A Season of Snow – Five Winter-Themed Haunted House Novels That I have Reviewed

Winter has come early for us here in the Midwest.  Our Thanksgiving meals had barely digested when  a Sunday night blizzard decided to breeze on by, treating us to a chilling coda of our holiday weekend.  The East Coast had it bad as well a couple weeks earlier with Winter Storm Avery. What are we to do when snowy weather traps us indoors? I know – read a book, a book topical to our situation. How about a novel about a haunted house that stands against a snowy, storm-laden background? You can’t go wrong with that!

I have reviewed at least five winter-themed haunted house novels. I will list them here – in this post – with links, descriptions and pictures – Oh boy!!  Please note: this is not a list of Christmas themed haunted house stories, for which I have written several reviews of various works.  These stories, which may or may not include the topic of “snow”, are for a different list, perhaps an upcoming list. Hmmm…..

Anyway, it’s time to bundle up in your favorite blanket, get all  cozy, and read some scary stories in the safety of your warm environment.  Enjoy!

Maynard’s House

MH4It’s more of a cabin really, but Maynard’s House, sitting there in the middle of nowhere in the snowy wilderness  is definitely haunted. At least it is to Austin Fletcher, a war-weary veteran of  the Vietnam War. who shacks up in this house during the brutal winter season. But is it is own tortured mind that churns out the hauntings?

Poor Austin has to contend with the workings of a witch in the woods, a haunted tree, a couple of “snow beings”, and a bear. A brilliant piece written by Herman Raucher.

Link to the review – HERE!!!

Buy it HERE on Amazon

 


 

Ghost Story Ghost-Story-Banner

An epic novel by Peter Straub. A small town is besieged by a snowstorm. Throw in a couple of vengeful spirits and we have quite that terrifying situation. This book has several haunted houses as the hauntings stretch far and wide – it is an epidemic, you see?  There are many characters so there are many fronts. I regret that my review fails to do this book justice. I think I even state that the movie is better. Perhaps that has changed, since the story still sits inside of me years after I have read it. Should I reread it? Uh, not tonight, there are about a thousand pages or so. But don’t let that scare you away – dive in! Oh and the movie is very good too.

Link to the review – HERE!!!

Buy it HERE on Amazon


 

A Winter Haunting

A Winter HauntingAuthor Dan Simmons follows the child characters of this book Summer of Night into adulthood with several subsequent works. A Winter Haunting is one of these works.

Dale Stewart is all grown up and he returns to his childhood town. There was that one fateful summer when all he and his friends wanted to do was ride bikes and explore the countryside. Yes they did these things, but they ended up being haunted by ghosts and different kinds of undead entities. Dale barely remembers the details of that summer. I guess it was too horrific for him. But something is not right in his adult life, so he returns, searching for answers.

Dale stays in the farm house of that once belonged to the family of his childhood friend that died that summer. That friend is there with him during his stay, although he doesn’t know this, not on a conscious level anyway. But us readers will know it, the friend introduces himself to us.

Dale stays from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day. He does a lot of “soul searching”. And he finds some souls, although not all of them are his own. A very, very interesting read!

Link to the review – HERE!!! 

Buy it HERE on Amazon


 

Rough Draft

Three authors, strangers to each other, meet in a cabin in the snowy, mountainous Rough Draftwoods to collaborate on a book. Oh but they are not alone!  Someone, of something, is watching them.  They see strange creatures out in the snow. They ride snow mobiles and encounter weird sights in the surrounding area.

Written by author Michael Robertson Jr., this is the shortest book on the list, and my least favorite of the five. But it is worth a read. Check it out!

Link to the Review – HERE!!!

Buy it HERE on Amazon

 


 

The Shining

The_Shining_by_Stephen_King_CoverDo I really have to explain this one? It’s my favorite book by Stephen King and my favorite haunted house novel in general. A family snowbound in the humongous, mountain-side Overlook Hotel. Jack Torrance, the father, goes mad and tries to kill his family – all because the hotel told him to do so. Bad hotel!

Maybe you the reader of this post are sick of seeing this book mentioned in lists pertaining to haunted houses. Maybe to you it is a cliché. But seriously, if you have seen the movie but have not yet read the book, you are doing yourself a disfavor. Correct this – now!

Link to the review – HERE!!!

Buy it HERE on Amazon

13 Ghosts/1960 Vs. Thir13en Ghosts/2001 – Which Film Wins?

13GhostsSvenInterrogation time! Where were YOU the night of October 27, 2018?  If you had any sense, you would have been snugly wrapped in a blanket on your sofa with your TV tuned to MeTV. That Saturday night in question, Svengoolie, America’s beloved comedic horror movie host, was showing William Castle’s entertaining movie 13 Ghosts.  I’ve brought up Svengoolie several times at this blog. Several of the classic haunted house films I’ve reviewed I first saw on his show, including The Uninvited , The Ghost and Mr. Chicken , Hold that Ghost, and several  more. But of course you know that, since you are a regular visitor of his page, isn’t  that correct, reader? (The interrogation  continues!)

Truth be told, I don’t always have the kind of sense I called for in the preceding  paragraph. I did not tune into Svengoolie on the date in question. I was at a Halloween  party . But us folks in the Chicago area get to watch a rerun of his show the following week on Saturday  morning. It was at this time that I turned on Svengoolie and watched 13 Ghosts. I had  already seen the movie and had written about it (See 13 Ghosts review)but it was worth a revisit. Especially  since I am writing about it once again.

During the show, Svengoolie brought up the 2001 remake  of the movie. He showed  viewers  a promo picture  from the film and invited his audience to check it out, mentioning something  positive  about it, but I can’t remember his exact words. Is this modern incarnation, titled and Thir13en Ghosts (note the unique spelling!) worthy of his praise? I say  “no”, but who am I? And Sven is too nice, in my opinion, to trash anyone’s work.

Here is a synopsis that can be applied to both films. A father/patriarch is having serious trouble making ends meet. In a stroke of timely luck, his long lost Uncle passes away (whoopie! Yay!) and Dad inherits a mansion. He can move his family into the new home. Oh but there is a “catch”, or several “catches” – The dead uncle was a collector of ghosts and these apparitions come with the new  house. He caught them from various  places around the world. Either eleven or twelve  ghosts inhabit the house  depending on the version of the movie (this discrepancy will be explained  later). By and large, these ghosts are invisible, but the dear old dead uncle discovered a way to make these ghosts more sightly. He developed these special glasses that, when worn, allow the mundane living human being to see these scary phantoms.

Now, I have mentioned that the number of ghosts range  from 11-12. So, why are these films called “13 Ghosts/Thir13en Ghosts?”  It is the thirteenth ghost that spawns the mystery of these films.  There is “the prediction” that “there will be” a thirteenth ghost by each film’s end. Whether this prediction comes true varies with each film.

So, what are the differences between the films? On the one hand we have an old fashioned,  kooky  film with an old school Leave it to Beaver type family with a Ward Cleaver type of dad, a housewife mother, and teenage daughter and curious little boy.  On the other, we have a modern  family, with a widower raising his young boy and teenage daughter with the help of a sassy African American babysitter. The ghosts in the original film are cartoon animations superimposed on the screen. The ghosts in the remake  film are actors made over in ghoulish and gore-ridden get ups. The second  film has state of the art production . Not so with the first film. The original  movie was shot in black and white, the modern in color. Finally, the 1960  flick uses that old fashion ghostly groan that grandpa might use to scare his grandchildren (ooooooooooo! Groooooooan) and the 2001  movie shows viewers a lot of state-of-the-art blood and guts.

These are just some of the differences between  the films. Let’s go further and get into the nuts and bolts of plot and style. Once we do so, we will see that these are two very different films.


13 Ghosts (1960)

WARNING: SPOILERS ARE COMING!

As previously mentioned, both movies feature a special  pair of glasses that allow its characters to see the ghosts. But it was the  original  film that gave the movie audience the same opportunity. Back in the day, theater  attendees  were given a “ghost viewer.” It had two lenses, on blue and one red. Periodically, the screen would turn blue. This was an indication that ghosts  were about to appear on the screen. Or were they? See (or not to see), the film begins with a short commentary spoken by Director William Castle.  He speaks to the audience  members  that do not believe  in ghosts and tells them to look  through  the blue lens. When doing so, they would not see any ghosts. However, he instructs those moviegoers who do believe in ghosts to gaze through  the red lens. They would see the ghosts. So basically,  the audience had to look through the red lens to see the ghosts that haunted the house in the film.

Here is the intro to the film:

This whole nifty  ghost-viewing experience  was the main point of this film. It was a kind of audience  participatory art form, and of course, a marketing  gimmick, for which William Castle was the master. The plot takes second place to this. But it’s not such a terrible plot! It’s not all that great either, but….hey! The film has ghosts! Boo! Yay!

