Review of The Home – (From Author Scott Nicholson)

THeHome“The Home” is a modern day orphanage in rural Appalachia. Disturbing things are occurring within the resident buildings of the compound. There’s the God-fearing, fire and brimstone director who gets off on fantasies of spanking the children. Then you have a mad-scientist of a doctor who performs experiments on children. Let’s see, is there anything else unorthodox about this institution? Oh yeah! Ghosts roam around from time to time.

Some have seen a strange man in an institutional robe wandering the halls inside the buildings or wading into the pond at the far end of the complex. He is the subject of ghost stories – the stuff of institutional legend. All communities have such myths, spread through the overactive imaginations of children. Except the staff begins to see this man as well. People then begin seeing a woman with holes in her head where her eyes used to be. Her eyes are now embedded into the palms of her hands.

One ghost. Two ghosts. More?

By the book’s end there will be too many spirits to handle. While leading up to this plethora of phantoms, the plot peels away the layers of a conspiracy involving The Home’s administration and a mysterious organization called The Trust.

Let’s back track.

Freeman Mills, twelve year old, is Wendover Home’s latest charge. He has been diagnosed with a host of conditions: bipolar disorder, antisocial behavior, and on and on. One day one he meets with Francis Bondurant, the self-righteous director of Wendover, who, in lieu of treatments based on psychiatric “mumbo-jumbo” favors introducing the problematic children to the strong arm of the Lord. Like with all his charges, he believes Freeman just needs to “mend his sinning ways.” From the beginning, readers see this man for the rat that he is and feel for the children in his care. If only this were as bad as it gets. It gets worse.

Bondurant proves to be somewhat of an impotent weasel. The resident psychiatrist is the bigger threat. Dr. Kracowski takes children to Room 13 for “therapy.” His therapy is a bit unorthodox. It involves strapping the children to a chair and administering electrodes to the brain. He calls it Synaptic Synergy Therapy, and believes his treatment will realign and harmonize the neural pathways. He boasts that this SST can cure everything from bipolar disorder to anorexia. But it does more than that. It awakens as extra sensory perception within its subjects.

This is where The Trust comes in. They (whoever “they” are) want to be able to harness the power that comes from ESP. They fund and supervise Kracowski’s treatments. When readers are introduced to members of the Trust, suddenly Dr. Kracowski doesn’t seem so bad anymore. In the end, they unleash more paranormal mayhem than they bargained for. Machines in the basement generate electro-magnetic waves needed for the SST. Are these machines unintentionally breaking down the door between the living and the dead?

Though new to Wendover Home, this procedure is not new to Freeman Mills. His father was a forerunner in developing these experiments. He experimented on his own son. Accused of murdering his wife, Dr. Mills is taken away and Freeman is now a ward of the state. Due to a long history of these treatments, he has the keenest ESP of all the children. All except his friend Vicky. Two cynical kids with hatred for the adult world become the hero and heroine of this tale.

This is a page-turning novel. There are many interesting characters and readers get to know about the strange happenings at The Home from multiple points of view. There are many themes throughout the book, including the age-old war between science and religion. I’m guessing that some thin-skinned religious reader out there will whine about how religion is “negatively portrayed.” Likewise, I’ll bet there’s some hypersensitive secularist reader that will bitch about how this book misrepresents the goals of science. I’m making these assumptions based on some of the reviews of Nicholson’s Red Church. Some complained that the book was too religious while others moaned about how the novel was sacrilegious.   For me, any book that divides in such a way deserves a good reading, for it has enflamed the passions of readers. This is what good art does.

Review of Hold That Ghost

AAAAAAA-BBAHHHHHHET!!!!

Hold That GhostThat’s how Lou Costello calls out to his friend Bud Abbott whenever he is in trouble. Of course you knew that. I mean, everyone knows about Abbott and Costello, right???

Okay, maybe not. Young readers might not have a clue about these two comedic geniuses. Not quite on par with Laurel and Hardy, but still they held their own. Bud Abbot is usually the straight man while Lou Costello is the butt of the jokes. They first came on the scene as radio entertainers in the late 1930s and thrilled radio audiences with their “Who’s on First?” bit. Soon they were making movies, several of which were horror comedies.

To appreciate the movie Hold That Ghost, one has to appreciate the antics of Abbott and Costello. I do appreciate their humor, but this might be my least favorite of the frightfully funny films that they made.

