Black Rabbit Hall – Who are the Ghosts that Haunt this Story?

Once upon a post, I declared Shirley Jackson’s novel “We have Always Lived in the Castle” to be a haunted house story. Somewhere in the middle of this piece I even went so far as to title a section heading as “What Kind of Ghosts ‘Have Always Lived in the Castle’”.  This threw some readers off. They were ready to point out that “there were no ghosts in the story”. But then they read the stuff underneath the heading and it clicked. “Ah,” they said, “Now I see what you mean!”

See kids, ghosts do not always appear as things in white sheets. Nor do they always show up as glowing, semi-transparent figures.  Sometimes they are not seen at all.  Sometimes a ghost is not representative of one single personality. Sometimes there are ghosts not of a person at all, such as the ghost of a fading memory trying to resurface again, or the ghost of a feeling, long forgotten until that very moment when it suddenly haunts your heart with a confusing mixture of specificity and vagueness, familiar and foreign at the same time.     

Perhaps you can see where I am going with this. There are many ghosts lurking around the pages of Eve Chase’s Gothic novel Black Rabbit Hall, but you must widen your perspective or you’ll miss them. The summers of 1968/1969 are ghosts, ghosts of timeless seasons long gone. They haunt one Lorna in the twenty teen years, these summers that came to pass and faded before she was even born.  Lorna experiences this haunting when she visits Black Rabbit Hall, searching for a venue for her upcoming wedding.  She has vague memories of this hall as a child, but what are these memories made of? She’s not sure, and that heightens her attraction to this place all the more. She becomes obsessed with the house.  This obsession is seen as toxic to her fiancée, sister and father.

It’s a mysterious, gargantuan house with many floors and too many rooms to count. It is old and rundown, but it has its hidden charms.  The grandfather clock named Big Bertie that has never been able to tell time is one. A stone turret that leads to what would be the bridal suite is another.  Outside the hall exists terrains of cliffs and fields, beaches and tidal waves, and forests and trees. In all this Lorna will get lost. She will lose herself. She can find herself again but things will never be the same. She needs to turn to the ghosts to help her find herself. The ghosts take the form of hidden inscriptions on large rocks within the woods. They emerge within the tales told to her by the inhabitants of Black Rabbit Hall, incomplete tales she must piece together like a puzzle in order to make things whole. One such inhabitant is the servant Dill. She was there when it all happened. (When what happened?) Then there’s Mrs. Caroline Alton, the elderly lady that owns the hall and is cared for by a Dill. She’s not quite the charmer, but there’s something about her. Ghosts cling to her like moths to a light. These ghosts will connect Lorna to past events and tragedies. They will be the source of fulfilling revelations and usher in a new future.

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BlackRabbitHall2

Let’s go back. Back to the summers of 1968, 1969.  Black Rabbit Hall was a summer retreat for the Alton family.  Away from the hustle and bustle of London, to escape to the countryside, off they go. Hugo and his wife Nancy, and their four children; teenage twins Toby and Amber, and the younger children Kitty and Barney (Wait, what about Caroline Alton?) Summers here seem timeless. Routines give in to the whim of the weather. Big Bertie dutifully holds back on time.

But ya know, ghosts are born in timelessness. They forever exist in timelessness; coming from the past, predicting the future, invading the present and blurring time’s boundaries.  This time period is seen through the viewpoint of Amber. Something will happen that will seal tragedy within this timelessness. Amber, like Lorna many years later, like her family in the present moment, must rediscover herself and help her brothers and sisters come to terms of the new life that is upon them. 

To quote from the book:

you realize life is not at all linear but circular, that dying is as hard as being born, that it all returns to the point you think you left long, long, ago

This book was one of several items on a list of haunted house books. This list exists somewhere within the realms of the Google search engine. This is how I discovered Black Rabbit Hall.  Since it is featured on this list, I felt it my duty to justify its inclusion. That is why I spent much of this review defining and perhaps redefining the concept of ghosts. But for those who crave a more literal expression of such phantoms, you just might get it. Maybe.  Is the mysterious figure that marches out of the fields at night, leading an army of rabbit shadows, a ghost? Maybe.  

