the family vault, but oh shit! She wasn’t dead and she had broken free from the tomb. He knew she was coming after for her him, so he gave into anguish and dread. I then remember the picture of Madeline struggling with him as their huge Gothic house came tumbling down.

Even though this version went easy on the wording, I still didn’t get it. What’s with the house coming down? What is causing “The Fall” of “The House” of “Usher?”

Exploring this issue further, I watched this made for TV movie (As a side note: I remember my older sister’s boyfriend being mad that the movie being shown was NOT the Vincent Price movie version. Looks as if this Vincent Price movie has an entirely different plot than Poe’s story. Nevertheless, I still want to see it.)  As with Poe’s version, the story’s narrator comes to visit his ailing friend Roderick Usher at his gloomy house and offer his assistance. Unlike the original tale where the narrator’s job is to soothe Roderick’s spirit with companionship, the narrator is sought out so that he can make repairs to the house’s foundation. This structural renovation – it might add time to Roderick’s life.   This is because – as the house ails, so does Roderick. When the house “dies”, Roderick’s life would end as well.

I went back and reread the story in my book and finally I figured out a few things. The House of Usher was both the physical house and the long lineage of the Usher family (Roderick and Madeline are the last in line). Also – the physical House of Usher, it is alive. It had a will of its own. It possesses consciousness. This “house with a conscious” concept probably impressed me the most. It was my first experience with such a theme. Later on, it would reoccur in such films as The Shining, but ask anyone, the first of anything always is the best! (well ,except heartbreaks over a first love. Those are the worst)

And yet, there seemed as if there was more to know. For instance, what was up with Madeline Usher, who roamed about the many halls of the Usher estate like a zombie? Why was her brother burying her alive? And how did all this tie into the “house with a consciousness” theme?   Something else was lurking in the story; haunting the backgrounds of The Usher house.

Fast forward thirty three years. Arrive in the summer of 2015, right in the middle of my haunted house fiction project. It was the perfect occasion to get to the bottom of this Usher mystery. Finally I would read The Fall of the House of Usher in Poe’s words only.

And so I did.

What did I learn?

First of all, it’s much shorter than I expected. There is only 7000 + words.

Yet, “it is all there”, compacted tightly within the paragraph-long sentences that are inundated with gerund and absolute phrases. Such is the style of Poe – verbose and very challenging for the twenty first century reader (especially since he uses several words that were not to be found in my Kindle’s dictionary.) Struggling with this challenge, I combed through two websites (Poedecoder  and  Sparknotes ) hoping I would find information that would enlighten me.

From these sites, I have learned that every word of this story is crucial; every color described, every architectural component detailed, all moments of narrative and dialogue – all of this lays the groundwork for a plot that relies heavily on theme – themes I was oblivious to even after reading the original story a few weeks ago.

I’ll come back to these themes later. For now, I’ll present rundown of the plot.


Poor Roderick Usher is ill and has urgently requested that his friend come visit and comfort him. So the unnamed narrator arrives at the House of Usher. Before even entering the humongous abode, the sight of the house troubles him. Something about it fills his him with dread. . The house appears sturdy, but run down, with decaying stones. Upon further glance, he notices a zigzagging fissure from the rooftop down to the foundation. Vines and vegetation surrounding the house have corroded. Even the air surrounding the house is oppressive.

Once inside, he reunites with Roderick, who suffers from anxiety, hypochondria and a hypersensitivity to various stimuli, such as light. He sees Roderick’s sister Madeline as she walks in the background. Roderick informs him that she too is ill and suffers from   catalepsy.

Right away, the friend gets to work at comforting his friend. He reads to him, he listens as Roderick plays the guitar. Roderick confides in him, telling he friend that their sickness is a family sickness that is tied to the house.

One evening, Roderick informs his companion that Madeline has passed away. Together they bury her in a vault within the house. A week or more passes. On a dark night, when the clouds are claustrophobically low, a storm front comes in. Both the narrator and Roderick are smitten with anxiety; neither man can sleep. The narrator tries reading to Roderick. But Roderick loses concentration. He mentions that he hears moaning. It is Madeline. For days, he has heard her escaping from the vault, prying open the coffin lid and then using subhuman strength to break through the stone door. He had buried her alive.

Finally, she bust into the room and kills Roderick. The narrator escapes the house. From a distance, he sees The House of Usher split in two and then crumble to the ground. This ends the story.


