I like to “live it up” on Saturday nights. These days, I do most of my Saturday night “living” on my sofa, watching Svengoolie on MeTV . Thankfully, he’s a lively kind of horror movie host. Anyway, regular doses of Svengoolie have helped me to appreciate many of the old Universal horror films. Of all the horror classics, I have found I like Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein the best. Coming in second (I guess third) might be The Invisible Man. Even after seeing it a couple of times, I didn’t realize that James Whale directed The Invisible Man. Whale, of course, is most famous for directing Frankenstein and The Bride thereof. I then wondered, since I love The Invisible Man, maybe I’m not merely a Frankenstein fan. Maybe I am a James Whale fan?
Whale has made four classic horror films, of which I had seen three. I was delighted to learn that the horror film that I had not yet seen was a haunted house film. The other night, I finally watched The Old Dark House. It did not disappoint.
When describing films that are overly saturated with elements of a certain theme, the phase “X for X’s sake” is often used. ‘Gore for gore’s sake’ or ‘Violence for violence’s sake’, you get the idea. I am tempted to use the phase “Creepy for Creepy’s sake” when describing the film, although I don’t mean it in a negative way. The Old Dark House doesn’t grab you by the head and smash your face down inside a pie of creepiness. Rather the creepiness is all around you from beginning to end, though it may not always be subtle. It is a simple story – a violent storm forces two sets of travelers to seek shelter at and old, dark house. The inhabitants of the house are quite strange, as would be expected. There are several subplots that arise, and some of these are awkward. But never mind, the purpose of the film is not to tell a thought-provoking story with a compelling plot. Instead, it is to revel in the art of the uncanny. It succeeds in its goal with dark and chilling atmospheres, crafty camerawork, and its effective use of shadows. Some of the characters are humorously unsettling, even by today’s standards. I would like to go more in depth and describing some of them, but that would require me to tread too far into the forest of spoilers and I don’t want to do that. Oh and there’s the screeching of the wind! Gotta love that!
Some of the visuals described above are signature styles of James Whale. If you have never seen any of his films, I recommend doing so immediately. For those who are familiar with Frankenstein (and who’s not?), you may be delighted to know that James Whale once again features Boris Karloff as a hulking, mute figure in The Old Dark House. I saw this film on youtube, and the recording is quite crappy. I have yet to see it on Svengoolie. I’m sure he could get a hold of a better print. Sven, would you get this film for me? You would, aww that’s just sweet!
Once upon a time (more specifically, on several occasions back in the fourth and fifth grade), our teacher gave us creative writing assignments. The procedure was as follows: Mrs. Rickman would pass out copies of a drawing that had a written scenario underneath the panel. I remember a drawing of a bowl of soup that had letters rising from underneath the broth. There were question marks hovering over the bowl.
The written out scenario went something like this: “You go into a restaurant and order a bowl of alphabet soup. The waiter places the bowl before you. Suddenly, the letters in the soup form a message. What does the message say?” Our assignment was to answer such a question with a one page, handwritten story. After all the stories were handed in, the teacher would read each of them out loud to the class. It was indeed a very rewarding experience. Among other things, we learned of the different directions to which one could lead a story. We relished in each other’s creativity. At least I did. Some kids dreaded “Creative Writing Time.” Not me. I loved the writing and the listening and I looked forward to hearing the stories written by my fellow peers.
Thank you Nathan Hystad and all the authors that contributed to The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel for bringing me back to my grammar school creative writing exercise. No, I’m NOT saying that the writing in this book is juvenile. Let me explain. Hystad created something that triggered the creativity of others – similar to the way Mrs. Rickman gave her students the tools to expand our imaginations. For The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel, Hystad came up with a back-story and scenario. Then he invited thirteen authors to write stories based on his depiction. The results are interesting indeed.
The back-story is as follows: through unscrupulous means, the wealthy Charles Hamblin, owner of Lake Manor, acquired farms and properties from victims of a drought, to later sell for a profit. Meanwhile, most of the swindled suffered another tragedy – they were victims of a plague. Hundreds of bodies were dumped in the nearby lake. The ghosts of the victims began to occupy Lake Manor and haunt Hamblin’s descendents.
Here is the current scenario, set in modern times – , Lake Manor is converted into a hotel. Rumor has it that it is haunted. Is it? If so, by what? By whom? It was the job of the authors to answer such questions. Each author was assigned a room number and instructed to write a story based on the experiences of the guests that stayed in the assigned suite. These authors then got busy haunting this hotel, leaving none of their characters/guests unscathed. All are haunted in one way or another.
