The Haunting of Bly Manor – Mike Flanagan Reimagines a Classic Ghost Story Once Again

It Began at Hill House

I didn’t think it would work. Back in 2018 when I first heard that Netflix was turning the Shirley Jackson classic The Haunting of Hill House into a series, I feared the worst. It was to be a “reimagining.”   I turned to the normal arguments. Why mess with the originals?  The original is always the best.  And what is this “reimagining” business; probably something to do with pointless gore and unnecessary jump scares.  Certainly the worst came true back in 1999 with the remake of the original film for which the book is based on. The Haunting 1999 Vs. The Haunting 1963 – anyone with a modicum of taste would say that it is no contest; the film from 1963 is far superior. And this was another reason for me to have low expectations. They already tried to ruin the legacy of the film with that horrendous remake, so what’s to stop them from committing a similar atrocity.

How wrong I was!

As it turns out, Director Mike Flanagan has got a great imagination. So when he reimagined the story, the “imagery” (from “image”, the root word in imagination or “reimagination”) that came forth onto the screen was stunning, chilling, thoughtful and downright creepy. I’m talking about middle-of-the-night, lights-not-working, thunder storm creepy. Now he’s at it again, reimagining yet another classic ghost story.  He’s taking Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and turning it into The Haunting of Bly Manor.  Is it as good as his version of The Haunting of Hill House? Gosh I don’t know, I’m only three episodes into this nine-part series. Except for several Easter eggs and the usage of the same character names, The Haunting of Hill House Netflix series is a vastly different story when compared to Shirley Jackson’s tale. For a brief description of the differences, see this article: The Haunting of Hill House – The Netflix Series – What it is and What it Isn’t. (And it’s still available on Netflix if you wish to see it. However such a viewing is not required in order to enjoy The Haunting of Bly Manor. The stories have nothing to do with each other.) So I was surprised that The Haunting of Bly Manor follows the same plot points as James’ tale. At least it does for the first three episodes.

(Articles I wrote for further reading:

Review of the Haunting of Hill House/ The Haunting: Book Vs. Movie

The Haunting 1963 Vs The Haunting 1999 – Which Film Wins? )

The Classic Henry James Story

Here be the similarities. The classic novella The Turn of the Screw begins at a party where guests are telling ghost stories. One lady relays a tale, and that tale is the main story of the book. The story is about an au pair who cares for two charming children at a country estate. The parents of the children, young Flora and Miles, died tragically. The children are simply delightful; very bright and well refined. But there is something “haunted” about them. The former caretaker had a scandalous affair with the former butler. Sometimes they coupled right in front of the children. Now the pair are missing or dead and it seems as if the children are taking on the personality traits of these former members of the household staff. The book leaves open the possibility that that the new au pair is simply projecting her own fears and insecurities about sexuality onto the children and they are not really haunted at all. In the series, the au pair sees a dark phantom following her inside the reflection of mirrors. The phantom also emerges when she is confronted with something sexual.  So she is most certainly bringing her own baggage to this dark situation.

Read my article Review of The Turn of the Screw (Book) and The Innocents (Film)

Trying to Find that Damned Screwdriver

The “turn of the screw” is an expression that means “the heightening of tension”.  To turn the screw is to create suspense. I’ll say this, the first few episodes of the series seem to be all about finding that damned screwdriver! In other words, the series begins slowly. Real slowly. As with Flanagan’s former series The Haunting of Hill House, there are many characters that are not present in the book. Along with these characters come the backstories.  So far there hasn’t been much “haunting” going on in Bly Manor after three episodes.  With the “Hill House” series, hauntings are there in the backstories. Not so much with “Bly Manor.”  I wish the story was paced differently.  It seems as of Flanagan is trying to get all the backstories out of the way before he lets the ghosts in. Kind of like a classic rock band with a crappy new album that goes on tour; the band will suffer the audience with material from the new album before it rocks on to the songs the people really want to hear.  Also, the characters go into these monologues and talk on and on and on.  Finally, if I have to hear little Flora speak the word “splendid” in her little pretentious voice one more time, I’ll scream!!

