Review of The Haunting of Ashburn House

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The Haunting of Ashburn House is the third book I am reviewing from the talented Darcy Coates.  I am now officially up-to-date with the “Haunting of” series. (The other two, in   order of publication, are The Haunting of Gillespie House and  The Haunting of Blackwood House.) Perhaps I shouldn’t use the word “series.”  Each book is a stand-alone story. However, there is a formula that persists in all the stories – a young female protagonist either rents or takes ownership of multi-floor house that ends up being haunted. In each case, she is not only new to the house but also to the community at large. In each house, there are mysterious items that pique the curiosity of the new occupants’. These items are related to the haunting that is to take place.

To clarify, I am not using the term “formula” in a bad way. The scenarios are the same, but the specific plot points vary from book to book with different facts and outcomes.  They are not without twists.  The Haunting of Ashburn House in particular does have an interesting turn of events.

Here’s a short synopsis.  Adrienne has inherited an enormous and ancient manor from her Great Aunt Edith, who has recently passed away. Little does she know that she has also inherited several odd duties that are necessary if she is to live safely at Ashburn House What do I mean by “safely?” I mean – guarding against the paranormal dangers that will threaten her. Little my little, she comes to understand that the house is not normal. After experiencing a succession of terrifying happenings, she must make sense of the clues that surround her in order to stop the terror.  Some of these clues include messages that have been carved into walls and tables, an odd collection of candles, cautionary notes regarding the use of mirrors, old newspaper clippings of a tragedy that took place in the Ashburn House many years ago, and a mysterious grave on the property that has the most unusual inscription on the gravestone.

Coates excels at establishing mystery. The predicaments that Adrienne finds herself in captured my intrigue.  I kept turning the pages, all while encountering new clues and developments, which in turn caused me yet more page-turning anxiety. This built-in anticipation worked well at helping me to look past some occasional dull moments. There are several interactions between Adrienne and townsfolk, Adrienne and her cat, etc. that sort of halt the story rather than move it along.  There is unnecessary attention to certain details in several places; details that do not relate to the overall mysterious tone of the story.  Conversely, I would have liked there to have been more of a background story on Adrienne.  This would help readers to get better acquainted with the protagonist, thereby allowing for further empathy as she struggles through her terrifying situation.

But, as I have mentioned, there is much in this tale that holds the reader’s interest. Coates effectively casts her “foreshadows”; the dark mysteries that surround key items within and around the house. They lurk in between the lackluster elements of the plot and effectively beckon the reader to continue; to journey on until the mystery’s end.

Of the three books in “The Haunting of..” series, I like The Haunting of Gillespie House darcy-coates-300x206the best. It also happens to be the shortest of the tree.  Perhaps I prefer Coates as a novella writer?  I would need read more of her works to be sure, and read more I will. (She has several other books about ghosts and haunted houses.  Check out her websiteThe Haunting of Ashburn House comes next on my list, followed by The Haunting of Blackwood House. However, all three are decent reads and I recommend them all.

 

Review of The Innkeepers

innkeepers2 Who are the keepers of the inn? Why, that would be Claire and Luke of course – two quirky twenty-somethings who like to gab at the front desk and browse the internet.  The Innkeepers are also two amateur paranormal investigators.

What inn do Clair and Luke keep?  It is called the Yankee Pedlar Inn. It is an historical hotel in New England that is supposedly haunted.  It has long creepy corridors, a spooky basement, a wide, square spiral staircase – all the workings of a good haunted house flick. The limited number of guests highlights an atmosphere of eerie abandon. It is the weekend before the inn is to close for good.  This is the last chance for Clair and Luke to capture supernatural activity on their specialized recording equipment.  So during their last days as employees of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, they are hoping for a ghost or two pop out and say “Boo!”

 

 

Normally, I am cautious about posting spoilers.  But for this review I don’t think it will be a concern.  There really is nothing to spoil!  This story has no twists, no hidden meanings, no symbolism.  What you see is what you get.  What does one see?  A haunted hotel that has ghosts that do stuff.  That’s it. When all was said and done, I thought that for sure I had missed something. I went to Wikipedia, IMDB, rottentomatoes, searching for a missed clue that would tie everything together and make me say “oh wow! I didn’t realize THAT was going on!” There is no such clue. There is no “THAT” there.

