Solo: A Star Wars Blog Entry

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Relax Jabba, Solo is there! Solo (A Star War Story) is everywhere these days. He made an appearance on The Super Bowl commercials, in between other notable characters such as The Bud Light Knight and the Danny DeVito M & M. Officially, Solo will be zooming into theaters within our galaxy this Memorial Day weekend. Don’t worry, that day will come super fast; faster than the speed of light (point five to be exact).

 You know where else Solo is these days? He’s right here at this blog! That’s right folks, it’s time to take a break from ghosts and haunted houses. In their stead, I give you Han Solo, captain of the Millennium Falcon. As you can tell, I’m excited about this upcoming movie. At the same time, I’m a little apprehensive.  See, ever since I was a little kid playing with my Star Wars action figures, I’ve wondered about Han Solo’s back story. I remember making up pre Star Wars Han Solo adventures. I have certain expectations. I sure hope they aren’t crushed. I haven’t heard anything about Boba Fett. Come on, Opie, the bounty hunter has to be in the film, right?  And what about the Almighty Jabba the Hutt? There can’t be a Solo film without him!

 The original Star Wars series contains a significant amount of dialogue referring to Han Solo’s life prior to the events of A New Hope. From this dialogue, we find out that he is a smuggler, that he was once employed by Jabba the Hutt , and that he “made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.”  What exactly did he smuggle? What was is it like working for a gangster like Jabba? And just what in the heck is a Kessel Run anyway? These questions are all answered, by the way. Alas, these answers will soon be obsolete.  The entirety of the Star Wars Saga goes beyond the films. Any contribution to the story that is not written for the screen is (or was) known as the EU – Expanded Universe. The EU includes novels, comic books, television cartoons and video games. (Sorry, no fanfiction.)  When Disney purchased the Star Wars franchise and rebooted the series, they let it be known that the story arcs within the EU were being tossed to the wayside.  New story content would replace the old. For instance, the EU had already given accounts of a Star Wars life after the events of Return of the Jedi, the final film of the original series. Han and Leia had three children, Luke was married to a woman named Mara Jade. However, The Force Awakens tells a different story, and Mara Jade and the EU Solo children became null and void.

 Before it gets tossed into the dustbin of history, I must pay homage to The Han Solo Trilogy . Written by A. C. Crispin, this three volume series is devoted to the Han Solo back-story. I read these three books over ten years ago and I loved them. I burned through Vol. 1 The Paradise Snare, devoured Vol. 2 The Hutt Gambit and absorbed Vol. 3 Rebel Dawn. Collectively, they follow the life of a young Han Solo, a street-wise orphan kid on the planet Corellia who was abducted by Garris Shrike and forced into a life of crime. As a young adult, Han Solo learns to become a great pilot. The books also tell of his life as a smuggler as he works for several notorious characters around the galaxy. At the very end of the series, Han Solo is in the Mos Eisley Cantina, where he spies a funny looking old man in a large-sized Jawa robe accompanied by some kid in a moisture vaporator uniform and the rest is Star Wars history.

 In this article, I will answer the most popular questions concerning Han Solo’s young adult life, as per the writings of A.C. Crispin. For certain, many of these answers will change after this summer’s Solo film. But please, learn about what was on the page first and then you can take in the new this Solo story from writers Jon and Lawrence Kasdan and director Ron Howard. Will you do that for me? You will? Aw you’re so sweet.   Buckle in while I make the jump to lightspeed.

Here we go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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How does Han Solo become such a great pilot?

 Piloting was in Solo’s blood. For Solo, the ability to navigate a starship came both naturally and with experience. As a prisoner on Garris Shrike’s ship of slaves and criminals, he longed for freedom. At a young age, it was his dream to learn to “fly away” from all this and build his own life as a skilled navigator of the stars, and to eventually become a naval pilot for The Empire. One of his duties under Shrike was to operate race speeders; duties for which he became quite skilled.  Sometimes he was allowed to helm Shrike’s ship Trader’s Luck.

Han Solo’s first official experience as a pilot came when he stowed away on a freighter ship that operated via drone. This was to be his escape from the mother ship Trader’s Luck; his escape from the clutches of Garris Shrike.  He ends up taking control of the ship and redirecting its course to the tropical planet Ylesia, where a religious colony is seeking skilled pilots. Upon arrival, he skillfully pilots through a tumultuous landing, thereby impressing his future bosses. He is hired.

As it turns out, the religious colony is a front for a smuggling operation. After performing many smuggling runs as a pilot, he eventually earns enough money to attend The Imperial Academy. (Hint: any time the term “The Academy” is used in The Empire era of the Star Wars Saga , it means Imperial Academy”).  Through the training given to him via The Imperial Navy,  Solo learns to fly many types of spacecraft, including the Tie Fighter. When his time in the Empire ends (he is unceremoniously stripped of his duties! More in this later), he returns to smuggling. Any skilled pilot/smuggler will have to face the deadly Kessel Run sooner or later. The Kessel Run is a true test of a pilot’s ability. Solo is up to the challenge and successfully navigates this obstacle course on his first try. More details about The Kessel Run to come. Stay tuned!

Under what conditions does Han Solo meet Chewbacca?

Han Meets Chewbacca The Empire enslaved Wookies. As a lieutenant in the Empire, Commander Solo not only frees Chewbacca from slavery, but he saves his life as well. He prevents him from being whipped to death. This intervention leads to Solo’s dismissal from the Empire. His pilot license is revoked and never again would he be able to seek out “official” work as a pilot.

As a token of gratitude, while adhering to Wookie custom, Chewbacca swears a life debt to Han Solo, vowing to never leave his side. Initially, Solo is put off by this. He wants to be left alone; he doesn’t need a partner. His name says is all – “Solo.” But he learns to love the hairy beast and admires his devotion. Even Chewbacca’s marriage doesn’t get in the way of the Solo/Chewbacca duo.  When Han attends the wedding of the two Wookies on the Wookie home world of Kashyyyk, he is prepared to go it alone when he leaves the planet. Chewbacca won’t here of it. The bonds of a life debt are strong than the bonds of holy matrimony.

Why did Han Solo have pity on Chewbacca in the first place? Solo has had an affection for Wookies ever since he was a young boy. On Trader’s Luck, a motherly Wookie named Dewlanna  looks after Solo. Through her, Solo learns to understand the Wookie language. Dewlanna dies helping Solo escape the ship.  Han brings this up to Chewbacca, telling him that he need not serve him, for Solo himself was only paying off a life deft. Dewlanna saved Solo, so in turn, Solo saves another Wookie. But Chewbacca doesn’t follow this logic.  He stubbornly stays by Solo’s side and Han becomes a better person for this loyalty.

How does Han Solo come to work for Jabba the Hutt?

Before enlisting in the Empire, Han Solo gains experience smuggling for an operation run by t’Landa Tils (t’Landa Tils are a cousin species to Hutts) and a Hutt named Zavval. But this wasn’t the kind of thing he could put on his resume, even a resume tailored for the underworld. Solo’s rather dramatic departure results in a dead Hutt and an extremely pissed off t’Landa Til.  The bosses of this operation are not about to recommend Solo to anyone.

If anything is to be gained from Solo’s stint with the t’Landa Tils and Zavval the Hutt it’s life experience. He learns of the Hutts’ volatile tempers and figures out how to approach and even work with these creatures. One day while Solo is wandering the streets of Nar Shadda, (also known as Smuggler’s Moon), he meets a Duros (humanoid species with blue-green skin, red eyes and lipless mouth)  who is desperate for a pilot. Evidentially he promised Tagta the Hutt to have a shipment of contraband delivered to a specified location but he had no one to deliver it. Half of Solo’s payment would come from the Duros and the other from Tagta himself. Solo takes the job, makes the delivery and approaches Tagta to collect. Tagta thanks him for his service but initially refuses Solo any money. Instead of cowering, Solo demands payment and threatens to ruin the Hutt’s reputation. As it turns out, Tagta was only testing Solo’s character. Tagta pays him his due. But Solo wants more. In order to succeed as a smuggler,  one must be connected to Jiliac and Jabba the Hutt; an uncle and nephew crime lord team. Tagta is Jabba’s cousin and so he asks him for a recommendation. Tagta gives him one.