Benjamin Rush, the attorney for the late Plato Zorba, the Dead Uncle who bequeathed his estate to his nephew,  takes care of the property transfer and brings  the nephew and his family into their newly inherited home. He warns them about the ghosts but the family doesn’t believe him…until they witness the ghostly activities for themselves. Objects move 13GhostsGhosts on their own accord. Through the special glasses, they see the ghosts. Quite the variety these specters are! There is an Italian chef that likes to toss knives around in the kitchen. There is a ghostly lion that comes equipped with a headless lion tamer. There’s a fiery skeleton and many others.  As to the whys and wherefores regarding Plato Zorba’s collection (just what in the heck did he want to do with these ghosts?), the details are unclear as the movie never fully explains this. But never mind, remember: plot is second to the ghost-viewer gimmick.

The family treats these ghosts as a nuisance, albeit a dangerous annoyance. But what can they do? They have nowhere else to go, so they are forced to put up with Uncle Zorba’s collection of eleven ghosts. Ah, but there is another ghost in the house. It is the spirit of Uncle Zorba himself. It is revealed that ghosts remain on earth when they have unfinished business. Plato Zorba certainly has some loose ends that need tying. For one thing, he didn’t just die, he was murdered! He needs his revenge. The murderer is to be “the 13th Ghost”  He or she will die in this house. Now who could it be?

As it turns out, Dear ol’ dead Uncle Zorba left an enormous amount of cash behind. It is hidden somewhere in the house. The murderer wanted the money. And s/he is still hunting for it. Could the murder be the spooky ol’ witchy maid?  She too comes with the house. 13GhostsGhosts2And she is played by Margaret Hamilton, most famous for her portrayal of The Wicked Witch of the West in The W izard of Oz.  She leads a séance at one point as the family tries to contact the spirit of Uncle Zorba. A prime suspect, don’t you think?  If you think so, you are wrong. It is the lawyer, Benjamin Rush, who is the murderous villain. And he will get what’s coming to him. No, not the money. He will die in the house and become the 13th ghost.

In the end, the family finds the money and they are happy. Uncle Zorba is no longer earthbound, since he has his revenge. From that point on, the house is clean of ghosts. Why the rest of the ghosts pass on is anyone’s guess. Remember: Ghosts before plot. Keep repeating that: Ghosts before plot -Ghosts before plot -Ghosts before plot -Ghosts before plot.


Thir13en Ghosts – 2001

WARNING: SPOILERS ARE COMING!

The ghost hunter, a.k.a the rich uncle, goes by the name of Cyrus Kriticos in this movie, which begins not with the family that is about to inherit his house, but instead kicks off by showing the great extremes to which Cyrus and his team of merry ghost hunters go to in order to capture a ghost. Cyrus is not dead yet, but he will be after the ensuing carnage (Or will he be?).  This carnage take place in a junkyard. This ghost is like a wild animal and he resists the hunt. There are explosions, shouts, zaps, flashing lights, giant walls of cars that come tumbling down. In the end, the ghost is caught. But oh no, Cyrus dies in the aftermath of the hunt. (Or does he?)

Arthur is the down on his luck nephew. Just like in the original film, a lawyer by the name of Ben informs Arthur that his Uncle Cyrus has died and that he has inherited his house and all his wealth. Yay!  Arthur moves his family to the new home, and what a home it is!  It resembles the kind of structure Indiana Jones might encounter – there are chambers and hallways everywhere and they are separated by glass panels that open and close via a machine involving wheels, gears and levers.  Lawyer Ben is there to show them around, to get final papers signed, etc.  Oh yeah, there’s this annoying “Dennis” dude there as well. He is posing as a power company inspector, but he is really an “empath” that is super sensitive to the presence of ghosts (he screams ever so  annoyingly when he encounters them). He used to work for Cyrus and he is there to warn the family of the 12 ghosts that haunt the house.

The ghosts are locked in glass wall prison cells down in the basement. There are phrases written in Latin inscribed on the glass panels which, due to some kind of magic, act as barriers and prevents these ghosts from passing through the glass. Now, remember how I mentioned that in the original film, there were sacks of cash hidden in the house that the lawyer wanted to steal? That was a major plot point that moved the story toward its finality. Well in this movie, the cash is also there and Lawyer Ben wants it just as much as Lawyer Ben in the original film, but this is a mere subplot that gets resolved in the first 30 minutes. Ben wanders to the basement, finds the cash while inadvertently striking some lever or button which releases the ghosts from their prison cells.. He meets a quick end when a sheet of glass slides down from the ceiling and cuts him in half. Bye Ben, your screen time is done.

Meanwhile, the house seals itself off and the occupants are trapped inside. Annoying Dennis explains that “this isn’t a house, it is a machine”. It was designed for a grand ritual that will take place at the movie’s end. The ritual involves a spinning platform, shifting walls and panels, ghosts and so much more – oh my! The family ends up in the basement, and the horrific looking ghosts chase them, fight them, and kill poor Dennis.  And guess what? Uncle Cyrus is there too! No, he’s not a ghost – he never died! He had faked his death for some very nefarious reasons.

Uncle Cyrus wants his nephew to be the 13th Ghost. Now why does he want something like that to happen? Well, it’s all part of a plan. As an occultist, he follows the Black Zodiac. The 12 Ghosts represent each Zodiac sign, which is vastly different from the signs we learned from astrology. Instead of Pisces the fish and Taurus the bull, the black Zodiac gives us Torso , a ghost with missing legs, or The Angry Princess – the ghost of a young woman who commits suicide. All 12  are needed, plus one more – in order to open the gates of Hell, or achieve some sort of hellish power. The 13th ghost must come from 13Ghosts2ndMovieGhost2someone who is willing to sacrifice his life for the love of others. And so…..at the end, all 12 Ghosts are lined up obediently on the edges of a spinning circular platform.  Arthur’s children are caged in the middle of the circle. To free them, Arthur must sacrifice himself.  Gears are turning, walls are shifting.

But this ritual fails in the end. Cyrus dies, the children are freed, huggies and kissie for everyone, and the maid ends the movie on a sassy note, saying something to the effect of “I don’t get paid for this shit! Dealing with all these ghosts, I quit!”  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!! Let’s laugh again,  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!!


What “those other” folks might say

So, which film is better? For me it’s the classic William Castle version. But many will disagree. I have seen a comment somewhere out there in Internet Land that the original film “hasn’t aged well.”  I’m guessing many viewers agree. I suppose the superimposed cartoon-style ghosts look too silly for modern viewers. There are scenes where objects float in the air, and yes, this type of antic is used in many comedy films such as Abbott and Costello Meet (Whoever). In other words it looks more funny than scary, and 13 Ghosts was never intended to be a comedy.  Perhaps the family that is at the center of the plot is too hokey with their “Leave it to Beaver” style camaraderie and their unrealistic reactions to the situation. They treat the whole affair as if their house was infested with insects instead of ghosts.

13Ghosts2ndMovieGhostThe modern film moves faster, that’s for sure. Its ghosts look more deadly, more real.  It is filled with non-stop action and a whole lot of pizzazz. Many viewers like this sort of thing and so it would be the second film that strikes their fancy. Filmed in high tech color with bright red blood, it is more entertaining for hue-spongy eyes than a screen of “dull” black, whites and grays.

Here’s what I say!

Sure the original film is hokey, as are most William Castle films to some degree. But gosh darn it, it is a fun film, just like Castle’s “House on Haunted Hill” is a fun but hokey film! I didn’t mind the dated technology that made these ghosts possible. Cartoonish – yes. Scary – for me, a little bit! Although today’s viewers, myself included, are deprived of what Castle called “The Illusion-O Effect” (wearing the glasses to see the ghosts on the screen), I still like the concept. What a fun and creative way to promote and deliver a movie! I’m not saying that 13 Ghosts is a great film, but it is good. And it’s fun!

Now how about this 2001 remake? I was annoyed at the very beginning and this annoyance progressed like a building headache. Too much motion, too much action, too many flashing lights, too much damn noise – all within the first few minutes. This trend continues with the “machine house” and its jump-scare ghosts. While they look gory and scary, they are always accompanied by flashing lights and loud jolting noises. Watching this film is like being inside a pinball that crashes against bumpers and lighted alarms as it travels the downward slope toward the gutter. I don’t want be trapped in a pinball machine when I watch a movie.

In my review of the modern House on Haunting Hill film, I am a bit forgving for its excessive flare and over-the-top style. One of the reasons for my pardon is that the film is a remake of a movie that was never intended to be a cinematic masterpiece, so any deviations from the original style are not that unwelcoming. In the end, both films were exercises in entertainment and do not take things seriously. Does Thir13en Ghosts 2001 take itself seriously? No.  Is the original film a cinematic masterpiece. Definitely not. So I should apply the same standards for this critique, right? Answer – NO!  If the modern film had turned down the noise, did away with a third of the flashes, and just slowed the fuck down, then maybe I could enjoy it better for what it is – a jump-scare, special effects extravaganza, which is not necessarily a bad thing when done right. But here it is done wrong. Too much, too much, too much!