Yeah it’s tough setting up the screw driver.  I have read comments from people that have watched this series in its entirety and they say it starts slow but picks up and in the end it’s soooooo great. So I will continue on.  Don’t get me wrong, I like what I have seen so far. It’s just tedious at time. Tell ya what, I’m going to watch two more episodes and then continue this article? Okay, take a rest from reading while I resume watching.

Cheely’s watching episode 4 and 5…….Please wait…..

Cheely’s watching episode 4 and 5…….Please wait…..

Cheely’s watching episode 4 and 5…….Please wait…..

Cheely’s watching episode 4 and 5…….Please wait…..

The Screw Turns

Wow! A lot happens in episode 4 and 5!  Finally the screw is turning. Suspense, suspense and mind-fuckery! I don’t know what is real and what is an illusion. Usher in some hauntings!  It’s a whole new ballgame now. Ghosts might be lurking where you least suspect. I can’t wait for episode 6, 7, 8 and 9!

And here you were worried it wouldn’t be good. All you had to do was wait!

What’s next for Flanagan in The Haunting of….Series?

I don’t know the answer to this header question, but I sure hope it will be The Haunting of The House of Usher.  Please make this be so, Flanagan! Please?  I love the Edgar Allan Poe tale The Fall of the House of Usher and there is so many ways to reimagine this tale in good creepy ways.  Brother Vs. Sister, two siblings with different forms of madness, pitted against each other, in a house that is doomed to come apart down the middle and bring an end to a family’s lineage. Think about it, Mike, I know you are reading this article. (Ha HA Ha HA HA! I wish he was!)

October 19 – The Queen of the Damned – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

This is the third book in author Anne Rice’s vampire series. It’s one of my favorites. She introduces many interesting vampire characters in this book. And, she traces the origin of vampires to its source – The Queen of the Damned.

The movie combines plot points from Rice’s second vampire book (The Vampire Lestat) and the third. It does so poorly, brushing hectically though important plot points. It’s not a good movie. So the book wins.

Winner: BOOK

October 18 – Interview With the Vampire – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

It’s the first book in author Anne Rice’s vampire series, and it’s not my favorite. I’m not sure how many vampire books Rice has written, by I have read many. It’s a good book, don’t get me wrong, with the focus being on a Louis, a melancholy vampire from the 17th century, and his counterpart, the little girl vampire named Claudia who is damned to a child’s body for decades. It’s just that Rice’s vampire tales that focus on The Vampire Lestat are more interesting. 

The movie has an excellent cast. Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and a young Kristen Dunst are surprisingly impressive in their roles. So when all is said and done, I consider this contest to be a draw,

Winner: IT’S A TIE

October 17 – The Sentinel – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

I’m guessing that many have not heard of this book or its corresponding film. It’s definitely a slice of horror that remains under the radar. It’s an interesting story. An apartment complex in New York serves as a portal to Hell. A sentinel must guard the gates at all time. Who is this sentinel and how does one get this job? Ah but that is the key to the story.

The cast of this 1977 film is great. It features Burgess Meredith, Ava Gardner, John Carradine, Sylvia Miles, Beverly D’Angelo, Eli Wallach, and bit roles for such unknowns as Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Walken. This is only the supporting cast and they save the film because the main two actors kind of suck if you ask me. Some of the plot is convoluted and will only make sense if one refers to the book.

Jeffery Konitz’s novel The Sentinel is far superior to the film. Thick in plot and mystery, it puts forth a suspenseful page-turner. The movie just can’t compete. For a detailed comparison, read my article The Sentinel Book and Movie

Winner: BOOK

October 16 – Jaws – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

Believe it or not, I was never a super-duper, die-hard fan of this great white shark. I saw Jaws 2 and Jaws 3D, both in the theater, long before I watched the original on TV and then via streaming.  Sure, it’s entertaining. I like that the music, the “dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun” that seems to summons the shark, which throughout most of the film displays only its fin, piercing out of the ocean as its hidden body makes its way towards its victim.

