When I heard that the writer and director of Pan’s Labyrinth was writing and directing a haunted house movie, I got excited. I looked forward to seeing the latest film from visionary Guillermo Del Toro. I couldn’t wait to see “his” ghosts; freed from his imagination and set loose on the big screen. To these ends, my wishes came true on Tuesday night, Oct 27. My visual appetite was satisfied, as was any desire I had concerning flair. It was a stylish film indeed. But alas, something was missing.
Let me being with what I liked about Crimson Peak. I liked the atmosphere. I liked the gothic manor and all its intricacies, seen and unseen. I liked the winding staircase and cage-like elevator. I like the unfinished roof and the atmospheric snow that flowed continuously into the house like background waterfalls. I loved all the props – the candelabras, the portraits, the piano. The music is appropriately haunting. The ghosts are great. Silky and spooky; they are like no ghosts I had ever seen on the screen.
I liked the overall tone – the Victorian/Edwardian formality in dress and speech. The film transported me out of the theater and into a different time period without any turbulence. It was nice to see a shout out to those glorious horror films of yore.
And the film is rich with symbolism. It’s poetic.
So much is good about the film. So it disheartens me to say that I left the theater feeling slightly underwhelmed. Why is this? It was the slow and unpromising plot. Actually, cancel that word “unpromising.” It was promising. The problem was that it made promises but failed to deliver upon them.
It teased out mystery where there was none. It built up false suspense and while the story didn’t leave viewers hanging, in the end it seemed to shrug apologetically for the fact that there was never a reason to hang at all.
It is difficult to provide examples without trudging into the storyline. But I don’t want to reveal too much, although the risk of spoiler contamination is very low. The young and handsome Thomas Sharpe arrives to New York from England with his sister. He is an opportunist and he tries to convince Carter Cushing to invest in technology that he has developed for mining clay. Carter turns him down. So Thomas and his mysterious sister will go back England, but not until Thomas woos away Carter’s daughter Edith. Carter does not trust Thomas. He says that there is something unlikable about him but he can’t explain what it is. But at least Thomas is friendly and charming, unlike his sister who is cold and expressionless. Thomas marries Edith and the three return to England to live in the spooky old mansion on top of Crimson Peak.
Here’s a hint as to how the suspense works in this film: if a character has a hunch (like Carter has with Thomas), he is probably correct. If a person appears evil, the person is evil. If there were a butler in this film, then the quip “the butler did it” would surely play out (There is no butler in this film.)
One might say, “Okay, so it’s a straightforward film. What’s wrong with that?” What’s wrong is that it starts viewers out on arcane paths, only to merge them into a plain old narrative of narrow storytelling. If you want to tell a straightforward, what-you-see-is what- you-get story, that’s fine. But don’t lead the viewers on with secrets and hidden histories. There are many examples of this kind of leading, but I won’t mention them, because I guess even a letdown can be a spoiler.
Imagine receiving a present. Not only is the wrapping paper beautiful, but there are bows and bells and pieces of candy attached to the box as well. Peel away all this and you find that the design of the box is appealing too. Inside the box there are decorative tissues and fluffy coverings that feel soft against your fingertips. Remove this covering and you find – tube socks. Happy Birthday. If this were a terrible movie with absolutely no depth, then my analogy would be a bit different. It would entail dazzling wrappings on a crappy, empty box. But it’s not terrible, it’s just, well, it’s tube socks.
Let’s end on a mostly positive note as I focus in on the ghosts. I’ll call this the “good, the blah, and the good again”
The good – The ghosts looked good. The CGI worked to the film’s benefit. The ghosts didn’t come off as cartoonish. They looked genuinely creepy.
The blah – We didn’t learn much about the ghosts. They were just sort of “there”, part of the background. Yes they scared the wits out of poor Edith on several occasions. But they didn’t contribute all that much too the overall workings of the story.
The good again – Kudos for allowing viewers the time to take in the ghosts! They didn’t flash rudely on the screen as did the ghosts of other modern ghost movies such as The Haunting of Connecticut and the remake of Amityville Horror. Rather, they traversed slowly and creepily. They peered around walls. They peaked out of closets. THIS is what “scary” is all about.