Armed with his recommendation, Solo seeks out Jabba and Jiliac. These two Hutts employ him. Eventually, Solo will go on to be one of Jabba’s favored and most respected smugglers. On one occasion when Solo is weary, Jabba lends him his tail to sit on. Isn’t that sweet?

So Han Solo is a smuggler. Exactly what does he smuggle?

Well, we know that he smuggles people. He was, in affect, attempting to smuggle Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi to Alderaan. Ok, ok, it was really the droids he was smuggling. Han Solo also smuggles weapons to various rebel groups. In these days of Han Solo’s young adulthood, there are various factions that rebel against this tyrannical empire, but there is not yet a “Rebel Alliance” (not to the very end of the Han Solo trilogy). So…there’s that.

Ahh let’s cut to the chase. Han Solo mainly smuggles spice. Spice is THE drug of the Star Wars universe.  It is so heavily regulated by The Empire that it is practically illegal, though not 100% illegal. Special citizens of the Empire may enjoy a little recreational spice, which they may obtain though Imperial trade only. But for everyone else in the galaxy it is off limits. As for the criminal syndicate, The Hutts’ control much of the spice trade in the same way that Al Capone controlled the liquor trade during The Prohibition.

So basically, Han Solo is the Hutt’s mule. Make no mistake, if Han Solo were here on planet Earth, he’d be involved in shipping drugs from one nation to another. Cocaine, Heroin, etc.  Solo transports drugs. Solo transports drugs. Solo transports drugs. Get used to it!

Where does Boba Fett fit into all of this? Lando Calrissian?

Teroenza, High Priest of Ylesia, is the first to place a bounty on Han Solo. He is still sorehan-and-boba about the way things went down when Solo left his operation (Among many things, Solo stole many of his treasures). So he hires the most notorious bounty hunter in the galaxy – Boba Fett. Fett is expensive; he charges an outrageous amount of money just for a consultation. Fett is curt throughout their meeting. (Says stuff like “Get to the point!”) 

Throughout this series, Boba Fett will go on various missions and seek out several bounties. At one point, Han Solo goes into hiding due to Fett’s persistent nature. While in hiding, he is unavailable to smuggle for Jabba . So, The Hutt pays Fett to leave Solo alone. Whatever the bounty is, Jabba will pay more for that bounty to be ignored. How ironic, for later, as we know, Jabba will put a bounty on Solo’s head and Fett will collect.

At one point in the series, a stranger rescues Solo from Fett’s clutches. Han thanks the rescuer, but he can’t help but wonder why this stranger sticks out his neck for him. The stranger explains: Solo’s reputation as a pilot precedes him. The rescuer has a ship, but doesn’t know how to fly it. The stranger wants the best, so he seeks out Solo to hire as his teacher. Just when he is about to walk up and introduce himself to Han, he witnesses Boba Fett getting the best of Solo. He steps in and thwarts Fett’s capture. This stranger, this rescuer, this pilot-wanna-be is none other than Lando Calrissian.

How does Han Solo acquire the Millennium Falcon?

Lando Calrissian owns a Corellian-made freighter. It’s name – The Millennium Falcon. When Calrissian shows it to Solo, Han immediately falls in love with it. But he doesn’t let on. In an attempt to hide his covetous attraction to the ship, he calls it “a piece of junk” (The same expression used by Luke Skywalker upon first sighting).  Nevertheless, he teaches Lando how to fly it, all while learning of the ships idiosyncrasies.

Now, In The Empire Strikes Back, viewers learn that Solo had won The Falcon from Calrissian. This happens later in the Han Solo Series.  Lando meets Han in the second book – The Hutt Gambit .  Solo wins The Falcon in the third book – Rebel Dawn. Han and Lando separate after the flying lessons. They reunite in the cloud city of Bespin where an intergalactic Sabacc tournament it taking place. At this point, Lando Calrissian is not yet an administrator of this city like he is in The Empire Strikes Back; he doesn’t even live there. Both men are enrolled in the tournament. Sabacc is a popular card and gambling game and Lando is an expert. The game is his profession.

Hundreds of species from various systems are there at Bespin competing in the tournament. In the end, it is down to three; Solo, Calrissian, and another. The other drops out. Calrissian bluffs and Solo calls him on it.   This pays off and Solo wins. In addition to winning the jackpot, Solo and Calrissian have a private bet going. Lando has acquired a spaceship lot. He was willing to put up any ship from the lot. But Solo demands the Falcon. Calrissian protests but in the end, he turns it over to him.

Remember in a New Hope when Luke Skywalker puts down the Millennium Falcon and Solo tells him that the ship has “got it where it counts” and that he had made special modifications himself? Well some of those modifications include military armor plating that he scrapped form an Imperial ship. Then there is the gateway blaster that pops out of the lower part of the ship (remember when it blasted away at those Mos Eisley stormtroopers?) In addition, he overhauls the hyperdrive, installs canons , and , of course, he adds the hidden compartments to hide smuggled goods; the same compartments that hid Solo/Chewie, Luke/Obi-Wan and the droids from the Death Star stormtroopers. Not bad, eh?

 


 

In the original trilogy, Han Solo had a lot of attention-grabbing lines. Many of these lines point to backstory. In addition, some of the sticky situations he finds himself in can be traced back to adventures that took place pre-A New Hope. Let us examine some of this dialogue and take a look at some of those scenes. We will then trace these lines and scenes to this Han Solo Trilogy and discover what in the heck was going on, at least in the mind of the brilliant A.C. Crispin.

 

“It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs”

You knew this was coming. This is perhaps the most quoted of Han Solo’s lines; his famous boast to Obi Wan Kenobi about the ability of the Millennium Falcon. This line has been made fun of by many a math and science geek. A “parsec” is a unit of distance, not time! So why is Solo using the term to describe the Falcon’s speed? Well, he’s not, according to A.C. Crispin. Solo is referring to distance. In order to understand, we need to know what a “Kessel Run” is in the first place.  Let’s learn about that right now.

Han Solo was not the first Star Wars character to refer to “Kessel”. Oh no he wasn’t! He might have been the first to describe the “run”, but it is C3PO that first refers to the planet Kessel. In the very beginning of A New Hope, he warns his little buddy R2D2 about what could happen for their discretions.

“We’ll be sent to the spice mines of Kessel, smashed into who knows what!”

As can be inferred by C3PO’s statement, Kessel is known for its spice mines. Not only that, Kessel has refineries that take raw spice and process it into “glitterstim;” thereby purifying it while heightening its potency. Mining spice is dangerous and often droids are assigned to that task, hence C3PO’s fear.

Imperial Customs ships often patrol Kessel. How does a drug smuggler transport spice from Kessel while avoiding Imperial confrontations? By taking a detour through “The Kessel Run”.  The Kessel Run is a section of space near Kessel that is plagued with an obstacle course of black holes, asteroids and nebula gas clouds. It is a very tricky and deadly course and only skilled pilots navigate it.  Solo is taught to fly the course while on  another smuggler’s ship. His first attempt, though not perfect, is remarkable. Solo will go on to make hundreds of Kessel Runs.  But it is on The Millennium Falcon, while outrunning two Imperial ships, that he breaks a record. Checking the Falcon’s instruments, he learns that he has made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. He goes on to tell Chewbacca, “Hey this is weird. It says we actually shortened the distance we traveled, not just the time.” Black holes warp both distance and time. By flying insanely close to the maw of a black hole, Solo shortened the distance.  Neat huh?

“Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful force controlling everything.”

When Solo says this, he is not a believer in The Force. Of course by the time the events in The Force Awakens take place, he has changed his tune. But did he really see “a lot of strange stuff” that might, to the ignorant, rival the perceived magic of The Force? Yeah he really did.  But much of this strange stuff has a logical explanation behind it (Let’s suspend our disbelief somewhat; we’re talking “Star Wars” logic here).  Let’s outline of some of these strange experiences.

1) The Exultation.

 On the world of Ylesia, within the operation that allowed Solo his first big break into the smuggling business,” there was a lot of “Strange stuff” going on. To the outside world, Ylesia is a planet that offers the best of religious retreats. It is advertised throughout the planets as a place to escape the cruel galaxy; a place to live a monastic life in religious bliss. Pilgrims come and experience what is known at The Exultation. This “exultation” is administered nightly by the high priest Teroenza; a t’Landa Til that is similar in appearance to a Hutt. The high priest does his thing and crowds before him are overcome with a euphoric bliss. For those blessed moments, pilgrims are one with the entire universe! The administering of The Exultation, along with the sermon and other rituals, lasts a little over an hour.  When it’s over, the receivers of this “sacrament” must wait 23 hours for the next one. What will they do while waiting? Why, they will work is Ylesia’s spice mines, of course! They are kept as slaves, forced to work long hours in very dangerous situations. But they put up with it. Anything for the nightly Exultation!

