Tag – You’re IT – My Next Haunted House Movie Review.

ITLogoDoneDoneI lied. IT is not a haunted house movie. Rather, IT is a horror movie that has a haunted house. There is a difference.  What’s “haunted” in IT is the town of Derry.  What haunts it?  IT haunts it!  (I’m not going to go into an Abbott and Costello routine). IT lives inside the complex sewage system underneath the town.  IT ascends via the drains, sewers  and other surface pathways. What is IT? That remains to be seen, but IT often appears as a clown that goes by the name Pennywise.  Pennywise is a bad, bad clown. He frightens the children! Not only does he frighten them, but he also pulls them down into the sewers and kills them. IT also appears as the object of nightmares, which varies from kid to kid.  Little Stanley sees an abstract face painting come to life. Eddie is chased by a leper. Mike sees burnt and rotting arms. These “hauntings” occur throughout the town in various places; in basements and bathrooms, in alleyways, out in the barrens.  Oh, and inside Derry’s “haunted house.”

In small town Americana legend, there is always a house that kids think to be haunted – one that’s abandoned and rundown.  Heck, even Andy Griffith’s town of Mayberry has such a house. As it turns out, its only spirits were the one’s brewed by Otis’s bootlegging. Well unfortunately for Derry, its old and abandoned house has much worse things than a red-nosed, happy-go-lucky drunk. The Derry house has a red-nosed, homicidal clown. And many other things!

IT has a strong presence inside the house. This is because of the well in the basement that drops down into the sewer system. Thus, the house serves as sort of a gateway to hell; a portal to where all things terrible lie.  Have we seen this theme played out before anywhere on this blog.  Yes we have!  How about here:

HP Lovecraft – Houses as Portals to Alternate Dimensions:

And here:

The Sentinel

and there are others, on and off this blog. This is a popular theme in haunted house lore. Storywriters love to hide portals to dark dimensions inside houses.

In your average haunted house movie, the house is the primary haunt. Most of the events of the film take place inside its walls. This is not the case in IT.  I would guess the house in IT occupies less than 10% of the total screen time. Now what of the book? Does this house serve the same function in the book? Gosh I don’t know!

I read IT almost 20 years ago. I wasn’t an avid reader in those days. I liked horror but only as much as the next guy. What did I like and do back then? I don’t remember! Anyway I had only read maybe one Steven King novel, one novella, and one short story, and all those  I had read 15 years before then.  I wanted to know more about “Da King” , so I went right for one of his most lengthy works. I don’t remember how long it took to read but read, read, and read  I did until I was alllllll done!  Good boy! I loved the book and to this day I consider it one of my favorites. Maybe top-ten worthy, if not it would definitely be in the teens of my preferential list. However, I can’t remember every little detail. Oh hell, I’ll come clean – I can’t remember many medium-sized details.  The haunted house, for instance. I remember it being in the book. I remember that there was an abandoned, run down house but I can’t remember how much or how little importance it was to the story. And as much as I love the book, I’m not about to reread it.  I’m getting old  and I don’t know if I even have the strength to hold that tome in my hands!

Before I go further, I guess I better do some “reviewing”. After all, I am including this article in my review section, am I not?  So…let me get the “review” over with.

IT is great! Best horror movie I’ve seen on the big screen in a long time. It’s been a long time since there was a film based on a book from horror master Stephen King that didn’t suck, and I’m including King-based television movies and series as well. It’s scary through and through! It doesn’t try to rival the book or “be” the book; it doesn’t try to cram 1090 pages of story into two hours of film. It knows its medium’s restraints.  The child actors are remarkable and there performances are memorable. Did I mention that IT is a great film?

There, the review is done. Now back to the haunted house! A group of friends known collectively as The Losers’ Club brave the house in an attempt to stop the deadly IT once and for all. And for us haunted house lovers, its so much fun when they do!  The objects of their fears come after them!  They separate. Doors lock. Mysterious doors suddenly appear! Horror is everywhere! What are those things underneath all those sheets?  Watch out behind you! What’s that?  Fun! Fun! Fun! Fun!