Some authors focus on the lake and the woodsy trails that surround it. They write about creatures that come out of the waters and prey on their victims. They tell tales of ghosts that arise from the watery depths to lure guests into the deadly lake. They speak of strange things lurking along the trails. Other authors focus in on the ghostly goings on within the walls of the Manor. They unleash bizarre beings of their mind’s creation and let them roam the corridors. They haunt rooms with ghostly children. They install secret panels and passageways for their characters to uncover and explore.
There are several reoccurring characters and themes throughout the book. Members of the hotel staff find themselves in multiple stories. There’s Lissette the desk clerk, Clay the bartender and Hank the bellhop. If I were you (“you” the reader or soon-to-be-reader of this book), I’d watch out for this trio. They can be…suspicious…at times. There are other crossovers as well. There’s an offhand reference to a certain guest in one story. This guest ends up being a main character in another tale. So pay attention, readers! Oh, and watch out for the strange dishware you and the guests will encounter along the wooded trails throughout several stories – they are labeled with the names of different body parts.
All the stories are well written. As an added bonus, they smack of style; each one different, each one delightfully unique. There weren’t any bad stories. Some were better than others. One in particular was both intriguing and puzzling, so I read it twice. I’m still not sure I understood everything even after a second reading. But hot damn, I love this author’s style! (The story is Jumbled-up Jack by Christopher Bean). Alas, there were a couple of stories with non-endings. Seriously, it seemed as if some authors were nearing the climax but then decided to step out and have a smoke, only to forget to finish the story. But overall, this book is an enjoyable read and wonderful exercise in creative collaboration. “Creative Writing Time” lives on at it is beautiful, man!
Who is Mister Babadook?
He is grief, he is fear
He is bitterness, he is near.
Where does he come from?
He comes from pain.
He comes from a book
He’s sneaking to the surface
Come, have a look!
A family suffering. A grieving shrew.
A boy dealing with a loss he never knew.
All of this and a pop-up book; here he comes – Mister Babadook.
The poem above is my “perspective-in-a-nutshell” for the fascinating film The Babadook. I did my best to mimic the writing style of Mister Babadook – the fictional children’s book that is the subject of the film. Don’t worry, you don’t have to like my poem!
This piece is more of analysis than a review. Therefore, it is filled with spoilers. So reader beware! The Babadook is too deep of a film for me to just offer up a simple “I like this film because of its depth, mystery and special effects. (and yes I do like the film for these things – and so much more!)” It is begging for thoughtful analysis. Or maybe it’s just my analytical mind that desires such an examination. It is a film rich with symbolism, so much so that I cannot help but dive underneath the layers to see what is lurking from within.
This fright-filled tale begins with the back-story. While taking his wife to the hospital so that she may give birth to their son, Oskar Vanek perishes in a car crash. Six years later, widow Amelia and her son Sam struggle with daily living. Sam is overly imaginative and high-strung. He is a problem child who can’t be trusted around other children. He succumbs to tantrums. He is afraid of monsters that might be living under his bed.
Amelia suffers all the stresses of being a single mother. Her son’s behavioral problems make matters worse. She has a difficult time maintaining any kind of support network. Her own sister avoids her. Her nephew just freaks her out.
Mother and son like to read together in bed. One night, Sam chooses a book from the shelf called Mister Babadook. It is a creepy pop-up book that features the cloaked shadow monster “Mister Babadook.” On one set of pages, he pops up over the front door. He wants in.
Look at the pictures below to see some of the creepy words that fill the pages.
After the reading, Sam begins to see Mr. Babadook in various places inside their house. No one else can see him. Not Amelia, and not the viewers of the film. Not yet. But soon. Eventually, Amelia hears him knocking on the door. She hears him call out:
“Baaa Baaa Dooook!”
She sees his form in the dark coat that hangs on the wall. She sees this black specter everywhere. And when she hears him, we viewers hear him. What she sees, we see. The film changes perspective, from the boy to the mom. When this happens, we descend with her into the pits of madness and witness Amelia’s breakdown. The Babadook possesses her. It wants her to take her son’s life.
So, what’s going on here? The “stuff of horror” in this film can be either literal, figurative or both. I vote for either of the latter two. Perhaps the phantom is real. Even so, there is symbolism lurking within his shadowy frame. It is undeniable.
The Babadook represents all the repressed feelings that dwell within the mother and son twosome since the death of Oskar Vanek. Up and until Amelia encounters The Babadook, Sam’s impressions of him are left to the viewer’s imagination. Perhaps this is because his fears, though no less real, are more vague. He never knew his father, but still he suffers from his absence. He lacks discipline and courage. Having a mother who is unbalanced and overstressed does not help his situation. Sensing Amelia’s hesitations about being a mother, he feels insecure.