As for Black Rabbit Hall being a haunted house – aren’t houses of this kind often portrayed as conscious entities? It sure seems as if it’s the house itself that protests a certain ceremony that takes place in its confines back in the 1960s. The house and its surrounding environment whip up a quite the storm, perhaps as an indication that such a ceremony, though at the right place, is in the wrong time, celebrated by the wrong people. If anything, the house is the collective spirit of many things, many events and people.  To quote again from the book:

For all its oddness and tragedy, she knows she will miss Black Rabbit Hall , as you do miss places that make you rewrite your own map, if only slightly, places that take a bit of you away, give you something of their spirit in return

The house, in its own way, has the ability to communicate, to call to the ones the belong and shun the ones that don’t.

I recommend this book and I’m sure you will enjoy this haunted house story. If you look for ghosts in the right places, you will find them.

I Am the Pretty Little Thing That Lives in the House – A Review

I-Am-Pretty-Thing-Lives-House Ghost

I am the ugly fat thing that sits in his basement and writes about I Am the Pretty Little Thing That Lives in the House, a 2016 haunted house film from director Osgood Perkins. Actually, I have lost a lot of weight, and come to think of it, I am handsome.  Perhaps my appearance is debatable. As is the quality of this film. Very much so.

The average rating on IMDB comes to 4.6 out of 10 stars. Oh dear. On rottentomatoes  the average rating among critics is 57%. The average among the audience is only 24%. Wow, that is low, man. Reeeeal low. And yet, critics such as Brian Tallerico of rogerebert.com are generous with praise. Released in limited theaters back in 2016, it found its home on Netflix a year later. If I remember correctly, the average rating among Netflix viewers is 3 out of 5 stars.

I’m guessing those who pan it do so for its slow pace, lack of substance, and its arguably pretentious style. Those who like it, perhaps, admire its atmosphere, its creepy tone and the simple visuals of the rooms, stairs, and hallways that create a haunting mood more effectively than a camera obsessed ghost. Though the film does have a ghost, it’s not camera obsessed, but nor is it camera shy. It shows up in the right places, sometimes in the background, sometimes it’s more obvious.

I seem to have devoted more attention to what is good about the film in the previous paragraph than what is not so good. Does this mean I like the movie? Sure I do. But it’s not without its faults.

It’s a simple story, perhaps even a cliché’. A young hospice nurse is to be the live-in caretaker of a retired horror authoress, who is mostly bedridden and suffers from dementia. Iris Blum consistently mistakes Nurse Lily Saylor for “Poly”, who turns out to be the protagonist of Iris’s best-selling novel “The Lady in the Walls.”  Meanwhile, strange things happen to Lily during her stay. Some phantom force rips a phone out of her hands. She hallucinates and sees her arms decay. She hears a thump, thump, thump inside the walls. Due to Iris’s mental state, Lily cannot have a coherent conversation with her, so she cannot turn to her for explanations. All she seems to be able to talk about is “Poly.”  Searching for answers, Lily begins to read “The Lady in the Walls.”

What was it they taught us back in grade school about journalism, the 5 or 6 questions a reporter must ask to get to the meat of the story? I believe it was “who”, “what”, “where”, “when”, “why” and “how.”  Well, this film fails at answering many of these questions. I know, this isn’t a report for the six o’clock news, this is a film, a work of art for Christ’s sake! Still, I believe much of the film’s criticism stems from its unapologetic ambiguity. Quite often, Lily narrates and speaks directly to us, the viewers. But it’s not always her that speaks. Sometimes it’s Poly. Thanks to the subtitles (I watch most films with subtitles) I knew who was speaking. Otherwise, I would have been at a loss.  This is a problem with the “who”.  “What” is this film about?  To go into a deeper examination than what I have already explained is tricky, if not impossible. It’s one of those films that, when it’s all over, might cause someone to say, “What the hell did I just watch?”  See, a problem with the “what”.

The “where” is achieved. A house in New England. This is “where” all the action (and inaction) takes place. There is nothing to be desired outside its premises.  “When” does this film take place?  The film doesn’t explicitly give a time period for the present-day action. But there is a wall phone with a long cord, a rabbit-ears television and a tape deck with cassettes, so one can assume it’s the 80s? Maybe? Then again, the story alternates time periods now and then, sometimes in confusing ways.  Why and how is the house haunted? A vague answer comes from Lily herself as she narrates to us at the beginning of the film:

On ghosts in general

They have stayed to look back for a glimpse of the very last moments of their lives.