For me, the somewhat empty plot drags the film downward on the likeability scale.  But this does not mean it’s a bad film. The characters are interesting, especially Claire and Luke.  Their idiosyncrasies seem fit for one another, making for some interesting character chemistry. In this way, the film plays out like a crossover between Clerks and your average haunted house movie.  There are little snippets of comedic realism here and there. For instance, there is a moment where Clair is frightened. There is foreboding silence. Tension is building. And then we hear Luke flushing the toilet. The side characters (the hotel guests) are interesting as well. They have limited screen time, but their moments in from of the camera are worthwhile.

Ti West directs this film.  He is also the director of The House of the Devil. The aforementioned film seems to be superior to The Innkeepers, at least according to critics on IMDB, rottontomatoes.  I will have to check out The House of the Devil. It seems as if it’s a haunted house film.  And while I do not dislike The Innkeepers, I was hoping for something a little bit better.  Maybe this “better” will be found inside The House of Devil?  Who knows?

 

 

 

Review of Ju-On: The Curse

ju-on-the-curseJu-On: The Curse is one of those movies you watch, you enjoy, and when it’s over, you then read about the plot on wikipedia and try to figure out what the hell you just watched!

I have seen, but have yet to write about, The Grudge, the most familiar film of the Ju-On series. (The original Japanese film, not the American)  Ju-On: The Grudge is decent but confusing. I was going to write up a review right after seeing it, but I decided to wait until I had seen the lesser-known prequels. Perhaps then, I would have more to say about The Grudge.  With a solid knowledge of the back-story, I would be armed with experience and more able to write a decent review. The Movie Doctor inside my brain agreed and he prescribed for me initial viewings of Ju-On: The Curse and Ju-On: The Curse 2, along with a second viewing of Ju-On: The Grudge.  So I have swallowed the first pill (The Curse), and…… I am less confused.  Hooray! Still…I don’t know. I feel I am missing something.  But the doctor is ordering me to complete my therapy, so this I will do.  Also, he suggested I read up on the subject.  Yes Doc, will do.

Ju-On: The Curse is a Japanese film that is available with English subtitles. It is about a house and a little boy, who at first comes off as disturbed, perhaps sad, but is otherwise normal.  Then his face contorts and he meows like a cat in agony.  There is also this young, bluish-faced woman who pops out of cubbyholes. Then there’s this girl who is missing a lower-jaw – yikes!  These are the ghosts, and there are several more.  They are all connected, in some way, to this house that is at the center of the story.  Did I say story? Perhaps it’s better to say stories!   There are six tales, each named after an important character within each story.  The stories are all connected; some take place within the haunted house; which is a modern home in a suburb of Tokyo. The tales that take place elsewhere feature characters that have been inside the house. But just because they are outside the terrifying confines it does not mean they are safe. No siree Bob!   The terror follows them!

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Now, here’s the kicker! The stories are not shown in sequence. Story 1 might be take place after Story 4.  Perhaps Story 4 takes place after Story 2, or maybe Story 6 sets it all in motion, or is that story 5?  Some films succeed with this kind of non-linear storytelling. Pulp Fiction is one example of such a success. Ju-On is not.  The tone of this film is effectively eerie, but I was forced to come down from my “creepy high” in order to figure out what is what, only to fail at this pursuit of understanding.  Hence, I was forced to go elsewhere to learn the modus operandi of the story.

According to wikipedia:

The title of the films translates roughly to “Curse Grudge”, which means putting up a curse while bearing a grudge against someone or something. The first two films in the series were so-called V-Cinema, or direct-to-video releases, but became surprise hits as the result of favorable word of mouth. Both films were shot in nine days and feature a story that is a variation on the classic haunted house theme, as well as a popular Japanese horror trope, the “vengeful ghost” (onryō). The titular curse, ju-on, is one which takes on a life of its own and seeks new victims. Anyone who encounters a ghost killed by the curse is killed themselves and the curse is able to be spread to other areas.”

 

Some of my confusion is no fault of the film and can be attributed to my ignorance of Japanese language and culture. Perhaps I would feel more at home with the film had I known the definition of “Ju-On;” or if I had the concept of the onryō engrained in my cultural psyche.  But how does this “curse” play out?  The film understates this, if it states it at all.

