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.
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.
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!
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”
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.
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.
As a kid, I loved seeing this masked dude on my TV set.
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.
This short was later remade as Creeps – Short #168- 1956 using stock footage
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.
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.
Philip 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.
3D films were the thing in the early 50s. The Stooges wanted to get on the bandwagon. Therefore, this film was shot in 3D!
After 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.
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)
Yes, 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”
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.
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.
Next up – GOOD Haunted House HA HA films. I promise!
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!
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
*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!
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.
Finally, I have a new book soon to be published! It’s a scary one, but it might not be ready in time for Halloween. That’s okay, the story has more of a late November feel to it. In the upcoming days and weeks, I’ll post some updates and teasers. The title is The Acquaintance.
Since I’m saving the spookies for later, what’s gonna happen here pre-Halloween? A whole lot of hilarity and/or stupidity, that’s what! It’s like that Queen song:
All we hear is, Halloween Ha Ha’s
Halloween Boo Boos
Halloween Ha Ha’s!
Yes, I will be reviewing a few comedy-related haunted house movies. I’ve reviewed Haunted House funnies before, but now I’m doing it as a theme. Get ready for what I’m calling The Haunted House Ha Ha’s! Some of the films I will review are soooooo stupid! Oh well, we all need our intelligence sapped once in a while, right?
So get ready, the first couple of posts just might be: Horrible Haunted House Ha Ha’s.
Hope you all are having fun with your ghosts. I love my ghosts. They create such a booo-tiful experience.
My last post was about gathering all my stray ghosts into one basket. These would be the ghosts of inspirations past; the things that fostered my love for the horror genre. Throughout the piece, I reiterated the complications involved in such a gathering. I couldn’t and cannot remember the first horror movie I saw. I couldn’t and cannot recall my very first encounter with the spookies! But I did my best to highlight the influences television and film had on me. As it turns out, some of those ghosts escaped my gathering efforts – slippery bastards! By restricting myself to horror-on-the-screen, I totally missed the off-screen influences that turned me into such a “horrific guy.” (relax, just some healthy self-deprecating humor). I was remiss.
Thank you Smidgy, my dear sister, for reminding me! And I will retread these spooky avenues of my life; these roads that I neglected.
Haunts and Spooky Props
In the previous article, I mentioned that I found scary-themed stories and images on the big and small screen fascinating rather than frightening. What really scared me were the various objects of horror outside the screen. This would include scary masks and the people that wore them in an effort to scare me. They succeeded in their efforts. Also included were scary noises such as ghostly moans. Now, where might one find these kinds of things all in one place? Why, they are found in haunted house attractions, or “haunts” as they are often called! When I was a wee lad, these places scared me so. But I was coaxed into them, dashing through the groans, nerves in a fray, through the house I go, screaming all the way – AAH AAH AHH AHH! Yeah Yeah, I know, I mentioned all this in the previous article. What I failed to mention (or if I mentioned it, I didn’t stress it enough), was the pride I felt AFTER experiencing such a nightmare. I was a survivor. The things in the haunt that scared me so were no longer in front of my face. They were stored safely in my mind as memories. And they were not the memories of nightmare, either. I relished reliving the experience, reminding the adult who took me through the haunt of the terrifying experience which had resurfaced as a fun experience. “Daddy, remember when our car passed by that vampire with the sharp teeth and outstretched arms? (okay, I probably didn’t know the word “outstretched” then, but just go with it!) “Smidgy, remember when that coffin opened and there was a creak and a hand popped out!”
See, when I had control of haunting visuals, when the threat of surprise and the dark notion of the unknown were removed from the equation, I loved the scenes of horror and the props that brought these scenes to “life.” I loved the Halloween decorations my Mom would put up every year. Black cats and skeletons hung on the walls. A light-up plastic ghost holding a pumpkin stood on our table. Every year my Dad would carve pumpkins, one with a Casper face and the other with a mean face. Lit up, they were placed outside above our front door. But what was most fun were the “props” that I could handle, play with. My favorite was a plastic skull connected to a black stick/handle below its jaw. It had pebbles inside its head and it was made for shaking. I guess it was supposed to resemble a skull prop in some Voodoo ceremony. I also had plenty of masks, slimy spiders and bats, and other ghoulish things.