There is no way can I provide an analysis that bests all the literary analysts out there. I will not uncover any theme that a Poe expert has not yet found. There is a lot within this short piece and much of the depth goes over my head. All I had at the end of the reading is what I had started with: a house with a will of its own and a doomed brother and sister whose fate is tied to the house itself. But for me to travel down this one analytical thread that compares the rapturous destruction of the physical and self-conscious Usher house to the plunge into madness and death by the last siblings of the Usher family might be the equivalent to a restrictive tiptoe across the wet shoreline of a beckoning ocean.

More analysis was needed. Again, I consulted the experts.

For them, I learned of the theme of “doubling”

“Doubling spreads throughout the story. The tale highlights the Gothic feature of the doppelganger, or character double, and portrays doubling in inanimate structures and literary forms. The narrator, for example, first witnesses the mansion as a reflection in the tarn, or shallow pool, that abuts the front of the house. The mirror image in the tarn doubles the house, but upside down—an inversely symmetrical relationship that also characterizes the relationship between Roderick and Madeline.”

See that, when I first read this story, I missed the part of the narrator staring into the pool of water. By missing this great example of this “doubling”, I also failed to see how it symbolized the relationship between brother and sister.

Furthermore, the fact that brother and sister were two parts of an inseparable whole was lost on me as well

“During the course of the story, the intellect (Roderick) tries to detach itself from its more physically oriented twin (Madeline). This can be seen in Roderick’s aversion to his own senses as well as by his premature entombment of his twin sister. Living without Madeline (that is without the senses), Roderick’s condition deteriorates”


“The fissure or the crack in the decaying mansion, that is noted by the narrator near the beginning of the story, represents “an irreconcilable fracture in the individual’s personality.”


Wow! A lot of stuff in afoot! But at last, thanks to these websites, I am finally capable of adding some of my own insight. Based on my rudimentary knowledge of Freudian concepts, perhaps Madeline is Roderick’s ID – his inner impulses, his deepest and darkest desires (also – this tale hints at incest between brother and sister). If one tries to repress this side of the personality – bury it- it will only arise again stronger than ever before.

So – I have found the “ghosts” that haunt this tale, that haunt this house. Brother and sister are one. They cannot separate. One half cannot bury the other, just as a personality cannot split with bringing on madness and destruction. And so death and destruction are inevitable and when the Usher lineage comes to an end, so ends the House that has surrounded each generation for years and years. The house and lineage are one. Everything fits together like jagged pieces to a bizarre puzzle.

Still I am sure that there are more “ghosts” to be found. This story is maddening in that way. It’s mad, mad, mad…and brilliant. It has been haunting me ever since I was a child and it continues to do so. Like the narrator and companion of this tale, it pulls me into The House of Usher, but it does so over and over again. But I welcome this haunting. I welcome its invitation to keep coming back inside and look around. Because with each revisit, I never know what I might find!

Review of The Conjuring


Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) brings forth another frightening film that fans of haunted house movies are sure to love.  The Conjuring   is one of several movies that are based on the fieldwork of real life demonologist Ed Warren and his clairvoyant wife Lorrain. The list includes Amityville Horror, The Haunting of Connecticut, and Annabelle, which is a prequel to this film.

In this film, the Warrens come to the aid of the Perron family.  Roger and Carolyn Perron and their five daughters move to a house that is occupied with “unfriendly spirits,” to put it mildly.  The Warrens warn the Perrons that there are some extremely dangerous spirits haunting their house. Such spirits have never had the privilege of walking the earth as a human. Therefore, they desire to possess the living. All this is code for: Demons.

As far as my tastes go, I would have preferred if there were no further explanations given about the nature of these demons.  But this film goes on to portray them as Satan’s minions. They are enemies of The Church and tend to get a little testy around crucifixes and holy water.  For me, the demon is a more curious entity when it is only described as a spirit that has never lived. The demon in Paranormal Activity was only vaguely defined (at least in the first film of the series). Therefore, there was an air of mystery surrounding this evil presence that was absent in the demons of The Conjuring.  To date, my favorite description of the demon comes from Anne Rice’s novel Queen of the Damned.  They were spirits that always existed in their present form, and they witnessed the process of evolution, not knowing what to make of it.  They confused the pre Darwinian era witches when they told them that they remembered when humans were animals.