So that’s about it. I really, really, wanted to like this film. And I guess I did, but I just couldn’t bring myself to love it.
The Cat and the Canary features a dead millionaire, greedy relatives, a strange maid, a psychotic killer and…Bob Hope? Yeah its got all “them peoples” along with a creepy old house, a coveted inheritance, murder and mayhem, and a lot of hilarious one-liners from the nervous yet witty house guest Wally Campbell. You guessed it; Campbell is played by Bob Hope. It’s horror mixed with comedy.
Here’s the nuts & bolts of the story. The late Millionaire Cyrus Norman did not trust his heirs. No he did not! So he had these weird ass conditions concerning the distribution of his estate. The reading of the will does not take place until ten years after Cyrus’s death per his wishes. When that ten year anniversary finally comes, the prospective inheritors gather together in his huge home in the Louisiana bayous for the midnight will reading. Along with the lawyer and the maid, there are also three women and three men. The six are the last remaining descendants of Cyrus and candidates for the passed down fortune. One of the women , Joyce Norman, played by Paulette Goddard (former wife of Charlie Chaplin) wins the prize. But there is a catch – which brings us to the second odd stipulation of the will. If the sole heir, who in this case is Joyce, is proven to be mentally ill within 30 days of the reading of the will, then her claim to the fortune is forfeited and Cyrus’s estate gets passed down to a second heir. The identity of the second heir is withheld; the papers are protectively sealed in an envelope that remains in the possession of the lawyer. Now, we viewers know that there will be a mad rush to drive poor Joyce insane, and that this rush won’t be extended over a thirty day period. The tricks and misdeeds against the woman will all take place within the house over the next several hours by one or more of the scheming others that are desperate to lay claim to the inheritance. See, they are stranded there. They all came via paddle boat on the rivers of the bayou. The boat guy won’t taxi his boat after hours, so they all must spend the night in the creepy house. Spoooooky!
Oh yeah, the creepy maid says there are spirits in the house.
And oh yeah again, there is an escapee from the asylum running around the property.
And oh yeah for the third and final time – wasn’t that funny how I linked the words “ten years after” to the famous rock band of the same name? Back up there at the beginning of the second paragraph, I linked….oh never mind! Read on.
This movie is a remake of the 1927 silent film of the same name. Furthermore, both films are based on the 1922 play by John Willard. The play reveals the reasoning for the title of the story. Cyrus West (not “Norman”, in the play his surname is West) says of his relatives, “(They) have watched my wealth as if they were cats, and I — a canary”.
I really don’t have much more to say about this film other than that I enjoyed it. But I must confess – this is the first Bob Hope film that I have seen. His humor might be dated, but to me it is fresh. In the film, the maid says to Wally (Bob Hope) something along the lines of “I sense spirits all around you” to which Wally says, “Can you grab a few them and throw them in glass with ice?” THAT is funny! Yes it is, don’t argue with me! Without Hope, this film would be only be so-so. Sometimes you just have to have “Hope!”
Here’s a side note: I saw this film on Saturday, Oct 17, 2015 on Svengoolie on MeTV. Sven’s the guy that shows me many of these old time haunted house films. I love “Da’ Sven” and you should love him too!
Do you have MeTV in your area? No, it’s not a cable station. It’s a regular station on terrestrial television. You over here, do you have MeTV? You don’t? Aww, I’m sorry. But wait you..over there… do you have access? You do? Great! Turn on Svengoolie on MeTV’s Super Sci-Fi Saturday night!
It seems as if every few weeks, there is a mass shooting. Every news cycle seems to contain some account of a guy who mows down several people with a gun. I have often wondered, “Did mass shootings like we have today occur ten or twenty years ago? Thirty of forty years ago?” I guess the answer is – yes they did occur, but maybe not with such a high frequency.
There was one such shooting in Amityville, NY back in 1974. Twenty-three year old Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr slaughtered his family with a .35 Marlin Rifle while they slept in their beds. He killed his parents along with his four siblings, ranging in ages from eighteen to nine. Ronald DeFeo currently resides in Green Haven Correctional Facility in NY where he is serving several life sentences.