Han Solo smuggles spice for Teroenza and his Hutt counterpart. He too experiences the Exultation and is overcome with bliss. But he fights its addicting effects and succeeds in overcoming its lure. After a while, Teroenza let’s Han in on the secret. What humans experience as an “Exultation” is simply the effects of a male t’Landa Til’s mating call. Certain movements of its throat cause a humming. This humming, along with the telepathic projections that are released from this exercise, create an addictive high to the humans that are directly exposed to the call.

Having been a slave on Trader’s Luck, Han is appalled by what is going on. He ends up rescuing some of the slaves and helping them to break their addiction. Part of the deprograming comes with knowing the truth: the High priest does not have any special powers. He is just a low life gangster thug.

One of the slaves he rescues is a woman named Bria. She and Solo have an on again/off again relationship throughout the series.

 2) Forced Suggestion.

It is similar to a Jedi Mind Trick. While under the spell, a victim has no will of his/her own.  S/he is at the mercy of the commands of another. Han Solo falls prey to this. It is Boba Fett who takes control of Han Solo. Solo is unable to move or speak without the direction of Fett. If Fett says “walk”, Solo will walk, despite any wishes to the contrary. If Fett directs him to walk off a cliff, he will do so, for his motor skills have been taken over by the other. 

Boba Fett victimizes Solo by a dart laced with a drug that strips him of his own will. While under his command, he orders him to march toward his ship Slave 1.

Han cannot utter a word of protest. He cannot speak unless the bounty hunter permits it. It is Lando that interferes, shoots Fett with his own dart, and orders the bounty hunter to get in his ship and travel to the other side of the galaxy. I wonder if Solo thought the Jedis used this drug to produce the effects of the Jedi Mind Trick.

 

3) – Telepathic powers

Glitterstim has been known to produce this effect. The drug can allow its user to read the mind of another. But only for a limited amount of time. In fact, Bria refused to believe that her religious experience on Ylesia was inauthentic. While under the influence of Glitterstim, she reads Han Solo’s mind and knows that he is telling the truth when he declares Teroenza to be a fraud.

 4) – The Illusionist

 Han Solo has a fling with Xaverri,  an illusionist who performs magic for sold out shows. She once tricked Imperial senators and made them believe that a fleet of war ships were attacking. Solo could never figure out how she performs her tricks. But that’s what they were – tricks.

Han Solo – “That was a long time ago, I’m sure he’s forgotten that.”

Lando Calrissian – “Why you slimy double crossing no good swindler. You’ve got a lot of guts coming here, after what you pulled!”

Remember when Solo and company first arrived at Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back? They weren’t greeted to fondly, were they? The twin pod ships of Bespin were prohibiting Solo’s landing. Chewbacca growls a possible explanation and Solo suggests that Lando had forgotten about “that”.  What is “that”?  When they finally do land, Lando greets them coldly, accusing Solo of having “pulled something.”

Some have offered that it was Lando’s loss of The Millennium Falcon that had him so steamed. Well I had never thought that and neither did Author Crispin. Instead, she offers a much more interesting account of what went on between Lando and Han.

Bria, Solo’s lover whom he had rescued from slavery on Ylesia, has hooked up with a band of rebels. She wants to invade Ylesia and wipe out the entire smuggling operation. Her motives are two-fold; to steal the treasures to help fund the rebels in their fight against The Empire, and to extract revenge. She enlists the help of Solo who in turn enlists the help of Lando and several smugglers. All will split the loot. But when the fighting is over and the rebels and smugglers achieve their victory, Bria reneges on the deal. She and her band or armed rebels hold Lando and his men at gunpoint, prohibiting them from claiming their share.

Naturally, Lando suspects that Solo took part in planning this treachery, since Bria was an old flame of his. When Solo tries to explain his innocence, Lando sucker punches him in the face. This is why, many years later on the landing platform on Bespin, Lando makes like he is about to punch Solo.  In the end he is joshing and ends up hugging is old friend. All is forgiven (but we know that Lando is part of the plan to hand Solo and his friends to the Empire, even if it wasn’t his fault)

Greedo – “Jabba has no use for smugglers who drop their shipments at first sign of a an Imperial Cruiser”

Solo – “Even I get boarded sometimes.”

Greedo-George-Lucas-1130151Soon after this conversation, Solo shoots Greedo dead. (Solo shot first. Case closed!) But he then goes on to have a similar conversation with Jabba himself. Just what in the heck went down anyway? Well, a shipment of spice went down, down upon some asteroid in the Kessel Run.  Solo drops the shipment. But he had no choice. As he said, “Even I get boarded sometimes.” And he does get boarded.

Han Solo happened to have a bunch of kids on board The Falcon when he was smuggling spice from Kessel to Corellia. (Children on a drug run? Shame! Shame! Shame!). The kids are orphans that they had rescued from slavery on Ylesia. While in flight, Solo receives orders from Jabba to pick up a load of spice on Kessel. What was he to do?

After leaving Kessel with the shipment, they head into The Run where three Imperial ships are waiting. They chase Solo, and Solo speeds ahead just enough to drop his shipment with the intentions of retrieving it later. The “Imps” catch up to him, board the Falcon, and place Solo on “Suspicion of smuggling spice from Kessel.” The ship is searched.

Meanwhile, the orphan kids plead with the Imperial commander to let Solo go, for he is not a smuggler (the kids know what’s up, but they lie for their new hero!) but instead, a hero. Reluctantly, after finding no spice, the Imperials escort the Falcon to Corellia ,where he is greeted as a hero. So much time wasted! When all is said and done, Solo rushes back into The Kessel Run to where he had dropped the spice. It isn’t there. Most likely, Imperials had found it and claimed it.

Jabba is peeved and demands payment for the lost shipment. Solo agrees to pay. But he never does. After some time, Jabba is forced to put a bounty on Solo’s head and the rest is Star Was history.


 

Aside from all the satisfying explanations to those often quoted and humorously reenacted lines and scenes in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back concerning Solo’s back story, the Han Solo trilogy offers intriguing story concepts independent of the films. For instance:

Hutt vs. Hutt

Who does a Hutt have to compete with in the spice trade? Answer – another Hutt. The Hutts control the spice trade, but sometimes a clan of Hutts is at odds with another clan in terms of which crime unit controls what sector of the galaxy. Sometimes these disputes are settled diplomatically, sometimes they are not. Crispin writes of one of these non-diplomatic situations. It is a caged death match – one Hutt is to fight another in an arena style combat.  Hutts from both clans gather around to watch these two high-ranking Hutts pummel each other. In the end, one lives while the other dies. Now isn’t this something that needs to be seen on the big screen? Or is this too gross of a concept for you? If you answered “yes” to the second question, then surely you will not be prepared for what follows in the next paragraph.

Hermaphrodite Hutts  

Han Solo approaches the two Hutts, Jiliac and Jabba. He had known for a long time that Jiliac was the uncle and Jabba was the nephew. Imagine how confused he is when the pair scolds him for addressing both as males. “This is my Aunt!” Jabba barks in the Huttese language, “Can’t you see that Jiliac is pregnant?” When it is time to procreate, a male Hutt will develop a female anatomy to give birth. But, how does a Hutt get pregnant?  That is NOT discussed in the book and let’s be thankful for that!

Planet Coruscant

I’m not sure when the planet Coruscant was written into the Star Wars Extended Universe. Before this planet made it to the big screen, it first appeared in the books. It was the former capital of The Old Republic. It later becomes the capital of The Empire. We’ve seen this planet depicted in the Prequel Trilogy. It is the planet that hosts the Senate arena, the Jedi Council. It is the city planet where a young Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker pursue a bounty hunter on a high speed chase.

Han Solo frequents this planet in the Han Solo trilogy. He tries to do banking an Imperial Bank and almost gets himself arrested. The thing to note is that this trilogy of books was published BEFORE The Phantom Menace came out in theaters. So George Lucas did in fact canonize certain elements from the extended universe of books. This brings us to the perfect segue. Read on!

Was Rouge 1 partially based on Rebel Dawn?

