Review of Haunted

HauntedThorns and Cross – sounds like I’m about to embark upon a seasonally appropriate Easter theme post, doesn’t it? Christ wearing the crown of thorns, Christ nailed to a cross, etc. etc. and etc.  All on account of a typo. Damn that “s” for being so close to the the “e” on the keyboard!  Let’s remove the “s” in “Thorns” and replace it with the correct “e” and we now have Thorne and Cross – two authors who often partner together to write Gothic ghost stories. I first discovered them when I read and reviewed one of their works: The Ghosts of Ravencrest.  I found the book very much to my liking.

Having familiarized myself with the pair, I decided to dissect the duo.  By this I mean that I wanted to read their “solo” novels.  I began with Haunted  by Tamara Throne.  Overall, I enjoyed it.  I will explain why but first let me establish the novel’s setting and describe the house that is at the center of the story.

 

David Masters, best selling author of paranormal books, moves to a Victorian mansion off the coasts of California known as Baudey House.  Yes, it is haunted. He knows it too. Or at least he expects it to be haunted; that what the rumors say anyway. As a paranormal kinda’ guy, it’s what he wants.  The house is part of an odd seaside community that is a mixture of cantankerous yokels and new age flakes. Nearby the house is a lighthouse haunted by a headless ghost. And there are plenty more where that (or in this case, “he”) came from! Inside the Baudey House there are spirits, some of which are visual echoes that can only be perceived by those that that have sixth sense. Others are more interactive – more deadly!  There are certain rooms where presences are so strongly felt that it is impossible to remain inside of them for any length of time.  Somewhere in the house there is a secret passage that leads to a dungeon. It is up to Masters to find it. Then there are ceramic, hand-made dolls hidden in various places throughout the house. How weird is that!

Did I mention the murders? At different times over the course of more than one hundred years, grizzly murders have occurred inside the house.  Bodies were found in various states of dismemberment. It is no wonder Baudey House became known as “Body House.”

Let me now describe the things I find most appealing about this book. The first has to do with the overall story.  Thorne serves up a “full meal of a plot” with several interesting angles, many well-rounded characters, numerous situations of captivating drama, and a compelling but chilling backstory. If I had to choose one word to summarize the story, that world would be “fulfilling.”

My second piece of praise is more specific. Of all the authors that have dealt with the subject of “cold spots”, I find Thorne’s descriptions to be the most visceral, which for me translates to “frightfully descriptive.”

Cold spots, according to the According to the Associations of the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena:

“… are small areas (usually a lot smaller than a room) that feel significantly colder than the surrounding area. They are considered by some to be a sign of a ghost in the area. Some cold spots are always felt in the same place while others seem to appear and disappear at different locations.”

Thorne’s accounts of cold spots are gripping, literally so; when her characters encounter them, they feel their chilling presences closing in on their bodies.  First, there’s the drop in temperature, then there’s the gripping sensation, next come paralysis and finally their bodies are vulnerable to possession!

Alas, the novel has its shortcomings. Quite often, without warning, the third person narrative slips into a first person perspective. This happens in the middle oramgeghost3 of paragraphs of all places!  Sometimes I found myself at the end of a sentence before realizing that I was reading the character’s thoughts.  Italics go a long way! Perhaps this is a formatting issue; maybe the italics disappeared when the original file was converted to an e-file. Even so, it would have been helpful if the phrases that represented thought had their own lines.

All in all, this a good book.  One Thorne down, once Cross to go! I’m not sure if Alistair Cross  has written a haunted house book. I might just have to bite the bullet and “read outside the house”.

Review of The Castle of Otranto

castleofotrantoI’m willing to bet that the following themes are all too familiar – Kingdom vs. Kingdom. A despotic Prince.   Underground passageways. A fleeing princess. Knights on the hunt. Dire prophesies.  A castle haunted with phantoms. Have I listed enough clichés?

All of these motifs are found in Horace Walpole’s novel “The Castle of Otranto”. But let’s give the guy a break. After all, he wrote this piece back in 1764.   Long before George R. R. Martin had his Game of Thrones, sooner than J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, previous to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, prior to Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolfo, Walpole wrote this fantasy novel about a time long ago (even in 1764 it was a period piece); a time of knights and kingdoms, princesses and perils, all wrapped up in a story that is sprinkled with ghosts and other supernatural phenomena. Mind you, he had his predecessors. Shakespeare was writing of kingdoms and ghosts in the 16th century and the stories of King Arthur and The Knights of the Roundtable date back to the 11th and 12th century. However, Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto is credited as the very first gothic novel.