The book, which came first, was a best seller. Many people forget that the book was as popular and noteworthy as the film. Some have read it and dismissed it. Too much concentration of the sheriff and his marriage, town politics, person-to-person rivalry, they say. But it is for these reasons that I prefer the book. Also, the book offers theories as to the shark’s origins that aren’t found in the film. So the book wins.

Winner: BOOK

October 15 – The Amityville Horror – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

Some say this is a true story. Others say it’s a bunch of bullshit. I favor the second perspective but never mind, it’s an entertaining story.

The tragedy that sparked the story is true – A young man kills his family in the Amityville house. Included in the slaying are his parents and siblings. Years later the Lutz family purchases the house. They said it was haunted, not by your average house ghost but by demonic forces. The book, written in a diary format, covers more ground than the movie does. There are so many more paranormal occurrences in the book and I wonder why the film omitted so much. Anyway, the book is better and if you want to read a more detailed comparison between the book and movie, read this article here: Amityville Horror Book and Movie

Winner: BOOK

October 14 – Burnt Offerings – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

I first saw this film on television as a kid. A doomed family rents a summer home which turns out to be a vampire house – the house itself feeds off of the life force of its occupants and regenerates as its victims die.  There is this phantom hearse driver with dark sunglasses and a creepy smile that shows up whenever someone is about to die. Scary stuff.

Great movie. It is based Robert Morasco’s book by the same name. The book is better. It’s a rather obscure work and yet it is very influential. Like its predecessor The Haunting of Hill House, Burnt Offerings continues the trend of “a house as an entity” theme. The book gives a very detailed account of the house’s slow-building but inevitable power it has on the occupants. The film does its best with this but the book does it better.

Winner: BOOK

October 13 – Ghost Story – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

One- two.  (Um, what?)  That’s how I introduced myself to both the book and movie, one right after another, hence “one-two”. Only it wasn’t quite like that, cause the book, which I took in  first, is a behemoth thing, so it was more like onnnnnnnnnnnnnnnne then two.  A lot is happening in Peter Straub’s meaty novel. Perhaps the title should be called “Ghost Stories” since there are several ghostly happenings varying across time and place.  The film sticks to one of these stories – a female ghost returns to haunt four old men who harmed her when they were young. It was wise of the film to stick with one perspective. Film is a restrictive medium when compared to a story that is meant for a long novel, so I commend the filmmakers for not biting off more than they can chew. The plot of the book strayed several times, and because of this, I initially favored the film over the movie. You can read all about it here Ghost Story

However, as time marches on, I find myself remembering less and less of the film.  But there is something about the book that is sticking with me. I’m not sure what it is. It’s sort of a vague feeling, as if part of me is still inside this snowy town when most of the hauntings take place. For this reason, I am doing a 180. I prefer the book.

Winner: BOOK

October 12 – The Exorcist – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

Last year I read William Peter Blatty’s novel for the first time. As one might expect, there is more detail in the book than the movie.  I liked seeing things through the priest/psychiatrist’s perspective. He’s a much more interesting character in the book. What’s interesting is that even up to the very end, the priest allows for a perspective that maybe, just maybe, Satan has nothing to do with the girl’s psychosis and her condition is triggered by some kind of mental illness. Mind you, it is an illness that grants supernatural powers; super strength, telekinesis, etc., but an illness never the less.

The book is great. And yet, here I go favoring the film. It’s hard to compete with the visual of Regan’s head spinning around. Her monstrous face, her demonic voice! The fact that it freaked-out audiences when this film premiered.

But the book is good. No, It’s great. It’s just, well, I like the movie. And that is all.

Winner: FILM

Review of the book “Haunted House Ghost (Braxton Campus Mysteries Book 5)”

Confession time: I have never read a Hardy Boy’s novel. I had several growing up, probably passed down to me from an older brother-in-law. They were hard cover treasures with blue spines and enticing cover images; two teen boys on the verge of discovering something, their eyes filled with both wonder and fear.  The series featured two brothers, Frank and Joe Hardy, sons of a detective I do believe. They live the lives of clean-cut All-American boys, but oh gee whiz, here they go again, solving some kind of murder mystery that had led the boys on several dangerous escapades. 