Okay so IT isn’t a haunted house movie per se. The sphere that receives the haunting is the town of Derry, which of course includes the house. Later it will be the sewage system that is the primary epicenter of haunt (wait and see, kiddos!) . But golly gee willikers, the haunted house scenes in this film are fabulous! It is fun to watch and apparently it is fun to recreate  because this film has spawned haunted attractions that mimick this movie’s house. Take a look!

 

As interesting as this attraction appears, it is not on my bucket list. If I just happened to be in Hollywood and happened to be on the street of this attraction then maybe I would enter. But I’m willing to bet that whatever scare experience it has to offer, it will not match the thrill I had sitting in the theater and touring the on-screen house through the eyes of the camera. What a thrill that was! It will thrill you too! See IT!

Review of Ghosts of Manor House

ManorHouseIf you have been a regular reader of my reviews, it should be no secret that I crave certain things from the haunted houses of literature. I have a criteria by which I base my story preferences. That being said, there are many decent  haunted house stories that fail to abide by this criteria.  I may enjoy these stories, but chances are, for me to knight a book with greatness, it has to live up to my standards.  Mind you, these standards are subjective. But hey, much of this entire blog is devoted to my points of view – so let me continue on subjecting you to my subjective opinions!

In my article Social Theory and the Haunted House, I have delineated between two types of haunted houses. They are either:

A)    A place for a bunch of ghosts to hang out.

Or

B) A place that is greater than the sum of its ghosts

I prefer B) I want the houses to do more than just serve as a backdrop for exhibitionistic ghosts.  I want the house to be as much of a contributor to a haunting as the spirits that occupy it.  A good haunted house has consciousness. Maybe the house itself is a spirit. Or maybe it is alive.  The house should be able to exert its will on its inhabitants, with or without ghosts. The house should have a rich history; it should have stories from the past that speak to its present nature.  A good haunted house has a memory. Moreover, I love a house that exerts the power of symbolism. It should stand not only as a structure of brick or stone, but as a representation of an enduing entity. A kingdom perhaps, or a lineage or family. Maybe it stands for existence itself; for endurance incarnate.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you: Manor House. This house meets most of my criteria. Its ghosts respect and honor their home. So let’s give it up for Ghosts of Manor House, an excellent novel by Matt Powers.

Here are some words from the author himself:

When writing a book, people tell you to develop your characters and soon they write themselves. This became true for me, but the characters that spoke to me the most were Manor House and its partner, Mr. Travels. These two entities drew me into their world. The others are satellites, flies caught in the web of old spirits. Like the characters in this story, Manor House drew me in and captured me.

This paragraph is taken from the beginning of the book in a section called Note From the Author. And I have to say, these two “characters” spoke to me too.  I got to know Manor House in its many carnations. From a courthouse in its early years to a bed and breakfast in a more modern age.  From a revered building where harsh judgments were cast upon doomed  detainees to an inviting retreat center that loves its guests so much that it just doesn’t want to let them go!  While a regular old, aging  house collects dust, Manor’s House gathers up ghosts.  I just love Power’s description of a  “web of old spirits.”  It suits Manor House to a tee!  And now, from a tee to a tree!  The tree is Mr. Travels. Its sinewy branches cast shadows across the grounds of Manor House.  It too has seen its share of history.  Many people perished on its low hanging branches. The stuff of legend has given it a most unique origin. It is connected to Manor House in a most mysterious way. Perhaps it serves as the pulse of the house?  It wouldn’t be surprising. While the author was giving me a tour of the house via the story, I could swear I felt the house’s heart beat. Was this in the basement? I can’t recall.  Maybe its best that I don’t remember.

The bulk of the story takes place in the mid 1970s and revolves around Edmund and his family. The family has suffered through a tragedy, so Edmund arranges for a getaway to help ease their suffering souls. He reserves Manor House for his wife Mary and his children. It comes equipped with a full staff; a butler, a maid and a gardener.  Now get this – in chapter entitled “One Week Later -Escape from Manor House”, Edmund is fleeing the house while some of the staff are trying to convince him to return.  In the following chapter, “Welcome Back to Manor House,”  Edmund is alone, getting set up in his new place that is Manor House. He is supposed to meet his family there and….where are they? THAT is the question that pulls readers to the end of the book.  Yes readers, TGhost of Manor House is a suspenseful novel.   To keep the suspense alive, Powers’ reveals just enough information – here and there, chapter by chapter. It’s all about healthy, measured spoonfuls of clues. Never too much – there are no mass information dumps. You will not get literary indigestion.