What does it mean to be the first “gothic novel?” Well let us see what the with the fine men and women of Wikipedia have to say.

According to Wikipedia, this novel establishes:

“many of the plot devices and character-types that would become typical of the Gothic: secret passages, clanging trapdoors, pictures that begin to move, and doors that close by themselves.”

But what makes this novel standout among other fantasy and frightful novels of its time is its unique method of blending the fantastic with the mundane. Supposedly in the late 1700s, stories of the supernatural were considered “old school” (They probably had a different term for it, but you catch my drift).  Modern tales of romance and adventure were allegedly devoid of such supernatural themes and focused more on believable foes and realistic conflicts.  By mixing the two literary strands, Walpole establishes what has come to be a defining theme for Gothic literature – traces of the past making their way into the modern world. Looking at the gothic haunted house stories that come later, this theme bears out over and over –  curses born in the past that claim the lives of future generations, justice for sins committed long ago coming for the heirs of the original sinner; ghosts returning from the graves to haunt the living.

Wadpole, a British politician, was a fan of the ancient medieval period, so much so that he had a castle built to replicate a palace of yore. It’s called Strawberry Hill House and it still stand today, although it has gone through much renovation. In writing “The Castle of Otranto,” Wadpole tried to imitate the style of speech from the medieval era. In its initial publication, Wadpole included a preface that made is seem as if his tale was an ancient one, written in the sixteenth century.

Fascination for the ways of yore, nostalgia for periods of we never knew – this is at the heart of Gothic literature. What are ghosts but fanciful beings from times long gone!

So, how much of this novel is dedicated to ghosts and other things that go bump in the night? I’d say there is a smidgen of these elements. Maybe more.   Phantoms and other mysterious things pop in and out of this story. Lord Manfred, a ruthless tyrant, arranges a marriage between his son Conrad and the maiden Isabella in order to unite two kingdoms. However, before the marriage is to take place, a giant helmet falls from nowhere and crushes him. Paranormal event #1.   Lord Manfeld then takes it upon himself to have Isabella as his own. But not if she can help it. She flees through an underground passage. Lord Manfeld chases her while the painted image of his grandfather flees the portrait and interferes in the chase. Paranormal event #2.

More story follows, but I’m not going to go into much detail. There are battles. There is a love story, and there are more supernatural events; inhabitants of the castle see a giant foot that occupies an entire room, a specter in dark clothes kneels before an altar. Some of these occurrences are rather bizarre to say the least.

As to the claim that this tale deposits the supernatural into “realistic situations”, I don’t really see it. I’m not saying that this isn’t happening. It’s just that I am so far removed from the writing style of the eighteenth century and I’m a complete novice when it comes to the “ordinary, day to day life” of the royal classes of medieval society. Therefore, I’m not attuned to the supposed “realism” that is going on here. “Realism” to me is a Stephen King story, where there might be a guy in a baseball cap chomping down on a Mars candy bar at gas station and sipping his bottle of Dr. Pepper, all while speaking in local slang.   In Wadpole’s work, the characters speak in a theatrical style.  Formal, long-winded salutations seem to invade nearly every sentence of the dialogue.  The heroes and heroines always have the noblest of intentions.

I can’t say that this novel thrilled me to death. The story is fair. However, I did learn a lot from reading the book and doing research for this article. I have a better understanding of the foundations of gothic literature and I have learned a great deal about the evolution of literary styles. For this I am thankful. And onward I will go, digesting more works within the Gothic genre. Some I will like, others not so much. But I look forward to the rewarding experience. You too can have such an experience. Just pick up a book and read, read, read!

 

Review of The Uninvited

This movie came to me in a vision. There I was, entering a tomb that is guarded by possessed skeletons. I passed them by and went on. Soon I came upon an upright coffin. Somebody opened it from the inside! There before me was a coffin-bound ghoul. He spoke to me of horror! Then he told a corny joke and unseen people threw rubber chickens at him! All this occurred in my “tele” vision. (I told you it came to me in a “vision”)

For those who don’t know, I have just briefly described the opening for the horror movie show that airs on Saturday nights on MeTV . Famous horror-host Svengoolie helms the show (and the show is called “Svengoolie’ – imagine that!), and it is a blast! You can see one of these openings in the video below.