But I understand, this not how this particular story goes. The “demons” the Warrens profess to fight are the evil spirits as defined by the Church.

“The forces they confront are religious entities that – by their own admission – exist for the sheer purpose of opposing the works of God”

Please, don’t get me wrong.  This is a delightfully creepy film.  Part Exorcist, part Amityville Horror, and while inferior to both of these films, it is still able to “conjure” up all kinds of eerie phenomena.  Witness the consequences of playing the “Hide and Clap” game inside a haunted house! In this game, the seeker is blindfolded and hiders provide clues to their whereabouts by clapping. But seeker beware! There just might be other “players” that have infiltrated the game!  Observe as young Cindy Perron, night after night, is drawn to her wardrobe in a sleepwalking trance where she sluggishly thumps her head against the closed doors. What is hiding behind those doors?  And finally, why is there a hidden cellar?  The entranceway is boarded up but the downward staircase is soon discovered. What lurks below?

The events in this film are supposedly true.  Yeah, I don’t believe that. Likewise, I’m not a believer in demons, Satan- spawned or otherwise. And yet “fatherless demons” (no Satan-daddy!)  without a hell to be banished to seem more real to me and therefore more scary.  Nevertheless, this is a scary film. For those hungry for horror it is deliciously chilling and quite yummy!

House Haunting with Christopher Lee

Christopher-Lee-HauntLast week, the world lost a horror legend. On June 7, 2015 Sir Christopher Lee passed away. I first became aware of him at the turn of the millennium through movies such as The Star Wars Prequels and The Lord of the Rings series. It wasn’t until later that I discovered his long spanning career in the horror film industry, particularly with Hammer Films, a London based film-production company. Forgive me for this late discovery of his full resume. I can try and blame it on my age. After all, I didn’t happen upon this earth until 10 + years after he made his most famous horror movies of the late 1950’s. But this excuse is lame, since I grew up watching older horror movies (i.e. Son of Svengoolie). I should have known better.

For instance, I still have not seen Horror of Dracula, which is perhaps his best known horror flick. I mean to correct this soon. Very soon! The aristocratic gentleman that he was– it seems as if he was born to play the blood-sucking count. However, in keeping up with the theme of this blog, I decided to watch three of his films that loosely contribute to the haunted house genre. I say loosely because the houses in these films are not haunted by ghosts or other supernatural entities. Rather they are mansions, castles, etc. where grisly events occurred. Nevertheless, they contain several features common in haunted house lore: secret passages and rooms, long and winding staircases, knight’s armors, huge 18th century portraits and eccentric custodial masters.

These films – they are what they are – low budget, dated pieces where the acting and writing are somewhat subpar. And yet, I enjoyed Sir Lee’s performances in all three films

What follows are mainly descriptions of the films, not necessarily reviews. Old low budget horror movies – you love em’ or hate em, and not much can change a person’s opinion. For me, I’m somewhere in the middle; sometimes they make me cringe, sometimes laugh (mostly at scenes not meant to be funny), but they always seem to capture my interest. I usually find something to like about these old movies. And I’m gonna tell ya about the stuff I like in these three movies! Here I go!

The House that Dripped Blood – 1971

Four short stories about a series of tenants that experience chilling misfortunes while staying at the house. The first tenants are a horror writer and his wife. The writer is working on a novel about a countryside strangler that has escaped from the asylum. The problem for the writer is that not only has the villain escaped from the asylum, but he has managed to free himself from the confines of the story and break into the real world. The writer sees him hiding and creeping around the house

The next tenant in another Hammer Horror favorite. Peter Cushing stars as a wealthy man who desires to retire to this house and live out the rest of his life gardening, reading and listening to music. However he becomes obsessed with an exhibit at a museum of haunted horrors. It is the made up head of a woman. She looks eerily like someone from Cushing’s past.

It is the third story that features Christopher Lee – the man of the hour! He moves into the house with a young daughter. He is a strict authoritarian – he doesn’t allow her to play with toys, she is prohibited from attending school (she is privately taught), and he doesn’t want her to be around fire.

The fourth and final story features a movie actor who turns into a vampire whenever he dons a black cloak that he purchased at a novelty store.

At the end, a narrator tells the audience how the house itself ties all these stories together. Personally, his explanation doesn’t work for me. Oh well. That’s how it goes. Personally I like the story with Lee the best. Is this because I watched this film with the specific intent of looking out for his talents? Maybe. But a mysterious fireplace and this voodoo doll and a creepy little girl hold my attention as well.

