Review of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

The poor, terrified little girl. She had been through so much already. After ninety minutes of ruthless horror, she should have been cuddled and eased into warmth and security. Instead, she found herself alone in a room inside a house that was not her own. That is when she saw it – a brutal reminder of her terrifying experience.  She screamed. She cried. All that blood!

But it wasn’t really blood. It was the markings of a red crayon pressed upon several of the keys on a toy organ. My older cousin Susie, then at the age of five, had stumbled upon this organ in the upstairs bedroom of my parents house. She was staying there for the night and my two older sisters had arranged for her to find this sight. They had done their best to mimic that scary, self-playing organ that was featured in the movie they had taken their little cousin to see earlier in the evening.  This ninety minute movie was brought to them by the letter “G”. “G” for Gore? Gruesome? Ghastly? None of that.  “G” is the rating as in “General” audiences. It shares the same rating as films such as Bambi and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  So as it turned out, my cousin was all freaked out over some scenes from a silly comedy movie starring none other than Don Knotts, the comedian known mostly for his role as Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show.  The movie was The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. All this happened before I was born. I guess people were more innocent in ‘them there olden days’ of 1966.

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Years after the fact, my family would rehash the details that led up to “Little Susie’s scare.” My uncle laughed out loud when remembering how “the world’s least scary movie” had frightened his daughter. I was a young’un when I first heard these comedic tales of “Little Susie’s Scare.” But it didn’t see The Ghost and Mr. Chicken until I was an adult. I first saw it a couple of years ago when it aired on Svengoolie , a television program that features a hilarious horror host (That’s Svengoolie!) that presents viewers with a weekly movie. Then I watched it again on Svengoolie the following year. Finally I saw it for a third time a month ago (Guess what show?) After the third time, I finally made it a point to write up this review. After all, this is a haunted house movie.

Here is a Svengoolie Song parody of the movie:

 

Since I sat though this movie three times, one would assume that I liked this movie.  Well, let me explain – I tune into Svengoolie regularly, often watching repeat movies, even ones I don’t like as much. And sometimes, since I tune in for the laughs and antics of the host , I don’t always pay attention to the key  plot details of a movie. Sometimes I pick up on the story on the second viewing, or even a third.  Now, do I like The Ghost and Mr. Chicken? Sure, I mean, what’s not to like? Perhaps its Don Knotts. Yes, the man has his critics. I will get into this criticism in a moment. But first, let me go over the general storyline.

The main character of the Ghost and Mr. Chicken is the gullible and awkward Luther Heggs.  To this I say, “Atta’ boy Luther!” This is a reoccurring joke that happens whenever Luther is in a crowd. Someone shouts this greeting to him. And guess who plays Luther? If you said “Don Knotts, the you’d be correct! Luther is a typesetter for the local newspaper, but he aspires to be more.  Suddenly he receives an offer that could be his big break into investigative journalism. He must spend the night in the town’s haunted house, The Simmons mansion, and then write up a report about any strange goings ons that he might encounter. A very frightened Luther accepts the job and he is frightened out of his wits.  Inside this cobwebbed house, he finds knives puncturing bleeding portraits. He stumbles upon secret passageways. Finally, he discovers an organ with bloody fingerprints on its keys. It plays all by itself! Oh my!

Luther’s first-hand account of his stay at the haunted house is printed in the paper. The out-of-town estate owner sues poor Luther for libel. How dare that buffoon defame his mansion with tales of ghosts! Will poor Luther be able to get the court to believe his story? Will the haunting reoccur before the eyes of court appointed witnesses?

As previously mentioned, Don Knotts is primarily known for playing Barney Fife , Sheriff Andy Taylor’s inept deputy and sidekick. So how does Knotts do in the leading role? Some will say “not so well”. They might say that he became a caricature of his own self; that his budging eyes became bulgier, his signature look of surprise becomes what might resemble a man having a seizure. They could say he overacts; gives a “slapstick on steroids” kind of performance. With all of this I would agree.  However, this does not ruin to film for me. See, I feel right at home with the post Andy Griffith Don Knotts. I was not introduced to him as the tamer Barney Fife but as the goofy bank robber that slid up a wall in the movie The Apple Dumpling Gang.  Then I  would go on to seem as the flamboyant Mr. Furley on television show Three’s Company. All this before I ever saw a single episode of Andy Griffith. To me, Don Knotts was always a living cartoon character. His physical features were naturally comedic and his acting style was always exaggerated .