There is one scene that moves at an appropriate pace. A teenage girl is in the bathroom and she calmly reflects in the mirror. The ghost of The Angry Princess stands next her but goes unseen (teenage girl is not wearing her ghost viewing glasses). The ghost does not like what the mirror shows her. She sees a disfigured face. In the bathtub, the teenager refreshes herself with clear, cool water. The Princess sees only a tub of blood. This scene, while bloody and gory, is good. It allows the viewers to feel something, to absorb some of the story. If only the rest of the film was like this.

As for the plot, I enjoy the simple story of the original movie.. I don’t know why these modern remakes insist upon explaining the hauntings with over complicated plot devices. A machine house designed to somehow extract “something” from 12 spirits that will somehow unlock some dark secret power, all by using machinery with a design that would stump the greatest of engineers – this is just absurd and I would rather have the cartoon ghosts just appearing here and there to say “boo!”

Here is how I grade these two films:

13 Ghosts (1960) – C+
Thir13en Ghosts – 2001 – F

Now, let’s see how Rottentomatoes.com scores these films:

13 Ghosts (1960) – Critics Score: 36% / Audience Score: 41%

Thir13en Ghosts (2001) – Critics Score: 15% / Audience Score: 48%

While both the critics and the audience give low scores to both films, the audiences tend to favor the modern version over the original. For the critics, it is the opposite. I guess it’s “the audiences” that might agree with what I wrote in the section “What “those other” folks might say” while maybe the critics would agree with what I wrote in the section “Here’s what I say!’

If you have not seen these films, go ahead and do so, compare them, and make up your own mind as to which film is better.


 

And so, this article ends my October theme: Classic Haunted House Movies and Their Remakes – Just How Bad are These Modern Modifications? As predicted by the biased article title, I ended up enjoying the classics more than the remakes in all three cases. But some of the remakes weren’t super duper bad. Thir13en Ghosts was that bad though. I’ll let Juliette Lewis say it:

The House on Haunted Hill/1959 Vs. The House on Haunted Hill /1999 – Which Film Wins?

 

HouseOnHauntedHillSkeletonCption

 

Who can survive the night in the House on Haunted Hill? There have been many tragic deaths within its confines. Those of us with an appetite for haunted house stories know that a house with a deadly history foreshadows future doom  for those story characters that choose to roam its  rooms and corridors. Why oh why do these people embark  upon such a journey? For fun and games?

Someone is making a game out of this situation. An eccentric rich man is willing to pay large sums of money to anyone that spends the night in The House on Haunted Hill…and survives. He decides to host a birthday party for his wife at this house. A strange  party this is, for the guests are strangers to him. These strangers are the contestants  in his deadly game of survival. Why is he doing this? That is the  mystery, but viewers learn  early on that he is very suspicious  of his wife. She has tried  to murder him on past occasions. Is all this a scheme  to extract  some kind of twisted revenge on his wife? Will she, once again, try to murder him and do so before the night is through.

In the first  release of this film, there is a skeleton  that rises out of a vat of acid to prey on people. In the second  release of this film there is a chamber designed to rid a mental patient of his/her schizophrenia. But the inverse  is also true – it can drive a sane person insane. Get ready folks, there  is a lot of weird  things afoot  in these two different  versions  of the movie The House  on  Haunted  Hill .

Welcome readers to my second compare and contrast article concerning classic haunted house films and their respective remakes. I hope by now you have read the first article: The Haunting 1963 Vs. The Haunting 1999 – Which Film Wins? If not, click on the link and read, read read!

The films in the preceding article are based on Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House.  Though the films in this article share a name that is similar to the novel (“Hill House” vs. “Haunted Hill”), they are of different species and should not be confused with “The Haunting” movies. Let’s compare the two original films, (The House on Haunted Hill and The Haunting), in brief.  The House on Haunted Hill (1959)  by William Castle is by no means the definitive haunted house film. In my opinion, that description belongs to the Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963).  Castle’s film possesses not the pristine creepiness of Wise’s film. The Haunting is for the serious student of spooky cinematography – The House on Haunted Hill is a fun popcorn film filled with gimmicky scares. I like The Haunting considerably more than The House on Haunted Hill, but truth be told, Castle’s film is entertaining, so please don’t think I am panning his film. It too is enjoyable in its own way

Look what I’m doing – this is supposed to be an article about the similarities and differences between the two House on Haunted Hill films, and here I am instead devoting much attention to the differences between The House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Haunting (1963). Why am I doing this?  All will be explained in the chart below:

Where:

  • A = The Haunting (1963)
  • a =  The Haunting (1999)
  • B = The House on Haunted Hill (1959)
  • b = The House on Haunted Hill (1999)

The likability gap between A and a  <   B and b. Such a variance can best be explained by an overall categorical comparison

See, now everything is explained!

(Hypothetical Reader:  “I don’t know what the fuck you are getting at! And will you please use plain English and ditch the mathematics?)

What I’m trying to say is that I prefer The Haunting of 1963 so much more than its remake.  While the original House on Haunting Hill film is significantly better than its remake, The House on Haunted Hill of 1999 isn’t altogether terrible; it is better than The Haunting of 1999. I am more forgiving of the style and content changes that earmark the modernized version of The House on Haunted Hill. The reason for this pardon has to do with the laxed tone of the original film. The House on Haunted Hill/1959, though not technically “horror comedy, is silly at times. It “makes” fun, and therefore, the gesture can be reciprocated. We the viewers are allowed to “make fun” of it while enjoying the movie at the same time.  By the same token, The House on Haunted Hill/1999, while seriously flawed, is also a fun film. It doesn’t take itself as seriously as The Haunting/1999. Because the original film is gimmicky by intentional design, the remake is bequeathed certain liberties in the name of fun or even absurdity. The Haunting/1963 does not call for such directional change, and yet its 1999 remake awkwardly pursues a different path to the point of identify confusion. Is it attempting a serious, gothic-style haunting or is it settling for a hammy display ghost-centered theatrics? It doesn’t know. Meanwhile, even though I enjoyed The House on Haunted Hill/1959, it cannot compete with the masterpiece that is The Haunting/1963.

Here is another chart that utilizes a grading scale to explain my preferences:

The House on Haunted Hill/ 1959 –  B+
The Haunting/1963 – A
The Haunting/1999 – D
The House on Haunted Hill/1999 – C-

Let’s see if rottentomatoes.com critics/audience feels the same way.

The House on Haunted Hill/1959 – Critics score – 92% / Audience score 72%
The Haunting/1963 –  Critics score – 87% / Audience score 82%
The Haunting/1999 – Critics Score: 16%/ Audience Score 28%
The House on Haunted Hill/1999  – Critics Score: 29%/Audience Score 42%

Wow, the aggregate of critics prefer the The House on Haunted Hill/1959 to The Haunting/1963. But the general trend regarding the modern films seems to agree with my preferences. So there!

Okay, let’s move along and find out what these two “House on Haunted Hill”  movies are made of!

The House  on  Haunted  Hill  – 1959

To appreciate   the “silly yet scary” tone of this film, one must understand something  about the film’s director and creative  marketer, the late great William Castle. I’ll give you a couple of “somethings.”

Castle was the master of marketing gimmicks. These gimmicks played out at the theaters where his films were shown. These manufactured stunts related to certain scenes in the film. For instance, during his film The Tingler, about a centipede-like  creature that attaches itself to the human spine  and causes a tingling  sensation, Castle  equipped certain theaters with vibrating chair device that caused viewers  backs to tingle. In his movie 13 Ghosts, viewers were given special  glasses to wear if they wanted to see the movie ghosts. (This movie will be featured  in my next compare/contrast article).

Did he have a gimmick for The House  on Haunted  Hill? You bet he did! Remember at the beginning of the article when I referred to a skeleton  that rises out of a vat of acid? Well, in select  theaters, he arranged  for a skeleton  to slide across a hidden wire over the heads of seated viewers. What fun!

Think of William  Castle  as a prankster that pulls off cheesy  yet scary pranks. We all had that relative that threw a sheet over his head and jumped out of a closet with a “boo!”. In retrospect, that’s cheesy, but the trick scared its victims and ended up being a whole lot of fun. This is what  his films are like. They are also filled with mystery and creative twists. Think Scooby-Doo (but the mastermind  is not always Old Man Crowley!) . The House on Haunted  Hill follows this criteria. It’s mysterious, scary, and delightfully cheesy .

The rich  eccentric, Frederick Loren  is played by Vincent  Price. As usual  his performance  is brilliant. Without  him, my rating of this film would drop by a grade and a half. The way he goes at it with his  wife Annabelle, played by Carol Ohmart . ..growwwwwwwl!!

Frederick makes sure to inform his guests that they have until midnight  to change  their minds about spending  the night. At midnight, the servants leave and lock the doors, sealing all guests  inside until dawn. For protection during the long night, he “gifts” each person a gun. The guns are “gift-wrapped” inside a tiny coffins. What could possibly go wrong  with  this scenario?

The most annoying  character is Watson Pritchard (played by Elisha Cook Jr.) He owns the house but doesn’t  reside in it. He is the one that knows about the history  of this house and he is terribly frightened of it. But he is in need of money and hopes to win the ten thousand dollars  that Frederick promises to each surviving guest. Throughout  the movie, he plays the scaredy-cat and carries on in an irritating , squeaky voice.  In addition, his pervasive facial expression  of cartoon fright gets old real fast.