Here’s a brief synopsis. Through some rather strange circumstances, Chuck Murray (Bud Abbott) and Ferdie Jones (Lou Costello) inherit a rural tavern from a deceased mobster. They get stranded at their new “home”, along with four other people, including Joan Davis who plays a kooky radio actress. Another tag along is gangster and lawyer Charlie Smith. Rumor has it there is money hidden somewhere in the house/tavern and Charlie wants the money.   The tavern hasn’t been used for some twenty odd years; it is dusty and sheets are draped over the furniture. In other words, it looks like the typical inside of a haunted house.

I’m leaving a lot out in this description. But who cares, you get the drift – several people are forced to spend the night in a house that might be haunted, one of whom is criminal with ulterior motives. A familiar plotline, but with Abbott and Costello, it’s done in a humorous way.

Hold That Ghost was their first horror comedy. But for me, it was their last , meaning that I had seen all their other scare-laugh pictures before I got around to seeing this one. I think I have been spoiled by the ones that have come later, mainly the “Abbott and Costello Meet…” movies. This duo has met them all; Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, etc. etc. etc.   I like all the “Meet” Movies, and since they came later, maybe Abbot and Costello had the benefit of learning from experience and perfecting their act, a luxury they did not have when making Hold that Ghost. But I don’t know if this adequately explains why I prefer the “Meet”s to Hold that Ghost. All the movies feature the running gag of Costello being at the butt of the jokes. He witnesses something odd and terrifying and by the time his buddy Abbott arrives at the scene, everything is back to normal, so Abbott accuses his pal of “seeing things”.

In Hold That Ghost this happens several times. Costello hangs his jacket on a coat rack in his bedroom, which activates a lever that transforms the room into a speakeasy’s delight. From out of the walls come the roulette tables, bars and other prohibition era delights. Of course, Costello doesn’t see the transformation; he only sees the new set up. Scared out of his wits, he runs to get Abbott. By the time he shows up, it is a bedroom again, because somehow Costello reset it before running to fetch his friend. Later in the movie, Costello sits with Joan Davis. He sees a candelabra slide across the table. Joan is looking away and misses it. It happens again and again and soon Abbott comes in and scolds his panic-stricken friend.

This happens in Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein. Costello sees Dracula rise from his coffin. When Abbott comes along, the coffin is empty. Costello runs into the Frankenstein monster. Abbott sees him not! So am I saying that this kind of bit was funny in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein but not Hold That Ghost? I hope I am not saying that, because the gags are virtually the same and Hold That Ghost hold-that-ghost-2came first!   Maybe I wanted the house that they inherited to be a little more ghostly and less automated (i.e. the opening of secret passages). Most of the ghosts were men hiding underneath sheets. Yeah, yeah, I get it; this is supposed to be funny. But maybe I wanted more humorous encounters with the supernatural. I…I just don’t know. It’s not a bad film. Maybe it’s even good. Maybe it’s…I don’t know.

Well, since I’m not providing a very thought-provoking review (“Maybe it’s…I don’t know”…yeah, that’s an intelligent analysis for ya!), I’ll fill up some space with little bits of trivia:

    • Since World War II was right around the corner, films about the military were in demand. Abbot and Costello had already come out with Buck Privates in Jan 1941, and Oh Charile (The original title for Hold That Ghost) was due out next. But, they held it back so that they could follow up with another service orientated comedy – In the Navy. I wonder – was this film renamed Hold That Ghost because the film’s release date was postponed for a few weeks? (The film being “held back”.)
    • The film has performances by Ted Lewis and his Orchestra and The Andrew Sisters. Kind of awkward for a haunted house movie, but since the Andrew Sisters performed in both of the preceding service films, maybe the producers thought that these singing sisters were going to be a staple for A & C films. Thus they added in the performances after the film was already shot.
    • I already mentioned that Joan Davis stars in the film. But did you know that Joan Davis is the same Joan in the TV sitcom I Married Joan? What’s that? You’ve never heard of I Married Joan? Let’s move on then.
    • Shemp Howard stars in this film. Please tell me you know who he is. Please?

Most reviewers praise this film. Who am I to go against the grain? I have included a link to the film. I don’t know how long it will be available, but while it’s there, watch the film and decide for yourself whether this is a good film or not.
Hold That Ghost – Abbott and Costello

Review of The Haunting in Connecticut

hauntinginconnecticutart1If you have read any of my other reviews, then it should be obvious that when it comes to film techniques of horror movies, I prefer the old skool, atmospheric style to all the modern flashy pizzazz. I like establishing shots that capture the haunted house and sit long enough on the screen to embed the place into my mind. I like shadows to slowly creep around the corners. I like a patient camera that captures a ghost leisurely trespassing across a room. Sounds and music are for the background and they should set the mood with careful effort.

Before watching this movie, I had a hunch that The Haunting in Connecticut would have none of the aforementioned style.   And I was right – it most certainly did not. I had based my hunch on taglines or reviews that were largely negative.

From rottentomatoes.com

“35th boo scare in as many minutes,” (Nick Rogers, Suite 101.com)

“A run-of-the-mill spooker that often opts for Dolby jolts and Avid farts over character investment” – (William Goss – Cinematical)

The Haunting in Connecticut is loaded with high-octane scares. Ghosts come and go like annoying flashes of light. Their appearances are usually accompanied by loud, “jolting” sounds. (Good word choice, William Goss!) Through the eyes of the haunting-in-connecticut_ghostly monstersprotagonist as he becomes possessed by a spirit, movie viewers see glimpses of haunting scenes from a long time ago. These glimpses flash on the screen back to back as if there was some kind of editing contest that awards the greatest number of shots within a 30 second sequence.

As I already mentioned, I am not a fan of this style of filmmaking. However, from the beginning, fully aware of my bias, I was hoping that underneath this not-so-subtle style, I would find something thing that I liked about the movie. Underneath the flashes and jolts, will there be some redeeming qualities? I did find things that I liked, but what I found was not enough to redeem the film. In addition, I also found more things I didn’t like as well.

Matthew Campbell is a teenager that ails with cancer. He and his family live in New York, but Matthew is receiving special treatment from a hospital in Connecticut. To avoid the continuous long drives, they rent out a house in Connecticut. The family can’t afford much, and the rent is too cheap to pass up. There’s a reason for the cheap price – the house used to be a funeral home. And some not so groovy stuff happened in this funeral home back in the day.

From day one, Matthew is seeing ghosts. Or is he hallucinating? No one else in his family is experiencing anything unusual. The medication he is taking for his cancer treatment is experimental. Hallucinations are one of the side effects. But there might The-Haunting-in-Connecticut door scratchbe something else going on that explains why he is the only family member to experience these hauntings. At the treatment center, Matthew meets a pastor who is also suffering from cancer. He confides in him about what he sees. Reverend Nicholas Popescu understands. He explains to him that only people like them can understand. They are dying and therefore are living “in the valley of the shadow of death”. Those “in the valley” are most susceptible to ghostly encounters.

At this point, I was in. I was on the road toward viewing this movie as more positive than negative. Of course I knew Matthew wasn’t hallucinating. Or may the ghosts were somehow a byproduct of both the medication and his tiptoeing excursions among the shadows of death? I was intrigued and very much drawn into the whole The-Haunting-in-Connecticut-ghosts surround himvalley of death concept – One foot in the mundane world and the other in the spectral plane. I imagined this experience to be kind of like a person half-asleep and seeing shards of a dream within the wakeful world. Add hallucinations into the mix along with a house that has a haunted history and one has the makings of a good story.

But then the film strays from mystery gets bogged down in formula. Soon the family begins to experience disturbances and this cheapens the plot of Matthew’s lone plight. Matthew and his cousin (or is it his sister? I forget) take it upon themselves to do library research about the house and its previous owners where they sort of have a Harry Potter and Hermione moment. Or are they Nancy Drew and some Hardy boy? Whichever. All I know is that it was lame.

The Haunting in Connecticut  is loosely based on a book, In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting (1992) , written by Ray Garton along with “real” paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. (See my review of The Conjuring, which featured this “dynamic duo or the paranormal” as characters.)   However, Garton has claimed that the accounts written in the book are unreliable and anything but true. So what you are getting with this film is a story loosely based on a book, which was loosely based on reality. A lot of “loosely” stuff going on here. Maybe this is the reason that it did not have a tightly themed plot?

Review of The Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories

MAmmothThe “tome” that is the subject of this review should sit on the shelf above the fireplace. It should lure the eyes of visitors to its spine and provoke them to call out “What is that?” Then its owner can proudly say, “It’s an anthology of haunted house stories. It is The Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories.”

The best platform for this anthology is the old-fashioned hard cover book (if that option exists.) It is not a book that needs to be read cover to cover. But it should always be on display in the den or reading room, no Mammoth2more than a few steps away from the easy chair. That way, whoever just happens to be sitting there before the lit fireplace with a snifter of Brandy will have this anthology at his/her beck and call.

Grab the book and pick a story, any story that you think is to your liking. Then read and enjoy.

I did none of those things. I bought it through my Kindle app. I read it from beginning to end, forcing myself to complete the stories I didn’t enjoy. Our house is not set up with a “reading room” or den. Mostly I read this from my bed before going to sleep. We have no fireplace and we have no Brandy. But oh how I prefer my original albeit fictitious scenario!