What does one make of such a tragedy? The answer is: Movies, books. In short -The Amityville Franchise. I’m sorry to put it so bluntly, but it is what it is. In one platform or another, millions of people have come to know the haunted house that is the subject of The Amityville Horror. There were several books on the subject and many more movies. Too many movies. There have been fourteen for heaven’s sake!
The tragic tale of the DeFeos is true. It’s what happened afterward that is subject to speculation. What happened in the house a year or so later after the murders varies from source to source. Any understanding of what may or may not have occurred at 112 Ocean Drive is also contingent upon one’s belief in paranormal phenomena. If you believe in ghosts and demons, then it is quite possible you can believe the accounts of George and Kathleen Lutz who lived in the Amityville house several months after the murders took place. If you don’t believe in such entities, then it’s easier to dismiss their story as a hoax.
As far as ghosts and demons are concerned, I remain safely neutral. I’m not saying I disbelieve but, well, there just haven’t been too many occasions where a spirit has gone a floating across my path! Or, as my dad used to say when I asked him if he believed in ghosts, “Nah! I haven’t seen one of them in years!” In other words, I am not here to verify the accuracy of this tale. What I am going to do is judge the content and scariness of the story and not how well it translates into this thing we call “truth”. However, toward the end of the review, I will bring up various articles that aim at getting at “the truth” because the search for the facts are indeed a tale unto itself and part of the larger story.
The basics of the story are this – George and Kathleen Lutz, along with Kathleen’s three children, move into the DeFeo house. 28 days later, they flee, leaving behind all their possessions. They claim to have fled demonic activity. It is implied that the demonic manifestations that haunted them are the same forces that drove Ronald DeFeo to murder his family. After a while, they had their story published in a book written by Jay Anson. Following this was the 1979 movie.
I will begin with the book, then go on to review both the 1979 and the 2005 movie
Warning: There will be major spoilers ahead
Amityville Horror the book – by Jay Anson and George and Kathleen Lutz
Before reading the book, I was told that it would be much scarier than the movie. It had been a long time since I had seen the film, maybe thirty years or more. I don’t remember the film being all that frightening. Of course, I had seen it on terrestrial television; it was heavily edited. Finally, two weeks ago, I saw the uncut, original film. It was pretty creepy, but would the book be better?
Answer: yes. I do admit that I wasn’t super impressed with the first few pages. It reads like a logbook polished up with narrative. There are a lot of dates and times, sentences like “They moved in on December 23.” But this is the prologue, and it is necessary in order to summarize the timeframe. The rest of the book captures this timeframe in detail, day by day. It is a diary detailing the supernatural disturbances that haunt the Lutz family for 28 days as they try and fail to make a home out of colonial house on Ocean Drive.
The disturbances increase in both intensity and frequency until they have no choice but to flee.
The book also chronicles the plight of Father Frank Mancuso. He arrives at the Lutz’s early on to bless the house. Upon arrival, he is overcome with a sense of dread. He feels deathly ill. And he hears a voice that told him to “Get out!!” After this, Father Mancuso is plagued with a serious flu. It gets worse whenever George Lutz tries to contact him. When he calls, static often disrupts the conversation and the line goes dead. Then the flu symptoms increase in severity. Blisters appear on his hands.
Some of the disturbances that the Lutz family experienced include:
Unwarranted psychological stress
Windows opening and closing
Doors being ripped from their hinges
Gelatinous mass dripping from walls
Here’s a breakdown on how the house affected some of the family members individually:
George Lutz – He is cold all the time, even when the house is warm. He is irritable, withdrawn, avoids going into work. He hears things, such as an invisible marching band traipsing through his living room. Prone to nightmares. His body levitates while sleeping.
Kathy Lutz – Felt the presence of a woman. On several occasions, felt ghostly arms wrapped around her; hands pressed against her shoulders. Saw her body mutate into that of an old crone. Her body also levitates while sleeping.
Missy Lutz – Befriends a demonic pig named Jodie. George catches a glimpse of this pig through the window. Kathy sees its glowing red eyes
The book also has diagrams of each of the three floors of the Amityville house.
All in all, it is an excellent and scary read. And yes it is much scarier than the film, but the movie is pretty scary as well.