Amelia has never properly grieved. She has buried many emotions and they are bubbling to the surface. Sorrow and sadness are definitely part of the mix, but she possesses feelings that are much more toxic. She is bitter. Her husband died so the Sam might be brought into this world. She blames Sam for this. She even hates him at times. Through her eyes, we see the shadowy creature. We see it possess her, and this is when her bitterness is in full form. She tells her son to “Eat shit!” She even admits that she would have been happier had he died instead of her husband.
Although Amelia is behaving cruelly, Sam still loves her and comes to her aid. Together they defeat Mister Babadook. But they don’t kill him. Rather, he flees to the basement of the house. There he stays. Mother and son are happy at the film’s end. They love each other. Both have said some hurtful things to the other, but this is what can happen when a hodge-podge of negative feelings goes unchecked. The feelings fester and amalgamate and create a character that is foreign to the host that harbors such sentiments. People become monsters; unrecognizable abominations of their former selves.
In the end, the fiend is still there. Amelia treads carefully into the basement. She feeds the monster, dispensing small portions of whatever it is that is mixed in with a bucket of worms. The beast is hungry. It screams and threatens to attack. But Amelia succeeds in keeping it at bay. She revisits her nastiest of emotions every once in a while, but keeps them in check. According to Wikipedia, “opening a can of worms” is
an idiom referring to a slew of subsequent problems and dilemmas arising from a decision or action
It is risky to revisit certain emotional states. If these demons must be revisited, caution is essential. One must not overfeed them.
The Babadook is a great film. Thankfully, it lacks “high-octane” scares and gore. In its place there is good ol’ fashioned story-telling and mood development. Oh, and great artwork! Mister Babadook appears genuinely creepy.
Now, is this a haunted house film? I’d say so. Most of the terror takes place within the house. It would be a Type 2 Haunted House film – where the house is merely a stage for the ghosts to perform – rather than Type 1 –where the house itself plays a significant role in creating the things that haunt it. (click here for a more in-depth examination of this delineation.) Plus, several lists of haunted house films include The Babadook – so there’s that! (for instance, there’s this at flickchart.com )
If you can’t trust a list, than what can you trust?
Whether or not you think this is a haunted house film, watch it anyway – you will enjoy it. If you do watch it and disagree with my analysis, that is fine. So long as you agree that this is a very fine film! That is a must!
Who grew up watching The Brady Bunch? I’m sure many of you have. I’m willing to bet that several millennials know what’s up when it comes to that “crew that somehow formed a family” Not only has Sherwood Schwartz saturated the airwaves with Brady bunches and brunches, Brady hours, Brady brides, Brady reunions and Brady holiday specials, but he has also penetrated the big screen with Brady Spoofs. (The third and final spoof movie, The Brady Bunch in the White House was actually a movie made for TV, but I bet someone watched in on wide-screen television, so my “big screen” description still counts!) I want to focus on the parody films. See, I would like to reignite this spoofy series with a film idea from yours truly (hint: that’s me!) Sadly, Sherwood Schwartz passed away in 2011. Guess I’d have to seek out his next of kin to obtain all the necessary rights and permissions stuff. Is there a Son of Schwartz in the house?
Consider this post as my proposal submission. My suggestion is that the Schwartz family take into consideration my ideas for a potentially ghoulishly-groovy movie: A Brady Bunch Haunting. Perhaps The Son of Schwartz will stumble on to this blog and see this proposal. You never know!
A family of six moves into the house at 4222 Clinton Way. Mr. and Mrs. Frank and Jane Lovingston, along with their three adorable children (Colleen – age five. Travis – age eight. Julia age fifteen) are in love with their new dream house. Jane’s mother Clara also lives with them and she is happy as well. There is a large living room with an open staircase leading to a second floor with three charming bedrooms. There’s a spacious attic, a groovy kitchen that connects to a maid’s quarters. There’s also a gorgeous sitting room with glass doors that lead to a wonderful backward with a swing set.
There is just one problem – the house is haunted by the ghosts of the Brady’s (and Alice!) Below are some possible haunting scenarios.
Davy Jones – Julia wakes in the middle of the night, goes down stairs, pulls out a Ouija Board and attempts to get in touch with the spirit of the late singer DavyJones so that she may ask him to perform at her prom. Mrs. Lovingston interrupts this Ouija Board session and sends Julia to bed. The next morning Julia has no recollection of any of this, nor does she know who the heck this Davy Jones guy is.
The Phantom Football – Yard dwellers are in constant danger of being struck in the face by a phantom football that materializes out of thin air. On impact, a disembodied female voice cries out “Oh my nose!”