The film Svengoolie aired last Saturday is called The Uninvited. It was the second time I have seen this classic 1944 haunted house film on his show.  I think I liked it better the second time. Here is the plot in brief –  a brother and sister purchase a house by the seaside. The twenty-year-old granddaughter of the seller objects to this transaction. As a former occupant of the house (although she was very young when she lived there), Stella still feels a connection to the place; a connection which she has trouble articulating. Her mother passed away near the house. There is a cliff nearby that drops into the sea.  Her mother committed suicide by jumping off this cliff.  Or was she thrown off? Was murder involved?  There was another woman that lived with them in the seaside home. She too died when Stella was young.  Stella insists on living in the house with the new occupants. She is convinced that a female spirit also resides in this house. This spirit, she insists, is trying to make contact with her. Is it her mother? Or is it the spirit of someone else, someone that wants to harm her.

Svengoolie had an interesting piece of trivia concerning this film. He said that this was the first film that took the concept of “the ghost” seriously. I’ll take his word for it. Offhand, I can’t think of an earlier film that put as much effort into telling a thoughtful ghost story.  For the first time, perhaps, the ghost that manifests on the screen looks “real”.  Of    TheUninvited3course, by today’s standards, the specter in The Uninvited might appear lame. But I liked it! It is a distinct change from the “dancing sheets” that substituted as the ghosts in earlier films. Most often, these “ghosts” were used for comedic effect.

In The Uninvited, the ghost appears as a glowing swirl that dances across the screen. Soon, it takes on the appearance of a female specter; transparent and blurred just enough to allow for an imperfection of form that creates the visual effect of a vaporous figure.  The ghostly sounds are quite eerie as well. There is the disembodied sobbing that is done with just the right amount of echo. There is haunting laughter that trails off to nowhere. Then there are other factors that make for a chilling, ghostly atmosphere.  Book pages turn on their own accord. Flowers die instantaneously. And special attention should be payed to Actress Gail Russell (playing the role of Stella) when she gives way to dramatic pauses that pull the viewers into the contemplative yet chilling scenes. Stella smells the fragrance of her mother. She becomes blissfully joyful. Then Stella becomes frightfully cold. She succumbs to trances.

TheUninvited2

All in all this is a decent haunted house film. It’s not the best but it holds its own. My only complaint has to do with the ways that the mystery unravels. Through dialogue, the cast discuss the clues they have found and verbally hypothesize their way to the truth. This is an instance where the phrase “show don’t tell” comes in handy. I would have preferred more showing and less telling.  Oh well, you can’t always get what you want, I guess.  Still, it’s a good film.  See it. And tune into “Svengoolie” on MeTV Thank you! Over and out!

Beauty and The Beast – Enchanted Castles VS Haunted Castles

BBLast Sunday I spent a fine afternoon at the movies with my wife. We took in the charming, live action film Beauty and the Beast which is based off of  Disney’s 1991 animated film of the same name.  I was delighted to hear Emma Watson sing and I enjoyed her performance as Belle, a.k.a Beauty. I got into the love story and the whole “beauty is within” message.  I was pleased with the fanciful display of CGI. Ohh it was all so precious! And through it all I kept asking myself “Can I consider this  a haunted house film?”  At one point myself replied, “What? ‘and they lived happily ever after’ Disney film = a haunted house story? Are you nuts?”  Later on, “myself” gave in a little. He said “Okay, some of these scenes revolving around the Beast’s Castle are a bit scary. But still – no. No Haunted Castle for you!”  Finally when cups, dishes, clocks and candelabras came to life, “myself” met “I” half way and said “Maybe. Maybe this is a Haunted House film and maybe it isn’t.”

Allow me to argue on behalf of “I” , The Beast’s castle is huge and creepy with foreboding towers and sharp pinnacles.  It has cavernous passageways and a dark dungeon.  The grounds surrounding the castle are quite terrifying.  It is hidden away in a cursed section of a forest where it is always winter. Dangerous wolves roam about on these trails.  Defiled BBCastleGroundsgrounds and the creatures that inhabit them often surround the haunted houses of lore (See my article: Ghostly Grounds: Explorations Outside of the Haunted Houses of Film and Literature).  When our heroine Belle enters the castle, she is greeted by moving candelabras, magical wardrobes, and self playing instruments – all of which can talk, sing and dance!  These objects warn Belle not to venture into the east wing of the castle (or is it the west wing?  I forget).  The Beast tends to spend most of his time in this wing, and it can be dangerous for Belle to rummage around in there!  Haunted wings, forbidden rooms and walled off passageways are staples of haunted house lore.