Rouge 1 has Jen Erso. Rebel Dawn has Bria Tharen, Solo’s ex-girlfriend. Both are females that lose their lives on a mission to transmit stolen plans to a Rebel Courier ship. Both are on a planet that acts as an Imperial Com Center when they perish. Jen dies while in the arms of Cassian Andor, her mission partner and last minute lover,  as The Death Star blows the planet away. Bria chats with a young male, a kid really, who asks her if they are going to die. She answers him honestly.  Then they face off against a legion of stormtroopers who spray them with their blasters. (I know, stormtroopers are infamous for being bad at shooting. But in this case, they hit their intended targets)

The story of Bria is obsolete; overwritten by the events in Rouge 1. But it certainly seems as if the writers of Rouge 1 got some of their ideas from this last book in the Han Solo Trilogy.

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The Han Solo Trilogy is a tough act to follow. I don’t expect Solo: A Star Wars Story to be as good as these books. I do hope the film utilizes some of the story ideas though. From the trailer, we do learn that Han had gone into The Imperial Academy (he calls it simply “The Academy”).  Whereas the movie Solo appears to quit, the book Solo graduates with honors. I don’t expect things to be the same in each medium, but I do wish for similarity. Sadly, A.C. Crispin will never know if her ideas made it on to the big screen.

Ann Carol Crispin, author of twenty three books, lost her life to cancer in 2013 She also A-C-Crispin wrote books based on the Star Trek and V series as well.

In a message to fans three days before she died, she said:

“I want to thank you all for your good wishes and prayers. I fear my condition is deteriorating. I am doing the best I can to be positive but I probably don’t have an awful lot of time left. I want you all to know that I am receiving excellent care and am surrounded by family and friends.”

R.I.P. Ann Carol Crispin. I enjoyed your Han Solo Series immensely. I will be thinking of you when I am in the theater watching the up and coming Solo film. You wrote Solo well. Let’s hope the film does half the justice that you have done to this iconic character.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Winchester

WinchesterHouseIt is billed as “The most haunted house in America.” The Winchester Mystery House , built in 1883, stands today in San Jose, CA. The intrigue surrounding the Winchester Mystery House has all the ingredients for a uniquely American haunted house story.  It is at the heart of American history.  It is about Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester fortune; a fortune built upon the guns that gave the wild west its character.  With this fortune comes a curse, or so some people say.  Riches built upon instruments of death are magnets for the restless spirits of those that were killed by the Winchester rifles, so sayeth the legends.  And so sayeth the Winchester movie, directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, know collectively as “The Spierig Brothers.”

Both the truth and the myths surrounding Winchester Mystery House present much intrigue for the haunted house enthusiast. Truth – The extremely wealthy widow, Sarah Winchester, was a reclusive eccentric. She is responsible for all her house’s oddities, WinchesterStairsincluding staircases that lead to nowhere, doors that lead to nowhere, and windows that look into other rooms.  (See Cosmopolitan.com). It started as an eight room farmhouse. After years of continuous construction, it is now a monstrosity of “24,000 square feet, four stories and as many as 160 rooms. It had 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 47 chimneys, 40 staircases, three elevators and a grand ballroom complete with an organ.” (Description is from an article found at cdn.americanrifleman.org). Throughout her stay at the house, Sarah Winchester designed and redesigned, built up rooms and tore rooms down. The house was always in construction mode. Why? Here comes the myths. What else was she supposed to do with all those homeless ghosts of the rifle victims that appeared at her doorstep? She had to make room for them! Or, some say, she built this maze-like house to confuse these, keep them lost. (See article at countryliving.com)

The Winchester movie is a fictional story based on fact. I would have it no other way.  The truth has enough components to allow for the imagination to run wild.  Creators of a haunted house film based on the Winchester Mystery house should stretch the truth into strange shapes that are as convoluted as the corridors, as tall as the pointless turrets. There is just so much material to work with, enough to create the best haunted house story ever. Ever I say!

So it pains to say,  The Spierig Brothers (also the screen writers) completely waste what should have been the ideal setup. They commit haunted house malpractice. In exchange for a creative adventure through a house that has been effectively blueprinted and seemingly customized for a chilling haunting, we get cliché’s, jump scares, a bunch of boos and a whole lot of boredom.

The initial premise is promising. Dr. Eric Price (played by Jason Clark), is sent to Winchester House to evaluate the sanity, or lack thereof, of widow Sarah Winchester (played by Helen Mirren). This request is made by the lawyers representing the stakeholders of Winchester Repeating Arms Co, or those that own 49% of the company (with Sarah owning 51%).  If she is judged to be mentally unfit as a shareholder, then maybe the interests of the other parties can benefit by claiming the entire company.

Dr. Price is an abuser of laudanum, an opium-laced medicinal concoction, so when he begins to see strange things at this mansion, it is perhaps due to drug induced hallucinations. After Sarah strips him of his drug, he continues to see ghosts and hear things that go bump in the night. It turns out, he himself was a victim of a Winchester rifle. Obviously he had survived, but that unfortunate encounter with the bullet leaves him prone to seeing the Winchester curse in action. See, those who have not been affected by the Winchester rifles do not see the ghosts.

So far the story is good. But then…yuck.

What’s missing in this story is the interaction between the ghosts and the house. In fact, viewers barely get a feel for the house itself, which should be central to all the scares. True, we get plenty of overhead shots of the enormous abode with all its subsections. We see the construction in process. We see that noteworthy staircase that leads to nowhere; we see several locked and forbidden rooms (the bad ghosts are locked in them.)  But it felt as though all the action plays out in just a few rooms and hallways. Furthermore, the bizarre construction doesn’t contribute a whole lot to the scares. Quite often we are rushed through the scenery of the house. The Spierig Brothers should have studied Stanley Kubrick and paid attention to the many ways he made The Shining’s Overlook hotel come alive! They should have taken in some Robert Wise learned about the haunting atmosphere of Hill House, the house that is the subject of the film The Haunting. In both of these films, the innards of these haunted settings have a way of seeping into the viewers’ consciousness. Not so in Winchester .

There should have been spirits haunting every bizarre corner. Instead, the majority of the story focuses in on the spiritual shenanigans of one vengeful spirit. This spirit possesses a little boy and takes him on sleepwalking escapades.  When this happens, the film becomes any of a number of horror movies, Conjuring 2, Insidious, Poltergeist, The Exorcist. At one point the spirit enters Sarah herself, and when she speaks, two vocal tracks play simultaneously; one of her own voice and the other is a voice of ‘demonesque’ quality, producing that overused eerie sound effect that has been used in Evil Dead 2 and many other films. At one point the spirit yelled in a sort of “shout growl” and I cringed.  In another scene, furniture and anything in the room that is not nailed down soars in the air. Poltergeist activity everyone! Ooooo! So many gimmicks to this film. A movie about a house of the such bizarre designs should not need gimmicks. It should be the house itself that brings forth the chilling entertainment along with a camera that has the patience to take it all in. It should not rely on the same old bag of tricks that gets passed around from horror movie to horror movie.


At this point, I would like to step back from the review of this film and focus in on some of the actual history of Sarah Winchester, The Winchester Mystery House, and The Winchester Repeating Arms Co. Toward the end of this “history lesson”, I will offer some of my ideas for plot devices that might have made the fictional story more interesting. Some of my sources included Cosmopolitan.com, MilitaryFactory.com, winchesterguns.com, and several others. I reference in the appropriate places.

According to Cosmopolitan, Sarah Lockwood Pardee, born in 1840 in Connecticut, would later go on to marry William Wirt Winchester in 1862. William was the son of Oliver Winchester, owner of Winchester Repeating Arms Company. After William’s death in 1881, Sarah received an inheritance worth 20 million dollars. By today’s standards, that equates to roughly $450 million.

In the years following, Sarah continued to earn money from the sales of guns. The Winchester Repeating rifle was an innovative product and therefore commercially successful. According to MilitaryFactory.com ,the Model 1873 became known as the “everyday man” rifle. This is due to its lever-action repeating assembly. In fact, Winchesterguns.com noted that the Model 1873 is referred to as “The gun that won the west”. The expansion of the railroads brought the demand for these rifles to the west. WinchesterBillyTheKidBuffalo Bill once endorsed Winchester rifles. The teenage William H Bonney (a.k.a Billy the Kid) posed with a Winchester rifle in a picture (photo courtesy of Winchesterguns.org). And it was this repeating rifle that brought Custer’s army down; his boys had single shot rifles, the natives were equipped with the repeaters.