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken has the humor of simpler times. It’s a dated movie and many might think that it fails the test of time. For whatever time period it makes the grade, I do enjoy watching it. It is directed by Alan Rafkin, a man known primarily for directing television comedies. He directed four episodes of Mary Tyler Moore, twenty-three episodes of The Bob Newhart Show, seventeen episodes of Sanford and Son, twenty two episodes of Laverne and Shirley and a whopping one hundred and twenty-three episodes of One Day at a Time.  And there  is much more where all that came from! Check out his resume.

I say give The Ghost and Mr. Chicken a try. Who knows, maybe it will make you cry and scream like a little girl Susie! (Hey it could still happen? Okay..fine! That will never ever happen again)

 

The Woman in Black – Modern Gothic at its Best!

My claim to expertise has been compromised!   

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How dare I claim to be an expert on haunted house literature when I have only just recently read The Woman in Black by Susan Hill!  I am sooo late to the game – very late! I apologize for my tardiness.

(Readers be like:  MadEmojiUseMadEmojiUse2MadEmojiUseMadEmojiUse2 )

This is a major faux pas, since what we have here is a modern “classic”, in every sense of the word.   The Woman in Black is a novella of high quality. It serves as the definitive model for the various adaptions that premiered across various mediums including two films (Made for British TV movie of 1989  and Made for the Big Screen in 2012) and one TheWomanInBlackplay (In London 1987 ). It relays a standard and reminds of the “shoulds” of a ghost story; it should be descriptive, mysterious, suspenseful, and of course scary.  In addition – Susan writes with a nineteenth century style, giving the story a welcoming Gothic flavor . All of this is a testament to its greatness; a greatness that I should not have ignored for so long.

The story is simple. Who needs a lot of complexity when “simple” gets the job done, right? Anyway, retired lawyer Arthur Kipps refuses to join with his wife and stepchildren in the frivolity of telling ghost stories, for he takes the matter seriously. His real experience with ghosts rivals all of their silly yarns. His true tale is disturbing and deadly; his family wouldn’t understand.

As a young London lawyer, Arthur is sent to the remote coastal village of Crythin Gifford to attend to the affairs of the late Mrs. Alice Drablow. He must attend her funeral and then retrieve all of the significant legal documents that are scattered about at her former place of residence – Eel Marsh House (gotta love that name!) At her funeral, he sees a mysterious, sickly woman dressed in black. When Arthur mentions her to another funeral attendee, the other freaks out and won’t admit to seeing her. Likewise, no one in the village wants to discuss the late Mrs. Drablow. They want nothing to do with her house, which exists a few miles outside the village. It is surrounded my marshes. It is impossible to get there at high tide. Arthur heeds not the warnings of the people, for he has a job to do. He stays all alone at Eel Marsh House. In the end he will experience something so horrific that he will not be able to share the story with his stepchildren many years later.

As I read this novella and prepared for this review, I could not help but notice parallels between several aspects of this story and certain themes that I have written about here at this blog. First, it pays homage to the “Christmas Ghost Story”, a topic I have written about extensively (For starters, there’s this:  Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses ). The ghost story sessions mentioned at the beginning of this novella occur on Christmas Eve. One of Arthur’s stepchildren correctly points out that such a pastime is part of the English Christmas tradition; at least it was in the days of yore. I am reminded a bit about the Christmas haunted house story by the name of Smee. (See  Review of Smee – A Christmas Ghost Story by A.M. Burrage. To date, this post receives the most traffic). Like Arthur Kipps, the narrator of the ghost story in Smee is reluctant to take part in certain holiday festivities on account of a past terrifying experience. In Smee, the activity that frightens him is a hide-and-seek type game. In The Woman in Black, it is the telling of the ghost story that is unsettling. In both cases, readers learn of the backstory that causes these protagonists to fret on Christmas Eve. In both scenarios, its is this backstory that will turn into the main story.

TheWomanInBlack2Second, the haunted house of this novella is surrounded by terrain that is descriptively creepy. Ghostly grounds are a nice compliment to the haunted house that stands on its domain. I wrote about this here: Ghostly Grounds: Explorations Outside of the Haunted Houses of Film and Literature. While eerie events take place inside the house (inside the locked nursery!), most of the terror takes place outside the walls of Eel Marsh House. There is a nearby cemetery where Arthur once again sees the woman in black. Even more creepier are the marshes. Only by a Causeway can a traveler make safe passage to the house. However, the frequent sea frets often obscure the safe passages. It is here out on these foggy marshes that Arthur hears what I deem to be the most terrifying element of the story. In a good ghost story, things that are not seen are more frightening then then the stuff spoiled by sight. Had I read The Woman in Black before writing the “Ghostly Grounds…” article, I certainly would have made reference to Susan Hill’s story.