In the novel “Dracula”, the mysterious Count warns visitor Jonathan Harker  not to go roaming around the castle (See Dracula’s Castle .)  In the house that is the subject of the book. The Ghosts of Ravencrest, there is “a wing that is locked away – for there are strange things afoot in this side of the building.”  Finally, the villagers who enter this castle and witness these strange goings-ons declare the place to be haunted.  If you can’t trust a villager, who can you trust?

“I” has made some very good points. But alas, “myself” retracted his “maybe” and eventually “I” saw things from his point of view. All the beings inside my head have come to an agreement: The castle of the Beast is not haunted.  My colleague helped to properly explain the condition of the castle. He said, “It’s not haunted, it’s enchanted.”

Throughout these reviews and articles, I struggle to define the term “haunted house” (or haunted castle, haunted inn, haunted flat, you get the idea).  I have perhaps contradicted myself from time to time as I have written out various themes concerning what a haunted house is or isn’t.  This is all part of the learning process, and the goal of this blog is just that – to learn, to discover.  Therefore, perceptions can change along the way.

Let me continue by offering some definitions of the word “haunt.”  Borrowing from Merriam-Webster , haunted can mean  “to stay around or persist.” But it can also be defined as something that is “inhabited or frequented by ghosts” (via dictionary.com). A house with ghosts is haunted. However it does not have to have ghosts in order for it to be haunted. It can be haunted by tragedies or sins of the past, by curses that play out again and again, or by lingering sadness.  The Fall of the House of Usher and The House of Seven Gables are examples of such ghostless haunted house stories.

Now, let us see what the dictionaries have to say about the word “enchant”  From dictionary.com:

under a spell;bewitched;magical

or

utterly delighted or captivated; fascinated; charmed.

As per the context of this story, the first definition applies. The second definition is more appropriate for the castle that stands at Disney World.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Beauty and the Beast, a witch who is refused entry into a handsome Prince’s castle on account of her haggish appearance curses his household. The Prince is turned into a beast while his staff is transformed into objects (the candelabra, cups, etc.).  If the Prince can find a woman to love him despite his beastly appearance, the curse will be removed. The beast can become handsome again and the BBObjectsstaff can once again regain their humanity.  This is the story as per Disney writers.  I have never read the original book by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (and later abridged/rewritten by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont) But when I skim the synopsis per wikipedia, I see no reference to the bewitching of the staff.  Could it be that Disney created these household object characters in order to have a silly and cutesy cast of animated creatures; creatures which are prevalent in most Disney cartoon movies?  Perhaps, but at the same time, these things are downright uncanny and freaky – a nice touch for the lovers of the bizarre. I am a lover of the bizarre and I love this whole concept of living people becoming a part of the physical castle.  In many haunted house stories, the physical becomes the spiritual (In The Shining, The Inn itself manifests the ghosts).  Here the reverse is true.The fact that the servants transform into these objects shows that this curse not only plagues the people but it also infects the castle itself. Thus it can be said that the castle is enchanted.

As freaky as these object-things are, they are not ghosts. Nor are they objects possessed by ghosts or demons. They are regular people that have been bewitched and transformed.  In this story, the theme pertaining to visitations from the past does not exist.  The curse that subjects the household to take on these cruel forms is not a phenomenon that reoccurs from generation to generation (as with the curses of The Fall of the House of Usher and The House of Seven Gables). They are damned not to the past but to the awful present of never-changing appearances. For these reasons, The Beast’s castle is not haunted.  {By this criteria, I realize that the strange supernatural houses in many of H.P. Lovecraft’s tales would not be considered haunted. I had written that they were. (See H.P. Lovecraft Article 1 and and H.P. Lovecraft Article 2) Oh well!}

Beauty and The Beast is a dark tale. Perhaps I can make it even darker. I can recreate the tale so that the castle is both enchanted and haunted.  Again to quote my colleague, this would be an “enchaunted castle”

The beginning of the story will be the same: an old crone desires entry to the Prince’s castle in order to escape the cold and the rain. At first sight, she is the object of The Prince’s cruel scorn. His servents laugh at her as well, but not to the same extent as their Lord. Suddenly she becomes ill and The Prince laughs even more as she succumbs to tics. Right there in front of him and his staff, she dies. Her spirit rises from her body. It is a beautiful spirit and The Prince and his servents turn away in shame, feeling unworthy to behold such beauty.