Amityville Horror the Movie – 1979 – Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
On Rottontomatoes.com, this film only has a 24% approval rating among critics. This surprises me. The Amityville Horror certainly isn’t the best haunted house film out there, but it’s not so bad. In fact I’ll say it’s “pretty good,” so long as “pretty good” stands for slightly less than “good.” The establishing shots of the house are excellent. Who can forget those creepy attic windows that look like jack-o-lantern eyes! I love the background music. Now-a-days, creepy music is often replaced by the sounds of electronic jolts and thuds. Nothing tops mood setting music such as this:
Who can resist those singing children and their haunting “la la’s”?
The book is better, but the film stands on its own. There are several differences between the book and the film and I will outline them later in the review. The book is able to cover more ground, but that is to be expected since the book has 300 + pages compared to the film’s 2 hours of footage. What the film is able to capture with its limited amount of time is done reasonably well. The mood is eerie, the characters are mostly well developed, especially Rod Stieger as Father DeLaney. Katherine Lutz’s character could have used a bit more development.
Amityville Horror the Movie – 2005 – Andrew Douglas
Yeah, this film isn’t all that good. I was enjoying it in the beginning and accepting of some of the “modern renovations.” I get it. People don’t have imaginations anymore. If a film is to be about ghosts, people want to see the ghosts, and they want them quick. So unlike the first film, there are a lot of shots of ghosts. Or should I say “flashes of ghosts.” They come and go quickly like a fast food meal. I enjoyed seeing the ghosts. I really did.
But as the film moved along, things went too fast. Too much noise and chaos, too much “in your face.”
Here’s something I have to mention. In the first film, George has an awesome line. In response to how he feels about purchasing a house where a mass murderer occurred, he says, “Houses don’t have memories”. He is proven wrong, but that sentence says a lot. Change the “don’t” to “do” and you have a four letter sentence that compacts so much and describes haunted houses to a tee. In the 2005 film the line is, “Houses don’t kill people. People kill people.” Cringe time! Save that slogan for the NRA.
Here are the different ways each medium deals with some of the story’s main themes:
Psychological Profile of family:
Book – Whole family is on edge, psychological strain. Both George and Kathy hit their children. Kids are restless
1979 film – Mostly focuses on George. House works on him, making viewers think he might kill his wife and children in the same way that Ron Defeo slaughtered his family.
2005 film – George goes insane, becomes psychotic. It is the George Lutz of the 1979 film on steroids. A major rip-off of The Shining if you ask me.
Book – Blesses house, hears “get out”, gets violently ill, flu and rashes. When he gets better, he talks to George and gets worse again. Often calls to George are interrupted with static
1979 film – Has a different name. Comes to bless house, attacked by flies (Flies don’t harm him in book). It’s Kathy that reaches out to the Father, not George. Father ends up going blind and left for a shell of a man
2005 film– Very little coverage of the priest. Blesses house, attacked by flies. Won’t come back. Phone calls back and forth are removed from this film.
Book and 1979 movie – Imaginary friend of Missy, turns out to be real but only Missy can see her. Jodie is a pig. A demonic pig.
2005 movie – Jodie is a young girl, presumably a young sister of Ron DeFeo. Guess having a pig as a friend is too weird and abstract for the 2000 years, so in comes the little girl. “Bring back the pig.” I say. Now in the 1979 film, the pig is never shown, accept for the two glowing red eyes. In the 2005 film the little girl Jodie is shown several times. Still I vote for the unseen pig.
Book – there is no babysitter in the book
1979 film – Brief coverage of babysitter. She wears a dental retainer that covers half of her face. Jodie locks her in closet.
2005 film – Bigger deal of babysitter. She is a trampy stoner, and she teases her 12 year old boy seductively. She too gets locked in closet by Jodie.
Book and 1979 film – a secret red room is discovered. It emits bad vibes.
2005 film – more than a room. Passageway where George gets experiences flashes from the far back past. Indians were tortured in these hallways –tortured by a satanic priest named Ketchum.
Book – Pig and White hooded figure
1979 film – less visual manifestations than book. Mostly just eyes (red dots out window)
2005 film – Many- of Jodie the girl, of tortured Indian souls, of Ketcham.
So, is this a true story?