A lot of guns sold, a lot of deaths. Could Sarah have felt guilty from profiting off of these deaths? If so, did this guilt in someway contribute to her bizarre building designs? (The Cosmopolitan article describes the house as “objectively nuts.”) Country Living Magazine offers three possible theories . First, the article mentions that Sarah was at her happiest when she and her husband oversaw the construction of their New England home. So, perhaps Sarah was trying to recreate this happiness by embarking upon an endless construction project. Theory #2 suggests that Sarah was simply being generous to contractors, builders and architects. She wanted them to remain employed. I find this theory to be less truthful than the ghost story. I prefer theory #1 but with a darker twist – the constant building and rebuilding was an obsession; perhaps an obsession to ward off metaphorical ghosts. If Sarah wasn’t haunted by the deaths of those that died by the rifle, then perhaps she was haunted by the deaths of not only her husband, but also her daughter who died when she was just one month old. If Death equates to destruction, then maybe continuance = building. Perhaps if she stopped building, she would think only of death. A similar scenario occurs in the movie Reign Over Me. A 9/11 widower (played by Adam Sandler) recalls his last conversion with his wife before she boards one of the doomed aircrafts. They had argued via phone about remodeling their kitchen. Obsessively, he has his kitchen remodeled over and over , as if he is making amends with his wife’s wishes, trying vainly to deal with his guilt by constant rebuilding. Like the fictional 9/11 widower, maybe Sarah just felt the constant need to rebuild.

Theory number 3 is the fun one. It is the theory of the ghosts; ghosts of the victims of the guns. There are just too many of them coming to her in her San Jose house. She needed to build ad-ons. In these rooms the ghosts could flourish, or be confined, or get lost and therefore be less of a nuisance. Since the details of this theory are at best speculative, it is fun to expand the legends, to “ad-on” to it you will. It’s a house that can spawn hundreds of ghost stories. Why not have the stairway that leads to nowhere lead to an entirely different room upon descent? Why not have a large circular room spin like a merry-go-round, so that when its rotation stops, the exit doors lead to very different locations than the original pre-spin exits? Why not have a ghost drag a guest up one of the chimney flues, only to take that guest, mysteriously, to another chimney flue in a different section of the house? The possibilities are endless, but this film by The Spierig Brothers limits them severely. Yes, the movie brings in the architectural oddities, but ineffectively so. What to film goers get with the windows that look into other rooms? Jump scares, what else!

Since the film is unsatisfying, what then can one do with that hunger for Winchester haunts? I suppose a trip to the house might satisfy that hunger. According to USA Today the house is open to tourists. Some people have claimed to see the ghost of a worker pushing a wheel barrow. Others have claimed to have seen the ghost of Sarah Winchester herself. But there is one thing to note: there is no record of Sarah ever claiming that her house was haunted. None. All the stuff of ghosts comes from second or third hand accounts. But if you want to believe in the ghosts, then you will believe in the ghosts. And maybe then you will actually see one at this house. Isn’t that how the expression goes – “believing is seeing?” (okay I guess I got it reversed. But I like my phraseology better!) And maybe, just maybe, you can also believe that this movie is good. If you can do that, then good for you. You have found enjoyment in a place that I could not.

Folks, I leave you with this. It is another account of the “Spirit of the Winchester”

 

Bundle Up for “A Winter Haunting” – By Dan Simmons

A Winter Haunting 3

Have I got a haunted house book for you! It’s a very decent read,; a brilliant piece. And, it is seasonally appropriate. Published in 2002, it is called A Winter Haunting by author Dan Simmons. The action of the story begins at Halloween and ends post New Years Day. Yes I know, we already finished those holiday celebrations. To reengage in the them would require us to look back instead of moving forward. Well golly gee, isn’t that what hauntings are about, looking back?  Don’t you want to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with the slightly unbalanced professor Dale Stewart in a haunted farm house from his boyhood town?  But of course you do. Besides, it’s got the wintery stuff that targets us Midwesterners right now, including, but not limited to, snow, chilling breezes, and a house to escape the elements of the cold season (although this house must be shared with…certain things. Scary things).  Well, enough of all that, come along now.  Come on!

First a disclaimer. A Winter Haunting is the second book of a series. Technically, it’s full title is A Winter Haunting (Seasons of Horror Book 2). To date, the only other “seasons” based book by Simmons is Summer of Night (Seasons of Horror Book 1), published in 1991. Summer of Night has spawned several successive works. It is a story about the memorable summer of 1960 and the group of pre-adolescent boys (and one girl) that participated in it. Filled with the stuff of nostalgia, it successfully makes the reader yearn for those summer days of our youths. But that is not what makes the summer memorable; not for The Bike Patrol (the name of the club the boys of 1960 had formed) anyway. For those characters inside the book, it is a memorable summer because they were put in a situation where they had to spend a good deal of their time  combatting evil, supernatural forces.

Simmons follows Summer of Night with several books that contain some of these children characters as adults.  These include Fires of Eden and Children of the Night. As far as I know, these two books do not belong in the “Seasons of Horror” series. A Winter Haunting also deals with one of the Bike Patrol boys all grown up.  While I do think the book stands well on its own,  it’s probably wise to read Summer of Night first, if anything than to avoid a major spoiler that unfolds about “that summer.”

So, why am I reviewing A Winter’s Haunting before Summer of NightTwo reasons.

1) As previously mentioned, A Winter Haunting is seasonally appropriate at this time. For those of us who live in a wintery climate, we are more apt to relate to Dale’s walks across snowy fields when we ourselves are blanketed in a frosty climate. The holidays mentioned in this book are fresh in our memories.

2) Technically, Summer of Night is not much of a haunted house novel. True, the school building is facilitator of the things that haunt the town of Elm Haven, so technically it is about a haunted structure (a certain part of it is any. Oh but I can’t tell you about it. Spoiler!)  But the book is more about the supernatural manifestations that spread throughout the town of Elm Haven.  The most frightening elements of the book occur in cemeteries, children’s bedrooms, nearby forests, and down country roads.

But since the school is a respected historical structure, and since some of the book’s supernatural activity does occur inside its walls, I will review the book. But I will do this at the beginning of summer 2018. Mark your calendars!

Back to A Winter Haunting, which is in some ways very different from its predecessor. Different in time, different in tone. Summer of Night, while horrific, contains elements of timeless joys and youthful freedom. It is a story of young boys. A Winter Haunting closes those chapters of our lives many years later. It is about settling rather than striving. It is about coming to terms with what you’ve become and living with the sins of the past. Professor Dale Stewart (a Bike Patrol member) in not happy with the way things in his adult life are going. He leaves his wife and children to start a relationship with one of his students. The student, in turn, leaves him. He attempts suicide. He turns a pistol on himself.  When he fails to kill himself, he seeks therapy.

Dale decides to rent a farm house in his childhood town of Elm Haven for a winter.  A Winter HauntingThere he will write a book about that memorable summer – the summer of 1960. He seems to want to revisit the past, perhaps to see how far back things had gone horribly wrong. Maybe the answers to his current problems are here in Elm Haven; here in the house. If the bullet had discharged from the gun he turned on himself, the wound he would have suffered would have been considered self-inflicted. In a way, what he experiences at the farmhouse is a self-inflicted haunting. If you dig for ghosts you just might find them. And Dale does.  The places in and around the farm house, the people he meets from his past, all of this is part of this self-inflicted haunting. Dale is romanticizing his past while at the same time – it scares the shit out of him.

It’s very difficult to describe this story without encountering spoilers.  There is some very interesting backstory surrounding this farm house, but I can’t get into that for fear of ruining parts of Summer of Night. It has an upstairs that is mostly sealed off from the rest of the house. Weird things occur beyond that plastic sealing! There is a basement with interesting books and devices.  There is something about one of these devices that comes as a shocker to Dale near the end of the story. Then there is the ghost that is most important to the story, but I cannot delve into it’s nature. This ghost is with Dale at the beginning, becomes more intertwined with his current state of affairs while he is at the house, and remains with him at the story’s end.