At 133 pages, Ghosts of Manor House is what I would consider a short novel. It is short, but it is complete. Within this novel of limited length, there is a tome of possibility. I’m looking for sequels and prequels. Of course that is up to the author.  Or maybe it isn’t! Maybe it’s Manor House itself that is on control. Matt Powers brought it to life and maybe the house will exert its living influence back on the author and entangle him in its “web of spirits,”  forcing him to write his way out!  With no sadistic intentions, I hope this happens.

Visit Matt’s Blog at https://www.ghostsofmanorhouse.com/  or just click on the picture below an teleport yourself over there!

ManorHouse2a

Review of V/H/S

VHSShould this be the review where I delve into the found footage phenomena and provide insightful analysis on its effectiveness at establishing horror? Uh..nah!  Maybe instead, I can go into what works and what doesn’t work when using the found footage style of filmmaking to make a haunted house film?  Nah to that as well.  Truth be told, I am no expert on these things. Moreover, a lot that depends on personal preference.  Quite often it boils down to a) You like found-footage films. b) you do not like found footage films.

For me it’s hit or miss. V/H/S, the film under review, is a found footage film.  For the most part, it is a miss.

Since some of you might be unfamiliar with the found footage subgenre, an explanation is in order. I was about to do some explaining but then I thought, “to hell with that”, why not find a description and then quote it? I think, therefore I do.  So here is a definition/description from Wikipedia:

Found footage is a subgenre in films in which all or a substantial part of a fictional film is presented as if it were discovered film or video recordings. The events on screen are typically seen through the camera of one or more of the characters involved, often accompanied by their real-time off-camera commentary. For added realism, the cinematography may be done by the actors themselves as they perform, and shaky camera work and naturalistic acting are routinely employed. The footage may be presented as if it were “raw” and complete, or as if it had been edited into a narrative by those who “found” it.

The most common use of the technique is in horror films (e.g., Cannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, [REC], Cloverfield), where the footage is purported to be the only surviving record of the events, with the participants now missing or dead.

Fun House was the first horror movie I saw in the theater. I saw it was with my dad. In the film the characters are murdered, one by one.  Only one person, a girl, is left at the film’s end. After the movie, my  dad had told me that he knew she would live because someone has to survive to tell the story. He was correct. But with found-footage films, a sole survivor is no longer necessary. The camera is left behind to detail the events. If part of the story is “missing”, that supposedly only adds to the overall mystery.

Found-footage films are supposed to look “real”. That is, they are made with an intentional amateurish quality so that they appear to be made in real time and not according to a script.  Therefore when something horrific happens, the intended illusion is that it is happening “for real”.  I get all that. But to me, V/H/S is largely unwatchable. Too much shaking, too many haphazard shots, too much , too much too much. And besides, what’s with the letter –forward slash – letter –forward slash title. Can’t a simple “VHS” do? I guess not.

I am writing this review on account of the two haunted house films that appear in this anthology.   There are six films in all, with one being the film that ties the rest together.

The “tie-together” film is Tape 56/frame narrative. A group of petty thugs break into a house in an attempt to steal a VHS tape for which someone is willing to pay a lot of money. The man who lives there is a tape hoarder. But the intruders find him dead in his chair, in front of a TV, in a room with hundreds of tapes. The intruders started playing some tapes. The tapes they play make up the rest of the stories in this film. So what we have here is five found footage films inside one found footage film.  How….arty?  Mmmm…mmeh.

Anyway, let’s get to the relevant films. “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” directed by Joe Swanburg, is about a woman who lives in a haunted apartment. The whole story plays out on video chat. Emily occupies the big square of the chat and we see chat partner James in the smaller square.  James (along with us the viewers) bears witness to the haunting when he sees the video images of young ghostly girls creeping around behind Emily.  This is an okay film story wise. The typical annoyances that are built into  found footage films are kept to a minimal. Still, viewers have to put up with straying camera angles now and then. We have to watch the main chat screen succumb to the pixilation errors. I hate when this happens when I am on a video chat so I certainly don’t want to watch it happen in a film I am paying to watch.