The Den of Advice Mr. Lovingston has no time for his son. Behind the living room is the former den of Mr. Brady. Right now, the room isn’t used for anything. Travis often wanders into this bare room. His mom overhears him talking to someone.
“Who are you talking to?” Jane asks.
“The R Ka Pet (architect).” Travis says. He helps me with my problems.”
Jane thinks Travis has an imaginary friend, until – she hears a man’s voice talking back to her son. He (Mr. Brady) is saying, “Reason him, Travis. Calm, cool reasoning”
Random vase breakages – In the living room there is poltergeist-type activity. Vases suddenly break. When this happens, the disembodied voices of two young boys speak to each other. They say “Mom’s favorite vase.” And “She always says ‘Don’t play ball in the house’”
Picture of Jan While checking out her new bedroom closet, Clara uncovers an old picture of Jan Brady. She is freaked out because the picture looks exactly like she did when she was a young girl.
Later, when Clara encounters mirrors, she sees Jan’s reflection instead of her own. Both Clara and the Reflection-Jan scream in fright. Clara screams on account of the insanity of having a different reflection. Reflection-Jan screams because she sees what she will look like when she gets old. Clara has not aged very well. The thought of taking on her appearance scares her so.
Kitty-Karry-All – Little Colleen lies in her bed, her arms wrapped around her doll. Suddenly, her doll vanishes. Where did it go?
There it is! It’s rocking back and forth in midair! Then, she hears the singing voice of a little girl: “Rock a bye baby, on the tree top..” Suddenly the ghost of Cindy Brady appears. Her ghostly arms are wrapped around the doll. She whines, “I’m sorry, but this is not my Kitty!
Colleen screams as Cindy and the doll vanish. Later her doll will turn up in the dog house. Colleen will reclaim it but it will always disappear and turn up in strange places in unsettling situations (on one occasion, the doll is found hanging from the attic rafters with a knife stuck in its chest)
Every time the doll goes missing, a new doll takes its place in her bed. It is a “Kitty Karry-All”. Colleen is afraid of this mysterious doll. She breaks it and throws it away, but it always returns without any damage.
Alternate Kitty Karry-All scenario
The night after the Cindy ghost whines about not having her Kitty Karry-All, Colleen wakes up inside Cindy’s arms. She has become “Kitty Karry-All.” The entire family including Alice stands around Cindy. They are smiling as Cindy says, “I have my Kitty back!” Poor Colleen screams for help but it’s as if the Brady’s don’t hear her. The only response she gets is applause from the Brady’s as Cindy looks down at Colleen, smiles, and says, “I will never lose you again. I will keep you forever, and ever, and ever, and..
In bed with…Alice – While engaging in romantic activities with his wife, Frank suddenly sees that the woman in bed with him is not Jane. It’s a goofy looking middle aged woman in a maid’s outfit. “You can put your meatloaf in my oven now, Mr. Brady!” she says. Frank turns away and looks again. He sees only his wife. How weird!
Ghost of Greg Poor Julia. Her attic bedroom is haunted. She is dragged out of her bed a la Paranormal Activity style. Then she tied by her wrists and hung on the rafters.
The ghost of Greg then materializes and terrorizes her with – his guitar playing and singing
As he sings, “Clowns never laughed before” – the faces of killer clowns appear and start laughing at her.
When he sings, “Beanstalks never grew” – beanstalks sprout from cracks in the attic floor and wrap around her body.
The voice in the suds – At strange times, the washing machine overflows and soap suds fill the entire room. This happens when the washing machine is not even is use! Sometimes, from inside the suds, a voice of a young boy is heard. It shouts “Mom!” Occasionally, the shout is followed by the concerned voice of a woman who says, “Ohh Bobby!”
The Boy inside the walls – Jane finds a little boy living inside the walls. His name is Oliver. He meets the rest of the family and tells them his story.
“I have been living inside these walls ever since the Brady’s lived here. I locked myself away because I am a jinx. I thought that if I could go and live within the walls, then the Brady’s would be shielded from his bad luck.
I was wrong. The bad luck stayed with them. One by one, I watched them get murdered. Through the cracks in the wall, I watched as they all died.”
“Who killed them?” Frank wants to know. But Oliver can’t remember. It was too traumatic an experience. But he says something really creepy.
“The Brady’s are still here. I sense them.”
The maniac butcher – Later that evening, Oliver eats dinner with the Lovingston’s. They are all sitting around the dining room table when all of a sudden, a terribly scary ghost appears. He is holding a bloody meat cleaver.
Suddenly, Oliver remembers what happened on that fateful night.
“Sam the Butcher killed them! He went crazy after Alice dumped him.”
The Lovingston’s flee with Oliver, and they never return to 4222 Clinton Way ever again.