There is a lot of psychology at play in the book, although it is not always obvious. The overall scenario is a common one: a writer is alone with his or her thoughts trying to write a book, struggling with both fantasy and reality. We see this play out in The Shining.  This plays out in my book The Housesitter as well. But as the story unfolds, we the readers discover things that are uniquely Dan Simmons, such as his knowledge of ancient epics and religious myths.  This knowledge fits in remarkably well in what is otherwise a folksy down-to-earth tale.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It is one of the bests of its genre.  You may want to give Summer of Night a read first, which is, admittedly, a long book.  But is you choose to pass on Summer of Night (And I don’t recommend skipping this book), please read A Winter Haunting. The story can be well understood without reading any previous books. Whatever you do, don’t miss it!

 

 

Review of Ghosts of Hanley House

GhostsOfHanleyHouse2

The last review I wrote was for Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, a low budget film from 1971.  In that review I explain to readers about a certain kind of fear. It’s a fear that  has the potential of grabbing viewers at the very beginning of the film. It is a fear that the movie will be stink-a-roo.  It smacks viewers with its mediocrity and lays out a path of uncertainty. Will the path lead to something worthy of 89 minutes of time?  Or will this movie be a waste of time?  I then argue that viewers should march on ahead and ignore any initial signs of mediocrity. For there will be a pay off.  Granted, I never promise the readers a 5 star masterpiece, but I do argue that the film is delightfully scary and, in the end, well made. In short, I argue that viewers should overcome any stereotypes they may have concerning low-budget  films. I beg readers to give it a chance.

Today, I present another low-budget film from a similar time period. As with Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, the film may not seem appetizing in the beginning. Within the first several minutes, viewers will be confronted with poor lighting, wooden acting, and a seemingly endless barrage of credits that are normally reserved for the end of the film. Once again, viewers face the question, “Shall I proceed further into this film?”  “Shall I be patient and see if Ghosts of Hanley House   has anything decent to offer?” Well, let me answer these questions.

TURN BACK!! DO NOT PROCEED INTO THE HAUNTED HOUSE! DEATH WILL FIND YOU! YOU WILL BE BORED TO DEATH!

Seriously, if this were a film student’s final project, it might be worthy of a C. But I don’t think this a student film. I do believe it was presented to a paying audience. Oh boy! There are jump cuts. There are breaches in continuity. The lighting is poor, the exposures suck. There are all kinds of film school no-nos.

It’s a simple story. A group of people spend the night in a house to see if it is haunted. It is. There had been murders on the premise some time ago. That’s about all there is to know. Well, alright, there are a few somewhat interesting scenes pertaining to the haunting. The household awakens in the middle of the night to the sound of galloping horses, that’s cool. A chandelier swings on its chain, that’s pretty neat. Clocks spin backwards, and that’s, uh, neato.  There are a couple of other scenes of that are “groovy spooky.” But it’s a waste of time sitting though this flick and waiting for the every once in a while “boo.”

There is much information available about this film. I found it on archive.com, the same place I found Let’s Scare Jessica to Death.  Wikipedia and imdb. have very little information about this film.  I did some research on Louise Sherrill, the writer and director of this film. It turns out that this is the only film she has directed. She is credited with only two more movies on imdb – as an actress. I was hoping to find something interesting about the history of this film; some unintentional milestone, some kind of hidden trivia treasure. Maybe it was indeed a school project. What if it an unknown John Carpenter worked the lighting, or a then amateur Wes Craven worked the sound.  But no, nothing like that. Perhaps this was filmed at a famous house, maybe the house where a real murder took place. Ah but that doesn’t seem likely.  I guess there is nothing about this film that is destined for greatness. Therefore I will end this review,  honoring the time-tested expression “the less said the better.” It is obscure for a reason. So let it be obscure. With that I write no more!

Review of Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

Let's_Scare_Jessica_to_Death-1971-MSS-054

 

How does one watch John Hancock’s 1971 thriller Let’s Scare Jessica to Death? Let me detail the way!

Step 1) Go to Google and type into the Search Engine box “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death” and then hit Enter

Step 2) At the top of the next screen, click “videos” in the menu just below the search box

Step 3) Out of the 128,000 or so results that appear, find the option that comes from archive.org and click it.

Step 4) Now go back and put a line through steps 1 – 3 because you can skip those steps and go directly to archive.org and search for the title on the site ( Hey, I had to go through Steps 1-3 the first time, so you should too!)

Step 5) Click the movie’s “start” arrow, watch, and let the fears begin!

In step 5, I write of “fears.”  What fears are these? I will tell you! I am referring to paralyzing trepidation that will overtake your body when you realize that you are about to endure 89 minutes of a low-budget film from the early 1970s.  I point to those moments of bitter agony when you are first exposed to the actors’ awkward performances; moments that occur early on in the film, causing you to wonder “will this be worth it?” “Shall I abandon the ship now before I get in too deep?”  Beware of the the forced frivolity that occurs when the four main characters sit down to dinner – laughter that is supposed to be natural and lighthearted will become forced and mechanical, like the maddening giggles of an eerie doll.  By this time, your fears may be great, for you have been down this road several times before, trying to give an old, low-budget film a chance, being ever so noble, gambling a large chunk of your evening, only to endure much pain as the movie fails to improve.  Folks, I have good news for you. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death does get better.  The overall style and genuinely creepy scenes make-up for those common imperfections that are often found in low budget films.

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is one of those creepy films that has haunted me since my childhood. It refused to stay buried, and so I saw it again in my twenties. Now, in 2018, at the ripe young age of forty-six, it was time for me to face it again. (I write of a similar experience in my review entitled Memories That Would Not Fade on Account of the House That Would Not Die)

I had forgotten most of the plot; I only knew that it had something to do with a young lady that was recently released from a mental institution (hint: her name is Jessica) and a haunted house that was waiting to welcome her back to reality. Actually I wasn’t even sure if it was a haunted house. I had remembered her being “with friends” in some kind of scary environment by a lake. Were these friends trying to scare her to death, take advantage of her fragile emotional state for some kind of ill-gotten gain?  That would have explained the title, for sure. Anyway, I wasn’t sure. Oh but I had to be sure.  If this is indeed a haunted house film, then I needed to know those details so that I could do my duty and write up a review for this blog.   And that is what happened.  In the end I say that this film qualifies as a haunted house film.  And I am glad I watched it again.  This third time I enjoyed it, despite certain shortcomings. Hopefully I will remember the details of the story for a long time to come. I can understand why I didn’t remember the details from my first viewing experience. After all I was about, I don’t know, eleven years old?  But why couldn’t I remember any specifics the second time around? Maybe I was stoned. I don’t know.

The story as to do with madness, a country house, the undead, and hippies. Jessica has been released from the asylum in the care of her husband Duncan. They are to begin a new life in the country. Along with a hippie friend named  Woody, they move to a farm house, where they will work the land. The old men in the nearby town are creepy. (No they are  not creepy BECAUSE they are old men, I’m not ageist, they are just creepy in general).  The house they have purchased has a history. Owned by the Bishop family in the 1800s, young Abigail Bishop died drowned in the nearby lake shortly before her wedding day. Her body was never found!  At the farm house, there happens to be an old silver framed picture of the Bishop family; mother, father and daughter (Abigail). Portraits of people long since dead always have something telling in haunted house movies!  And you know what else the farm house has? A hippie girl named Emily. She has been squatting there.  Duncan and Jessica invite her to stay, so now we have two couples and a total of four main characters. Meanwhile Jessica is hearing voices. She is seeing doors and rocking chairs move on their own accord. Is her madness returning or is this house really haunted?

The finer points of the plot surprised me upon this third viewing. First of all, I was wrong about Jessica living with “friends” after her release. Well yes, there is friend Hippie Woody and newfound friend Hippie Emily, but I hadn’t realized she was with a husband until the third viewing. Secondly, I was off base when I had assumed that the plot revolved around people close to Jessica trying to “scare her to death”. I won’t rule that out for you, my lovely potential viewers of this film, but there is more involved than that (if that is an issue at all).  How could I have forgotten that film involves the “undead”; also known as vampires! In fact, on Wikipedia, this film is compared to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s  1871 vampire novel Carmilla (I wrote about that novel at HorrorNovelReviews.com ) I see faint similarities but nothing more.