After the Lutz family fled the house, several paranormal teams investigated the house, including the famous Ed and Lorraine Warren. All of them claim to have felt some kind of unnatural presence. However, others have doubts. Locksmiths have investigated the house and have determined that the doors did not come off the hinges in the ways that the Lutz family has claimed. Also, in regards to the history of the house, long before the DeFeos – a history that is documented in the book – not true. The book claims that the house rests on a site where Shinnecock Indians had abandoned the mentally ill. But Shinnecock historians say this is false. Testimony from the real Father Mancuso has been sketchy.
It has been suggested by William Weber, lawyer for Ronald DeFeo, that the whole thing was a hoax. He said that he and the Lutzes concocted the story and were going to publish the book, but in the end, the Lutz’z sought Jay Anston to write the book.
On the other hand, Anston believes the story. In an afterword he says that there are just too many intricate details that couldn’t be made up. George Lutz died in 2006, but a year before his death, he stated in an interview that what happened to he and his family in the book was true.
In repsonse to some of the websites seeking to discredit the Lutz’s, George had developed his own sites:
The first leads to a page showing the house. When clicking on the links, there is a white screen with an internal server error. The second site leads to Yahoo – in Japanese!
What’s going on? Is it like with the phone line static – interruptions happening all over again? Are the demons fucking with George once again, preventing him from reaching out?
Whether true or not, the ghost story of Amityville Horror is indeed a good one. If it’s false, it is then a shame that the lives of the DeFeos were so exploited – real victims of murder – their tale being only a back story for a fiction Hollywood tale. When I think about it this way, I feel bad for even giving The Amityville Horror a moment of my time. But then again, tales will arise from tragedy, both real and fictional. There would be no Count Dracula without the real life Vlad the Impaler. So I suppose a good story is simply that – “a good story”, no matter where it comes from.
A young couple, Dan and Jessica, purchase a Bed and Breakfast. Their new home is one of the oldest houses in New England. It comes equipped with furniture. Some of it is rather strange, such as an antique birthing chair with blood around the seat’s rim. But they will soon learn that there are far stranger things occupying the house than bloody chairs. There are others living in the house. Excuse me, did I say “living?” Cancel that, for these occupants are no longer alive. These occupants are The Inhabitants.
The Inhabitants is an indie film from brothers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, writers of John Carpenter’s The Ward. Admittedly, there’s nothing new going on in this film. It’s a familiar concept: a couple moves into a new house – there is something strange about the sellers – the couple tries to adjust to the new living arrangement and then spooky stuff transpires. Before anything real frightening happens, there exists the kind of foreshadowing that is common in haunted house film. Library books reveal the Inn’s history of witchcraft and murder. Yokels call the place “the witch house. Dementia-stricken Mrs. Stanton, former Inn owner, makes enigmatic remarks to the couple. (“Please take care of the children!” What children? The couple is childless!)
Despite the formulaic plot, the film works. It accomplishes what it sets out to do, which is to tell a creepy haunted house story on a limited budget with a minimal number of actors. The film uses its resources effectively and doesn’t try to needlessly branch out into story areas that are beyond its scope. For me this is better than a project with an unlimited budget that tries its damnedest to show off just how much resources it has by tossing in every technological effect known to man. The film does have its dull moments, but it’s effectively creepy and it captures the viewer’s interest. The filming of the house’s interior is done well. There is some interesting camera action; such as the shot of a bathing Jessica and her long and draping black hair disappearing over the tub’s edge as her body sinks underwater.
I recommend giving this film a watch. It may not exceed your wildest expectations, but it is creepily entertaining.
Where are haunted houses? By this I mean, in what kind of setting is one likely to find a creepy old house with ghostly shenanigans? Usually such houses are found in the countryside. Maybe they are surrounded by woods. Perhaps there is a nearby graveyard or two. Or they rest on the peaks of mountain tops. Heavy thunderstorms add to the eerie environment. Snowstorms trap haunted house inhabitants and seal them away in closed quarters.
How about a haunted house on an ocean beach? Hmm, sounds a little out of place. Beaches have sunrises and sunsets; the beautiful orange ball of light that makes its way across the sky is hardly a magnet for ghosts. They have calming breezes and welcoming waves. They are sandy spas of salt baths and sun tanning. They are – dens of spiritual activity? Really? What’s a scary ghost like you doing at beach paradise such as this?