 

On ghosts haunting a house

There is nothing that chains them to the places where their bodies have fallen. They are free to go, but still they confine themselves, held in place by their looking. For those who have stayed, their prison is their never seeing. And left all alone, this is how they rot.

That’s about the best answer the film will give. If it’s not satisfactory then the appetite for further knowledge will just have to go unfed.

But, did you notice how awesome those quotes from the movie are?  This is a film that wants to be a novel. Or a poem. There are many more poetically haunting slices of narration. Perhaps the most quoted is the first narrated line of the film:

I have heard myself say that a house with a death in it can never again be bought or sold by the living. It can only be borrowed from the ghosts that have stayed behind.

Beautiful, right?  With the right visuals properly synced to such beautifully haunting words comes a moving experience.  This synchronization happens many times. “And left all alone, this is how they rot”. We see the rot in the mold on the walls, in the mysterious black puncture wounds on Lily’s skin.  “Their prison is their never seeing”  Enter the blindfolded woman, the original doomed occupant of the house.

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The film moves in dreamlike sequences, nonlinear at times, with metaphors painted over the loose edges. I might be so bold to state that I might have liked this film better if it doubled down on all this. Forget any attempts at a straight story, just move with the words and use the camera to paint the images the words tell us to see.  I am willing to bet the naysayers would only scream a louder “nay” at this suggestion. And who am I to suggest such a thing but a slightly overweight guy in the bowels of his house.  If I had to grade this film on a letter scale, allowing for +’s and –‘s, I’d give it a solid B.  B from the basement.

Review of The Cliffhouse Haunting – A Thorne and Cross novel

Hey you

Me?

Yeah you! Remember that one “American Horror Story” season, with that lodge by the lake and that creepy blue lady ghost?

Let me think…Oh yeah! She was creepy. Man, Jessica Lange impressed again, this time as Constance Leigh Welling, the self-published “authoress.”  Dragging around her assistant by his nose, the poor young Luke Donovan, played so well by Evan Peters. How she thought she was so talented, so young, so beautiful, so popular! That old narcissistic bitch! She really got her comeuppance! Thank God the daughter of the owners, Sara Baxter-Bellamy played by Taissa Farmiga, became Luke’s love interest, making Constance jealous and eventually giving him the encouragement to leave that bitch.

Uh..yeah.

Oh, and I won’t forget Dr. Roger Siechert, played by Dylan McDermott. That hilarious German-folk enthusiast, who not only took up killing people, but also liked to stick that severed finger up is ass! He called it the “chocolate wander” and it was also “The Happy Wander”, like the German song, “Valeri, Valera! Valeri , Valer- Ha Ha Ha Ha HA HA HA “

Yeah..sure.

How about that Hammerhead serial killer, named because he killed his victims with the hammer! Man, we never discovered who he was until the end. Who played him?

Beats me. Hey listen-

And through it all – the blue lady ghost! When the bathrooms in the lodge rooms flood, there were her soggy footprints in the carpeting. And even when there was no flooding, the mirrors of the bathrooms would suddenly fill up with moisture, and when that happened you just knew the blue lady was coming! You just knew it!  Thanks for the memories! I’m going to log in to Netflix and watch it again!

You won’t find it. I’ve been trying to stop you before you got to carried away, but I was too late.

What do you mean? And why did they take it down already?

I mean, it never aired. It wasn’t an American Horror Story season at all. This was a book by Thorne and Cross called “The Cliffhouse Haunting

Then why did you tell me it was?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

But I know! Afterall, I’m the idiot that wrote up that goofy exchange up there! A little more than halfway through the book, I had the thought that the Constance character resembles the appearance and actions of the kinds of characters Jessica Lange plays on American Horror story. As for the happy wandering doctor, the assistant and lodge daughter? The AHS actors I’ve chosen for the parts “sort of” fit, but come on, I had a narrative-thing going on, so I had to make them fit. There are other interesting and kooky characters in this book as well, but I couldn’t make them all fit into roles that are to be played by other notable AHS actors, cramming them it like puzzle pieces in the wrong spots (my Dad used to do this when working a jigsaw puzzle. It would piss my Mom off). AHS stories always have multiple plots. So does The Cliffhouse Haunting! AHS often has too many plot threads going on for its own good. The Cliffhouse Haunting has just the right amount. So perhaps its too good of a story for that famous cable show?