Throughout my synopsis, I often refer to the term “Hippie.” But it’s not just me, Wikipedia also uses the term to describe some of the film’s characters. Certainly this term dates the movie. You know what else dates this film? The background music. For me it is a good thing. There is the gentle music from an acoustic guitar mixed in with the sounds of nature. There is a piano to accompany the flowing waters. The film does have its moments of symphonic scares, but it is that natural, simple sounds of the guitar and piano that stand out and do their job well at complementing this simple movie. For some, this guitar and piano might scream “Hippie Music!!”, but not me. It is simply appropriately atmospheric.

Over the years, the film has achieved cult status. Its mixed reviews are a testament to both its low-budget style (with amateur acting at times) and simple yet effective use of a creepy atmosphere in its storytelling. One can find the filming location in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.  There they can see the creepy cemetery, the stores on main street (where the creepy old men gathered) and the scary, gothic style farm house.   See for yourself!

 

Hmmm, what else can I say about this film? I know!  The hippie girl Emily, she is played by Mariclare Costello  who was once married to the late Allan Arbus. Arbus, of course, of course, played Psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Freedman on the TV show MASH.   1200

His famous line is “Ladies and Gentleman, take my advice. Pull Down you pants and slide on the ice.”  But to me, Mariclare Costello stands out on account of her resemblance to Jim Morrison’s girlfriend Pamela Courson. See the similarities yourself:

                               Oh come on, they look a little alike, don’t they?  Well I think so, at least a little bit. And give this movie a try. I’m not saying that it’s a cinematic masterpiece, but it is likeable. You should like it to. At least a little bit.

A Review of Julia – by Peter Straub

“Julia Dream. Dreamboat Queen. Queen of all my dreams.” – Pink Floyd

 

 

I love “Julia Dream”, a song by Pink Floyd. I don’t, however, love Julia , a novel by Peter Straub. I mean – I like the novel. A little. Somewhat like. I guess.   Okay, okay – I’ll stop dripping out these qualifying phrases and get to the heart of the matter.

Here’s the synopsis – A woman (Julia) fleeing a troubled past finds herself living in a haunted house. She struggles to make sense of her new surroundings. Who is that young mysterious blonde girl that she keeps encountering in the nearby neighborhood? And why does Julia sometimes hear the sounds of someone rummaging around her house while she sleeps at night.

As per the synopsis on Amazon:

Julia’s first purchase upon leaving her husband is a large, old-fashioned house in Kensington, where she plans to live by herself well away from her soon-to-be ex and the home where their young daughter died.

Does the mysterious girl have something to do with her daughter’s death? Is Julia being haunted by ghosts?

Many of the haunted house novels and movies that I have absorbed follow a formula similar to this. Authors Darcy Coates and Blair Shaw, for instance, have published several stories about women who suddenly find themselves living alone in a haunted house. Often they are burdened with the baggage of tragedies past, and this only makes their haunting encounters all the more unbearable. Or maybe, these encounters are one and the same with what has haunted them in the past; maybe these are old phantoms disguised as something new. Jeffery Konvitz abides by this formula in his novel The Sentinel The story within the film Sensoria follows this pattern as well.  Yet Julia, published in 1975, predates all of these. Is it then a first of its kind? Probably not.  Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House has a somewhat similar synopsis. The protagonist is not alone in the haunted house, but she does arrive with plenty of emotional baggage, so much so that she becomes an unreliable narrator.  Her sense of reality is in question, and therefore so are her perceptions. This is the same situation readers face with confronting Straub’s central protagonist. Are Julia’s experiences real or are they hallucinations; byproducts of her troubled mind? Thus, the influences of Shirley Jackson are easily recognizable.

 

I have no objection to an adherence of a formula, so long as it’s not a strict adherence. Julia_PeterStraub_156There needs to be ingredients of originality in the brew somewhere. Julia is not without originality. My criticism with the story has to do with its telling. At times, the events of the tale are ambiguous and vague. I found myself confused; is this event that Straub is describing real, or is it a dream. Or, is it just a section that’s poetically licensed to do whatever the hell it wants to do? I know what you’re thinking  “Well this kind of writing is to be expected in a mysterious novel that features an unreliable narrator.” To a degree I agree (hey that rhymed!). But as my great grandmother would say, “enough is enough of anything.”  When a situation is written so vaguely that comprehension is lost and the flow of the story suffers, then Houston, we have a problem.  Sometimes I wasn’t sure as to which character was  thinking/dreaming up a specific surreal situation.

It is well known that the supernatural is a staple of Peter Straub’s works. He is considered one of the masters of his genre and I in no way wish to challenge this mastery. However I learned from Wikipedia  that Julia is Peter Straub’s third novel, but it’s also his first attempt  at writing about ghosts and the supernatural. Bryant Burnette who writes for the blog Truth Inside the Lie has read Straub’s first two novels, and wasn’t all that impressed with them. He saw a marked improvement in Julia, at least in terms of character development. At the same time, he too finds his vagueness daunting.  He says:

.. failing that understanding, our lack of understanding is a part of the narrative.  Straub isn’t 100% successful at this 100% of the time — he occasionally falls back on the old trope of having a character be vague when it makes much more sense for them to be explicit — but he gets it right way more than he gets it wrong.

I would say he gets a right more than half the time.

 Having not read his first two novels, I can only compare Julia with the one other novel of Straub’s that I have read. A fitting comparison it is, because they are similar in certain ways. But the later novel, Novel # 5, (reminds me of this song, replace “novel” with “mambo”) is superior. I am referring to Ghost Story.

Both Julia and Ghost Story convey the idea of a vengeful, female spirit. Julia is a relatively short novel whereas Ghost Story is a gigantic, ambitious work. To me, Julia is the “practice novel;” an exercise Straub must perform while on the way toward the masterpiece that is Ghost Story. Straub learns from his early works. The fruits of his creative and mechanical maturity bear out symbolically, from the ghost of a young girl (in Julia) to the ghost of a fully grown woman (In Ghost Story). This time, Straub’s vagueness add to the overall eeriness of the story.

I am no expert of the works of Peter Straub. He is a favorite of many, including Stephen King. In both of the works that I have read I see talent. But Ghost Story is where his talent is fully realized.  In Julia, this talent – it’s there, but  it is still struggling to come to fruition. Therefore, alas, I can only give it a half-hearted recommendation.  But at least I put my whole heart into explaining why I  “sort of liked” and did not “love” this book, as I promised I would do way back at the end of the first paragraph. Remember? But of course you do! You rock, but not was well as Pink Floyd.

 

Twenty-One Books I Read in 2017

bookcase

Another year is coming to an end. I asked myself, “What should be the subject of the last post of 2017?” Should I list the pros and cons of this year’s life events? Nah! Well, I should write some kind of anecdotal article about all those precious feeeeeeelings that stirred in my soul this year, shouldn’t I? Nah to that as well!  Hmmm. This was tough. How about an article about the books that I have read in 2017?  Sure, why not! But here are some reasons “why:”

  1.  It can serve as a nice literary recap.
  2. Also, I  can finally add another item to my blog category –Loving Those Lists; haven’t posted in the grouping lately.
  3. Besides, it will be fun.
  4. To top if off, I will get to be as cool as Author Alistair Cross; who listed the books he read on his FB page. (Two books that he co-authored are on my list)

I took an inventory and counted twenty-one books. I use the term “books” liberally as this list includes novellas and short story collections. At one point, I lump together three short stories as “one book,” although the total world could on these three probably doesn’t equate to a full length novel. In one book of stories, I had read about half of them, but what the heck, I list it as a finished reading because I’m just that kind of guy. Sue me!

Okay, ready? You are? Well good! Cause here we go, in order of sequence.

draculabandn21) Dracula by Bram Stoker

 I began Dracula in 2016 but I read most of it in 2017.  I loved the first two thirds of the book. This is where the suspense, description and actions is; the stuff of the story. The last third was a little “Blah”, filled with accounts of breakfasts and tedious dialogue. But the beginning makes up for the weaker end! I really loved the description of Dracula’s Castle, so much so that I wrote the article Dracula’s Castle 

 

ravencrest2) The Ghosts of Ravencrest by Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross

 A modern book influenced by Gothic lore. It is filled with ghosts, witches, creatures, and good ol’ fashion S&M. Review is here  

 

 

 

Haunted23) Haunted by Tamara Thorne

Best selling author David Masters moves into a haunted California home by the ocean. The house is part of an odd seaside community that is a mixture of cantankerous yokels and new age flakes. Interesting read, review is here 

 

 

castleofotranto4) The Castle of Otranto – Horace Walpole

 This is where Gothic Literature begins. A kingdom, a castle. Princes and Princesses. Betrayal and murder. Ghosts. It was written in 1764. A tedious read, but an iconic book. Review is here 

 

BlairShawBooks5) The Haunting of Hainesbury House, Ingleton House, Bramley House – Blair Shaw

 These are actually three “sold separately” novellas. Or are they novelettes? Anyway, the formula for the three is the same – a single woman (recently widowed, divorced, etc.) begins a new life in a new house , which obviously ends up being haunted. Simple but enjoyable reads.  Here is the review.

