Lost Boy, Lost Girl Review with a Brief Tribute to Peter Straub

PeterStraubThis year we lost a renowned horror author.  R.I.P. Peter Straub. He left us on Sept 4, 2022.  Not only did he pass away on my wedding anniversary but we share the same birthday – March 2.  Does this mean we are cosmically linked in some way? Most likely not.  I don’t put too much credence in cosmic/spiritual mumbo jumbo. I do like to read and write about it, that’s for sure, but I see it for what it is – fiction, not fact.   Straub certainly has left the world some compelling fiction, that’s for sure. And like any author, he also left us some fiction that is in the upper realms of the “OK” rating scale.  This is where Lost Boy, Lost Girl sits at. Is there an OK + grade?  There is now.

I suppose his most celebrated works are Ghost Story and The Talisman, with the latter being co-authored by Stephen King.  I read the former, loved it; haven’t attempted the latter.  My review of Ghost Story is not without some minor criticism.  In the review, I suggest:

At times during my reading, I found myself lost in the tangled trails of plot. Yes, these trails do untangle and eventually lead you where you want to go, but still, it was a tedious experience at times.

I wrote this review in 2016 – six years ago. What I said remains true. However, there is something about Ghost Story that has stuck with me all this time.  I’m not good at remembering the details of a story I read some time ago, including its characters (especially not their names.)  Likewise with Ghost Story. Specific details are lost but there is a feeling that remains. That’s the best way I can describe it.  A small town, a snowy atmosphere, several haunted houses, mystery, all in the meaty book; thoroughly presented and forever imprinted within my soul.   Thus, my liking of this book has increased over time.

As mentioned, I never read The Talisman. My understand is that while this is a critically acclaimed novel, a reader, like a traveler, must prepare for a lengthy journey before beginning such an adventure. Since this is a blog dedicated to haunted houses, I haven’t been in a hurry to dive into this book. But I do read books, both horror and non-horror, that have nothing to do with haunted houses.  So read this I will someday and I’m sure I will at least like it more that I will dislike it.

I wish I could say more about Peter Straub’s work. As it stands, I have only read three of his novels. Besides Ghost Story, I read Julia and Lost Boy, Lost Girl, two haunted house novels.  Neither are as good as Ghost Story.

Julia is another book I place in the “Ok” department. While delightfully creepy, I found it quite vague in its telling. This was Straub’s first venture into the supernatural and I equate it to a “practice book”, a preparatory exercise that would allow him to strengthen his telling of supernatural tales, as evidenced by his later work Ghost Story

I wrote this in a review:

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.

Now – on with my review of Lost Boy, Lost Girl.  I also recommend this book lukewarmly, but for different reasons.  It’s a decent story overall.  A simple story with only a handful of characters. Good characters, mind you.  Most of the plot is straightforward. It doesn’t meander and his points are relatively clear.  However, more story-telling is needed in regards to my favorite subject – the haunted house. Now you might be thinking, “Well Cheely, just because that’s your thing, it doesn’t have to be at the heart of the story just to please you. Who are you, Cheely, that Straub must write according to your preferences?”  Reader, I’ll get to your critique of my critique.  You’ll see.

The plot unfolds from the perspectives of two characters; the middle-aged writer Timothy Underhill and his teenaged nephew Mark.  Timothy visits his brother Phillip, who lives in another state, on two occasions, both of which are under sad and tragic circumstances. First, he arrives to attend the funeral services of Phillip’s wife/Mark’s mother Nancy who died by suicide. A short while later, Timothy returns to assist Phillip in trying to find Mark, who has gone missing. Other teens had gone missing and there is a suspicion that a serial killer is striking terror in the community. Could Mark have been a victim of this killer? Is his mother’s suicide related to his disappearance?  For you see, as it turns out. Nancy is related to a serial killer who was captured some time ago. This killer’s house still stands, though no one will have anything to do with it. It’s just down the alley from Phillip and Mark’s house. Yes readers, this be the haunted house of the novel.

Mark’s perspective has him with his buddy Jimbo frittering the days away on their skateboard; two carefree teens. That is until he finds his mother’s body. He suspects there is a link to her suicidal demise and the strange things he has been seeing. In various places, he has encountered a phantom shadowy figure. What peaks Marks attention most, though, is the abandoned house down the alley. A giant wall surrounding the premise hides most of it. Why is this wall necessary?  Both boys note an awkwardly built and oddly shaped extension which they correctly surmise was added on to the house by the previous owners. Their assumptions our correct, but why this extension?  The boys see people in the windows, though this place is supposed to be abandoned. What’s up with that?

Suddenly and somewhat mysteriously, Mark becomes obsessed with the house. No longer does he want to “fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way” with his buddy Jimbo. He wants to watch the house. He wants to research the house. He wants to explore the house. And he does!

Sounds like an interesting story, right? Well it is.  Inside, he finds secret passages. He finds mysterious photographs. He encounters torture devices!  And yet, in my opinion, the atmosphere of the inside of the house isn’t fleshed out enough. There is all this build up throughout the first half of the novel, before the boys brave their way inside.  Though the house reveals secrets to them, their journeys inside are a bit of a letdown.  What is the overall atmosphere like inside? Straub doesn’t detail this very much. Do they hear ghostly sounds coming from the dark corners of the rooms? Not really.  Is there any backstory with scenes inside its rooms? Some but not much.  Does the house itself do its job to scare the reader? I would have to say “no.”

If there wasn’t a lot of suspense centered on the house, I wouldn’t complain so much. But there was and so I complain. Yes there are supernatural things at work in this story, but not in the way that is expected. Not in a way that is satisfying.

Straub wrote a sequel to this book called “In the Night Room”. I haven’t read it.  According to Wikipedia:

“The novel follows Timothy Underhill, an author. He is still struggling to come to terms with the loss of his sister April and Timothy tries to channel his sorrow and frustrations into a new novel he is writing”.

Hmmm. I don’t remember anything about Timothy and Phillip having a sister. The way the story in Lost Boy, Lost Girl flows, it seems as if they were the only two siblings. So I really don’t know how much continuity is preserved between the two books.

So, based on my limited knowledge of Peter Straub’s bibliography, Ghost Story is his best. I’m anxious to read The Talisman.  I know,  I know, earlier I said I’ll get to it whenever. Perhaps my interest has piqued a bit since beginning this article. Will you allow me that? Of course you will.

How about you, reader? Can you recommend a Peter Straub book that is on par with Ghost Story?

And to you, Peter Straub, rest in peace. I won’t wish you to rest in power which seems to be a thing now. After passing through this earthly life, I believe one is mercifully freed of this concept of power.  Power certainly can’t be restful, and the dearly departed need to rest. They have earned it. Peace is the better way experience the afterlife.

My Novel “The Acquaintance” is on sale for 99 Cents!

Today, my latest book  The Acquaintance went on sale. For one week, it will be sold for the low, low price of 99 pennies! Of course, here in the digital age, you don’t have to scrounge around for 99 pennies. You can just use your Amazon account and download it to your reader, and your credit card will figure out how to give Amazon 99 pennies. Pretty nifty, huh?

It’s a relatively short read but it’s slightly over 50,000 words, which is considered to be the minimum novel length. But come on, not bad for 99 pennies!

To get an idea of the story and writing style, I offer this excerpt.  Hope you enjoy it!

(Click the picture below to go to the Amazon buy link!)

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TheAcquaintanceBookCoverWithTitleAuthorIt happened again. Footprints formed before his stunned eyes overabout 150 yards across the field, one ahead of the other. This time they weren’t passing along the side of the house. This time they made their way toward the window. Coming at him.  One after another, pressing their way into reality with silent “pops!”

Jonah flew into a rage. He ran quickly to his coat, hat and gun. He gathered these items in his arms in one scoop. His gloves he handled with more care. Seconds  later he was out the door, haphazardly  dressed, his gun on a strap and hanging loosely over his shoulder. His gloves covered  his hands from his wrists to the tips of his middle fingers. 

Walking around to the rear of the house, Jonah made his way across the field, walking in the direction from which the footprints had come. He could see them up ahead. There were tracks leading to his picture window, that was for certain. They seemed to have originated from somewhere in the middle of the field. No longer were they forming in real time. Jonah marched forward, following the tracks into the open field,  tromping through the snow in his street shoes. He didn’t want to waste time putting on his boots and he was regretting that decision; his feet were freezing. Though he could see no one, he knew someone had to be there (Something?). Despite what his eyes told him, footprints didn’t create themselves.

By trekking across the middle of the field, he was abandoning all the precautions he had taken when he ventured out yesterday, precautions he had also neglected on his return  trip back to the house. Bad habits, laziness, outright foolishness had come to describe his work. Jonah realized all this but he forgave himself. By and large, his gangster days were finished. He was retired, but he needed to make just one more kill. And at the moment, his rage made him feel invincible, even to bullets that just might happen to come his way from inside the surrounding  woods. Yesterday’s Jonah was blinded by a similar rage. Today’s Jonah was a different man. Yes, he was terribly sick (he was short of breath throughout his walk) and over-anxious to catch whoever was stalking him, but he would think clearly this time. He would keep his wits. It wouldn’t be long now, since the trail of footprints were coming to an end. Jonah saw a pair of hightop gym shoes at the end of the trail. Sitting there as if they had always been in that exact spot, perhaps like one of the trees ringing the field.

They were as white as the snow that surrounded them, which might have been why he hadn’t seen them from the window. Still, none of this made any sense. Shoes couldn’t walk without a body, but the tracks stopped where the shoes stood. Jonah could only conclude that whoever had been wearing them ditched them before running off into the woods. However, there were no tracks leading into the trees indicating such a thing happened. All physical evidence pointed to the actual existence of a walking pair of shoes that more properly belonged on a basketball  court, not on the snowy grounds of his hideaway.

They are trying to fuck with me! Whoever is trying to kill me is trying to drive me crazy before they go on for the kill. 

Jonah approached the shoes slowly. Could there be a bomb attached to them somehow? Hadn’t a terrorist tried to blow up a plane by starting his shoes on fire, forcing travelers to remove their shoes at security checkpoints in airports ever since? He crouched down. He choked down a cough, fearing that its sound could set off the potential explosives. Carefully, he extended his hand . He would just press down on the rubber front tip of the shoe, just to make sure they were real. To make sure that…

Something happened.

Jonah recoiled and fell on his rear. His face was soaked with sweat. He was dizzy…and afraid. For the first time in many, many years, he admitted to himself that he was scared. 

The shoe hadn’t blown up. If it had, this situation would have made more sense, would have at least conformed to the laws of the universe. Instead, the shoe backed away, moving as if it were pulled by some invisible force. All Jonah could do is look on in amazement, his eyes fixed not only on the left shoe  now several inches out of line with its right counterpart, but also on the track line that the shoe had left in the snow after it slid across its surface. 

Jonah sat there in the snow, dumbfounded. If he were to get up, stand on his own two shoes, what then?  Would he move in on this pair of high tops? Was it these shoes that were his enemy, his target for termination? Seriously? How pathetic!

 

Perhaps he would simply back away, or even run away (he never ran.) This was the situation he found himself in…really? Debating on whether or not to retreat from a pair of fucking shoes? Oh, how he would rather have someone pointing a gun to his head. That would have made sense. He wouldn’t have to fear an approaching bullet, because a bullet would do exactly what it was supposed to do. No mystery, no surprise. But these shoes, they were doing the impossible!

The impossible suddenly became even stranger. The shoe closest to him, started to tap. Up/down, up/down the tip went, pushing itself in and out of the snow. It was the tap of a waiting person, like a pen against the desk at an office meeting, waiting for the boss’s decision.  An empty pair of shoes, waiting for Jonah to get up off his ass, waiting for him to make his move.

Mesmerized, he watched the tapping of the shoe, transfixed. It was nearly hypnotic, like when a person stares at a watch on a chain swinging back and forth, back and forth.  

Maybe that’s it, he thought. I’m hypnotized. All this is happening in my mind!

As if in response, the tapping shoe dug deeply into the snow. Coming back up, it kicked snow into Jonah’s face. He felt the stinging cold and wiped the wetness out of his eyes. Real sensations. Real snow on his face. That kind of assault would wake anyone out of a trance. If indeed he had been in a trance, he was awake now and still the shoes were there, causing mischief. 

Sometime when he had been wiping his face, both shoes turned the opposite direction. They walked away from him toward the line of trees, leaving tracks in their wake. Jonah got back on to his feet. He approached the tracks and crouched over, examining one of the footprints closely. These were the same tracks he saw yesterday. He straightened up and watched as the creepy pair of shoes walked out of sight into the forest.

 

 

  

Algernon Blackwood and Haunted Houses

Weird Fiction From Algernon Blackwood

“You’re weird!”

I have been hit with this accusation several times, even by members of my own family. (They would know me best I guess.)  So it would naturally follow that I should like weird fiction. Guess what? I do!

Ann and Jeff VanderMeer remind us of what the Weird Fiction genre entails. In their introductory article on the subject, they refer to H.P Lovecraft, the master of all things weird.  According to him, “weird” stories have “a supernatural element” but are to be distinguished from the classic Gothic ghost stories of the seventeenth century. A “weird” tale, according to Lovecraft “has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains.”  What might it have instead?  A “pursuit of some indefinable and perhaps maddeningly unreachable understanding of the world beyond the mundane.”

My efforts to analyze and categorize haunting tales has certainly seemed “maddeningly unreachable”. Me – a weirdo’s dive into the weird.  This is gothic, this is not. This is cosmic horror, this is…oh it’s so damn confusing! It’s all so…”weird.”

Algernon BlackwoodMaking the list of authors associated with Weird Fiction is Algernon Blackwood. Known mostly as a writer of ghost stories, Blackwood entered the publishing world shortly before H.P. Lovecraft. (his first published work around 1906 compared to Lovecraft’s first published material in 1916)  (See bilbliographies on Alergnon Blackood and H.P. Lovecraft.)

According to FantasiticFiction.com,  Blackwood was influenced heavily by Occultism, hypnotism, the supernatural, Hindu philosophy and mysticism.  Quite the gamut of influential “isms” for which to expand the elements of a traditional  ghost or horror story if I do say so myself. 

 

Nature is Scary. So is the Human Mind that Tries to Understand Nature

Sometime over a year ago, I purchased a collection of his works for my Kindle app. I haven’t read it in its entirety, but I combed through quite a few.  Most of his stories show his love for nature. Perhaps “intrigue” is a better word, because what he describes isn’t always a love fest. It’s nature in all its awe, its mystery and yes, its horror.

One of his most well-known stories is The Willows.  Way out in the middle of wooded nowhere, along the Danube River, exist these Willows.  These creeping trees (for they sometimes seem to do so) penetrate the psyches of two terrified travelers.  Then there is The Man Whom The Trees Loved. There is something unnatural about the relationship a man has with these trees. He chooses their companionship over his wife.

In these nature tales, the elements of nature take on human traits. Winds cry, trees sing, you get the idea.  The people in his stories that experience such interactions with nature find themselves at the cusp of the terrifying unknown.  Nothing is as what it seems. This is true as well in his stories that have less to do with nature. Stories, say, that involve – haunted houses!

In most of the haunted house stories I have read, the haunting is revealed to is characters not necessarily be what they see or hear. It is what they feel, or what they perceive in general that lets them know that something isn’t quite right with their surroundings. In short, the perception of the haunting is most felt inside their minds. Perhaps with a slight exception of the first story in my syllabus below, this will be shown over and over in the haunted house tales I describe.

 

A few other things to note, perhaps trademarks of an Algernon Blackwood tale.

  • He writes cerebral horror
  • He writes in passive, a style rebuffed by modern standards that really works well for what he is trying to get across
  • Important concepts, often personified, are capitalized.

 

Let’s go explore some of his haunted houses, shall we? Please note, this isn’t a complete list of his haunted house stories. Want more? Find his anthology and read it!

 

Haunted Houses From  Algeron Blackwood

Algernon Blackwood the empty house

 

The Empty House – 1906

Let us begin with this short and simple tale.  Perhaps this story strays most from the Blackwood criteria I outlined in the sections above in that the haunting unveils itself through sights and sounds experienced by the two sole characters. But this doesn’t make it the lesser. I enjoyed this tale very much and there is plenty of cerebral description going on to describe the haunting.

A young man is visiting his aunt. The aunt is curious about the abandoned haunted house on the other side of town, so she coaxes her nephew to join her in exploring it. She wants to experience a good scare. They procure a key to the place, and an exploring they do go, and the reader goes with them. Room after room, up the stairs, down the hallways. They hear eerie sounds. They see unsightly things. Each one wonders if the other is as afraid as they are.

I will not say much more about this story except to note a couple of things. Shirley Jackson proclaims in her novel The Haunting of Hill House “Some houses are born bad.”  Several decades earlier The Empty House was published.  This story contains the line, “Certain houses, like certain persons, manage somehow to proclaim at once their character of evil.” Both lines mean essentially the same thing. Perhaps Jackson is more to the point, but “overwriting” was common in the days of yore (overwriting by today’s standards, that is).  I like both lines and I just wanted to point out that Blackwood’s observation of the phenomenon came first.

To further illustrate the “house as a character of evil” phenomenon, Blackwood writes “…the aroma of evil deeds committed under a particular roof, long after the actual doers have passed away, that makes the gooseflesh come and the hair rise.”  This line here demonstrates characters experiencing the haunting by means other then their eyes and ears. They feel the haunting on their skin.

 

The Whisperers   – 1912

 

A writer rents an attic room.  He is alone, and only the bare essentials are requested.  A bed, writing table, lamp, wash basin, window.  And yet this rather empty room is filled with the haunting remains of …something. Something that has lingered.

The writer comes to know this to be true.  He arrives at this truth not by sight, sound, or touch.  It is the workings of his own writer’s mind that discovers these facts.  His own thought process is interrupted.  In its place are Impressions, feelings, ideas, and images. They bombard his mind, these “whispers”.  Soon he discerns the nature of these whisperers and comes to understand the past history of this attic room. What was it and what was it meant for?  The answer is not what you might think.

 

The House of the Past – 1914

 

The Dream turned her key to The House of the Past”.  Isn’t this line something?  It is, in fact, the key to understanding the theme of this story.  Perhaps the only way to traverse a haunted house such as “the House of the Past” is by a dream. Dreams contain the experiences we have chosen, or not chosen, to hide from ourselves.  At least our conscious selves. These experiences are the ghosts.

The character in this story visits The House of the Past. He experiences its haunting demeanor as if in a trance.   The haunting unfolds in revelations.

Several lines in the story reveal Blackwood’s fondness of the elements of nature and their metaphoric ability to capture mood.

“’The wind, like the sea, speaks to the inmost memory’,” she added, ‘and that is why its voice is one of such deep spiritual sadness. It is the song of things for ever incomplete, unfinished, unsatisfying.’”

 

A Psychical Invitation –  1908

 

This is one of several stories involving the character known as John Silence.  He is a psychical detective. A ghostbuster ahead of his time.  He comes to the aid of an unfortunate writer. The poor sap, his mind is disturbed. He cannot write. This is on account of a mysterious presence that haunts his house, the writer surmises.  Oh how he wishes he hadn’t sampled some of that cannabis indica. He only did so to expand his writer’s mind. What it did instead was open his field of awareness to the paranormal.  In this heightened state of mind,  he is aware of the presence and deeply troubled by it.

(side note: man, they smoked some good shit back in them there days. The Cannabis Indica available at today’s dispensaries don’t have that paranormal side effect!)

John Silence advises the man to leave the house while he, the psychical detective, stays in the haunted house to get to the bottom of things.  Things go as planned and John is aided by to assistants who will also stay in the haunted house. These two are more attuned to psychical activity than he is. They are a dog and a cat.

Late at night, when all is dark and the fire is low, John watches the activity of the animals.  He notes that the cat is mysteriously playful with something that he himself cannot see. He also observes the dog in a frightful state, backing away from certain parts of the rom. 

This tale is longer. It’s a novella, perhaps. A good portion of this story dedicates itself to the evolution of the haunting through the observed actions of this dog and cat. It is a creative way to tell a ghost story with effective tension-building techniques.

The Damned – 1914

Algernon Blackwood the Damned

For me, this is the most difficult story to both summarize and opine upon.  How do you capture in a few words

the heart of a story where nothing ever happens and yet make it sound appealing.  See it is an intriguing story, but one must give it a chance.

It’s nine chapters long; the longest of any of Blackwood’s stories that I read.  The longest and yet, “nothing happens?”  That line appears many times throughout the story. I would say it’s nearly a tagline, but any marketing professional out there would see this as a poor choice of words. You’re trying to sell a story where nothing happens? What is this, the horror version of Seinfeld – the show about nothing?

Let me try and explain.  A man and his sister vacate for a lengthy stay and their dear friend Mabel’s estate. The host is a depressed widow, but her depression is not necessarily the result of grief for her lost love. But the dead hubbie has plenty to do with her emotional state. While we’re at it, he has plenty to do with the overall foreboding atmosphere of the entire house and grounds.  Bill and Frances, the two guests, will sample much of this dreariness.

The dead husband was a religious bigot. Stern in his ways and doctrine, unforgiving of others that don’t share his beliefs. Though gone from this earth, his ruthless piety remains.  It is imprinted on the house. Bill and Frances come to learn the house is haunted, but not by conventional ghosts. It is haunted by the disembodied spirit of the dismal.

Both learn of the haunting by intuition.  But their realization comes slowly, as if the gears of their intuitive processes, like a clock with a faulty second hand, struggle to turn. Meanwhile, days go by unfruitfully. Bill, a writer, cannot write. There is no joy anywhere. In short, “nothing ever happens”.

A clue to this situation emerges when Bill studies his sister’s artwork. She paints the outside surroundings of the house. In a word, the paintings are “horrid”.  This is not a description of the artist’s talent but the resulting impact her work has on the one who beholds her paintings.

It is her paintings that allows Bill do see the house and its grounds in a “new light”. More appropriately, in a new kind of darkness.  In short, he intuits a shadow.

The “Shadow” and the “Noise” are concepts that occur over and over. They are not seen or heard. Only felt.  The “shadow” blankets areas of the garden. On account of what his sister shows him in her painting, the garden takes on the attributes of a “goblin garden”. Trees and plants are bend in arcane ways. Growth is stunted. He envisions creatures of a goblin garden, centaurs, etc. Remember, he doesn’t see any thing transform into an arena of the supernatural. It’s the same garden since day 1 of their visit. But he now understands if for what it is.

Likewise with “The Noise”. It is nothing he hears, but it is loud, disrupting. It is the sound of a door closing, a door that is only open for moments at a time. It closes and nothing can get through. Nothing can escape. The Damned remain as the damned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where Have You Been?? (I’m here now!)

 

Ghosts.  Haunted Houses.  Halloween approaches and where am I, an author and blogger dedicated to writing about horror?  I am here, that’s where! I know,  haven’t posted very much this year.  Have I posted at all? I dunno, let me go back and check.  Hold on, listen to some music or something.

MusicalNotes

 

 

 

 

Well how do you like that? Not one stinking post for 2022. I need a beating. I really, really do.

Sorry about my inactivity. Been a different kind of year. Got a new job that keeps me busy.  Then there was all this stuff I had to do.  You know how stuff is.  It bunches up, then begets other stuff. Soon you have stuff on top of stuff, stuff inside stuff. Suddenly there is so much stuffing you’d think we skipped Halloween altogether to arrive at Thanksgiving.

Time to get my ass in gear.  Every Halloween season, I do some kind of theme at this blog. Last year it was the Haunted House Ha Ha’s – comical films about haunted houses. Another year I compared books to their corresponding films. (i.e. The Exorcist, which is better – Book of movie?) One time I had access to Stephen King’s Rose Red miniseries and I posted a different episode each week.

 This year I’m setting the bar low, so please watch so you don’t trip on it. My plan is to write and post a couple of articles I have been postponing all year.  But wait – there’s more.

TheAcquaintanceBookCoverWithTitleAuthorRemember that book I published last year – The Acquaintance?  No? Oh I see, you did remember but you had forgotten. Well now’s your chance to “reacquaint” yourself with this early winter tale of a phantom pair of shoes that walks about in the woods.  I’ll post excerpts and later this month, I’ll take 50% off the cover price! 

 

Get your ghostly gear ready folks, because October is here and we are blasting off toward October 31’s waxing crescent moon.  I’ll do what I can to add to the thrills of the season.  

My Latest Novel -The Acquaintance – is Now Available for Pre-Order. For Now, Preview A Couple of Paragraphs.

Cyber Monday (November 29) is just around the corner. My latest novel eBook, “The Acquaintance” will be available for download on that day. But you can pre-order it now! (Hint: Click the Pic!)

It’s a short novel, filled with ghostly delights and other supernatural phenomenon. It draws upon elements that make up the genre Weird Fiction. Though H.P. Lovecraft is most associated with this genre, this novel is perhaps more similar to the works of Algernon Blackwood. It takes place in the late autumn/early winter in a woodsy setting, with creepy things hiding among the trees and roaming about upon the fallen leaves and snow.  If offers a fresh imagination of a soul’s journey when discharged from the body upon death.

Here be some sample paragraphs:

Days will pass and it doesn’t matter where they choose to go.  These days, “where” happens to be nowhere, smack dab in the middle of the remote. This is by design, of course. The rustic, two-story house stands tall, watching over its surrounding space with protective intentions. Taller than an average house, but not tall enough to see beyond the trees of the forest’s perimeter. It is the trees’ job to guard against any unwelcome outsiders. It is the house’s job to provide a comfortable spread for its sole occupant. With large picture windows, it lets this occupant see out into the acres of grassy fields that stretch between the house and the circling forest.  Jonah Dalton, the occupant, could stand watch from inside the sitting room, looking out, making sure.

These days arrive and depart in a place far beyond the cities or towns. There are no roads connecting to any highway exit ramps that will lead to this house.  It is just out there in Nowhere, USA. Never mind the state. The outlines on a map that signify a state’s boundaries would only get lost out here. All this to make sure no one can find Jonah Dalton.

It is quite cold these days. Autumn still has a few weeks to go before she goes to sleep. She has made her bed of leaves across Jonah’s fields. But her current wakefulness does not ward off the cooler temperatures or even snow.  Depending on the given day, Jonah will either see snow or leaves on the ground. There’s always a covering, isn’t there?  Jonah’s greener pasture days are long behind him, if he ever had such greenery. If he did, those were “those days.” These are “these days.”

***********

Strange days, these days. Dangerous days. Deadly days. Let’s explore some of these days in more depth. We’ll begin two weeks after Jonah moved into the house. He had been disturbed by other things in his new environment before then, but what he saw outside his window one particular morning brought forth a turning of what had been a gradually increasing sense of unease into an exponentially heightening recognition of his own terrorized state of mind.   Let’s call this morning Day 1.

Hilarious Haunted House Ha Ha’s Finish With Haunted Houses and The Three Stooges

All that’s here is – Halloween Ha ha’s (clap clap!)

Halloween Boo Boo’s! (clap clap!)

Haunted House Ha Ha’s

I saved the best for last! What better way to wrap up the Halloween Haunted House Ha Ha’s than with The Three Stooges?  Now now, I know some readers out there be like, “Really?  These guys?”  To youze guyz and galz, I unequivocally and proudly declare “YES. These guys! They are the best!” 

The Three Stooges, some love them, some hate them.  I love them. As I mentioned in a post at the beginning of this month, these three gentlemen of above average intelligence are partly responsible for my love of horror. When I was a kid, Moe, Larry and Curly or Shemp were on television every weekday afternoon. They had several spooky episodes. These were my favorites!

For your viewing pleasure, until Youtube removes them (if this is the case at this time, I’m sorry), I have gathered several, if not all the episodes which I think qualify as “haunted house” shorts.  There are many more spooky episodes out there, but this being a haunted house blog, I am only featuring the shorts that take place in some kind of mansion, castle, or house where weird or spooky things are going on.  There are some episodes that feature a killer or two chasing the Stooges around in some kind of house that are not part of this collection. While they might be enjoyable, they fall short of meeting my “haunted house worthy” standards. (I’m a haunted house snob damn it!)

I’m not going to bother describing The Three Stooges or analyze their style of humor. If you really unfamiliar with these comedians from the days of long ago, then gosh, I don’t know what to say! Nor will I will be “reviewing” these episodes either, not in a critical sense anyway.  I will simply write up a little something about each episode. Brief plot descriptions, some trivia, shit like that!  And then, I will post the Youtube links to the  specific shorts that I am writing about (until they are taken down).

Ready? Here we go!!!!!!!!

 

(The first two episodes I present feature Curly as the third stooge)

Spook Louder – Short #69 – 1943

Plot in short:

 In this creepy tale, The Stooges are tasked with watching over a creepy house while guarding top-secret inventions. The Stooges have their work cut out for them. They must outsmart three thieving spies that are trespassing on the premises and keep their cool in the midst of all sorts of spooky shenanigans. If all this isn’t bad enough, all parties in this house, spies and Stooges, must deal with a phantom pie thrower.

My observations:

If you are to only watch one thing from this short film, go to the 4:30 mark. There is a creepy clock on the wall that you MUST see. It’s a scene of a supposedly Russian clock, in the shape of a weird looking caricature of someone, and it speaks. It says “Yo…ho….ho…..ho!”

The three spies dress in costume. One dresses in black and wears a black hat, another dresses as a devil,  another as a skeleton. In a later episode, these same three costumes are used are worn by another trio of Stooge antagonists. More on this later.

If a Body Meets a Body – Short # 86  – 1945

 Plot in short:

Curly is due to inherit a fortune from a rich, deceased uncle.  To collect, the Three Stooges must be present at the reading of the will, which is to take place in the late of night at the late Uncle’s spooky mansion. There will be murders. Possibly even ghosts!

Trivia via Wikipedia

This is the first film to star Curly after he suffered a stroke. It is noted that he is less energetic than in his previous films.

The plot device is borrowed from a Laurel and Hardy film The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case, The Laurel and Hardy film is a spoof on the 1927 film “The Cat and the Canary”

My observations:

In this film, a bird enters a skull and wears it like a shell. Bird walks around with it, scaring The Stooges into thinking it’s an animated skull. This comedic device of a flying creature manipulating a skull is repeated several times in different films. In fact, it appears in a couple more films featured here in this piece!  

There is a rotating book case which leads to a secret room. This is also a reoccurring plot device featured in several of their films, not to mention being featured in other films that have nothing to do with The Three Stooges. A rotating book case in other films? Shocking!

 

(The remaining episodes feature Shemp as the third stooge. With one exception. You’ll see!)

 

Hot Scots  – Short# 108  – 1948

Plot in short:

The Three Stooges answer an employment ad for The Scotland Yard. The ad seeks three “yard men” and the Stooges think they are applying for the positions of inspectors. Instead, they end up picking up trash in the yard. (Get it, “yard” men? Yuk Yuk!)

But the Stooges get their chance when they happen upon a piece of trash that was actually a request for three inspectors to guard a Duke’s precious antiques at his castle. The Duke leaves, The Stooges guard and the thieves come out to play, dressed in scary costumes.

Trivia via Wikipedia

This short was later remade as Scotched in Scotland , Short #158 – 1954 using stock footage. The 1950s found the Stooges in a predicament where they were contractually bound to produce more films in a short period of time with an ever-tightening budget. Director Jules White workaround was to rework old scenes into new scenarios.

My observations:

As a kid, I loved seeing this masked dude on my TV set.

MaskManStooges

This mask, worn by a thief in Hot Scots, made such an impression on me that I thought it was used as a prop in several episodes. As I combed through all the spooky Stooges episodes that I could get my hands on, it never resurfaced. So I guess I was wrong. The exception would be Scotched in Scotland, which has slightly different scenes, but the masked dude is in both. This part of the confusion.

The Ghost Talks – Short #113 – 1949

Plot in short:

The Stooges are movers tasked with moving various pieces of antique furniture and other items from a haunted castle. One such item is suit of armor that is haunted by the ghost of Peeping Tom. As per the legend, the spirit confides with the Stooges that he was beheaded one thousand years before for opening his shudders on the night Lady Godiva rode her horse naked through the streets.  He will not have his armor removed. Meanwhile, ghostly skeletons haunt the place and scare The Stooges as well.

In the end, a fully clothed Lady Godiva on her horse enters the house and takes Peeping Tom in his armor away. History repeats itself and the devastating scene from 1000 years ago plays out. The Stooges open the shudders, hoping to see a naked Lady Godiva. They hear cheers. No, they don’t get beheaded. Instead, pies are thrown at the window and into their faces.

Trivia via Wikipedia:

This short was later remade as Creeps – Short #168- 1956 using stock footage

My observations:

The gag of “flying animal trapped in skull” reoccurs in this film. This time it is an own that dons the bonehead. He flies around saying “WHO! WHO! WHO!”

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein premiered was released in 1948. The film features a scene where the comedic duo are tasked with moving wax figures of monsters. These monsters are real, in fact, as a frightened Costello would observe. Perhaps the plot of The Ghost Talks, a short released in 1949,  borrows from A and C? Maybe? Hmmmm??

Could not find this on youtube. So here is a dailymotion link

 

Dopey Dicks – Short #122 – 1950

Plot in short:

The Stooges must rescue a woman from a mad scientist. He has designed a man-robot, which looks like a robotic mannequin. Anyway, the robot keeps knocking its head off when he bumps it into anything. It can’t see! So the Mad Doc wants to replace the head with a human head and brain.  For a good part of this film, The Stooges are chased by this headless robot.

 

My observations:

I say that this short barely squeaks in as a “haunted house” film. No ghosts or skeletons, but it is set in a creepy house with secret panels and passages. The headless robot kind of mimics a ghost.

PhilipVanZantDopeyDicksPhilip Van Zandt plays the mad scientist. I single him out because he plays a mad scientist in several Three Stooges shorts.

Spooks – Short #148 – 1953

Plot in short:

Very similar plot to Dopey Dicks. A mad scientist has kidnapped a woman once again. Again, the villain is played by Philip Van Zandt. This time, the mad doc wants to put the woman’s brain into the head of a gorilla. The Three Stooges must rescue her from this house of horrors.

Trivia via Wikipedia:

3D films were the thing in the early 50s. The Stooges wanted to get on the bandwagon. Therefore, this film was shot in 3D!

My observations:

ShempBatAfter reading about the “filmed for 3D”, I noticed the places that would feature this effect.  There is knife throwing, pitchfork lunging, blowtorch flaming, cleaver wielding, Moe’s two fingers poking. But perhaps the most outrageous three-dimensional horror is a bat with Shemp’s face!  Shemp comments on what an ugly creature it is!

Scotched in Scotland – Short #158 – 1954

Plot in short:

 This is the remake of Hot Scots. The introduction is different. In the original, Moe dances to bagpipe music with a woman while a man wearing a sheik outfit hides in a picture frame, disguised as the portrait. This scene is omitted in this film. Instead, Moe and Shemp are spooked by a , you guessed it, a bird in a skull that carries the bone head and a sheet when it flies.

A new soundtrack features the sounds of spooky winds.

 

Creeps – Short #168 –  1956

Plot in short:

This is a remake of the 1949 The Ghost Talks short using stock footage.  This time, there are three baby stooges in bed and The Three Adult Stooges tell them a bedtime story involving ghosts, knights, and murders. They tell the story of the time they are movers and tasked with moving the haunted knight armor.

The scene involving Lady Godiva is omitted. It ends, instead, with the Baby Stooges not satisfied with the story, crying that they want another story. To get them to sleep, the adult stooges hit them over the head with a hammer.

My observations:

There is a barking bat-dog hanging on the wall again. This happens in Spook Louder.

EXTRA  – Three Pests in a Mess, 1945 Short# 83 (Not a Haunted House short, but

a scary graveyard. And Curly Returns!)

Plot in short:

Curly mistakenly thinks things he murdered a man when he accidentally shoots a mannequin.  The Three Stooges bag “the body” and take it to a cemetery.  Their actions are observed by a night watchman. He phones for help, reporting that prowlers are on the loose. Three helpers arrive straight from a masquerade party.  They are dressed in the same outfits as the spies in the short Spook Louder. This time, regular Stooge antagonist Vernon Dent dons the costume of the man in black.

(First Picture – Costumes used in 1943 Spook Louder. Second Picture – Costumes used in 1945 Three Pests in a Mess)

ThreeSpookLouder ThreePestsInAMess

Halloween Haunted House Ha Ha’s Get Better With Beetlejuice

All that’s here is – Halloween Ha Ha’s

Halloween Boo Boo’s!

Haunted House Ha Ha’s!

BeetlejuiceYes, it gets better but hardly magnificent IMHO.  My first impressions of the movie?  Oh shit, there’s that guy that shot his cinematography director and director; man does Alec Baldwin look young!

See folks, what’s happening here is this middle age guy is taking his very first plunge into Beetlejuice land in the year 2021, thirty-three years late. Oh I have seen a scene (“seen a scene” – isn’t that a cool phrase?) here and there over the years. I was very familiar with the dinner party scene before watching the film. But for the most part, I was a Beetlejuice virgin.  How I wish I had seen this movie back in the 80s. I am sure I would have liked the film much better.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good movie. But if I had taken a break from trying to sneak into bars and clubs back in March of 1988 when I was a minor and had gone to the movies instead, maybe I would have seen Beetlejuice then. The magical ways of Tim Burton would be fresh and awestriking. The claymation wouldn’t seem so dated. And maybe the starring couple Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) wouldn’t annoy me as 80’s style “squares.”  Then, years later, say, oh I don’t know, a year like 2021, I might revisit the film, take note of the datedness, but still fondly enjoy it for its nostalgic appeal.

For me, Tim Burton is hit or miss. I like him but don’t love him. My main critique is “His films are too dark for little kids….” and here is where my niece interrupts and rebuts my criticism with “But Uncle Danny, his films aren’t meant for kids!”  But here is the second part of the critique – “His films are too flavored with the stuff of fairy tales for adults”.  The critique applies to Beetlejuice. I liked the film, didn’t love it. On a grade scale allowing for pluses and minus, I might give it a B. Lowest grade B+

The bizarre-looking creatures, the circus-like scores of Danny Elfman, the flamboyant characters, the colors, the animation, all of this I have already sampled and devoured in Burtons’ films that came later. I missed the launch of his style. Well, I did see Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and while what would become his signature style is certainly present in that film, it isn’t a fantasy story involving magical or spooky characters.

It is a unique plot I do admit. A ghostly couple wants to rid the house they are haunting of humans so they hire a bio-exorcist. His name is pronounced “Beetlejuice”.  Ghosts wanting to exorcise their house of humans, great twist! And Michael Keaton as the grisly uncouth ghoul steals the show. I was surprised at how little screen time his character had. More Keaton would have been much better. The “world of the afterlife as portrayed in this film – interesting and creative. And how cute a young Winona Ryder was!

Of course, that dinner party scene – Day-O (Banana Boat Song – is dope! It’s the best part of the film and here it is! (Unless YouTube has taken it down) It’s worth several “ha ha’s”

COVER REVEALED: Topping off my new novel The Acquaintance

Book covers have been around since ancient times.

Wait, never mind that “ancient” stuff. Instead, contemplate on this: without book covers, the world would be a pretty bland place. 

Um, book covers were once thought to…to….to….hmmm, I don’t know where I’m going with this. NEXT!

Existence. Covers exist. Books exist. Put them together and book covers can exist as well. I, uhh……

*

*

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Ya know what, just scroll down, or simply look down and look at the cover. 

 

 

TheAcquaintanceBookCoverWithTitleAuthor

 

Horrible Haunted House Ha Ha’s Continue with Marlon Wayans’ A Haunted House

I can’t believe this. Here I am, reviewing Marlon Wayans’ A Haunted House and yet I still haven’t gotten around to writing about the movie it is spoofing – Paranormal Activity.  That’s what happens when you’re stricken with the:

Halloween Ha Ha’s,

Haunted House boo boos

Haunted House Ha Ha’s.

Except I forgot to say “Ha Ha” when watching the movie. I did force myself to laugh several times.  The laughter flowed in more of a “heh heh” fashion though.

AHauntedHouse

What can I say about this movie? Do I really have it in me to analyze and criticize this kind of film? Is there anything really for me to hypothesize then publicize?  Should I demonize the demon eyes? 

No this is not a good film.   But it was entertaining…sometimes. It wasn’t boring, that’s for sure.

Marlon Wayans and Essence Atkins star as a couple who move in together. Atkins’s character, a hoarder, brings much to Wayans’ house, including a malicious ghost. Or is it a demon? During a Ouija board session, the spirit proclaimed itself to be a “gost”. It can’t spell. Funny!  Not really, but oh well. And that’s all I’ll say about the plot, aside from the fact that it loosely mimics the storyline of Paranormal Activity, but I already mentioned that, and now I’m just rambling to extend this “review.”

The thing is, many reviewers ripped this movie because of the poorly written plot.  What the hell, the only purpose of the plot was to provide some kind of structure for which to attach all those raunchy jokes. I got that, never expected anything else. 

But those raunchy jokes tho’!

Let’s see, we have racial stereotyping humor, white couple wants to swing with black couple funnies, gay psychic wants to do Wayans hilarity, Wayans humping his stuffed animal jocularity, man and woman both raped by a demon shenanigans, fart jokes, blunt-smoking demon ha ha’s, exorcisms conducted by jailhouse preacher hee hee’ss, small penis chuckles, and many scenes of Wayans’ bare ass for raw naked humor..  I could go on.

Though crude, I’m no prude, and I was able to at least smile at all the stuff written about in the preceding paragraph. I was never a member of the PC police and when it comes to comedy, I prefer old school raunchy over the modern perky quirky.  But the jokes in A Haunted House became repetitious, and just when you’ve had enough the film doubles down on them, then triple downs, quadruples even. More. Faster. Louder.

This was my first exposure to the comedic styling of Marlon Wayans.  Maybe I’ll check out more of his work but maybe not. I could take it or leave it, but if I ever feel a bit off-center, I’d be leaning toward “leave it”.

 

Rottontomatoes score = WOW, only 9%! Well, it’s still better than Hillbillies in a Haunted House IMHO.

 

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Next up – GOOD Haunted House HA HA films.  I promise!

Hillbillies, Ghosts and Bikinis! Horrible Haunted House Ha Ha’s!

Every film genre has its heroes.  I’m referring to the legendary actors who brought stories to life.  There are the horror film greats, for instance.  Too many to name!  Wouldn’t it be great if some of the signature actors of the horror films of the 30s and 40s contributed their talents to some 1960s haunted house films?  For instance, what if Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine and Boris Karloff starred in such films, what would the result be?  Answer: a waste of talent. An ineffective ploy to make terrible films interesting.

To their credit, the trio mentioned in the paragraph above did their jobs well. But their talents just couldn’t save Hillbillies in a Haunted House and The Ghost and the Invisible Bikini, two Horrible Haunted House Ha Ha films.  Both of these movies try to mix music and comedy with horror. It doesn’t mix well.  Not in these instances. Not at all.

Hillbillies in a Haunted House

 

*If the above youtube clip is unavailable, sorry. Copywriters claimed it.

 

Let’s begin with the Hillbillies. Yeeeeeee Haw!  This film stars Lon Chaney Jr and John Carradine. Merle Haggard makes an appearance or two as well. It seems as if the goal of this film was simply to publicize a bunch of country music acts, so a couple of producers decided:

“Hey, let’s git us some musical acts in a film, throw some kind of story around them or something. All we need is a writer with a low-budget kind of mentality. Maybe like a haunted house plot or something.”

The comedy, I’m convinced, just naturally flowed from the stupidity, a kind of “Gee this is so stupid. Uh, maybe it’s funny?”.  But it wasn’t funny, damn it! It certainly isn’t a “It’s so bad it’s good” movie either. It is just bad.

The film opens with real life country singer Ferlin Husky  (playing the role of Wood Wetherby; a fictional country singer), driving with singing partner Boots Malone and manager Jeepers. They are headed to a Jamboree in Tennessee. Of course, they have to sing about it with the song “We’re headed to the Jamboree” or something.

On their way, this trio stops for the night at a haunted house. The source of the haunting is really a gang of international spies!  Oh, but it turns out the house really is haunted by some Civil War solider! The End…NOT!  The last thirty minutes are all Jamboree stuff. UGH!

 

Some notes:

  • A gorilla takes part in the scares. Olden days movies, they just love to put an actor in a gorilla suit and have him run around and scare people.
  • Lon Chaney Jr., what the hell happened to ya?  You were this handsome, dashing thin man. You changed!
  • There is one good part of the movie. An excellent musical performance by Sonny James doing the song When the Cat Came Back

Rottontomatoes score:  15%

 

The Ghost and the invisible Bikini

*If the above YouTube clip is unavailable, sorry. Copywriters claimed it.

This film is a little bit better than the first. Replace hillbillies with beach teens. Replace country music with 1960’s beach pop songs.

Here are the elements of this film:

Two Ghosts (Boris Karloff and Some Girl, who “wears” an invisible bikini. But sorry, you still won’t see nuttin’ fun) / An eccentric lady who screams sometimes / Her dumb blonde beach bum nephew / A horde of his beach friends / A young couple that start off as strangers, but we all know they’re destined to be lovers / A shady, evil lawyer and his accomplices / Nancy Sinatra, one such accomplice / A motorcycle gang / A gorilla. You have to have a gorilla. It was the law back then. 

Throw this whole mess into a haunted house and let the zany antics begin!

This film is part of a series. According to Wikipedia it’s the “seventh and last of American International Pictures’ beach party films”.  But wait a minute! If you follow the link to American International Pictures beach party films,

it lists twelve such films and “Ghost/Invisible” is number 10! Wiki! You contradict yourself! Anyway, it’s funny how all the films released before The Ghost and The invisible Bikini star Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello (okay, Funicello skipped out on the one of them). Wikipedia states that Avalon and Funicello appeared in marketing promos for this ghostly, beachy film, but they were not cast in it.  These beach party films had reoccurring actors but the only actor that appeared before is Deborah Walley, and she did not get on board until the fifth film Beach Blanket Bingo . So THAT is why, I guess, Ghost/Bikini gets to be included inthe “beach party film” club! Good Grief!

This film has its fun moments. But it’s not good enough to be a “so bad it’s good” movie. Perhaps it’s a “so bad it’s okay” movie?  Maybe.

 

Rottentomatoes score: 48%