The spirit says to the Prince.

“The soul is where true beauty exists. It will take you many painful centuries to learn this. For I curse this kingdom!”

From that moment, the Prince is trapped in his own body, which suddenly becomes deformed and hideous. But he is damned to remain in this body until he finds a woman to love him for what he possesses on the inside.  Throughout the years, his body decays and rots until he resembles a zombie. Alas, he cannot die.

The staff, being a lesser evil than the prince, is struck dead. However, their souls will be bound to the castle. They will haunt it until The Prince finds love and is freed from his despicable body.

For centuries, this zombified Prince will roam about the castle. The bitter spirits will  BBCastle haunt him from time to time, blaming him for their fate. After many many years, he will finally find love. Her kiss will be the kiss of death. When her lips press against his, he will die but his soul will be free. The spirits of the castle with join their lord in this freedom.

So – how does that story sound?  What’s that? You think it is better to stick with the original? Fine!  No “enchaunted castle” for anyone! Go on loving those enchanted castles for what they are and continue admiring those haunted castles for what they have to offer.

 

 

 

 

Review of Haunter

Hey, have you ever seen the film “Haunter”?

(I think you mean “The Haunting”.  There’s the original 1963 film by Robert Wise and then there’s- )

No, I don’t mean “The Haunting”.  I mean “Haunter”

(Oh!!! You mean that 1995 film with Kate Beckinsale.)

NO!! That’s “Haunted!”  I’m referring to “HauntER!” “er!” “er!” er!” “er!”

(Hunter? )

Oh never mind!!

 

Truth be told, I had never heard of this film either (until I found it on Shudder.com a  Hauntercouple months ago) It premiered in 2013, but according to Wikipedia, this Canadian film had a limited release in U.S. theaters. Released on video in 2014, it only took in $129, 477.  Suffice it to say, it didn’t get much exposure. Equally disappointing are the lukewarm reviews.  Fifty-four percent of professional critics cited on Rottentomatoes  rated this film positively – a slim majority. But there are plenty of professional critics that panned the film.  Rex Reed of the New Yorks Observer writes that the film is “A dull, confusing movie for which nobody provided a script” Meanwhile, only forty-two percent of the non-professional critics (audience) view the film favorably.  IMDB gives this a rating of 5.9 stars out of 10.

All this is sad to me, because I think this is an underrated film that is too good to be hidden from the masses. It is NOT dull. In fact, it is quite the opposite; I was drawn in immediately. It only took a few scenes before I had dissolved into the mystery of the house that is at the heart of this story.  Is it a confusing movie?  Perhaps at times. It is  complex but in a captivating way. It is non-linear.  Characters weave in and out of various timelines. They tunnel into different dimensions; the dimension of the living and the dimension of the dead. There is a lot packed into this 97-minute film. There is layer upon layer of awesomeness. And yet, the film doesn’t feel rushed. Nor does the plot feel oppressive and burdensome.

It is difficult to explain the plot without giving away spoilers.  On all of the major review sites, a spoiler sticks out in the very first lines of the synopsis.  I understand the reasoning behind its inclusion: the heart of the story beats according to this revelation. But I swear, for the first 15-20 minutes of the film, the revelation is not immediately apparent. Having read the various synopses, I knew what this revelation was before beginning the film, and yet I let myself flow freely in the directions that the plot was taking me, so much so that I nearly forgot the surprise.

In some of my reviews, I do post spoilers. Normally I warn the reader about this.  Depending upon what I want to achieve with the article, I sometimes need to give things away. If I’m doing an analysis of major themes, for example, it is sometimes necessary to reveal key plot point and twists.  For The Haunter, I wish to give nothing away. I am even omitting things that major review sites list freely. I want this to be a surprise from start to finish. I want it to be like the roller coaster that it is; with exciting twists and turns.

I’ll close this review by starting a new subject, hopefully to be continued in the future I consider “Haunter” to be a post-modern film. It’s non-linear and it lacks a center, so to speak.  Some other haunted house stories that fall into this category are The House at the End of Time , a film and House of Leaves, a book.  So I ask, are there commonalities across all post-modern haunted house stories that are limited to its genre?  Are there certain themes that are begging to be discovered and analyzed?  I don’t know. This would be an interesting avenue to explore. And that’s what we do here at the Haunted House Poject – drive down avenues that behold such wonderful houses of haunts!