Finally, Susan Hill strives for the style of the traditional English ghost story. In my opinion she succeeds at this feat. I have written about the traditional English ghost story, in articles such as J.S. LeFanu and Haunted Houses and Everything I Know About Haunted Houses I Learned from British Literature . First of all, though published in 1983, the book is written in the Gothic style that permeates these ghostly tales of yore. For instance, The Woman in Black is told in the first person and is a story within a story, which was a common plot device back then. The sentences are long and they often give way to passive voice. Susan Hill will write “my spirits rose” instead of “I began to feel better” or “you look unwell” instead of “you look sick.” Furthermore, the story is saturated with descriptions, often about the sky, the grounds and the weather.

What does this style do for the story? A lot! In establishes tone and wraps readers in a certain kind of chilling mood; a mood that modern ghost stories just aren’t able to invoke. And yet, with all its mimicry of the old style, there is something “modern” hidden within that I cannot explain. Somehow this work stands apart from Hill’s literary predecessors. Perhaps it’s the absence of archaic terminology that I often stumble upon when reading the ghosts stories of yesteryears. Maybe she benefits by learning from the old stories in a way that the authors of the traditional stories could not since they were but fledglings of their time. I’m just guessing here. But this “something” that I’m so desperately trying to convey testifies to the overall mystery that surrounds this novel. Heck, even the time period of the story is somewhat enigmatic. Like most gothic tales, this is a period piece. But Hill never explicitly states the year. Cars appear in the book, but so do traps and horses. A man on the train “takes out his watch”, he doesn’t look at his wrist. Telephones are mentioned, but so is the telegraph. Often communication is left to old fashion letters and telegrams.

I have heard good things about the 2012 film version of the book starring Daniel Radcliffe – Good ol’ Harry Potter! I am looking forward to seeing and reviewing that film. But the book is a tough act to follow, so we’ll just have to see. But I’m optimistic.  I’m sure I will enjoy it, but probably not as much as the novella.

 

Halloween Is Over (Or is it???)

All Hallow’s Eve has passed. All of the free roaming spirits have returned to their graves. Or have they?

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They might have “clocked out” for the season, but a bunch of them are still haunting this blog! PLEASE, help me get rid of them!

This is a Ghost Hunt Contest! Find Ghosts – win a book!!

 

Help me find these ghosts. In turn, I will reward you with points. When all is said and done, the person with the most points will win an autographed copy of Matt Power’s book, “Ghosts of Manor House”

Some ghosts are worth more points than others. The chart below shows the point value for each ghost:

Some ghosts are worth more points than others. The chart below shows the point value for each ghost:

Red Ghost: 1 point

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         RED GHOST FOUND!

Yellow ghost: 5 pointsyellowghost2

Blue Ghost: 10 points

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Green ghost: 25 points

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Orange ghost: 50 pointsoramgeghost3

Purple Ghost: 75 points

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White ghost: 100 points

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Find one, find two, or find them all! Once you find a ghost, post the identity (color) and location of the ghost in the comment section below and then I shall remove the ghost from the blog and distribute to you the earned points. For instance, you might say in the comment: “In the Cat and the Canary article, inside the paragraph that begins ‘the movie is a remake of the 1927 film’, I found a blue ghost.

Or you can email me the identity and location at dwcheely@yahoo.com

The person with the most points wins a free autographed copied of Matt’s book – Ghosts of Manor House

 

ManorHouse

Review of The Witches of Ravencrest (The Ravencrest Saga Book 2)

WitchesRavencrestOnce upon a time, I absorbed the “Ghosts of Ravencrest.” Then I needed a break. I had to let these ghosts settle into my consciousness and give them time to digest into my subconscious before moving on. And move on I did,  carrying these ghosts with me, for they were stored in my memory banks. But alas, many of these banks were locked; their contents – irretrievable?  I had hoped not, for any understanding of the book that is under review depended on unobstructed access to these ghosts. Were “The Witches of Ravencrest” able to set them free?   Short answer – yes!

For those that have no clue what I was babbling about in the preceding paragraph, I refer you to this review: The Ghosts of Ravencrest  The Ghosts of Ravencrest is the first book in the Ravencrest saga. The subject of this review is The Witches of Ravencrest, the second book of the series. I finished the first book back in February. When I started the second book in the late summer, I was a bit worried. It had been a while since I visited with the occupants of Ravencrest Manor – the haunted house of the Ravencrest series. These occupants are members of the Manning household; would I remember them?