From the same wikipedia page:

According to Ju-On, when a person dies with a deep and powerful rage, a curse is born. The curse gathers in the place where that person has died or where they were frequently at, and repeats itself there.

Yeah, I didn’t get this. Without the above description, I would be at a loss to the whys and wherefores.  Basically, a family is brutally murdered inside their home (the house that is central to the story) and the ghosts of the victims come back and kill others that enter the home. Or, the ghosts will follow people that have entered the home and kill them elsewhere. The curse spreads and lives on.

ju-on-blue-ghost-girl

I am always appreciating fresh approaches to haunted house tales. And fresh this is! A tragedy within the walls creates a curse that spreads to those that enter the house. It attaches itself to them, so that they just might happen to take a couple of ghosts home with them.  I like it! It fits in nicely with the “Houses that exist as entities” theme that I have come to love

But for me, this series would be so much more effective it the film makers would just stick to good old fashion linear storytelling. I would be able to trace the deadly path of the curse had stories been shown from beginning to end.  The ghosts in this film, they are so darn creepy! Their faces are horrific, their movements uncanny. And the sounds they make when moving along? Unnerving, but in a “gotta love it, it’s horror” kind of way! Alas, the out-of-sequence storytelling is a trademark of the series. Fine! I will bear with it. I just wish this series didn’t have to make me work so much in order to appreciate it!

October Reflections

It’s November, and time to remember.

It’s time to remember the days of early autumn and all the happenings of October.  These happenings pretty much left me exhausted by the first weekend of November.  On that weekend, I was too tired to do much of anything.  I slept, rested and reflected on an October well spent.

My “October” stretched beyond the numerical boundaries of 1-31.  A friend once told me that for him, the 1960’s began with the assassination of President John F Kennedy (November 22, 1963) and ended with the resignation of President Ricahrd M Nixon (August 8, 1974).  He defined the “60”s not by the decade but by the chain of social and cultural events that coincided in and around these years.  Likewise, My October is not restricted to the days that fall within the calendar month that begins with the letter “O.”  My October began in late September at an art house movie theater and ended in early November at an attic lounge of live entertainment.  These two “bookend” events, along with the many things that occurred in between, fit together in one common category – the commemoration of autumn.  Within this commemoration, I had my own personal harvest, not of farm produce but of the “crops” related to my craft; writings, books, a revamped blog.  I also took great pleasure in celebrating the month-long season of Halloween, while joyfully taking part in other several other autumn customs.  The best part was that I was able to celebrate autumn with my family, friends and loved ones.  And with you, the readers of this blog!  I love you all!

Any goal worth achieving takes planning and preparation.  I made it a goal to have a productive and eventful fall, and I set this goal all the way back in June!  I came up with contests and offered one of my paperback books as a prize. I had new and exciting ideas about how to redesign my website.  I made charts and timelines.  I took pictures that would be used in the blog. I set sale dates for my books.  Things were going to happen. And of course, I would have fun! That was important.  (You can see a post about my October plans here: )

Beginning in August, I started to watch horror movies. These included movies that were new to me and movies that I had not seen in a long time. I did this in anticipation of a list I was going to compile – a list of my Top 50 Horror films.  I looked forward to sharing this list with everybody.

sept-24This brings me to Sept 24, 2016, a fine Saturday evening that began my “October.”  I had not yet seen the classic horror film “Phantasm.”  However, it was unavailable at all the sites where I rent movies (iTunes, Amazon, etc.)  This was because it was in the process of being digitally remastered for the first time.  The Music Box Theater in Chicago would be showing this remastered version. Not only had I not seen Phantasm, but I had never been to this famous art house theater. It was a win-win situation.  So on that Saturday, I arrived early.  I went to a bar that was a couple blocks away.  When it was time, I left the bar and walked down a dark street toward the theater while taking in some of “nature’s greenery” (ahhhh!).  I saw the film, it was good, and oh what a great night!

The following weekend (Sept 29, Sept 30, Oct 1, and Oct 2) was blog time.  I took off work that Thursday and Friday, allowing myself a 4-day weekend to upgrade and redesign my website. It was challenging but fun.  I even learned how to incorporate an image map into my blog. An image map allows you to map-out clickable areas on an image that will lead to links of your choosing.   You can see the results of my labors here (scroll to the image of the house and cemetery at the bottom of the page) and here .