10/31/98 is the better of the two haunted house films. Directed by a group collectively known as Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez & Chad Villella), the film is about a trio of young men who arrive at a huge, multi room/multi floor house for a Halloween party. All the rooms are lit up, but where are the guests? They decide to explore the confines. They make it to the topmost part of the house and they stumble on something very disturbing. After this they make a run for it. This is when the house itself freaks out.  Through the shaky, mobile camera, we see arms reaching out from the walls. We see dishes rise off the table. In every hall, every room, as they run, run  run, we see something creepy and unnatural. It’s almost like a Halloween haunted house attraction, only this place has some real magic going on.  I love it all– except for the shaky camera. If only for a camera that was held still and directed properly, then maybe I can better see those lovely haunting antics. But no, can’t have that. After all, this is a found-footage film.

My favorite of all the stories is not a haunted house film. It is Amateur Night, directed byVHS2 Bruckner. Three guys go bar hopping and bring home two women. One of them happens to be a succubus. Once they learn of her demonic tendencies, the rest of the night doesn’t go so well.  Loved the film but once again, the shaky camera ruins the whole thing.

Perhaps some people feel that the shaky camera work enhances the horrific realism. I am not one of those people. However, there are some found footage films that I really like. One film really pays off with this technique. While some don’t consider it a haunted house film, I do. If memory serves me correctly, the shakiness is kept to a minimum, if it’s even there at all. I’ve been meaning to review this film for some time. I will do so. Soon. And then and only then will its title be revealed.

 

Review of Maynard’s House

MH2For this review I present an extraordinarily original story that is sadly overlooked. A Google search for Maynard’s House yields a few relevant results but not many. If not for a burning desire to revisit the summers of my youth, I would have missed this fascinating story about a haunted shack in the blizzardy mountains. That’s right folks, you read correctly: a severe case of summer nostalgia led me to a cold and isolated terrain that scrambles the real with the unreal. How did a wholesome quest for summer bliss lead to all this?  I’ll tell ya.  Read on!

Two and a half months ago, the summer of 2017 was just beginning. There I was, your humble and lovable Haunted House Host, yearning for those teenage summers. Yearning to go to a place where time took a leave of absence, where rules were meant to be broken. Breaking the rules is part of growing up, is it not? I was wishing to approach new experiences with wide eyes and a weightless soul.  Well, none of that was happening, so I did the next best thing; I read about such experiences.  Long story short, I sought out novels with the theme of summer nostalgia.  One such book was The Summer of ’42 by Herman Raucher. Known mostly for the movie adaption of the same title, it is author’s memoirs of a summer he spent on the island of Nantucket as a teen. It is a summer of mindless shenanigans, of idle times and ravaging hormones. It is also a tale of bittersweet romance and sorrow.

Now, how did I get turned around one hundred and eighty degrees from a summery love story to a winter’s horror tale? Well the article: From Summer to Autumn: The Spirit Remains the Same (The Darker Sides of Ray Bradbury and Herman Raucher),  contends that each book has similar themes. So in fact, they might not be polar opposites. Ah but that is a topic for another article – like the one I just referenced! But to get back to the original question, I have to thank good ol’ Amazon (Henceforth referred to as “Amzy”); Amzy is always so keen with its suggested reads! Naturally, since I downloaded one book by Herman Raucher, Amzy assumed I would want to read others by the same author.  Amzy showed me There Should Have Been Castles and A Glimpse of a Tiger, two love stories involving teenage characters. Who would guess that an author known for penning humorous stories of youth and romance had a real scary story within him? His final book (to date), Maynard’s House, is that story. Standing up on the Amzy lookout post with all the other members of the Raucher collection, its stare met my eyes while the glazes of the other titles brushed passed my shoulders. Ghosts are always looking for new places to occupy. When they see a man with an aura in the shape of a haunted house (hint: that’s me!), they move in for the taking.  I didn’t find Maynard’s House – it found me.  It found me at the closing of one of those other titles, standing on the sunny shores of a New England beach. It pulled me out of The Summer of ‘42 and took me across the ocean, over the horizon, to a different kind of reality.

While I have said that there are similar themes in both books, a paragraph from the From Summer to Autumn… article summarizes a key difference between The Summer of ’42 and Maynard’s House:

The first book is about the building a man. This man is constructed on a warm sandy beach in the wake of a wartime tragedy. The second book is about taking apart a man. He is deconstructed in the cold winter snow.

mhAustin Fletcher will come apart. He is a war-weary veteran of the Vietnam War. His war buddy, Maynard Whittier, dies on the battlefield. Maynard wills his house to Fletcher. This house is a simple shack in a hostile wilderness. But Austin will reside in it. After all, he is very much like the house. He is a simple man living in an inimical world. The house, however, will not take to him.  Unaware of his final fate, Austin makes his way to the snowiest regions of Maine to seek out the shack.

Austin begins his journey to the “salvage center for his soul” (not from the book; I made that up) via a freight train with some passenger accommodations. He is the only passenger. Snow halts the train, but Austin marches on, contending with the harsh elements on foot. He almost dies, but strangers help him along the way and he warms up at way stations.  Austin doesn’t take to these strangers. Although kind and helpful, he is put off by their localized eccentricities.   He doesn’t seem to take to much. He’s not exactly the most lovable character. The story itself describes him as forgettable; a face in the crowd.  Nevertheless, I as a reader was anxious to continue on the journey with him, partly out of morbid curiosity.

Maynard’s House is psychological horror. It is implied that Austin suffers from PTSD. He is an unreliable narrator. It’s always fun to take an unreliable narrator and stuff him inside some house and wait for the fun to begin. Ordinary objects take on such horrifying shapes. Anything can happen.  Eventually Austin makes it to the shack. Shadows dance at night. A rocking chair creaks and moans.  We are forced to ponder – is all this real?  This things he sees, are they just images from his mind?

Projection. According to Wikipedia, “Projection” is a psychological defense mechanism “in which humans defend themselves against their own or qualities by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.”  This often bares out in horror stories. Take the horror that is on the inside and project it outwards. We saw this happen in The Innocents (Henry James – “The Turn of the Screw”). We see it again here. Austin’s brain is the projecter. The Shack, “Maynard’s House”, is the screen. On this “screen” he projects his ghosts. The fun thing about projections – they can sliced and diced into symbols. The oversize bear that threatens to bring down the shack, is it a projection of his own self-destructive nature, is it a symbol of the harshness of the world against a vulnerable man, or is it literally a big bad bear?  The freakish, elusive imps that disappear into snow drifts, are they really some kind or primordial species or are they children, a boy and a girl? If  one is a young girl, sometimes youthfully forbidden while at other times seductively mature, is she the physcial manifestation of sexual guilt?

Literalism. What you see is what you get. Books such as Maynard’s House need a dose of literalism for nothing more than to keep the reader guessing. Austin’s encounters might not be the results of symbolic projections at all. The hauntings just might be the very real consequences of curses and witchcraft. Legend has it that a witch was hanged on a nearby tree back in the sixteenth century. Maynard tells Austin some of this before he dies. Locals fill Austin in the stories as well. Diaries found in the shack tell the story of past inhabitants, dwellers long before Autin and Maynard. The House didn’t like many of them either.

Witches. As I learn about the traits of the various classes of horror characters, I am coming to realize that witches exceed at mind-fuckery. Ghosts, demons, zombies – they frighten and terrify. Witches do the same, but they have this uncanny ability to manipulate reality and turn it on its heels, sending their victims spiraling off into the insane unknown. This might be what is happening to poor Austin.  There’s the pointed witch hat the “knocks” at his door. Should he answer?

Maynard’s House is a gripping novel. It deserves the same appreciation that is bestowed MH3upon so many of the great haunted houses books. It hides among Herman Raucher’s novels of youth and romance. Perhaps Raucher’s claim to fame, Summer of ’42, steers his brand on a course that leaves horror far behind. Well it found me and now I am presenting it with the hopes that it finds you.   The house might hate you and try to throw you away. However, the house might also love you. In that case, it might try and keep you. Forever.