As far as family goes, the task was easy. The only living family members are Eric Manning and his two children. Check, check, annnnnd check!  But this household includes more than just this trio of living relations – so much more.  First there is the household staff. There is Belinda Moorland, the governess for the Manning children and the aspiring love interest of Eric Manning. Since she is the central protagonist, I had an easy time recalling her as well. Being the newest member of the household, it is through her eyes that readers of the first book come to meet the rest of the staff; a collection of  odd individuals whose idiosyncrasies  range from the charmingly eccentric to the dangerously disturbed.  Then there are those other “entities” that lurk about in the house; abhorrent creatures living in the walls and mysterious spirits that haunt an entire wing of the mansion. Going on memory, it seemed that each household member, living or dead, had a role to play in this somewhat complicated  and continuously unfolding plot. Oh Lordy! How was I ever going to reacquaint myself with all these characters and remap this plot?  Turns out, the task was not that difficult.

With familiar ease, I rediscovered Grant Phister the butler and his husband Riley the gardener. Grant is the eyes and ears of Ravencrest and he seems to be the one tasked with managing the overall affairs of the household. This is no easy feat since part of his job, unofficial though it may be, is to keep the supernatural carnage at a minimum. His ease of character and witty humor make him memorable.   Officially, the untrustworthy Cordelia Heller is the household manager. She is bound to the estate by matters of wills and legality.  It took me very little time to refamiliarize myself with her wicked ways.  For she is an ancient witch that has worn different clothing’s of flesh over her many years. She has it in for Belinda, who is learning, little by little, that she has her own magical abilities that, when fully realized, may rival the skills of Cordelia.  But for now, Cordelia’s power is great! In The Ghosts of Ravencrest, she transformed a man into a crawling abomination that lives inside the walls. This thing, known as The Harlequin, is back in this second novel. He passed out of my conscience for a time, but he crawled back into my brain with the same ease for which he crawls about in the ventilation system.  Cordelia is in charge of the maids who she regularly disciplines down in the dungeon, thereby adding some BDSM flavor to this novel. Ah yes, how could I have forgotten the spicy Dominique, the Latina maid whose obsession with Jesus Christ is taken to an erotic level! Oh and I had forgotten all about Walter Hardwicke, the chauffer, always doing the bidding of Cordelia.  He is also a serial killer. Once reintroduced, I “remembered him fondly” (not really, I just wanted to use that phrase!)

Of all the ghosts that haunt Ravencrest, the three nuns stand out the most. I never forgot them and they are back again, gliding in unison in the haunted wing, forcing anyone they encounter to “Eat, eat, eat!” the cursed persimmons that they have in their possession.  But perhaps of more prominence are the ghosts of Mannings long since dead. To what extent these men and women haunted Ravencrest in the first book I could not remember. But they shine with meaning and revelation in The Witches of Ravencrest.

 The first book introduces us to all these characters and lets us readers know that GhostsRavencrestRavencrest is haunted not only with spirits but also by a strange history of familial drama wrapped in murder and treachery. This second book goes beyond the supernatural manifestations and explores the agents of such phenomena; the summoners of spirits, the casters of spells. In short, we move on from “The Ghosts of Ravencrest” to “The Witches of Ravencrest”.  In the first book we learn what we are dealing with. In the second book, we learn more about the whys and wherefores of the “whats”. We learn of the complex roles of the characters and begin to understand how they fit into the larger story.

For better or worse, The Ravencrest Saga has the makings of a literary soap opera. There is love and eroticism, murder and betrayal, a subplot here, a trail of story over there, here a conflict, there a conflict, everywhere a con-flict – Eric Manning had a house – E-I-E-I-GHOST! Some may not like this style, especially those horror fans that are not into romance sagas. While I am not a follower of such a genre, I did enjoy this book. What I missed, however, were the trips back in time that were prevalent in the first book. There are places in The Ghosts of Ravencrest where the story creeps back to the distant past. The writing style of these sections reflects the style of the period. We go back a century or two and learn about the Manning family of yore. We see how ghosts and witches were a part of the makeup of the family even back then. In The Witches Of Ravencrest, while the ghosts of the old times visit the present, we as readers are rarely allowed back into the past. I miss the old world of the story. Oh well, time marches forward I guess.

So to wrap it all up, The Ravencrest Saga offers interesting characters and a compelling story. It mixes erotica with the gothic. Sometimes this mixture works well. At other times it…I don’t know, it just “works” these other times, minus any supporting adjective. The soap opera style can be daunting, especially if one is not attuned to this style of storytelling, but in the end it pays off with its creativity of content.