Despite not having the proper environment for this anthology, I enjoyed it much. Okay, so I didn’t like every story. The components of any given anthology will not satisfy the reader 100% of the time. That’s just the way it goes.

Compiled by British author and anthologist Peter Haining (2 April 1940 – 19 November 2007), The Mammoth Book of Haunted Houses is a collection of short stories and novellas from primarily British authors, many of which stem from the gothic tradition. It includes stories by famous authors such as Bram Stoker, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, and Stephen King. Some of the stories are personal favorites of horror legends of film, such as Boris Karloff Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Clive Barker.

Haining himself claimed to have lived in a haunted house, so perhaps there was a certain level of personal significance attached to this project. He certainly had a fun and interesting way of introducing each story. Each tale begins with a page that is meant to resemble log entries in a real-estate transaction book, if such a thing exists. These intros look something like this:

Prospectus

Address: The country, city and sometimes neighborhood where the story takes place are mentioned here.

Property: Structural details are taken from the story and summarized here,

Viewing Date: Year the story was published

Agent: Biographical detail of the author. Sometimes this section contains other details such as a mentioning of famous people who admire the story.

The book is divided into seven sections – seven varying categories of haunted house tales.

Each section is comprised of stories that relate to the specified category. The seven categories are:

Haunted Places: Stories Of Fact And Fiction

Avenging Spirits: Tales Of Dangerous Elementals

Shadowy Corners: Accounts Of Restless Spirits

Phantom Lovers: Sex And The Supernatural

Little Terrors: Ghosts And Children

Psychic Phenomena: Signs From The Other Side

Houses Of Horror: Terror Visions Of The Stars

Finally, there is an appendix of full-length haunted house novels alphabetized by the authors’ last name. From Anson, Jay (The Amityville Horror) to Young, Francis Brett (Cold Harbour) with many greats in between, it provides a paragraph synopsis of each list entry.

All in all, there are forty-two stories in this anthology. (To see a complete list of all the stories, go here!)  I’ll briefly summarize three that I found to be quite enjoyable.


 

The Haunted and the Haunters          –         Edward Bulwer-Lytton

First is the first. That is, it’s the first story in this collection. Written in 1859 in the gothic tradition, it is a tale about a fellow who has a strong desire to spend a night in a haunted house. He gets his wish and experiences all sorts of phenomena. Walking footprints, furniture and doors moving and opening on their own accord, phantoms of light, dark shadowy substances that invoke a sense of dread, swarming ghostly larvae that the author describes as “…chasing each other, devouring each other” “shapes without symmetry” “movements without order.” The protagonist develops an interesting theory regarding the source of these manifestations.

Edward Bulwer lyttonHere are some interesting bits of trivia concerning that author. Edward Bulwer-Lytton sat in the British parliament and was the Secretary of State for the colonies. He coined the popular quip “The pen is mightier than the sword” and the famous opening line staple, “It was a dark and stormy night.”


Watching Me, Watching You         –    Fay Weldon

I am not familiar with Fay Weldon. According to Wikipedia, she is an “English author, FayWeldonessayist and playwright, whose work has been associated with feminism.” Her work often “portrays contemporary women who find themselves trapped in oppressive situations caused by the patriarchal structure of British society.”

From what I gather, Waldon is not associated with the horror or paranormal genre. However, she has given the genre a rather unique and stylistic contribution with Watching Me, Watching You.

 The ghost of this story is not the traditional apparition. It may not even be literal. It is the ghost that haunts all houses. It is the ghost of sorrow, of longing, of regret. And yet, doors open, knickknacks fall from shelves, and presences are felt. The same ghost haunts two different women, one is the ex-wife of a struggling writer, and one is his current wife. The ghost leaps from one woman’s shoulder to the other. Later, the ghost is able to teleport from house to house. Sometimes it remains in a house but goes to sleep for long periods of time. Other times it causes disturbances, only to be expelled from the premises, thrown out of a window inside a sigh. Finally, the ghost learns to travel outside of time, only to reappear at different crossroads of their lives.

 Watching Me, Watching You is beautifully written. I recommend it highly.


 The Boogeyman       –     Stephen King

stephenkingFirst published in Cavalier magazine in 1973, it was later part of his King’s collection Nightshift. This is an excellent piece. Its allure is due to King’s greatest skill set – character development. The protagonist, Billings, consults with a psychiatrist and tells him the sad and rather strange tale of how all three of his children were murdered by the Boogeyman. Billings displays all the essentials of a multi-dimensional character. What makes this an even greater feat is that King accomplishes this in such a small amount of space. Billings comes alive with all the shortcomings that come with being a human – prejudices, psychoses, and ignorance. All this is subtly and effectively captured in his mannerisms and speech patterns. Hell, remove the boogeyman and leave this tale as a case study of Billings and it would still be a masterpiece.

 


 

The Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories deserves to be sold in a classic-bound edition. This edition should sit proudly on my shelf among my other hardcovers of classic design, including Dante’s Divine Comedy and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Complete Fiction. But I’m not even sure it exists in hardcover. Sadly the book is not on display in my living room. It hides within my e-reader like a shy ghost that’s too frightened to come out from behind the wall and haunt the house.   I have a feeling that the ghosts of these tales will haunt me unless and until I purchase a hard copy. I need to do this. Soon.

Review of Creative Spirit

Creative-Spirit-by-Scott-Nicholson

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado is known for its haunted history. Freenlan Oscar Stanley and his wife Flora opened this lavish resort hotel in 1909. Stanley wanted a luxurious retreat in this otherwise desolate mountain region. It is still around today. In fact, it is rumored that Mr. and Mrs. Stanley still haunt this hotel. Paranormal investigators visit frequently, testifying that this hotel is indeed a hot spot for paranormal activity.

Does this hotel sound familiar? What if I told you a famous writer stayed at this hotel one night in the 1970s. He was so inspired by the environment that he wrote a novel about it. The novel was about a haunted hotel that was isolated from civilization in the snowy mountains. The writer renamed the hotel. He called it The Overlook Hotel. This writer is Stephen King. This book he wrote is called The Shining.

The Stanley Hotel offers all the luxuries of any high-class hotel and a whole lot more. For instance, it hosts night ghost tours and paranormal investigations. It is also the meeting spot for various ghostly conventions including The Stanley Hotel Writer’s Retreat. Horror writers converge for a long weekend. The 2016 retreat is being held in October. It will offer several packages, some if which include a meet and greet with other authors, editing workshops, tickets to a masquerade ball, and ample writing time. There are different packages at different prices.

I looked into the Stanley Hotel Writer’s Retreat of 2016. It is too expensive for me. The packages do not include travel, room and board. But it got me wondering – what would it be like to attend a writer’s retreat in a humongous “ghostly” manor? I think it would be wonderful. Quaint and inspiring.

Maybe author Scott Nicholson has attended such a retreat. If not, then he has done the next best thing- he was written about one. When reality fails the imagination prevails. Whether or not his story about an artist’s retreat in the seclusion of the mountains is inspired by a real life experience, it is a vivid telling nonetheless. It seems similar to the Stanley retreat in some ways. But in his tale it’s goodbye Colorado and hello North Carolina. Both manors are haunted by the ghost of its founder. Whereas the ghosts of FO and Flora Stanley are harmless apparitions that sometimes play the Steinway piano or watch over the billiards room, the spirit of Ephram Korban is calculating and malevolent and his presence is not always as obvious as the hall-roaming ghost. He hides within the many self-portraits that hang on various walls. He comes into being via the authors that write out ancient spells, the painters that capture his presence on the canvas, and the sculptors that bring his form to life.

Creative Spirit is a story about the coming together of writers, painters, photographers, musicians and sculptors. They are gathering in the picturesque setting of Korban Manor as a means of fostering their creativity in the company of like-minded individuals. Unbeknownst to them, there is more to this gathering. The spirit if Ephram Korban thrives on creativity. He siphons the “creative spirit” of others in the hopes that he may live again. He is assisted in his goals by some of the Manor’s staff. Some of them are ghosts. Others have outlived the average life expectancy, kept alive by the powers that lay within the Manor- the powers of Korban himself. Together they will all participate in the ceremony that welcomes in the Blue Moon of October. Hmm, now don’t you get the feeling something else will be welcomed in as well?

This is a chilling ghost story with insightful metaphors and colorful description. This description pays of well in the telling of the season. Autumn – a ghost lover’s favorite season! From the crackling of the fires to the layout of the land (“Nature’s greatest sculptor – Time”), Nicholson settles the readers in as if they were the guests of this retreat. Nicholson even fires up the often-neglected sense of smell as he describes the autumn aromas.   All this in an environment where ghosts haunt the fields and outlying forests, where witches dwell in nearby shacks. How can a lover of ghost stories ask for anything more?

It is a dream of mine to attend a writer’s retreat at a spooky old mansion. If such a dream is never fulfilled, that’s okay. I attended the artist’s retreat at Korban Manor vicariously and it was a fulfilling experience. Best of all, I made it out alive. Not all of the guests can say that!