Thorne and Cross have been promoting audio versions of their books lately.  I came across their promotion for the audiobook copy of The Cliffhouse Haunting. Alas, it didn’t coax me to seek it out. It’s just that I’ve never done the audiobook thing. Hell, I have had Bluetooth for my last two cars and I never set it up. I guess for me, if it’s not music, then it doesn’t need to be transmitted to me electronically. BUT, the ad DID get me to purchase a copy to read on my Kindle app. And read it I did. So now, The Cliffhouse Haunting will join the other books by this haunting and hilarious duo that have made my page or reviews. These include The Ghosts of Ravencrest (the story has continued on, I have to catch up!), Five Nights at a Haunted Cabin, and book written by on half of the duo, Tamara Thorne, called Hunted. I do believe that The Cliffhouse Haunting is the first book by this duo.

The Cliffhouse Haunting is more of an entertaining book than it is scary. Yes, there’s the Blue Lady Ghost, and she’s creepy, but the word “entertaining” encompasses a larger umbrella of descriptors. “Scary” fits underneath its domain, as does “gory”, and “weird”. And “funny”, for which you can also remove the “ny” to make it a “fun” book, and that it is.

The authors take a divergent set of characters and flesh them out in a “fun” ghost story.  There’s the typical small-town sheriff; capable, modest, down-to earth. The lodge proprietors two married men with a college-aged daughter that helps her dads run the place. I’ve already mentioned Constance, the Happy Wandering Doc, and Hammerhead; but there is the mortician that is dominated by his overbearing wife. There is the lady who can’t control her obnoxious kids. Oh, I can’t forget the person that likes to vandalize buildings with penis-graffiti art.  Thorne and  Cross love to give their characters sexual idiosyncrasies. It just wouldn’t be a Thorne and Cross book without the characters that seek out different ways to satisfy themselves. Every once in a while, one of these characters will have a criminally deranged perversion, but damn it, these are horror novels! So, be afraid and even disgusted at those characters who kill and maim in the goal of fantasy fulfillment, but laugh at the ones that who have harmless albeit different hobbies. “The Chocolate Wander” – laugh, this is funny, it wanders where “chocolate” gathers! Well, I should say, laugh until someone gets hurt, because sometimes what starts as fun and weird ends rather badly.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I like this book. I guess that’s the point of a review, isn’t it, to state whether you like it or not? I could go into more detail about the Blue Lady and the hauntings how she possesses people, and  I could delve into the legends from the past and how the circumstances surrounding serial killings from one-hundred years ago are happening again in an eerily similar manner. Like I said, I COULD go into all that, but nah, read about that for yourself when you buy the book and read it OR listen to it. Take a journey through its pages. Happy Wandering!  

Review of Dark House of Dreams

Gods and goddesses and demons, oh wow! Arachnids and familiars and oracles, oh dear! Earthquakes and famine and war, oh shit! Shiny men – skinless women – revived dead, say what?

And ghosts. So many ghosts. Hanging out on the roads, in the alleys, in your darkest dreams. Oh, and they hang out in houses too. This last point provides me with the necessary loop hole to include Joe Pawlowski’s novel Dark House of Dreams in my reviews of haunted house literature. But for the most part, it belongs in an entirely different genre.

The genre of the novel as per Amazon.com is dark fantasy.  Scrolling through best sellers that fall into this category, I came across title words such as “summoner,” “underworld,” “dragon,” and “retribution.” Hopefully these words conjure the kinds of themes this genre deals with. I am largely unfamiliar with this genre. I do not normally review books that fall into this category since my genre consists of stories pertaining to ghosts and haunted houses. A reader that is solely attracted to Gothic literature might not be interested in a book of this sort. Likewise, a reader exclusively dedicated to modern haunted house fiction might not be smitten with the stuff of this novel either. Fans looking for similarities to The Haunting of Hill House, The Shining or The Amityville Horror will find nothing of the sort in Dark House of Dreams.