Guest Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig) receives the brunt of the haunting. She finds a HouseOnHauntedHill1959 severed head in her bedroom. She sees ghosts and witch-like  figures here and there, around this corner, outside this window. (The “floating” witch-like  character  looks like on of those  carnival fun house dummies.) During her stay, she finds a love interest, one Lance Schroeder (Richard Long). He looks out for her and tries to calm her.. How sweet!

During the night, Annabelle (Fredericks wife) is found hanging over a stairwell, a noose around her neck. At first the group thinks it’s suicide, but there is a doctor  among the guests. He examines the body and decides, due to the way she had been hanging, she couldn’t  have done this to herself. Someone  had murdered her. But who?

Initially, Frederick  is the suspect. After all, the guests learned how much he despised his wife. But Frederick objects, insisting that one of them had murdered Annabelle. In the end, no one is sure what to believe  and they all suspect  each other. So, in this type of situation, for everyone’s safety, what is the best course of action? At the doctor’s suggestion, everyone retires to their own personal  bedrooms. The one who breaks this rule, the one that might decide  to take a late night stroll, is quite  possibly  the killer. I wonder if this film began the “we all most separate” trope that is pervasive  in horror films. Maybe not, but the separation  plan as specifically laid out in the dialog is patently absurd. Oh well, on we go with the rest of the movie.

Now, here comes a Twist!  Let’s do it!  (MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!)

The body of Annabelle  lies on a bed. The doctor has left his room. He approaches  Annabelle. Surprise! She is not dead. She and the doc are lovers and have been planning something  nefarious. See, they have been haunting the house, purposely scaring the shit out of poor Nora, hoping that in her frightened state, she would shoot Frederick, thinking he is the murderous, evil facilitator of the house haunting. They arrange for Nora to encounter him down in the cellar by the vat of acid in a situation where she would mistakenly think he was there to kill her. The plan works! She shoots him! He falls over and she runs away.

The doctor then descends to the cellar to get rid of the body of Frederick. He pulls the corpse toward the vat of acid, intending to throw him inside, where the acid would eat away at his skin and guts, reducing him to bones.  The screen goes dark, there is the sounds of a scuffle.

Hey readers, how about we do another Twist!

Annabelle makes her way down to the basement. The skeleton of Frederick rises out of the vat of acid and chases her. His evil voice accompanies the chase. The skeleton leads her to the edge of the vat. Its boney arm reaches out to her. She fall in!

And yet another twist! (No Chubby Checker this time. Sorry!)

The real Frederick comes out of the shadows. He had been operating the skeleton with wires, making it move. He was never dead either. The gun he had given Nora was filled with blanks. When the Doctor was moving “his body” and the screen went dark, Frederick had stopped playing dead and fought the doctor and pushed him into the acid vat.

In the end, he gets away with killing his wife and her lover. A nice happy ending! Yay!!!!!!

Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap!


The House  on  Haunted  Hill  – 1999

Forty years after the original movie, society is blessed with – this. The “this” is that which I am about to describe. Oh, I should knock off the mockery, for as I have already stated, this remake isn’t all “that bad”. It’s just bad, without the “that”.

In the original film, the backstory concerning the house is given, but not in great detail. Seven people had died in the house before the events in the film. All of them had lost their heads.  The whys and wherefores concerning these head losses are not given. Nor do we know if the backstory is even true. It might just be the wild imaginings of that annoying guy. In the modern version, the backstory is central to haunting. In this version of the story, the house on haunted hill was once an insane asylum. The doctor who ran this institution was not a very nice guy. (Not even a little nice? No!)  What made him “not nice?”  Well for one thing, he operated on patients without using anesthesia. That’s not very nice. The film shows him with a patient on the operating table, who is twitching in pain as the “not nice” doc rips out some of his organs. There is a nurse or two there as well, perhaps another doctor, and they are all cruelly taking part in this operation.  This kind of thing is common parlance here at this asylum – the patients are the doctor’s guinea pigs.

One day, the patients rise up. They kill the doctor and his evil staff. While the carnage ensues, the place goes on automatic lockdown. Steel barriers seal off all the doors and windows. It’s an automatic thing, controlled by machinery.  The insane people set the place on fire. But they can’t get out!  So, they all die; doctors, staff and patients. Hmmm, I wonder is such a tragedy will cause some kind of haunting later in the film, when once again, a rich eccentric will invite complete strangers to this “house on the hill” for his wife’s birthday party? The answer – yes!

HouseOnHauntedHill1999While the original film is marked with gimmicks and sideshow scares, this film is filled with – gore, gore, gore! I have already mentioned the operation scene. But there is more in store than what was shown as the backstory. There are a lot of flashing lights, buzzing sounds, and mechanical zaps!  Parts of the movie remind me of any opening sequence for American Horror Story, whichever season.

The rich eccentric (played by Geoffrey Rush) goes by the name Stephen Price.  I like how is character is named after the great Vincent. Throughout the movie, they simply refer to him as “Price.” They even make him look like Vincent Price a bit with a similar hairstyle and thin mustache. Price is an amusement park mogul, and there is a cool scene at the beginning of the film involving a roller coaster. Anyway, the set up is the same – Price is at odds with his wife Evelyn (played by Famke Janssen). They would like to kill each other, if only there was a way!

The screen chemistry between Rush and Janssen, I must say, is pretty good. Maybe not quite up to par with Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart team, but still they put on a good show. Once again, a birthday party is planned for the wife at a haunted house. Guests will be paid a million dollars if they can last the night. In the earlier film, the reward was ten thousand dollars, but that kind of money doesn’t go very far in 1999. Oh already, there is a twist! The computer erases the guest list and creates an alternative list. This doesn’t happen in the first film. What is going on? (Hint: Ghosts are playing around. Oooooooo!)

Four guests arrive at the house, lead by a fifth person – Watson Pritchett (That’s almost the same name as the charter he is playing from the first film, which is Watson Pritchard, according to Wikipedia). He is the one granting everyone access to the house. He owns it but refuses to live there. He doesn’t even want to be here tonight. He knows about its past and knows that it is haunted in a very deadly way. This Watson is less annoying than the one in the original film. This one is kind of funny in an entertaining kind of way. The other guests include a doctor dude, a pilot dude, a journalist dude-et, and a secretary dude-et. Of course Price and Evelyn are there and….let the games begin!

Watson wants to get the hell out of there. He doesn’t plan on spending the night. But oh no, the automatic lockdown kicks in. Doors and windows are sealed. Who did this? Is it Price? Evelyn? Or…the ghosts? (Hint: it’s the ghosts). So the cast of characters need to figure out how to get to the controls that operate the barricade and deactivate it. On the way toward the machinery, they pass a lot of torture devices.

The same basic plot of the original film plays out here in pretty much the same way. All guests are given guns. Evelyn if found dead, not by hanging, but someone had the gall to strap her to an electroshock machine. Price is blamed and they lock him in the chamber that “Makes an insane person sane, and a sane person crazy”. Ahh, I don’t feel like describing the chamber, so just see the film to see what that’s all about.  But- eureka! Evelyn isn’t dead. The doctor guest is in cahoots with her. They want Price dead. Eventually Price is freed from the chamber and is shot dead. Oh no he isn’t! He is wearing a bulletproof vest. He and his wife then physically fight each other, but both ended up being destroyed by – the ghosts.

Alas, there is no skeleton rising from a vat of acid in this version of the story. The modern movie replaces those sideshow special effects with, once again, the wonders of computer graphic images. Back in high school, did you ever learn about the four types of conflict within the short story? If memory serves me correctly, they are:

Man vs. Man
Man Vs. Nature
Man Vs. Himself
Man Vs. Society

(Sorry for the sexist terminology, this is how I learned to refer to this conflicts)

Well now there is a new one:

Man Vs. CGI Amorphous Blob of Spirits. (That’s what the thing at the end of the movie looked like to me anyway – one shadowy blob consisting of hundreds of spirits)

In a similar manner as The Haunting 1999, it is this CGI Monster of Spirits that is the bad guy. Why oh why are they so mad at these guests that they want them dead. Well, remember when I mentioned that the computer had swapped one guest list for another? As it turns out, the ones invited via the phantom computer operator are descendants of the staff that ran the evil insane asylum. The spirits need their revenge, don’t they?  So once again, just like The Haunting 1999, the writers felt the need to tie the characters to the backstory via familial relations that were kept secret. Oh my!

 


 

And so….

There is one area, in my opinion, where both films fail. And that is – creating an establishing shot of a large, creepy haunted house.  The “house” in the 1959 film looks like this:

HouseOnHauntedHillOriginalHouse

Kind of a random array of blocks and squares if you ask me. Following suit, the 1999 film uses an establishing shot that invokes no real sense of “haunting:”

HouseOnHauntedHillModernHouse

It looks more like something out of a Star Wars movie.

Be that as it may, The House of Haunted Hill 1959 is a good film, not necessarily great. The House of Haunted Hill 1999 is a tolerable film, so long as one is not offended by gore and noise. The second film has its fun moments, but it should not be on anyone’s top 50 list of great horror films. Maybe not on any top 100 list either.

Both films invoke humor, and humor is a good thing, right? I mean, we all need to laugh. The original film is comfortable with its gimmicky status and doesn’t try to be anything else. The second film, though overblown with effects and filled with unintentionally cheesy story arcs, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that is a good thing too. And what a great way to end this article, on a “good” note.

 

 

 

The Haunting of Hill House – The Netflix Series – What it is and What it isn’t

Who has been coming to my door these days?

HillHouseNetflixDoor

 

I’ve been getting a larger than usual number of hits at this blog lately. Sometimes WordPress records the search words that lead people to my page.   Some of the “search phrases” as of late are as follows:

  • is haunting of hill house the same as the book
  • the haunting versus the haunting on hill house
  • how does the haunting of hill house tie in with the haunting
  • the haunting of hill house same like the book
  • can hold my pee and peeing alot (Don’t know how this searcher found my page about haunted houses with this!)

In short, visitors are searching  for clues as to how the new Netflix  series The Haunting of Hill House  ties into  either:

  1. Shirley  Jackson’s  book by the same name, OR
  2. The Haunting, which is the movie that is based on Jackson’s novel.

Search engines  have led them to my site, which features  articles and reviews  of both the movie and book. But alas, visitors have found no information  about the Netflix  series  – until now!

I appreciate  the extra traffic. To show my appreciation, I  will answer some possible  FAQs about the Netflix series. I just started watching it: I have seen the first  five episodes. In an article I wrote about the movie The Haunting,  I express doubt  about the whole idea of turning Shirley Jackson’s novel into a miniseries. (The link to this article is at the end of this piece) However, now that I am halfway through it, I can honestly say that  I am hooked. I love it! The show is very very good!

Let me begin with  what the series  is not. It’s not a sequel to the book ( or movie). It is not a prequel either. It is not a crossover , it is not a spinoff; it exists in a story universe of its very own. What it does do is utilize the same character names of the book and it recreates several parts/scenes of the book/movie within an entirely  different  context. Admittedly, the series is a bit confusing  with its constant  jumps in time and non-linear  storytelling. Do yourself  a favor –  don’t try and figure out how the Nell of the series has become or was once the Nell of the book. Same goes with Theo. The characters of the series are very different than the characters that are portrayed in the original  story (though not entirely different This will be explained later). Please don’t add to any existing confusion  by trying to tie the characters  of the series to the book. It just won’t work. There is no prevailing story arc that flows from the original incarnation to this latest manifestation.

Before I delve into what the Netflix  series is, I first  need to explore  “the is” of the original story, the story that came from the brilliant  mind of Shirley  Jackson. The movie The Haunting (1963)  follows Jackson’s  book pretty closely, so for the purposes of this article I will treat both the book and the film as one in the same (although  in another article I write about the differences between the two mediums and their versions of the story. The link to that article  is posted at the end  of this piece.)

Dr. Montague   (Named Dr. Markway in the film, but who cares) recruits two people to take part in a study  that aims to investigate the paranormal  activity that has  been rumored to be rampant  at Hill House. Both participants have an affinity  toward the supernatural  in one way or another. Theo, the brash bohemian and implied lesbian, has ESP, can read minds, etc. Eleanor  Vance was once the victim of poltergeist activity  – stones showered down on her house when she was a little  girl. Dr. Montague hopes that Hill House will be more likely  to display paranormal   activity in the presence  of people that are attuned to the supernatural.

The two ladies join Dr. Montague for a prolonged  stay at Hill House. Also there is Luke Sanderson. He is due to inherit Hill House and he too stays with the trio at the house . He doesn’t believe  the ghost stories but he is taking part in this study mostly to protect the interests of his future property .

Hill House has a history of madness and unexplained  deaths. Built by one Hugh Crain, two of his wives lost their lives in the house or around the property.  His daughter Abigail  lived in the house from birth to death. She occupied the nursery the whole time. She died as an old lady , who called out to her caretaker  in the middle of the night. The caretaker  did not come to her assistance and , unaided in her ailment , Abigail passed on. The caretaker would later hang herself beside a spiral staircase.

The team of four witness several supernatural occurrences.  They stand in cold spots, they observe doors that won’t stay closed, they hear loud banging noises against the walls. But it is Eleanor  that receives the brunt of the haunting. Even so, she is drawn to Hill House, and Hill House  is drawn to her as well. It wants to keep her inside. Forever.

That is the classic  story in a nutshell. So, what’s the modern series all about? It’s about a family  -The Crain’s (the same surname of the original Hill House occupants in the backstory  of Shirley Jackson’s novel). They stay at Hill House for a summer.  There is Hugh the father, Olivia the mother, Shirley  the eldest daughter (approximately  twelve-years-old) and her younger  siblings:  Steve (Maybe age eleven?), Theo (age ten?) and the two young twins Luke and Eleanor  (approximately 5 or 6 years old  ). See what they did here? They use  the names of  the characters  from the original  story. While the series gives them similar traits as the original characters, they are different people in different contexts. In the original story, Luke, Theo and Eleanor are strangers to each other  until they met at Hill House. In the series  they are siblings.

Most of the family members have experienced some kind of ghostly disturbance during their stay at Hill House. After a tragedy , the family flees the house. The series juxtaposes between several time periods. We see the kids as grown ups.. As adults, they suffer through various life dilemmas and troubling psychological problems. Most of their problems  can be traced back to that summer spent at Hill  House. See, “the haunting of Hill House” follows the kids into their adult years . It is like a hand, and though most of the family has escaped Hill House’s palmy grip, Its  fingers stretch throughout the years, pointing its horror in the survivors’ direction,  poking at their daily lives. Even in their adult lives , they are haunted by ghosts.

The Netflix  series is creepy , dark, and very morbid. In other words , it’s great! And, it creatively  reimagines  some of the classic  scenes, fitting them into updated  contexts. Waking up in the middle of the night to feel a phantom hand holding your hand – this scene plays out in both the series and book. Finding graffiti on the wall of Hill House that reads “Welcome Home, Eleanor”, this happens in both mediums. Breaking out into a HillHouseNetflixOriginalHauntingdance before some creepy Hill House statues – yep, this scene can now be considered both classic and modern. The “Hill House” of the series has many of the same features of the Hill House of the 1963 movie,  including a large gate at the beginning of the driveway, and the “twisted” spiral staircase. Both Hill Houses feature rooms that are locked – for the safety of the inhabitants. The caretakers, Mr. and Mrs. Dudley, are featured in both the series and the book. But again, please remember, these are recreations of the famous scenes, not repeats, not meant to tie directly into the happenings of the original story. These are what they call “easter eggs”; features that pay homage to the earlier works.

Like in the book, the Theo of the series has a talent for “knowing things”. In the original story, she reads minds and knows the cards of another card player. In the series, she touches things (and people) and suddenly she gains knowledge about the object of her touch. While her sexual preference for women is only implied in the original story, she actively seeks out female sexual partners in the series. As in the book, Hill House “calls” out to Eleanor (Nell).  When they are children, Luke has an imaginary friend – Abigail (possibly a ghost?) Abigail is the daughter of Hugh Crain in the book/movie, the one who spends her whole life inside the nursery.

There are plenty of other similarities and references to the original story within the series, but I won’t go into them all.

If you are already a fan of the Netflix series but have yet to watch the movie The Haunting (or read the book The Haunting of Hill House), I encourage you to do so, then you yourself can discover the ghosts that crossover between the mediums .The movie is a classic and the book is a very intriguing read. Likewise, if you are fans of the film and the novel but are hesitant to try this modern reimagining of the story, I strongly suggest that you let go of this hesitancy and climb on board. You won’t be disappointed.

 


 

As promised, here are the links to articles and reviews that I have written about Hill House, The Haunting, and other good stuff:

1) An article comparing the book The Haunting of Hill House  to the 1963 film The Haunting:

Review of The Haunting of Hill House/The Haunting: Book Vs. Movie

2) An Article comparing the film The Haunting/1963 to the remake – The  Haunting/1999

The Haunting 1963 Vs. The Haunting 1999 – Which Film Wins? 

3) An article reviewing another book written by Shirley Jackson – We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Who are the Ghosts that Haunt Shirley Jackson’s Novels?

 

The Haunting 1963 Vs. The Haunting 1999 – Which Film Wins?