In order to advertise my redesigned website, I featured a ghost hunting contest. I hid several cartoonish ghosts across my blog. Whoever was to find the most ghosts would win a copy of my book “The House Sitter” . Contestants would have to the end of the month to find these ghosts.

My nose wasn’t at the grindstone all weekend long, mind you. On Sunday Oct 2, my wife and I went to Sonny Acres Fall Festival.  There we bought our pumpkins, went through a haunted barn, took a haunted hayride, and had cider, doughnuts, and ears of corn.  Yummy!

As October kept rolling along, I listed my favorite horror films on my personal facebook page post by post. Meanwhile, I hosted another contest, one for of my Haunted House Facebook page. I would show a picture of a haunted house and the contestant was to name the movie that featured this house.  Like with the Ghost Hunt, the winner was to receive an autographed copy of my book “The House Sitter.”

The second weekend of October was mostly dedicated to “taking down the summer”.  I  like summer, but all things must come to an end. Away went the patio furniture, the outside summer lights, and other yard décor.  One of these years, I will have an assortment of autumn and Halloween yard decorations to replace those that get put away for the summer. Cornstalks, grave stones, zombies, oh my!  They were selling corn stalks at Sonny Acres.  But we didn’t buy any L.   But we put our pumpkins outside! That’s something!

oct-15On October 15 (Saturday), my wife and two of our friends went to a German bar/restaurant (Edelweiss) and watched The Cubs win a play-off game. I call this event OCubstoberfest!  I danced to the music performed by a live ompah band, drank Weiss beer, ate German food, and cheered on the Cubbies!

Sometime during the month, we bought Halloween toys for our nephews.  They live in Seattle and my wife was going to go visit them at the end of the month.  One such “toy” was a “Spooky House” book, with flaps that unveil ghosts, spiders and other creepy things!  I decided to read this book to my nephews – in a video – and upload it to my blog. I hoped the kids would like it.

The weekend of Oct 21, 22 and 23 was a biggie.  That Friday, my wife and I attended my niece’s wedding.  It was a lovely, autumnal, outdoor wedding.  Cider and kettle corn were some of the treats. There was squash soup as an appetizer. And a tasty meatloaf dinner. Of course, there were drinks and dancing!  All this at an enchanting bed and breakfast house in the southern suburbs of Chicago! There was even a bonfire.  No autumn is complete without a fire.

The day following the wedding wasn’t for rest.  No siree Bob! To the Haunted House at Saint Pascal’s we did go, and then it was off to a Halloween/Birthday/CubsEnterTheWorld Series party! The night was scary, the night was wild – the night was filled with victory!

oct-31 Then along came Halloween Weekend!  My wife was in Seattle. She sent me pictures of our little nephew enjoying the video of me reading The Spooky House Book. He loved it and I was so happy!  Saturday Night I watched Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein on Svengoolie.
On Halloween night, Monday, after dishing out candy to trick or treaters, I watched the movie that made it to the #1 spot on my Top 50 Horror Film list – “Halloween” by John Carpenter.

On the days following Halloween, I had my contest winners. I sent a book to a fan who won the haunted house contest. Then I met an old classmate after work. He was the winner of the Ghost Hunt contest. I gave him the book. It was a nice reunion. Then the Cubs went and won The World Series. Holy Cow!  The following evening I attended a performance at Mary’s Attic in Chicago.  “Skooby Don’t!”  My nephew had the role of Fred, the leader of the Skooby gang!.  A very interesting play it was.

So on the weekend that just passed (nov 5 and 6), I rested.  I believe I earned this rest.  I had planned for an active October and my wishes came true. True, autumn marches onto until the end of December, but my favorite part of the fall season has come to a close. It’s a short time and it comes and goes so quickly! Thus, planning is required in order get the most out of these fleeting days.  Many people pre-plan their summers, me included.  So why not pre-plan your autumn?  Autumn is just as good as summer, maybe even better!  Plan it and good things will happen. Plant it, grow it, harvest it, and then enjoy it as it comes to fruition.

And then there is the stuff that just happens. Not everything can be planned. Enjoy those unplanned moments as well. But sometimes you have to push the ball to get things rolling. And the rolling ball will tread across uncharted grounds.  But this is part of the fun. Just shout “Wheeeeee!!!!” as the rolling ball unearths wonderful surprises!