The plot is rather complex and difficult to describe. Dark House of Dreams is one book in a series; the Ring Gargery Series. Much of the book devotes itself to fleshing out a story arc that will reach its curve in future novels. However, this isn’t the first of the series. The Watchful Dead: A Tale of Old Hastur (A Ring Gargery Thriller) predates this novel and is described as “a nightmare blend of gothic traditionalism, magical realism and dark fantasy.”  Perhaps this novel might align more closely to haunted house fiction theme? I should have read this first. Oh well.

Ring Gargery is the protagonist, but he’s by no means the only character to lend readers a perspective. Having spent his childhood isolated within the walls of his house, he comes of age outside the walls, in a world of slaves and nobles where travel is done by boat or horseback, villages are many miles apart and great turmoil is afoot.

An earthquake caused by a demon has ravaged a neighboring community. A giant spider, a god, is burrowing under the town and rising every so often to claim a victim. All this while Ring ekes out a living as a stableman. His pastimes include drinking bowls of wine with friends at pubs and engaging in romantic rendezvous with women. He is also searching for his mother, who mysteriously “went lost”.  Meanwhile, he has these prophetic dreams that place him in a dark house where he is tasked with exploring different “rooms” each time he drifts off to sleep.  When crossing the threshold, he enters not  a room but a landscape of some sort.

What is my favorite slice of turmoil in this story? Why that would be the ghosts, of course! A sorceress has broken down the gates of the underworld and the ghosts have been freed to walk the ….earth? (I’m not even sure this story takes place on earth). The community is forced to live side-by-side with these phantoms. They are mostly a nuisance, but sometimes they can be dangerous enough to be maddening or even deadly.  For mysterious reasons, Ring’s childhood house is overrun with ghosts. They are drawn to it the way flying insects are attracted to light.

Then there is more. There’s politics; councilmen argue and point fingers and do underhanded things. There are murders and kidnappings. There is death by public execution. And then there is more. I can go on and on.

How did I stumble upon this book and why am I reviewing it?  I found an advertisement for this book in one of the many Facebook groups I belong to that encourage authors to promote their books. The title caught my eye. When a haunted house guy such as myself sees the words “dark house”, he reads on. When he sees the word “ghosts” in the synopsis, he considers it for purchase. If the price is right (it was), he goes in for the buy. And that’s what I did. Though there are only a few instances of ghostly goings-on’s that frighten the occupants of a house or castle, dog gone it, I just wanted to say something about Dark House of Dreams.  It took work to finish this book. So many unusual character names, so many unique names for various families, tribes or religious sects (thank you Joe Pawlowski for the list of characters with descriptions at the book’s end!).  I wanted there to be something to show for my efforts. Hence this article; it’s my participation trophy.

Did I like it? In a nutshell, yes. I wouldn’t have finished it if I didn’t. I have no criticisms.  I can’t say that I’m in love with it though. It’s just a matter of taste. It is remarkably well written. And to think of the work involved in creating the world of this novel, set in a mysterious place. Every word spoken, every object used, every place the reader is taken to props up this world and fits neatly together to forge this fantastic setting.  Yes, it took work to comprehend this setting, but much less I am sure than it took to create it. So no, it’s not really a haunted house tale. And it probably does not belong within my catalog of reviews. But here it is anyway. Sue me if you must.

Hausu (House) – A Crazy Film for Crazy Times

Hausu5My first post of the new year! We all know that 2020 was a whirlwind of chaos on so many fronts.  Then Dec 31 came and at midnight we all said, “Happy New Year!” and like magic, we reset our lives, wiped the slate clean and WHOOPIE – peace and sanity came knocking at our doors once again. NOT! The chaos continues.

I wanted to watch a movie that was fit for these times. By this I mean, I wanted to see a chaotic yet fun film. I know, 2020 was not fun. It was deadly for many. In film we can escape reality.  We can watch carnage erupt on our screens knowing that it’s all fantasy. I found a film that was capable of providing such an escape while reflecting the wackiness of recent times and its offbeat volatility.  It’s horror gone looney. Terror turned topsy-turvy. And best yet, it doesn’t take this “horror” and “terror” seriously.  Oh there is bloodshed and decapitations, and yet it’s fun, fun, fun. And funny! All this in Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Japanese film Hausu. The English title is House.