(*Side Note – In them there days, we bought most of our Halloween stuff and a store called Tom Naples on North Avenue. They had a pumpkin patch and sold other produce. They also had plenty of Halloween props. Down the street on North Avenue was the yearly carnival with Amlings Haunted House. North Avenue near 1st Avenue was the place to be during Halloween season!*)
DIY Haunted Houses
One day, my sister Smidgy suggested the we could make our own haunted house.
“REALLY?!?!” I was so excited. I survived Amlings Haunted House. Now the tables would be turned. No longer would I be the haunted. I would be the haunter.
I wanted to know when this could happen.
“Oh, we can do it today,” Smidgy said.
Today?? Did I hear right? Not only was I going to be a haunter, but I was going to be a haunter immediately! What more could a kid want? Instant gratification.
We got to work. Using a tape recorder, we recorded spooky sounds onto a tape. We took over the top floor of our house, which consisted of two bedrooms, a hallway, a bathroom and two closets. In the bedrooms we hung props galore! I remember a bloody doll hanging from the ceiling.
The “victims” of our house would be the other family members. I was the guide. I led them up the stairs and into the hall. Smidgy hid in the closed-door bathroom. Across from the bathroom was a closet. Inside the closet was a stuffed animal snake attached to a rope. Smidgy held the rope’s end from inside the bathroom. I opened the closet door for our victims when all of a sudden, the snake would spring free! Scary!
I then led the victims into one bedroom, closed the door, while Smidgy sneaked out of the bathroom and into the second bedroom. The victims were “scared” when seeing the scary display. I then led them to the second bedroom, where Smidgy hid in a closet, holding a rope that was tied to a small rocking chair that held a doll. She pulled the rope and…wow…look! The chair seemed to be rocking all by itself! How ghostly!
Another time my Dad made a haunted house with me. He took my favorite skull and created a body for Mr. Shaky Skullhead. Mr. Shaky Skullhead wore a hood and my Dad hung him in the closet with an eerie light shining on him. Once again I was to guide the victims into the den of the spookies! I took them into the dark bedroom where my Dad stood in the shadows holding a rope that was tied to the closet doorknob. He would pull the rope and “AAAAAAAHHHH!” – there was the spooky skeleton!
After these experiences, I wanted to make haunted houses all the time. It didn’t need to be Halloween season. I made them year-round. I made them with friends, dragging my poor Grandma around while we hid in toy boxes and jumped out of closets. She pretended to be scared. She was a good sport. We tired the same thing with Blanche, a neighbor lady who babysat me and prevented me from being a young latchkey kid (until I became a latchkey kid at the age of twelve). She…well, instead of walking into the room and following the cue of “Oooo, it’s so spooky in here,” she would utter, “What are you doing messing up your fadder’s room?” When she finally “cooperated” she said something like, “That’s a neat trick”. Oh Blanche, it wasn’t a trick, it was a haunted house!
As a teen, I made a haunted house in our basement with my young nephews. We would scare their school friends. I spent and entire Saturday hanging sheets from the ceiling to create passageways. My buddy was trying to egg me on to go with him some place. “Can’t. I’m making this haunted house”. He be like, “WTF? Danny this is stupid!” It wasn’t stupid, it was fun. I had the props, I had the scare actors (my nephews!). The victims came over, ran as fast as they could through the haunted house, and it was all over in the span of one minute. Oh well, like I said, it was fun.
Many many many years later, I worked as a scare actor in a haunted house. Me an old man compared to my ghoulish peers (mostly teens). Minimum wage, but what the hell, I just wanted to finally, for once in my life, be a “legitimate” ghoul in a “real” haunted house.
So, my experiences frequenting haunted houses and making my own were a huge contributor to my love for the horror genre. I needed to set the record straight. I had to catch those stubborn ghosts that refused to be packed into my basket.
Are there any other stray ghosts? Probably, one can never gather all of life’s influencers. I’ll keep a look out for the possibility of others. In the meant time, I say, “Happy Haunting to you all!”
Welcome to the post that will kick off my contributions to the Halloween season! I thought it would be interesting to share with you the history behind my love of horror related entertainment. So without further “a-boo” (GET IT? A”boo” instead of “ado”?) here it is!
How many have encountered a Facebook post asking about the first horror film you saw? Or a post inquiring about the film that scared you the most? Oh but we aren’t supposed to give out this kind of personal information on social media anymore because such a post could be linked to a phishing scam! And that’s why I never give these posters the answer!
Ah, that’s only half correct. It’s true I never answer but that’s only because my response would be far too complicated for such a platform. Okay, fine. I can uncomplicate a response. A short, direct to the point answer would be:
First horror movie – I don’t remember.
Horror movie that scared me the most – None.
Be honest, my responses are unsatisfying, aren’t they? And you might be saying, “Really? You don’t get scared? That’s bullshit!” Well now just hold on a sec there, part’ner! Give me a chance to explain. My explanation is what this entire piece is all about.
My First Attractions To The Horror Genre
It’s no secret that I am a fan of the horror genre. Hello! I operate a horror-themed blog for Christ’s sake! But when did all this love for horror begin? Sorry, I don’t have an exact moment or memory that can serve as a catalyst for my fandom. As far as I can tell, I have always been attracted to all things spooky (perhaps I have inherited “horror genes”?). Growing up, whenever a normal run-of-the-mill TV show had a special horror episode, I was glued to the set. Whenever The Brady Bunch aired an episode where the kids would haunt their own house, I was there. Whenever The Three Stooges ran away comically from spooks, I was present and attentive.
Did televised or big screen horror ever scare me? In terms of fictionalized horror in general, I was often scared, but not so much from ghoulish things on the set or the screen. I will explain this distinction later. Perhaps it was the Saturday morning cartoons and other children-themed shows that aired during those weekend AM hours that gave me my first taste of horror. It was a programming paradise for us little kids born in the 1970s! I was between the ages of 4-8 when I took part in this paradise. Saturday mornings would not be complete without a healthy dose of Scooby Doo, Where are You? . I loved the gang’s adventures inside haunted houses where they would encounter ghosts and monsters, which of course always turned out to be villains in disguise. Maybe this cartoon fostered my love for haunted houses?
The premise: Wax figures depicting Dracula, Wolfman and Frankenstein come to life and become crime fighters! Okay that sounds hokey, but as a kid I loved it. Even before The Monster Squad, I remember being fascinated by the fab-four of horror monsters. This quartet includes Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. I had Mego-Action figures of these monsters and I loved to play with them.
Was it these toys, gifted to me, that attracted me to the larger legends surrounding these monsters? Or was it the comic books that featured these four scare kings that brought me up to speed? It’s difficult to pinpoint. It seemed as though these monsters were embedded into my psyche at an early age. They were staples of childhood culture just like the Teddy Bear and The Choo-Choo Train. We kids of the 70s even had breakfast cereals based on them. Skits on the children’s show The Electric Company feature these monsters. Morgan Freeman played Dracula. Check out the youtube video below!
Looking back, I find it very interesting that little kids in the 70s enjoyed the same movie monsters as their parents or even grandparents. While Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster originated in novels, most people were introduced to these grisly creatures from the movies. These were, as I have already mentioned, the movies of previous generations. And yet, these monsters went on the be icons for future generations.
Speaking of the movies…..
The First Horror Movies I Saw on Television
I can’t tell you the first. I just don’t know. The best I can do is relay my memories of watching horror movies on TV Saturday afternoons. Perhaps I was watching WGN’s Creature Features?
The link has the show airing late Saturday nights in the early 70s and I was in bed then, but maybe it reran in the late 70s in the afternoon? Again, I don’t know. But I do remember watching horror movies some Saturday afternoons when I was five, six and seven years old. Usually, it was at the suggestion of an adult, like my older sister. No, she was NOT trying to scare me. She knew that I ALREADY liked this kind of stuff.
I remember watching a haunted house movie about a loud banging noise coming from behind the walls. I remember staring at the TV set in fascination. This movie was The Haunting. I also remember another movie about a Haunted House where a ghost kept possessing people. “See Danny, she has a ghost inside her” my sister explained. “Now Danny, the ghost is inside him!” This movie, I discovered later in life to be The House That Would Not Die.
Do I remember being scared watching films of this nature? Not at all. Seriously. Somehow at an early age, I learned that what happened “inside the glass” (on the TV) was fantasy. It was not real. Reality happened “outside the glass”. The picture tube of the TV served as a barricade to lock all horrors inside a box of fantasy where they belonged. I felt protected by this barricade. Armed with this mental security, I was able to let my fascination take over.
So, what about the horror movies featuring the Fab-Four? I honestly can’t remember if I first saw these movies as a real young kid (age 4-9) on Saturday afternoons or if it wasn’t until I was a little older (age 9-12) on Saturday Nights on the television show called Son Of Svengoolie. It’s safe to say that it was Chicago horror-host Son of Svengoolie (now just “Svengoolie) that got me to pay attention to these films. Well, as best as a 10-year-old can pay attention, anyway. I often had my Mego Monster action figures out when the Son of Svengoolie aired. I created my own stories with the figures while the weekly movie aired.
I do remember paying attention to the ending of the movie Frankenstein. My Dad was explaining to me why the villagers were chasing the monster. He let me know the monster drowned a young girl, but he didn’t mean to. He thought she would float like the flowers he had been tossing into the water. So when the villagers’ burned down the windmill that the Monster was hiding in, causing the rafters to fall on him, trapping him, I felt something. When the flames surrounded him and The Monster cried out, I wasn’t sacred per say. I felt disturbed. I felt sorry for The Monster. The next scene featured maids gleefully wishing Dr. Frankenstein’s bride-to-be Happy Nuptials. I thought “this isn’t right”. A living person (the monster) had just cried out in fear as he was burning to death and the next thing us viewers know, we are watching happy ladies.
Along came The Bride of Frankenstein (again I saw this on Son Of Svengoolie). Yay, the monster somehow survived the flames! My Dad watched with me again. He explained that the created “Bride” would not like the Monster. He was right. She shrieked at his face. Again, I felt sorry for him. This poor guy, he never gets a break. After being rejected, the Monster killed this “Bride”, along with another scientist and himself. Was I horrified at this murderous rampage? Not really. I was kind of rooting for the monster to do his thing.
Oh, I almost forgot about a horror movie I saw when on television long before I started watching Son of Svengoolie. (well, maybe one or two years before; that’s a long time in child years). This time it was my Mom that suggested I watch this film. Again, it was because she knew I liked this kind of thing. “Danny, it’s about a young girl who everyone is mean to. But she has magic”. The movie was Carrie. It was edited for television, of course. But looking back, I think, “gee this was a creepy film to show a young kid”. She did send me to bed before the infamous prom scene, when blood was dumped on Carrie’s head, triggering her to kill everyone with her magical powers. Surprisingly and perhaps nonsensically, she told me I can get out of bed and watch the end of the movie (I was still awake). This would be the scene where Carrie kills her mother and then herself. Again. I felt disturbed, not scared. I felt sorry for Carrie but not afraid of her as some kids might cower from a horror monster. Even at the very end when her hand reached up from where she was buried, I didn’t see Carrie as a monster to be feared. I might have jumped at the surprise of such a thing, but I never ever thought that in real life, a bloody hand would emerge from underneath the soil in our backyard or anything like that.
The First Horror Movies I Saw At The Theater
This I do remember. I’m not going to count King Kong (1976) or Jaws 2. I’m going to pass over those flicks that I saw in the theater and go to Funhouse (1981). My Dad took me to see this film. I wasn’t scared but I guess I was a bit “disturbed;” that’s the word I’ve been using in place of “scared,” so why stop now? What disturbed me was watching characters that had been with me since the beginning of the movie get picked off one by one. Though I had encountered movie deaths before, never had I seen the “heroes” die so unceremoniously. When the poor guy got an axe stuck into his head as he rode the Funhouse car, I knew he was never coming back. When the young lady stabbed the monster in the back and he still went on to kill her, I worried that the monster was unstoppable. In short, this was my first introduction to slasher films. But I didn’t leave the theater with a fear of carnivals or psychotic Funhouse proprietors, or a fear in general of slasher movies. Instead, I was ready for more.
Funhouse was my gateway drug to harder, “slashier” films. The gate opened and I invited the rest of the slashers in. Come on in, Michael Meyers! Entre vous to you, Jason Voor Hees! I couldn’t get enough of them. Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Silent Night, Deadly Night – a killer Santa Claus! Ohhh yeah, I was on board! Cheesy or not, I had to see them. My Bloody Valentine, Midnight, One Dark Night. I was hooked. And still, I wasn’t scared.
What the Heck was I Afraid of Then?
Oh my God, was I a fearful kid. I really was. I was afraid of spiders (I’m still not very fond of them). I was afraid of loud noises. The weekly Tuesday morning screeching of test alarms (you know, in case a nuclear was at hand they had to make sure the damn thing worked) sent me running off my big wheel crying into my mother’s arms! Not-so-loud noises freaked me out as well. Firecrackers off in the distance frightened me. Hell, a kid with a cap gun scared me when I was four-years-old.
Ghosts and monsters scared me too, when they were “outside the glass” of the TV. If some adult pretended to me a monster and came at me, I screamed. When my Dad moaned into the furnace “Ooooooo GUUUURRRRRU!!!” in such a way that his moan travelled throughout the house via the heating vents, I cried and cried. See, the protective barrier that was the TV tube was absent in these situations. The fourth wall was crushed. The sounds of the haunting banging from the movie “The Haunting” didn’t frighten me because they came within the world of pretend inside the television. But the ghostly sounds of my Dad’s moan were right there inside my very own house. Even when I knew it was him making those noises, I was still scared. It was unsettling.
Haunted houses as Halloween/carnival attractions scared the shit out of me. I was terrified when my Dad took me into a cheesy sit-in-the-car-and-watch-motorized-ghosts ride. The creepy, motorized thing that came out of the coffin at Amlings Haunted House in a suburb of Chicago freaked me out. The first time I went into a haunted house with live actors, my Dad had to carry me through the whole thing.
After I became a veteran of these “Haunts” as they are sometimes called, I learned to enjoy them. Yes I would be afraid going in but that was part of the fun. Not too long ago, I worked as a scare actor at a local Haunt. It was fun.
I guess it’s a dimensional thing. Ghosts and goblins existing in the 2nd dimension, on the flat screen, hardly every scared me. The same creatures in the 3rd dimension though, that was a totally different story.
What About Books?
I learned to read at an early age. I was even spelling words before I mastered the art of talking, so my parents and older sisters have told me. Alas, as a young lad, I didn’t use my gifts to their fullest potential. I didn’t read much during my single digits. I had comics but mostly I just looked at the pictures. This includes horror comics as well.
I read a little bit more during my middle school years. Here I took in some Young Adult horror. I read novels that were part of a Book series. One such series was called Dark Forces, the other Twilight (No, NOT the vampire stuff). In these books, teenagers were encountering ghosts and demons, but in the end, everything turned out okay. Not in a Scooby Doo way. The ghosts and demons were real, in the story, but the endings were usually happy.
Somewhere around this time I did read a Stephen King Book or two. In my high school years, if I read anything it was either what was assigned to me in English class or some rock and roll bio, like a Jim Morrison or Led Zeppelin book. But not horror for some reason. I was losing interest in that sort of thing.
It wasn’t until my late twenties that I delved into reading. I read all kinds of genres, including horror. But then I would read more horror. More. MORE! Horror from the 18th century. Horror from the early part of the twentieth century. Short stories, Novellas and long novels.
When I finally took up writing, what was the first thing I wrote about? Horror! I love writing about this genre.
So there you have it, the history of Dan Cheely’s love for the horror genre and what scares him. Have a Happy Halloween season and look out for more posts from me during this season of ghosts and witches!
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.
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.