 

LeFanuBook6) Best Ghost Stories – Joseph Le Fanu

When it comes to ghost stories, he is the master! I didn’t read all the stories in the this book but I read the following: Squire Toby’s Will, Schalken the Painter, Madam Crowl’s Ghost, Carmilla, Ghost Stories of the Tiled House and The Authentic Narrative of the Haunted House

I wrote a review of Carmilla, a story of a female vampire that predates Stoker’s Dracula, here at HorrorNovelReviews.com

And I wrote a an article about three of his haunted house stories here  

 

PhantomOfTheOperaBook7) The Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux

Fantastic book, read most of it while in Paris, the city where this macabre tale takes place. Wrote an article about it here at HorrorNovelReviews.com

 

 

HeadfulOfGhosts8) A Head Full of Ghosts – Paul G. Tremblay

 Suspenseful tale of a possessed teenage girl. Or, is she? No matter, reality TV will exploit her. Interesting read.  I didn’t write a review

 

 

Seasons - Something Wicked9) Something Wicked Comes this Way – Ray Bradbury

 A carnival comes to town – to steal the life force of customers. This horror tale confronts the issue of the passing of time and the longing for youth. I write about the book here: 

 

 NYCTOPHOBIA Udder Cover10) Nyctophobia – Christopher Fowler

 Interesting story of a haunted house on the sunny cliffs of Spain. Unexpected ending. Review is here  

 

 

 

Seasons - Dandelion Wine11) Dandelion Wine – Ray Bradbury

 Reading Something Wicked Comes this Way left me desiring more from Bradbury. It is a summer kind of book and it was a nice summer read.  Nostalgia at its best. Of course I find a way to relate it to horror here 

 

Seasons - Summer of 4212) Summer of 42 – Herman Raucher

 Still in the mood of summer stories about youth, I went for this book and I loved it. A young boy falls for an older woman in this heartwarming yet sad tale. See this article as I compare themes of Summer of 42 with a later Raucher work.

 

MH213) Maynard’s House – Herman Raucher

 And…this is the later work.  From sandy beaches and beach houses to snowy terrains and haunted cabins.  A Vietnam veteran stuggles with PTSD in cabin isolated from civilization. Who are those strange visitors that come to him?  Read about here and here.

 

SylivaPlath14) The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

Sometime this summer, I had a dream that I was taking a course and this was required reading. I decided to read it, just in case I ever have the same dream and find myself at the end of the course. It’s about a young woman’s struggle with identity and madness.

 

 SpeedDatingDead15) Speed Dating with the Dead – Scott Nicholson

Not literally! No one dates Jim Morrison, or Sylvia Plath, or Abe Lincoln. It’s about a paranormal convention at a hotel. Demons show up and the conventioneers just can’t seem to handle them. Read a review here

 

GhostsManor216) The Ghosts of Manor House – Matt Powers

 Shorter than a novel, longer than a novella, I helped Author Matt Powers promote his intriguing story about a house that is indeed alive. Read about it here  

The-Woman-In-Black17) The Woman in Black – Susan Hill

 This novella is a modern classic. Modern Gothic at is best. A young lawyer must search for legal papers in the house of his former client, now deceased. It’s a house in the countryside, surrounded my marshes, overcome by fog and other wraith-like things.

Here is a review  

WitchesRavencrest18) The Witches of Ravencrest – Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross

 Sequel to The Ghosts of Ravencrest. First we learn of the ghosts. Then we learn more about the witches that conjure and communicate with these spirits. Read my review here 

 

sentinel-book19) The Sentinel – Jeffery Konvitz

 I saw the film starring the late, great Burgess Meredith. Finally in 2017 I read Konvitz’s iconic novel about an apartment complex with a strange blind priest that “stares” out the window of his unit. Strange things are afoot in this building.  Tenant Allison Parker can attest to that!  Review is forthcoming.

 

summer of night - dan simmons - uk pbk20) Summer of Night – Dan Simmons

I should have read this in the summer. It too would have fulfilled last summer’s yearning for tales of young boys in their summer months. It’s a long read but well worth it. Several boys in the summer of 1960 encounters very ghoulish things in their own home town of Elm Haven. Review is forthcoming.

 

Julia_PeterStraub_15621)  Julia – Peter Straub

 I still have one or two more chapters to go. I probably won’t finish this until 2018, but the bulk of the book I read in 2017 so I am allowed to put it on this list (Yes I am!) From the author of Ghost Story comes another tale of specters and haunted houses.  A review is forthcoming.

 

 

House of 1000 Corpses (Because it has the word “house” in the title!)

Yes I am doing it.

(Doing what?)

 I am lumping Rob Zombie’s film House of 1000 Corpses in with a collection of films that includes The Haunting, The Shining, The Legend of Hell House. 

(Why are you doing that?)

See, because, Zombie’s film has the word “House” in it.

(But Zombie’s film isn’t a haunted house movie, and the rest that you mention are haunted house movies. Using your logic, you might as well include House of Cards with the disgraced Kevin Spacey,  or Animal House with John Belushi popping like a zit. Furthermore why not review the genre of House music. Look, here’s a House jam for ya! How about Full House with those bratty twins?)

House-of-1000-Corpses

Okay, perhaps this situation calls for a more detailed explanation. Back in May, I reviewed the 1974 film The House of Seven Corpses. This film more closely resembles a haunted house film than Zombie’s film. It has some of the atmospheric trappings, including a long staircase, high ceilings, and a grave or two out in the back.  Still, I guess I kind of artificially widened the parameters of the haunted house film genre so that I could review Hof7Corpses.  Overall, I didn’t like the film very much. I found it dull and pointless.  Throughout the review, I compare it to House of 1000 Corpses, making parallels where perhaps there were none. Was Zombie trying to “remake” the 1970s film and do it better by adding 993 corpses to the equation?  I humorously and erroneously made that conclusion. Truth be told, I can’t find any references that links the two films.  But I’m not looking that hard because I just can’t take this subject that seriously. However I was right about one thing. I had written that , even though Zombie’s film has a mere 19% approval rating on rottentomatoes.com , I would like it better than The House of Seven Corpses.

I wrote:

..soon I will watch Zombie’s film and then decide with finality if one thousand corpses are better than seven

Well I recently tested this hypothesis. And I was correct. One thousand corpses are better than seven. There is the finality. Reading between the lines, it seems that I was promising a review. So…here it is!  THIS is why I am reviewing House of 1000 Corpses.

House of 1000 Corpses is more of a gore/slasher movie than a haunted house film. It is resembles The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and has little in common with films such as The Amityville Horror or The Shining. Therefore I’m not going to spend a lot of time and effort on this review.  The synopsis will be brief as hell = a car full of youngsters breaks down near the house of a psychotic family. Youngsters meet family and the stuff of horror-gore breaks out on the screen.

This film is widely panned. I’m not going to go against the grain and declare my love for it. But I will say, House of 1000 Corpses is an entertaining movie at the very least.  Rob Zombie is the Quentin Tarantino or Oliver Stone of horror.  He seems to have applied a “no-rules style” of filmmaking to  the film.  It mashes together all kinds of styles; black and white footage with color, video with film, crazy shots and sequences – all this he mixes into an insane brew that smells of..genius?  If “genius” is too strong, than substitute it with “fun.” Zombie has “fun” with the tools and tricks of cinema; he gathers themes and styles from a toy box of tropes and splashes them with bloody gore. Many critics don’t appreciate all this gore. Too much controversy with all the horror-erotic scenes as well.  It goes over the top into the unforgivable, and still it marches on. In a weird way, this constant pushing of the medium somehow justifies the style in the end.  My opinion, of course.  No it’s not a great movie. Perhaps it’s not even “good.”  But it’s an amusing spectacle, certainly preferable to the boring The House of Seven Corpses.

And that’s all I’ll say about that!