The panhandle beaches of southern Alabama are the perfect setting for haunted houses; at least the beaches that spill out of the creative and macabre mind of Michael McDowell and into his book The Elementals. Okay, let’s narrow it down to one fictional beach in particular – Beldame. It’s a secluded area on a spit that extends off of the Gulf coast. It harbors three Victorian houses. These houses are reachable only via certain modes of transportation, such as a boat by way of water or a dune buggy by way of sandy terrain. At night it gets very dark. In the pitch black night, sometimes the only sign of activity comes from the sounds of the surf. But there are other things stirring, such as the elementals – spirits that have no form.
Beldame was the host of many summer retreats for two wealthy families linked in marriage and friendship. The grown children of The McCrays and The Savages remember their childhood summers at Beldame with a strange mixture of nostalgia and apprehension. It has been a long time since they have spent significant time at this hideaway. After the death and disturbing funeral of matriarch Marian Savage, they decide to revisit Beldame. Dauphin and Leigh Savage occupy one house with their maid Odessa. Luker McCray (brother of Leigh) lodges in the second house with his thirteen-year-old daughter India and his mother Big Barbara. The third house remains unoccupied (or does it?). It is uninhabitable – a large sand dune was swallowed a third of the house.
Out of all the inhabitants, it is Luker that is most apprehensive about the third house. His sharp daughter senses his fear. India soon learns that the third house is a depository of childhood fears and frightful memories for other family members as well. It has its stories. Too curious for her own good, India climbs the third house’s encroaching sand dune and peers into the bedroom window of the second floor. She sees things. Scary things.
This is a very captivating book. There are many things to love about this story. As an analytic reader, I noticed two themes in particular that captured my interest. The first has to do with the constantly shifting terrain. The families are surrounded by sand dunes; their shapes and heights varying depending on whatever forces of nature happen to be at work at a particular time. There exists the threat, perhaps not always evident to the fictional families but surely apparent to the readers, of being overcome by the dunes; of their homes going the way of that mysterious third house. Then there are the high and low tides that alter the state of the nearby lagoon. During high tide, the lagoon maroons the houses and Beldame becomes an island.
Things are in constant transformation. Nothing is as it appears – not for long anyway. Whatever it is, soon it will be something else. The third house. Things are not always the same with it. The sand drifts, both within and without, change. The furniture appears to change from one viewing to the next. Sometimes bedroom doors are shut and locked. Other times they are unlocked and slightly ajar. And how about those spirits within! Sometimes they are the spitting images of lost loved ones. Other times they are grotesque abominations of things that resemble humans. But in their natural state they are indeterminate in form and structure, their “shape” subject to environmental forces. These forces are the fears, memories and overall personalities of those that come within their lair.
Likewise, Beldame is a place where memories and dreams become blurred. Looking back at summer vacations past, some characters have trouble distinguishing whether certain things they had witnessed actually occurred of if they were only the byproducts of dreams or imagination. The nature of reality is in constant question. Reality seems to shift, change shape, just like the dunes of sand.
The sand, the wind, the storms, the tides…and spirits = elements that play a role in transforming the terrain; elementals.
The second theme concerns the surrealistic nature of Beldame. It is a magical place – a coveted haven. The history of Beldame is a history of tragedy at the expense of the The McCray and Savage families and yet they all seem to share a certain unexplainable nostalgia for their land on the spit. Time seems to stop when they stay in these houses along the ocean side. The have no clocks, they follow no schedule. When the sun is right they lie on the beach. When the sun is to strong they seek shelter in the house. They live day to day following the lead of elements. Their occupational worries disappear. And yet, it seems as if Beldame is a place to go to die. Perhaps it is like an outpost of the netherworld –timeless, tranquil at times, spiritual, and of course, deadly.
On top of all this, The Elementals also serves as an anthropological account of well-to-do southern families. The characters are filled with life and beautifully tarnished with quirks. Their expressions are humorously raw.
According to Vicki Brunson of Examiner, the book had been “out of print for years”. The book I borrowed was a used copy that my friend purchased from Amazon. However, it appears that The Elementals has been re-released through its publisher Valancourtbooks.
Sadly, author Michael McDowell passed away in 1999. He is a favorite of Stephen King and the writer of famous screenplays such as Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas.