Review of This House is Haunted

“Well ain’t that the Dickens?”

My answer – Uh, I dunno. This was an expression from the days of yore. Did it have anything to do with the famous English author Charles Dickens? Again I must say, “Uh, I dunno.”  But the book that is up for review, John Boyle’s This House is Haunted, is said to be written in “Dickensian prose”. Google Books and other sources make this claim.

The novel takes place during Dickensian times, that is for certain.  It is London circa 1867. Two of the main characters trudge out in the cold to attend a reading by the great author himself. So obviously, it is the author’s conscious attempt to establish a connection to this renowned author. Alas, I am not all that familiar with the writing style of Mr. Dickens, certainly not in a way that I can read a few lines of some latter author’s work and then declare, “AHA! I see the ghost of Charles haunting this prose!” No such ghost beckons me because I haven’t yet tasted the life of his characters and settings. No life, no ghosts. 

But I tell you this! (Interruptous Buttinski: No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn?) (Me: No, that is NOT what I was going to follow with. That is a line of Jim Morrison poetry that admittedly does follow “I tell you this”, but please, no reward will forgive YOU for wasting precious space on this page). I am familiar with the nineteenth century classic ghost story, and Google books draws this comparison to Boyle’s piece as well. I have delved into the works of Victorian era ghost story writers such as M.R James, Henry James and Sheridan Le Fanu and have found much to love about them. So I find myself quite pleased when modern writers such as Boyle recreate the style and settings in their tales of haunted houses of yore! Only a few reviews ago, I shared my experience reading Sarah Walter’s 2009 haunted house novel The Little Stranger, which takes place in England in the earlier part in of the twentieth century (Great book!) and I relished Susan Hill’s 1983 novel The Woman in Black, which takes place, uh, well, no specific time period is given, but they travel via horse and carriage, so, well, you know! Anyway, what is noteworthy is that these three authors capture not only the settings of these long-ago times but also the storytelling style. More so than these here modern days, the classic style thrills and chills with descriptive atmosphere that practically creates the ghosts that haunt the novel , confounds by purposely omitting a one-sided explanation for any ghostly phenomenon, beguiles with the stuff of psychological horror that we can all relate to, and elucidates with metaphorical allegories.

Now, I’m not sure Boyle’s This House is Haunted fulfills all of the characteristics of the classical style that I have mentioned at the end of the preceding paragraph, but it is a page-turner that makes me feel right at home in another time, place and style. The story flows smoothly. It is a simple story. Eliza Caine, is a young, unfortunate woman who leaves her home in London after the death of her father, her only close companion, and takes on a job as a governess for a young girl and boy in a house called Gaudlin Hall  in Norfolk. She learns too late that she is the fifth person to occupy that position in a relatively short time period. Three former governesses perished and one fled from Gaudlin Hall in fear for her life. Oh my, what ever is going on? Well, like the title of the book says, the house is haunted.

Instead of Charles Dickens, I am reminded of Henry James and his novel The Turn of the Screw. In that story, a woman takes on responsibility for the care of young Miles and Flora, two precocious children who appear to be haunted by the ghosts of a man and a woman, respectively. Guess what? The same thing happens here. It seems as if a female apparition is haunting young Isabella and a male ghost communicates with young Eustance.  Whatever is going on here could be deadly for poor Eliza. I must say there isn’t a whole lot of mystery in terms of the identity of these spirits, nor is there much doubt that there truly is a ghostly phenomenon. But at the book’s end, a couple of surprising things happen that cause the reader to reevaluate the nature of the spirits specifically and the overall haunting in general.

What I found most intriguing was Eliza Caine herself. Her demeanor, her backstory, her self-deprecating style that contradicts her strength of character and soft optimism. A well-written character I must say.

John Boyle may best be known for his novel The Boy in Striped Pajamas, later made into a movie. I have not read the book nor seen the movie. Maybe I should, now that I have read one of his “other” works as opposed to his “major” one.  Ya gotta do the major after the minor, isn’t that what they say? Or maybe I just made that quip up? Guess what – I did. Well it sounds cool, doesn’t it?  Anyway, This House is Haunted – an above average haunted house novel. Give it a try!

October 31- Doctor Sleep – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

Stephen King’s long-awaited novel – the sequel to The Shining. In a twist, the movie is not a sequel to the book. It is a sequel to the movie “The Shining”.  See, the book and the movie (The Shining) have different endings. The book ends in a way that the Overlook Hotel cannot be a part of the sequel. The movie does not have this limitation, thus the Overlook returns!

I’m sorry Mr. King, but I thought your book was a bit hokey. A travelling band of senior-citizen psychic vampires in Winnebago’s with straw hats and tanks of “psychic energy” drained from victims resembling oxygen tanks?  In the film, the tanks are there, but at least the roaming band of psychic vampires appear more threatening. They almost resemble a motorcycle gang in appearance.  And in the film, we get to visit The Overlook Hotel again and watch in suspense as all of its ghosts reawaken.  It was cool! For a more detailed comparison, read my article:

Doctor Sleep

Oh and the film is done my that Michael Flanagan guy, the guy behind the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor.

Winner: FILM

October 30 – The Woman in Black – Book Vs. Film – Which Film Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

“Modern Gothic at its Best.” This was my tagline for the article I wrote about Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black.  Written in 1983 yet capturing the writing style of a piece that might have been written one hundred years prior, Hill’s novel is a such a treat in an era that had seemed to have long forsaken the literary “ways of the Goth”.  Sadly, the 2012 movie starring Daniel Radcliffe strays considerably from the tone that Hill gifted us readers. Yes, the film has the old mansion surrounded by marshes, a staple of Gothic horror. It is a visually stimulating film.  But Mr. Soundman is too eager and he can’t resist sliding the volume lever on the music whenever the film is going for something suspenseful. Funny, because it’s the sounds as described in the book that chill the reader. These would be the sounds of an unseen horse and carriage that struggles in the foggy marshes, not some hyped up musical score. The film barely touches on this. What the film does show, over and over, are one second flashes of a woman in black. Jumps scares. Meh. And the film’s story is considerable different than the book, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but the story as conveyed by Hill is much better. Read my review of the book:  The Woman in Black – Modern Gothic at its Best

October 29 – Stir of Echoes – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

A 1999 horror movie starring Kevin Bacon.  A 1958 sci-fi horror novel written by Richard Matheson (the third time that author makes this list.)  I really liked the film. Did I love it. Um…no. But it was an interesting ghost story. Mr. Bacon gets hypnotized and suddenly a wall in his psyche breaks down and he now has certain psychic abilities. The ability the film focus’s in on the most involves the ghost of a girl who communicates with him in fragmented visions. The scope of his abilities is wider in the book and it details them more carefully.  Therefore, I favor the book.

For a more detailed comparison, read my article:

Stir of Echoes Vs. A Stir of Echoes

Winner: BOOK

October 28 – Pet Sematary – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

The film I am referring to is the 1989 version, not the most recent adaption of Stephen King’s novel, which came out I believe in 2019. I didn’t see the newest version and after I read the reviews I didn’t bother to try. The movie from the 80’s didn’t fare much better. Not having read King’s book, I rented it back in the VCR days and I didn’t care too much for it either. I remember Herman Munster was in it without his Frankenstein’s monster makeup.  Honestly, I don’t remember what faults I had with the film, other than I wanted the makeup back on Herman.

I was reluctant to read King’s book on account of my disliking of the movie. Eventually I did and it turned out to be one of my favorites of his. (In his top 10 somewhere). The “sematary” was creepier, and the hike to the “sematary” was creepier as well. In the film I don’t even remember that there was a woodsy trek to the graveyard. On the trek in the book, there were a lot of spooky noises.

Winner: BOOK

October 27 – The Ruins – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

By Author Scott Smith who also wrote The Simple Plan, later made into a movie starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, and Bridget Fonda. Oh and directed by Sam Raimi – The Evid Dead dude. I both read and saw the film The Simple Plan.  Oops I’m supposed to be writing about The Ruins. Let me redirect.

Anyway, with The Ruins, Smith writes a suspenseful, gory book about young American tourists trapped on the ruins of a Mayan temple in Mexico.  Local Mayas will shoot them dead if they try to leave, and eventually, the vines that grow all along the pyramid-like structure will kill them. They are nasty things, these vines. They pry into the skin, strangle the neck, and their flowers are like mouths and they mimic the screams of its victims and replay personal conversations to pit the survivors against each other.

The book and the film (directed by Carter Smith) pretty much tell the same story with some variations. What happens to certain characters in the book happens instead to other characters in the movie, etc. The endings are different. The book goes for a hopeless conclusion while the film has an inkling of hope.

Book or movie? Hmm. When working out my decision, I kept alternating between “a tie” or “the book as the winner”.  But since I reserved one option for the book as the sole winner and no option for the film as a standalone victor, then I have to go for the book.

Winner: BOOK

October 26 – Friday the 13th Part 3 (in 3D) – Book Vs. Film – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

Yes I actually read the novelization of this film. I remember reading and then exclaiming “Wow, this character, his head got “severe + d.””  That’s how I pronounced it; severe with a “d”.  My sister didn’t know what “severe + d’ meant, so she looked at he word. “Danny, that’s severed!” she said.  (But it was a severe act, you have to admit.)

What do you think I thought of this book? Well, I got some Jason backstory I didn’t get elsewhere. But overall, it’s more fun to see teenagers get sliced to death that to read about such a phenomenon. Plus, the words didn’t jump out at me in 3D like the eyeballs did in the movie theater. Jason put some guy’s head in a vice (or was it a vice-like grip with his own two hands? I can’t remember), all that pressure and boing! His eyeball shot out and almost landed in my box of popcorn.  That’s better than the book, doncha’ think?

Winner: FILM

October 25 – The Funhouse – Book Vs. Movie – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

Remember this movie? It’s somewhat obscure, I guess. Came out in 1981. Directed by Tobe Hooper; he’s not so obscure! (Salem’s Lot director). My Daddy took me to see this in the theater at his suggestion. It was the first time I saw teenagers hacked to death on the big screen.

It’s the story of a shady carnival. Four teenagers spend the night in The Funhouse. They witness a carnival barker’s deformed son kill the carnival’s fortune teller. As witnesses to this crime they must be destroyed. Let the “fun” of “funhouse” begin!

The book is a bit different. It’s the novelization of the film, based on the screenplay. It was written by Owen West, but that’s not the author’s real name. His real name is Dean Koontz. You might have heard of him. Anyway, the entirety of the “trapped inside the funhouse” plot of the film is just one mere chapter in the book – the final chapter. Most of the book is backstory concerning the Conrad the Carnival Barker, his deformed son, and a different story regarding the teenagers. In the book, one of the teenager’s is a daughter or an ex-wife of Conrad and he purposely lures her and her friends into the funhouse so that he may kill them, extracting revenge on his ex-wife for something he did.

The book really does have an interesting backstory. But the film is more thrilling and interesting. It focuses solely on the carnival and funhouse, but details very well the depravity and overall freakiness of this traveling band of misfits. The animatronic attractions in the funhouse are pretty awewome.

Winner: FILM

October 24 – Children of the Corn – Book Vs. Movie – Which Medium Wins (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

Would you like to know when I first began reading Stephen King’s Children of the Corn?  (To tell you the truth, Cheely, I really don’t care…) Great! I will tell you. It was two weeks ago. I read for a few minutes and then suddenly my eReader is telling me that I’m already 25% finished with the story. Read a bit more the next day and discover that I am over 80% done. So, I reread, trying to keep the experience going for as long as I can. Okay, done rereading, I’ll just progress a little further…Congratulations! I’m all done. Boo! I want more!

Okay, I went in knowing it was a short story. But this was like, really short. It was much darker and more wretched than the movie though. The two adult characters, husband and wife, that find themselves in the middle of nowhere in a small abandoned town surrounded by cornfields and killer children are obnoxiously sugar coated in the movie. The young childless couple, hero and heroine, are destined to overcome the supernatural force of “he who walks behind the rows,” escape the evil and thwart the plot of the meanie kids. They are awarded with two adorable children that they rescue from the kid cult. In the book they are flawed individuals struggling to save their rocky marriage. More relatable if you ask me.

Oh but the movie gives us memorable evil children like Malachi, the killer with long red hair and the younger Isaac with the unnerving squeaky voice who leads the pack!  They are simply mentioned in the book. It takes a screen and a longer story to bring them to life.

So which do I prefer? Tough choice. I’ll go with the book (short story) for its commitment to dark storytelling. Maybe later I will flip a coin and let fate decide my preference. But not now.

Winner: BOOK

October 23 – Salem’s Lot – Book Vs. Movie – Which Medium Wins? (Thirty-One Days of Halloween)

I wish I could remember the finer details of this story. How long has it been since I read this Stephen King classic? Too long. It deserves a second read, even though, despite how others feel, it is not a King favorite of mine. Don’t get me wrong, I like it. It’s probably in his top ten. But not top five.

A vampire takes up resident at Salem’s Lot’s “haunted house”. Soon, the populace of this small town will be infected by vampirism. One by one they become the walking undead.

If you were a kid in the 1970’s, then you probably remember stumbling upon some TV vampire movie and watch young boy vampires floating in the air before a bedroom window, scratching their fingernails the window, wanting in. Pretty scary stuff. This was the Made-For-TV miniseries of Salem’s Lot, directed by Tobe Hooper. Pretty damn good for a TV movie. I watched it for the first time as an adult the other night.

When all is said and done, I favor the book for its thick yet rich plot and interesting characters. The movie attempts a thickness of the plot (over three hours long but meant to be watched over the course of two nights) but it is a bit overbearing at times. Again I must revisit the book.

Winner: BOOK