Think about the past year. The Pandemic. Shelter-in-place. Lockdowns and the shutting down of public events. Some relief. Covid cases drop. Things reopen. Summer time! Uh oh, cases spiking again. Shutdowns. 

Then there was the social unrest. Protests. Riots.  Things ease. Ahh. Oh wait, here comes some more!  An election year in the United States. Much passion and anger on all sides. 2021 comes along and here comes more social unrest.

My point to all this is that these eleven months have been unpredictable to say the least. Up then down. Up. Down. Turn Around (Please don’t let me touch the ground, tonight I think I’ll walk alone, I’ll find my soul as I go home – sorry, got off track quoting New Order lyrics. But hey, that was “offbeat” of me, like the year.)  Well, Hausu is like that. A scene with a sweet, corny melody of young girls walking, followed by scenes of the bombing of Hiroshima, followed by comedic scenes of a goofball guy doing goofy things, followed by a human-eating piano.  Is that unpredictable enough for ya? Okay, those scenes don’t occur in the order I lay out, but I challenge you to watch the film only once and have a grasp of the order of things. You can’t. It’s not that kind of film.

All you really need to know about the plot is this: a girl invites several of her friends to her aunt’s house for summer vacation. The house is haunted and the aunt is creepy. After this, who cares? Just enjoy the amusement park ride filled with demonic cats, floating heads, severed fingers playing the piano, trippy 1970s-style animation, fountains of blood, dancing skeletons, and psychedelic montages.

It’s hard to describe the film. The Criterion Collection calls it “an episode of Scooby-Doo directed by Mario Bava.”  That’s good. Maybe throw in some Monty Python? Quentin Tarantino (way before his time, but…)? Ahh, here’s a way to relate this to Tarantino. Roger Ebert describes Tarantino in his review of Pulp Fiction as follows:

…he’s in love with every shot- intoxicated with the very act of making a movie.

…Here’s a director who’s been let loose inside the toy store, and wants to play all night.

I imagine Nobuhiko Obayashi used all kinds of film toys to create this film; he must have had a gigantic toy box. If he wasn’t intoxicated with making the movie, certainly his viewers were after watching it. I certainly was. Every technique available in 1977 seems to have found its way into the film. Sometimes these techniques hit all at once, and that can be unnerving to the eyes and ears. Oh well, these sensory devices attached to our bodies do recover and when they do, they will be ready for more!

If Hausu was a rock band, maybe it would be some kind of combination of Rush and King Crimson. Or have you ever heard of Mr. Bungle? Yeah that’s it, Hausu is Mr. Bungle!

I first heard of the existence of this film about a year and a half ago, during calmer, saner times. I’m glad I waited to see it, for insane times welcomes insane tastes. Is that a saying? I don’t know. But the film is “fun insanity.”  And THAT is what is needed. Good ol’ silly insanity over the crap that reality spewed on us over these past many months. Fuck reality. Bring on the surreal. Oh, and this film goes great with a big ol’ fat blunt. 

Classics: The Old Nurse’s Story -A Chilling Ghost Story for a Chilling Night

The season of the ghost story is upon us again. Cold nights. Early darkness. So bundle up. Wrap a blanket around your body. Sip some hot tea. Add a little Brandy to it.  Light a fire.  Silence your surroundings, but if there happens to be a strong wind outside your window, open your ears to its calling howl.

Let us now call out to the past then listen to its reply. Forgotten traditions awaken and the spirits of the Christmas season are summonsed when the telling begins. Arriving with frightful countenances formed by a willing imagination, they exist right outside our current norms. But they are there. Can’t you hear them knocking at your door? Let them in. It’s cold outside and your warmth is comfy buy lonely.  Open the book. Turn the page. Or listen to a voice and refine the audio settings.  Partake in the gift of the Victorian Christmas ghost story.  Welcome this tradition and let it haunt you.

It’s been a while. A whole year has passed since my last edition of “Classics: A Chilling Ghost Story for a Chilling Night.”  Thus, a refresher of the theme of this series is appropriate: 

It is my intention not so much to review these stories as it is to walk through them much like a fearful visitor might walk through a haunted house. Hopefully I can capture the atmosphere without giving too much away. But while on the walk, there will be time for analysis here and there and room for stray thoughts that creep about like watchful specters

(Two other “Chilling” Articles: The Beckoning Fair One and Horror: A True Tale)

EGaskellThe story featured in this article is meant to be read or listened to during the Christmas season. Elizabeth Gaskell’s  “The Old Nurse’s Story” was first published in 1852 in the Christmas edition of Charles Dickens’s periodical Household Words. It features a haunted house. Now, did I ever have anything to say about a “Christmas Haunted House?”  I did. I said something like this:

I believe that winter’s effect on our imaginations is enhanced when its harmful elements are still near us. Imagine reading a scary book or hearing a ghost story while the dark night can be seen just outside the window, or the howling winds are to be heard underneath the crackle of the fire. Nature’s brutal elements are right there on the other side of the house’s walls.  – From Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses

During ghost story-telling sessions on chilly nights, we are “warmly vulnerable.”  We celebrate with colorful lights and gaudy gift-wrapping and perhaps a gentle buzz, all the while “the weather outside is frightful”. We invite the doom in when we share the ghost story.  The ghost story is all the more pertinent to this situation when the plot involves eerie outside elements that want in and succeed in their attempts to do so. Outside the house. Then in. Such a house, my friends, represents to me a prototypical Christmas haunted house.

Furnivall Manor is such a house. Most of the events of “The Old Nurse’s Story” take place there. Old Nurse Hesther is the storyteller. To her current charges, presumably young, she relays this tale. She has been with the family for a long time and knows the details concerning the upbringing of their very own mother, for Hesther had raised her too! She knows of the extended family branches, the uncles and cousins and great aunts, and knows of the manor to which their mother, little Miss Rosamond, was sent to live after she was orphaned. For Nurse Hesther had accompanied the poor, grieving girl to her new home at the grand Furnivall Manor, home to aging distant relatives and servants.

Miss Furnival, lady of the manor, not quite eighty, sits most of her days in the company of a companion, the old Mrs. Stark, her lifelong maid.  They lived many years. Within the long trail of life behind you lurks the past, never fleeting, always encroaching, reminding one of past transgressions.

The house has the grandiose trappings found in many tales of haunted house lore; countless rooms, long hallways connecting the sections, several fireplaces, a gallery of portraits, a bronze chandelier, and a grand organ that was unfortunately broken on the inside.  Would it surprise you, dear reader, if I was to tell you that its internal damage prevented not the music from being played by some phantom musician? And does it cause you wonder that the east wing of the manor is sealed off from the rest of the Hall, to enter is forbidden? Outside on the grounds, along the fells, is where Miss Rosamond loves to play. Will you be shocked to know that danger lurks out there?  The danger wants in.

“Oh let her in! Please!” Miss Rosamond cries on several occasions.  The “danger” is a “she”, and where “she” enchants the young Rosamond she frightens the old Miss Furnival. Hesther too shares her Mistress’s concern, for the strange little girl from the outside has, on one occasion, unintentionally led Miss Rosamond to a dreary place where a strange lady put her into a troubling, feverish, almost frozen sleep. But Hesther could never the-old-nurses-story-snowfear the girl in the same was as Miss Furnival feared her.  To fear her in such a way, one would have to have been there, at the beginning, and taken part in the evil doings that once doomed a mother and her child to the cold, winter elements without shelter. And Miss Furnival took part!

An old nurse knows many things. She knows things your own mother would never tell you. Maybe “Miss” Rosamond had forgotten such things and repressed all the misfortune of her childhood. But there is always someone around who recalls it all. Someone who has heard the family stories and has learned through word of mouth the dreadful acts that would reenact upon the manor and cause a haunting. All this, she would confide to her charges, the children of “Miss” Rosamond. How they would react to such stories, the reader will never know.

The Old Nurse’s Story is available for free in several print formats. Open your search engine and seek and you shall find. Or, listen to it as it is narrated by a woman that goes by the name Dancing Dove, and watch the accompanying video, where an artist brings the house and its landscape to life, drawing into being as the story unfolds. I have attached the YouTube video for your listening and viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

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