Okay, I lied in the above paragraph. I’ve read some chapters from some of this series. I remember getting lost in the plot, putting the books down and picking up the joystick of my Atari game system. Though these books were written for young adults, they failed to gain my attention for reasons for which I can’t remember.  As an adult, I have never read Agatha Christie. I never watched Murder She Wrote.  I have seen several Scooby-Doo episodes though!  The “Scoobmiester” is more my speed.  Each episode features several scary antics and the perpetrator is always that one other character introduced at the beginning of the episode. Oh but it was still exciting to remove the mask of the Scarecrow Man and find the face of Old Man Crawley.

For the Halloween season, I read James J Cudney’s “Haunted House Ghost”.  It is a murder mystery and the disturbing events unfold in October, culminating on Halloween.  Kellan is the central character, the solver of mysteries. As with the Hardy Boys, he’s done all this kind of solving before. This is the 5th book in Cudney’s  Braxton Campus Mystery series.  To date it is the last book and here I am, beginning the series with it. I had to, for it had a haunted house and a ghost.  Kellen bought a house in his hometown of Braxton, a college town where he professes at (He’s a professor at Braxton college in other words). Oh but the house once belonged to Prudence Grey, who mysteriously disappeared a long time ago. Or maybe she was killed? So is it her ghost that is banging on the locked basement door? Is it her ghost that vandalizes his property and causes disarray for the construction crew?

Aside from murders and scandals, Braxton is a charming community. Everyone knows everyone.  Former mayors patronize with librarians, the town’s female sheriff is “chummy” with Kellan, the parish priest is known by all, you get the idea.  And it seems that all their energies are devoted to Braxton activities, especially the upcoming Fall Festival.  And it is wonderful, several days of games, fortune telling, haunted hayrides, corn mazes.  It really was fun reading about these things in October.  Oh but gosh darn it, there goes a murder, right smack dab in the middle of the hayride. Does this murder have anything to do with the remains of a skeleton that was found at the construction site of a former library that burned down in the 1960’s?  Does it have anything to do with “the ghost that haunts” Kellan;s house?

This is a whodunit book. In order for the reader that narrow the scope and take a guess at “who” the killer is, there has to be many suspects; a whole lot of potential “whos”.  And there is. And…this confused the Hell out of me. Thankfully Cudney provided a character outline at the beginning of the book, describing who was who in the town of Braxton. He listed characters that fell under the heading of (This) Family or (That Family), even including ex-wives and long departed grandfathers and such. Constantly, I slid the eReader arrow back to the beginning to remind myself who a certain character was in relation to another character. Still I was bewildered, and it didn’t help that the “status” of many of these characters changed as the book went on. It turns out that Boy is not really the son of This Man but rather his father is Him. Him, as it turns out, once slept with HER and therefore That Lady over there is really an Aunt. And no, She was never murdered, it was Her instead who was killed, but maybe not because She was wearing a disguise the whole time and was never who you thought she was. Honestly, I felt like clawing my brains out at times.

I can’t really criticize the book though. It is very well written and assembled brilliantly like a house of cards, with each card representing a character, or a plot point, and no they can’t be out of place or else the whole story crumbles.  The story doesn’t crumble. I would go mad trying to write this story and keep track of everything. I would fail. Cudney does not fail.

Maybe these whodunit stories just aren’t for me. I have nothing to compare Cudney’s story to due to my lack of experience with mystery novels. I’ve watched several Perry Mason episodes though and these plots drive me bonkers as well.  I just wanted more action in the story.  Most of the novel gets bogged down in backstories and unofficial testimonies and descriptions of families and extended families. But I guess that’s what is needed for this kind of novel. And there wasn’t much haunted house activity going on to satisfy me, a haunted house kinda’ guy!  Oh well.

In short, this is a well-crafted mystery plot. Maybe it’s just not my kind of genre. I should read me some Agatha Christie. Hell even some Hardy Boys just to widen my perspective of the mystery genre. But I have a feeling you, my reader, will enjoy this Haunted House Ghost more than I did. It fits in quite well with the Halloween season.