Curse of the Crimson Altar – 1968

Mark Eden stars as Robert Manning, a man whose brother has gone missing. His last known whereabouts were at a large house in the country. The man of the house is Morely, played brilliantly by Christopher Lee!   Manning shows up, searching for his brother. Morely says that he has never met his brother but he offers Manning a room in his humongous abode while he spends the next few days investigating the disappearance of his brother in the nearby village.

Tales of ancient witchcraft are amidst in the town – and they tie in to Morely’s heritage, as well as Mannings. There is a cemetery on the grounds of the house. There is a secret passageway into the house that leads to a room filled with pagan sacrificial paraphernalia – an altar, ancient knives, masks of goats and sheep. And there is the witch we see now and then. Her body is painted green. In fact, she looks as if she belongs on a Star Trek set kissing Captain Kirk.

Some interesting tidbits of this film – It also stars Boris Karloff.This is one of his final films. The chemistry between Karloff and Lee is excellent. They cue off each other well.  It is based off of a H.P. Lovecraft short story called The Dreams in the Witch House

Castle of the Living Dead – 1964

An Italian film dubbed in English, Christopher Lee stars as Count Drago, the man of the castle, who has a penchant for mummifying and embalming living things so that they might then “live forever”. His obsession with this taxidermy starts with animals and then, of course, he moves on to humans. He even has a room where a whole bunch of people are forever frozen; the inanimate guests of his eternal party! In this film, Drago invites a troupe of entertainers to his castle so that they may entertain him with their show. Just kidding! He wants to mummify them.

This film is probably the most “so-so” of the three. One would think a castle with the living dead would have zombies or even vampires. But no, just mummified, immobile beings. They don’t seem to be the “living” dead to me – just “dead” dead.

Anyway, the film features an old drone and she is a riot! She always speaks in a creaky voice, and always with rhyme –

“Beware of the castle over there,

Proceed cautiously if you must dare”

That’s not an actual line from the film, but it’s close enough. But the thing is, this witch is played by, of all people, Donald Sutherland!  With a black cloak draped around his body and most of his face, his identity is hidden. However, he also place a dim-witted policeman. But is role as the hag is more interesting.


Are these three the best horror films of Christopher Lee? Probably not. Yet, he never ceases to captivate. These were the films that I could find that most resembled the haunted house genre. Know of any other “Haunted House” Lee films? Let me know. I would be glad to check them out.

A Review of Haunted House – A Novel of Terror

Author Jack Kilborn presents a tale that features the victimized protagonists of five of his previous thriller novels.  As survivors of terrifying trauma, they are the perfect candidates for a scientific study of fear.  Dr. Emil Forenzi  will pay a million dollars to those who spend the weekend in a haunted house. But they can only collect if they survive.  (The surviving-a-haunted-house stipend has gone up since the 1950’s – Vincent Prince only offered his guests 10,000 dollars per person in “The Haunting of Hill House”.)

The book begins somewhat tediously with one introduction sequence after another until all the readers like me who are unfamiliar with Kilborn’s characters have sampled some of the backstories of these protagonists.  However, the story then takes a turn for the better and the history of the haunted house is revealed.  A dark history it is; a former plantation run by sadist Jebediah Butler who delights in torturing and murdering his slaves. There are underground tunnels that lead to a torture chamber.  Bizarre medical experiments take place on the grounds; a doctor turns a slave into a four-armed monstrosity. Jebediah Butler meets his fate by being burning alive, providing an excellent opportunity  to have a charred ghost appear later in the story.

The story has the key ingredients for any haunted house tale. It has ghostly and gruesome figures that appear out of nowhere and chase the guests.  Protagonists separate and wander about into strange rooms and a maze of tunnels. They witness bizarre occult-like rituals. They watch others become possessed with spirits.  Kilborn has successfully created a fun to read, eerie environment.

However, at a certain point far into the story, the tone changes from a creepy game of survival to an action-laden tale.  The changes are almost abrupt and they are unwelcoming. They are not quite clever enough to be called twists. A good twist would be very welcoming. Alas, there was none.  The overall eerie vibe of the story fades and the mystery evaporates. At this point into the story, I wished I could return to the journey they author originally took me on.

This being said, this is not a bad book.  I just wish it were able to retain a creepy vibe throughout the entire story.

Review of The House on Haunted Hill – 1959

Imagine this: you are seated in a modern movie theater, enjoying the final minutes of a horror film. The screen is huge and captivating. The speakers fill the auditorium with amazing surround sound. Suddenly, a plastic skeleton strung up on a wire floats over everyone’s head. WTF?

This is what happened when movie goers went to the theater to see William Castle’s “The House on Haunted Hill” back in 1959. Castle called this “Emergo” – a special effect set up to make it seem as if something emerges from the screen. This Emergo effect occurred during a pivotal scene where a skeleton rises up from a vat of acid. With the Emergo in place, the skeleton not only escapes from the vat but from the movie itself.

Maybe this stunt was more fitting in 1959 when theaters were low-tech, at least when compared to today’s cinematic powerhouses. Even then, Castle’s in-house skeleton received laughter, not to mention chunks of tossed popcorn and Milk Duds. But you have to admit, a gravity propelled skeleton on a downward angled wire sounds like a lot of fun!

This skeleton that rises out of the vat of acid at the film’s end – this is the whole point of the film. William Castle envisioned this and then later had someone figure out a story to support this “uplifting” skeleton scene!

Speaking of the plot, what is it? The themes and storylines are all too familiar to today’s horror film enthusiast. You’ve seen it all before in follow up films – a group of people must spend the night in a haunted house. There’s the “damsel in distress” that receives the brunt of the horrors, the young hero-type guy who comes to her aid, the skeptical psychiatrist who’s not quite young or handsome enough to be the hero type, the annoying scaredy-cat guy that needs to keep reminding the house guests (and viewers) of the possible ghosts that lurk just around the corner, and the middle age journalist lady who’s…I don’t know, she’s just there. Then there’s the household staff that resembles walking corpses. The guests continually separate – you know the drill.

To all this I say – put aside the modern day bias and try not to get bogged down with the familiar formula and just enjoy the film. Captivate yourselves with the fine performance from the villainous Vincent Price who plays Frederick Loren, the host of this party, who will pay each guest $10,000 for spending the night in the haunted house. Watch as he goes at it with his fourth wife Annabelle. Both want the other dead. There will be attempted murders – this is a mystery film set inside a haunted house. Allow yourselves to be taken in by the mystery. Because for God’s sake, you cannot write off a film that stars Vincent Price! Furthermore, anyone that is fond of horror films is prohibited from disliking a movie where a skeleton rises out of a vat of acid. This just is not allowed.

Review of The House at the End of Time


The House at the End of Time, (“La Casa del Fin de los Tiempos” in its native language) is a Venezuelan film with English subtitles.  It premiered in the summer of 2013 at the Venezuelan Film Festival. According to Wikipedia, it is the “highest grossing thriller of all time in Venezuela.”


In the house that’s the subject of this film, husband/father Juan Jose is murdered – son and young boy Leopolodo “disappears”. He is presumed dead and wife/mother Dulce is reputed to be the murderer.  She serves thirty years in prison for these crimes.  She is then released and she returns to the house, a.k.a the scene of the crime, where strange things are afoot.



It’s difficult to tread into the weeds of the plot without unearthing major spoilers.  However, a few key words in the title of the film provide an important clue to the secrets of this film: “end of time.”  Therefore, one can expect a film that deals with the supernatural while challenging the linear notion of time.  And this expectation is met – quite brilliantly so!  There are clever twists and turns throughout the film, so much so that at times I became lost in the plot.  But never mind that – at the film’s end I was completely satisfied.  Besides, getting lost helps one to identify with the bewildered characters that are forced to confront the startling mysteries within this house – mysteries that are doled out;  never allowing an understanding of “the big picture” until all is said and done.



The movie has archetypal haunted house moments – something is banging on closed bedroom doors. Apparitions wander about from “time to time”.  Then there is the staircase that leads down to dark and cryptic tunnels of stone; very convenient for a horror movie, especially since there seems to be no purpose for these tunnels other than to add an extra layer of eerie to an already haunted environment.



Alejandro Hildago is at the helm of all of the creative and executive roles of this film.  IMDB lists him as the writer, director and executive producer. However, The House at the End of Time begins and ends his resume, at least according to IMDB.  I certainly would like to see more from this man. But if this is to be his first and final film, at least it’s a good one.