This is an article comparing the film The Haunting (1963) to its remake, The Haunting (1999). To read an article about the Netflix series: The Haunting of Hill House, click here:

The Haunting of Hill House – The Netflix Series – What it is and What it isn’t 


 

HauntingHillHouseBook

What you  are  about to read  has been made possible by the brilliant Shirley  Jackson, the late author that gifted the world with her ingenious  novel The Haunting of Hill House back in 1953. This novel revolutionized the ghost/haunted house genre and influenced authors such as Stephen King. Without The Haunting of Hill House, The Shining wouldn’t exist. Very soon, Netflix will be airing a miniseries that bares the same title. It is to be a “modern reimagining” of the classic, according to Deadline.com. Those two  words scare me. We have already had a modern reimagining  back in 1999 with the film The Haunting . It didn’t go over so well. To be clear, this 1999 film was not an adaptation  of Shirley  Jackson’s  novel. Rather, it is a remake of a 1963 film by the same  name. The Haunting of 1963 is an adaptation  of the novel and this film is critically praised.

Here’s how the films score via two review sites:

The Haunting – 1999  /  IMDb.com =4.9/10 stars

The Haunting – 1963 /  IMDb.com 7.6/10 stars

The Haunting – 1999 /  rottentomatoes = Critics Score: 16%  Audience Score 28%

The Haunting – 1963 –rottentomatoes  = Critics Score: 87%  Audience Score 82%

I first saw The Haunting (1963) when I was around six-years-old. I didn’t know what was going on with the story, but I loved watching characters  react to the phantom sound – a loud banging on the walls. Scary stuff. I saw it again in my twenties  and I  wasn’t impressed. What did I know, I  was a culturally  illiterate bar-hopper in those days. I saw it again several times after I “matured” (I reek of this maturity stuff. I’ve given up farting!) and after  each viewing it only  got better. I love this film.

I failed at my first attempt to see The Haunting 1999. Believe  it or not, the theater was sold out. Eventually I did see it and I thought it was  “okay-ish.” I mean, it looked good on the big screen. So many cool special effects! I have come to learn that special effects, a common feature  of a big budget movie, can ironically  “cheapen” a story.

Over the years, I   had forgotten  the details of the 1999 film. It didn’t have a lasting impression  on me. However, that BOOM BOOM BOOM on the walls from the 1963 film stayed with me since  childhood. Even during my close-minded twenties, the film was still percolating  within me, though I would not have admitted it.

In this article, I aim to compare  and contrast the 1963 and 1999 versions  of The Haunting. By doing so, I  am fulfilling  one third of a promise. In my preceding blog post   I stated that I  would compare three classic haunted house films to their respective remakes. I start down the road of promise fulfillment with The Haunting. I will continue  the journey  with  The House on Haunted Hill in an upcoming  article and then wind down with 13 Ghosts. But first things first  – The Haunting!

As evidenced in the review sites in the chart above, the popular consensus is that the classic film is the superior of the two. The modern film has been criticized  for its heavy reliance  on CGI effects used to the detriment  of the story. Also, the 1963 film is closer to the book. The 1999 film strays in odd directions to the displeasure  of the fans of Shirley  Jackson. With all this I agree. But let me elaborate  on this further. Details matter! Let’s get to those details!

Beware – There will be spoilers!!!


The Similarities Between the Films

Here is a plot summary that can be applied to both films.

A scientific investigator invites a team of three to stay at Hill House as part of a study. The team consists of Eleanor Lance, Theodora, Luke Sanderson and the investigator who heads the study. Hill House is a haunted house.

Eleanor is a young woman who has led a secluded life. Most of her adult life has been dedicated to taking care of her invalid mother. She very much welcomes the invitation to stay at Hill House, for she is anxious to start a new life; a new adventure. She has self-doubts and is unsure of her place in the world. Theodora, who goes by “Theo”, is assertive, and somewhat brash. Hill House is an excessively large mansion with an abundance of “Haunted House Décor”: Creepy statues, staring portraits, winding staircases, large fireplaces.  The garden has some very life-like statues. There is a rickety spiral staircase made of metal; very unsafe for climbing.

On the grounds of the Hill House property, there is a stretch of road that leads from the house to the main street. The caretaker of Hill House, Mr. Dudley, mans the front gate. He is quite cantankerous and he initially refuses to let Eleanor in, even though she is expected. Mrs. Dudley is equally unwelcoming. She takes care of the inside of the house. She cooks the meals but makes it clear that she will never stay after dark. She and her husband will go home, in town, which is miles away. The house guests will be alone, at night, in the dark, and will not be able to call anyone for help.

At some point in the movie(s), viewers learn a bit about the backstory of Hill House. It was once owned by one Hugh Crane. The story of Crane’s family is one of tragedy, involving deaths and suicides that take place inside the house.  The story also consists of sad circumstances related to children.

Now, here be some of the stuff of “the haunting”

  1. Eleanor and Theo are awakened in the middle of the night to loud noises; it sounds as if something is banging against the walls
  2. Graffiti mysteriously appears on the walls. The words on the wall read “Welcome Home, Eleanor,” or, something to that effect. Who is to blame for this? The guests accuse each other. Even Eleanor is accused of writing the message, perhaps as a way to attract attention.
  3. Eleanor is the one that is most susceptible to  “the haunting”. The house seems to take possession of her. At one point, she wanders off, as if in a trance, and climbs the rickety staircase. During her climb, the staircase becomes unhinged and other guests have to risk their lives to help Eleanor down.

I’m sure there are other similarities, but I believe I have highlighted the main ones.  Let’s get to the differences – do some slicing and dicing. How fun!


The Differences Between the Films

 

Black and White Vs. Color

The original film is shot in black and white. The modern film is done in color. Does this make a difference? A huge one, which will be explained at the end of the next section.

The SettingHill House Itself  

The original  film does a very nice job of setting the scene and cinematically propping up the creepy atmosphere inside the haunted house with careful details. From the designs on the walls to the angles of the doors, this fictional, if not improbable  house seems real,Haunting1963Wall almost as if one could reach into the screen and feel the grooved texture of the bedroom walls.

The remake, on the other hand, goes to great lengths to portray  a house that could only exist in a fantasy world. It’s as if the makers of this film examined the intensity of style of the house in the original film and magnified it by a thousand. The doors that separate rooms are like barricades built to withhold a battering ram. They are, perhaps, sixty-seventy  feet tall and thick as a fortress wall. And yet, the house guests push them open with the same  ease as a movie cowboy passing through the swinging doors of the Old West saloons. The Hill House of the original film features  very large and ornate fireplaces.The modern Hill House has a fireplace so huge that it is like a room in and of itself. Bigger is better? Ah…no.

Both films feature similar  rooms, such as Eleanor’s large bedroom  and the beautiful  garden. But the 1999 film it isn’t satisfied with the rooms the 1963 film had to offer. It felt the need to add rooms and attractions ,such as a flooded library, where books sprawled on the ground  are used like stepping stones to cross a river (this makes no sense) and a Haunting1999Carosouelspinning room with mirrors and carnival music, I guess intending to mimic a giant carousel  (there are no horses!).

All in all, the filmmakers decided to produce a house that would be an awesome  attraction at Disney World,  but in the end their creation fails to provide a genuinely  scary atmosphere. It is too grand, too cartoonish; the overall backdrop is far too distracting. It is also too colorful, making a fan of the classic film yearn for the simple yet very effective style of the black and white photography.  With shadows and gloomy grays, the Hill House of the original film represents the beloved gothic-style haunted house. Alas, no so with the modern. Instead we get some kind of indoor amusement  park.

Initial premise/Story Setup

While the most general premise remains the same in both films (four people, two men and two women stay at a haunted house as part of a scientific  study), the details are significantly  different. In the original  film, Dr. Markway  is an anthropologist/parapsychologist determined  to prove that supernatural  phenomena is real. To him, it is an unexplored realm of science, and is only scary because it deals with the unknown. Just as early civilizations were fearful of the possibility  that the world could be round, people in the modern day and age are scared to think about the existence  of ghosts.

On a mission to collect  evidence of paranormal activity, he invites two women to stay with him at a house that is supposedly  haunted. Yes folks, the house is Hill House. The women are chosen on account of their past and present experiences with the paranormal. Theo has ESP and Eleanor had been subjected to poltergeist  activity when she was a small girl. Supposedly, a haunted  house is more apt to display  ghostly manifestations when it is inhabited  by people with a natural affinity  toward the paranormal.

Luke Sanderson is the nephew of the heiress to Hill House. The heiress is an older lady who lives offsite. She insists that Luke be there while the investigation  is underway to protect the interests of the family property. Luke will inherit the house when his aunt passes.

The modern film convolutes this whole setup. Dr. Marrow (his name has changed)  is a scientist that studies fear. On a false premise, he invites three people to participate in a study that he claims is about insomnia. Eleanor, Theo, and Luke show up at Hill House to take part in the study (Luke is a participant  in this scenario , not an heir to the house). Dr. Marrow arrives, lies to them some more about “insomnia”, and spreads a rumor that a woman killed herself  in this house. He wants  to test his subjects reaction to fear and hopes they will frighten themselves with their  imaginations. Hill House is chosen for the site of his experiment on account of its overall creepy environment  and arcane  architecture. Everything backfires when the house turns out to be truly haunted.

Why did the screenwriters  of this modern film make this change ?  I have no idea. Perhaps just to set it apart from the original story. To me, this modern twist makes the story unnecessarily complicated  and strips away much of the mystery.

Characters/Actors

As mentioned, Luke Sanderson  is an experiment participant in the modern film and not a relative interested in protecting the interests of Hill House. Truth be told, I  don’t like the way either film portrays  this character. Played by Russ Tamblyn in the first film, Luke is a self-serving cad. However, his “caddish” ways are overdone. With every single piece of furniture or decor, he vows to one day use it for some outlandish purpose, like turning the library into a nightclub and having chorus girls dance down the wobbly  staircase. While he is a scoundrel  in the book, he is at least a more believable  one, more human.  However, I will take the 1963 Luke Sanderson over the 1999 Luke played by Owen Wilson. This actor just annoys the hell out of me. He spends most of the film telling bad jokes and getting on the nerves of the women. He is terribly miscast.

Catherine Zeta Jones as Theo seems like it might be a good choice, but she does not do to well either. Claire Bloom plays Theo in the 1963 film and she is more believable  as the bohemian, perhaps closet lesbian. Jones often seems as if she is  just reciting lines and forcing emotion.

I enjoyed  Richard Johnson’s  performance  as Dr Markway more than Liam

Neeson’s role  as Dr. Marrow.  Johnson as Markway seems more realistically   passionate about the subject of his study. Maybe this is because  the script allows him to be up front  about his research and he shares his ideas with his study participants. Liam is a great actor, so perhaps it is the overall writing that mars his performance. He is at times interesting  to watch in this film. But, well, Richard Johnson does it better.

Here in this section, I should mention that in the 1999 film, Dr. Marrow has two assistants. They are there at Hill House in the beginning. One assistant hurts her eye, the other assistant puts her in a car to take her to the hospital , and then there are none. No assistants. No more screen time. Two totally useless  characters that don’t contribute  to the story in any way.

Finally, there is Eleanor, my sweet sweet Eleanor! This modern film treats you so poorly. It does so by trying to give you strength in the wrong places. You are a very vulnerable  person and I love you just the way you are.  When your character  becomes  confident and self assumed, I weep. Seriously though, The Eleanor of the book and the original film is neurotic, emotional, delusional, needy, and yet she is adventurous  and does a good job at standing up for herself. In the original film, Julie Harris (Eleanor Lance)  is superb at taking all these traits and bringing them to life on the screen. Alas, Lili Taylor (Eleanor in the 1999 film) does not do so well with this. One second she is vulnerable  and the next moment she is self-assured and very centered. Taylor seems confused as to  how to play this role. Again, much of this confusion should be blamed on the story. In this updated version of the story, Eleanor becomes the hero, the solver of mysteries, the only one that can figure out what Hill House is all about. This is blasphemy! No one should figure out the mysteries of Hill House. It cheapens the story and steals away from the allure of the house. The Eleanor of both the book and the original film slowly  allows Hill House to possess her. Much of this possession is psychological. There is very little  psychological  horror in the modern film. It is painfully literal at all times.

Okay, are you ready to get into the meat and guts of the haunting? Of course you are! Let’s see how each film is substantially  different  in this regards.

The Nature of the Haunting

The original  film  deals with an arcane house with a lurid history. Hill House  had preyed on past inhabitants, killed some, drove others mad. The past is often a good predictor of present and future  occurrences, and this theory holds true in this film. The film makes use of the famous opening paragraph of The Haunting of Hill House. Among the lines are the words

“Hill House has stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more.” Hill House has endured as a haunted house for a long time and it will continue  on this way throughout  the years to come. Why is Hill House haunted? This question  remains  a mystery, appropriately  so. Why are certain  people such as Eleanor  Lance so attached to Hill House and why  is the house mutually  attracted to her? Again, the answers are reassuringly vague and perhaps only available  to those that can mine the fields of the subconscious that connects the house to the woman. This postulate  assumes that Hill  House has a conscious. And I do believe that it does.

The haunting manifests in subtle  and not so subtle ways. The banging on the walls, the writing on the walls  are pretty obvious. But it’s Hill House’s  hypnotizing  effects on Eleanor that point to its true power – the way  it causes such an otherwise frightened  woman to feel at home in its confines, causing her to dance before one of its statues, to climb to its highest peak, risking her life on a rickety  staircase  while doing so. This interplay  between house and human sets a mysterious tone and makes for some serious haunting.

The modern film  takes a different  approach. It begins with an incomplete  backstory that unfolds as the film progresses. What is revealed is the key to “solving the haunting”. Eleanor  figures it all out and rids the  house of its evil  while freeing many trapped spirits in the process; freeing the spirits of dear sweet, innocent  children!

In the original story, Hugh Crane attempts to bring  his wife to Hill House. She never sees the house.. Her carriage overturns on the road to the house. He remarries, but his second wife dies inside the house with a tumble down the stairs. Hugh is a traveler and he dies abroad, leaving behind a child daughter, Abigail, to be raised be servants in Hill House. The child is sheltered and remains in the house , unmarried, until she is an invalid old lady, still using the nursery she was raised in as her bedroom. One night, Abigail calls out to her caretaker, but this companion is busy entertaining  a gentleman. Neglected, Abigail dies and soon after, the companion hangs herself in the library. All this does not necessarily  cause any future hauntings. Instead, these tragedies are pieces in a large patchwork  of some kind of haunting that has been and will continue  to be. In the remake, the spirit of Hugh Crane is the mastermind of all things evil at Hill House. When he was alive, he murdered his wives and kept  children  as worker  slaves. The spirits of the children haunt the house too, and it is up to Eleanor to free them and defeat Crane. As it turns out, the good spirits  of Hill House had called Eleanor, pretending  to work for the professor , and invited her to take part in the study. Why Eleanor ? Because, it is revealed that she is a descendant  of one of the women killed in Hill House . As Charlie Brown  says, “Oh Good Grief!”

Isn’t it better for the nature of the haunting to be a mystery? Isn’t it better to imply a psychological  connection  to Hill House rather than to absurdly  assign a link from heroine to house via a eureka moment of familial revelation? The stronger link is in the first film, and how Eleanor  is like Abigail, both sheltered women from distressed families. Or how she is like the caretaker. It is revealed that Eleanor  too ignored her mother’s  cane-banging cry for attention, which ultimately  resulted in her death. And in the end Eleanor  will be like Crane’s first wife, dying on Hill House’s road. Crane’s  wife was on horse and  carriage arriving and Eleanor  was in her car leaving. Perhaps Eleanor joins Hill House  because – they are one in the same. Eleanor has “housed” very similar tragedies, so in a way she and Hill House share a similar soul. Ah, but this is just a spur of the moment theory that came to me as I was writing this paragraph. But this off-the-cuff theory illustrates the power of the original film – it stimulates wonder and allows for many interpretations. The latter film has not this power. Nothing is left to the imagination. As an example, the modern film has to show on screen ghosts, displaying the latest  in CGI  technology (latest for 1999 anyway). All the ghosts are literal, spirits of the dead. Boring! The 1963 provides  better scares  with implications. We see the fright on the actors faces. Haunting1963EleanorAndTheo No need for this in the 1999  film. Instead viewers see the subject of the fright (the CGI ghosts), allowing the actors to just look dumb.


Is there anything good about the 1999 film?

The modern film is visually appealing. For me the visuals  steal from the story, but if you are one of those that don’t give a rat’s  ass about story or characters and just want a haunted house film where you can sit back and say,  “Oh man, that ghost looks cool!”, then you might enjoy this movie. In particular, there is a scene  where ghosts evolve from a white  curtain  that blows in the wind. I enjoyed this CGI  in action. I admit, I sat back and said, “Oh man, those ghosts look cool!”. Also there are children’s  faces carved into a piece of wood work. Their facial expressions  change and the direction they stare in changes as  well. Some of the special effects are  well done and very creepy.

Haunting1999Children.jpg

Final Word

I remember  watching film critic Roger Ebert review The Haunting  1999. He went through a list  of criticisms to finally  pivot and mildly recommend  the film. His soft  recommendation  was on account of the entire  haunted house atmosphere. He felt the film succeeded in this way. At the time I agreed with him. I don’t  anymore.

The modern film presents a visually creative haunted  house , I’ll give it that. And I just love those ghosts that materialize  from the curtain. But these things are not enough for me to  recommend  the film as a whole. I’m sorry. I just hope the upcoming Netflix  series is a far better reimagination  than the The Haunting  – 1999

 

Classic Haunted House Movies and Their Remakes – Just How Bad are these Modern Modifications?

So much for objective headlines. As you can tell by the title of this article, I begin with the assumption  that modern remakes of the classic  haunted house films are bad. The question I then ask is “how bad are they?”  Maybe I am being a bit too harsh. Maybe I should put a leash around my bias and just explore the films for what they are worth, even if their worthiness amounts to very little (ah geez, there I go again with that “bias” thing!)

Welcome to October everyone! I heard through the grapevine that this is the season of scary celebrations. It has something to do with a day at the end of the month that we call “Halloween.” We here at  Thebooksofdaniel.com  are going to contribute to the “spookies”  with three compare/contrast articles concerning the modernization of three classic haunted house films. In the days to come, prepare yourselves for a presentation  of six films. These films would be:

The Haunting  1963/1999

The House on Haunted Hill 1959/1999

13 Ghosts 1960/ Thir13en Ghosts 2001

Up until now, I  had considered the remake films unworthy of this blog. What a classic film snob I  was! I have seen all six films  and, truth be told, there are bits and pieces of the three modern incarnations that I enjoy. Do these enjoyable  moments redeem  the films overall? No, not necessarily. Or maybe. I don’t know. But I will know soon. See, I’m going to watch all six films again. It’s been nearly  20 years since  I’ve seen the remakes. (Which I guess means they aren’t so “modern”. Oh well, they are modern enough for the purposes  of the upcoming articles .)  I need to refresh my opinions  and I will do so with fresh viewings.

Get ready for an exploration of the key differences between each pair of films. From the story to the production value, I will note what has changed, for better or worse   (probably  for worse. Oh man, there I go again!). Why is one film better than the other? (Why is the classic film superior? Uh, I   seem to have misplaced the bias leach). Finally, just what are those decent  moments in the otherwise  unfavorable films? (I won’t go there this time.)

So, when all is said  and done, will I regret that very  biased article title? Will I be forced  to rename the article  “Classic Haunted  Houses  Movies and Their Remakes – How Great Thou’ Art? Probably  not. But I will keep an open mind and I’m sure I’ll learn something  and have fun doing so. I hope this will  be true for you the reader as well.

 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Who are the Ghosts that Haunt Shirley Jackson’s Novels?

CastleJackson2What is the most definitive haunted house of fictional literature? Many might say that it is “Hill House”, that mysterious mansion that haunts poor Eleanor Vance in Shirley Jackson’s novel “The Haunting of Hill House.”  Certainly, Hill House is worthy of such a title. After all, the novel that spawned it went on to influence many if not most of the haunted house novels of the later part of the twentieth century, including Stephen King’s “The Shining” and Robert Morasco’s “Burnt Offerings”.  Jackson has another story in her catalog of works that centers around a gothic style house. The story is dark and disturbing; the stuff of nightmarish fairy-tales in their original form before Disney waters them down with singing birds and colorful princesses. It is also charming (though there are no singing birds,  there is a very observant cat!),  funny, and quite absurd. It’s sort of a Poe-Meets-Kafka kind of piece.  This novella I refer to is We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

As I alluded to at the end of the preceding paragraph, We Have Always Lived in the Castle  is many things. But, is it a haunted house story?  Some say that it is. It makes the Goodreads list of Best Haunted House Fiction that Isn’t The Shining. At the time of publication, it sits at #5 on a list of 185 items. Impressive.

There isn’t anything supernatural going on in this tale. But I argue that this novella is indeed a story about a haunted house. Jackson herself was haunted; haunted by insecurities; haunted by a standard of lifestyle that was forced upon her, a lifestyle which she couldn’t, nor wouldn’t, abide by. Underneath the surface of her novels, Jackson writes about the things that haunt her. So when she writes about houses, the things that had haunted her infiltrate the houses and the characters that occupy them. The fusion of house and people, this whirlwind of forces, is what truly haunts her fictional manors. Let’s explore these matters in more detail. I’ll begin by a brief analysis of “the haunting” that afflicts “hill house” and then delve into the things that haunt the family that has “..always lived in the castle”. In the end, both houses, and the stories themselves, are haunted by Shirley Jackson herself. She haunts houses in ways no one else can.

What is Haunting “Hill House”?

It is the author’s writing style that elevates The Haunting of Hill House to such a high standard. Jackson’s description of scene blends well  with her poetic storytelling. She writes with a psychological pen that inscribes a disturbed persona into her characters; a persona that seems to evaporate into the house that surrounds them, thereby lending to the house a personality that is usually reserved only for sentient beings. In a similar manner, she transfers her own personality onto the page, allowing for the passage of her very own personal demons, from her soul to the story. An article from The New Yorker describes Jackson as “one of the twentieth century’s tortured writers”.  Her mother had admonished her for her lack of feminine qualities, for not being “pretty”. She even went so far as to tell her daughter that “she was the product of a failed abortion”.  Thus Jackson struggled with two competing identities. She saw herself as an ugly duckling, lacking grace and femininity, and when she married a man who constantly cheated on her, at least she “was married” and fulfilling her womanly duties. However, she rebelled against convention. “She grew fat…she ran a bohemian household…she dyed the mashed potatoes green..”   Shirley Jackson was an outsider, mistrustful of the larger world. The characters in her novels are very much the same way. They are insecure misanthropes on the one hand. But, in some ways, proud of their oddities.

The protagonist of The Haunting of Hill House is Eleanor Vance. Eleanor is a young woman who grew up in a very sheltered environment, confined to a life of caring for her ailing mother. She is insecure, lacking worldly experience, and it is not until she stays at Hill House, which is quite possibly haunted by supernatural entities, that she “comes to life”.  As the novel progresses, she becomes more attached to the house. In this odd house with its bizarre architecture and mysterious happenings, she forges a sense of belonging.

One of the pervasive  themes in The Haunting of Hill House is the notion that, perhaps, the supernatural  manifestations that are witnessed by several other occupants  actually  stem from Eleanor’s  own psychic mind. In many ways, Eleanor represents Jackson. Both women, haunted by a troubled  past, carry over these hauntings into worlds of their own, worlds of their making.

What Kind of Ghosts Have Always “Lived in the Castle”?

To me, there is meaning to the title We Have Always Lived in the Castle.  The story is about a family that is at odds with the rest of the world. It’s about a young girl affectionately known as “Merricat.” Merricat was always a weird one, suspicious of those that could not understand the inner-workings of her fanciful mind. Even after a horrific tragedy, there is something about the the characters of this novel that remain “untouched.” They go on living in their own world, sheltered reclusively inside a big old house. There is something about them, about Merricat, that seems to have been…well, it just seems that they have “always been.”

“The Castle” is a large manor owned by the Blackwood family. It stands in a wooded area that separates its surrounding  property from the paths that lead to the nearby village. In addition, there is a flimsy fence of sorts that marks the Blackwood  territory. But the most effective  barrier is a psychological one. The Blackwoods are one of several prominent  and historical  families in the area. Very secretive and seclusive, backed by historical legend, the villagers keep their distance.. They know them only through gossip and legend. They don’t dare tread on their turf. Especially in the aftermath of that horrifying tragedy that occurred only recently, a few years back.

Most of the Blackwoods have recently passed on. They were murdered!  Mother and Father, Aunt and Brother  died of arsenic poisoning. This poison  was mixed into the sugar. Survivors of this tragedy include  the ailing Uncle Julian, Older Sister  Constance , and young tween sister Mary Katherine (Merricat). Constance was accused of poisoning/murdering  her family, arrested, and tried in court.  Eventually she was  acquitted of all  charges. But in the court of public opinion, in the minds of the villagers, she is guilty as sin.

The truth about how  the family is poisoned remains a mystery until the near end of the story. Until then, readers get to know Constance, the seemingly  selfless caretaker of the house and what’s left of the family. She delights in cooking and gardening, waiting on old Uncle Julian. She keeps the place orderly and beautiful. But she is homebound, afraid to tread beyond a certain marker on their property. Uncle Julian is witty and entertaining. But he is slowly losing his mind to dementia. Finally  there is Merricat.  She is very imaginative and her mind churns out alternate places for her family to live, places such as the moon! She adores  her older sister , cherishes the house , but despises the people in the village. In fact, she pretty much has it in for everyone  outside her family. She keeps  her house safe by burying token items in special  places around her property. She seems to believe that by doing so, she is invoking some sort of charm.

So, I have stated that the Blackwood House is haunted. What haunts it? Answer – the survivors of the poisoning. The trio of occupants are ghosts clothed in flesh. Think about this. Ghosts linger inside a house after a deadly tragedy. Ghosts forever dwell in a momentary state of affairs, often repeating the same activities over and over. These ghostly attributes describe  the remaining Blackwoods to a tee. They exist in their own little world, often oblivious to the affairs outside their walls – outside the castle. Merricat is the only one that wanders into the village to fetch needed supplies. Her very presence inside a store disrupts the environment and puts the shoppers and merchants in a state of uneasiness. They would rather the ghost stay in the house where it belongs. Speaking of the house – it is also at the center of many conversations. Villagers fear it, tell stories about it. Sometimes out of morbid curiosity, they dare to approach it. A house that triggers such behavior has to be haunted.

Just as Shirley Jackson herself haunts Hill House, she also haunts the Blackwood House. I see her as Merricat, proud of her idiosyncrasies and distrusting of those who choose not to understand her personality. But she is also Constance, always trying to please, trying to be the dutiful woman. (It should be noted – While Jackson obviously possesses the soul of Eleanor in The Haunting of Hill House, her character can also be found in another of the book’s female characters. This would be Theodora, daring in her forwardness, given to bohemian ways, and challenging the definition of femininity.)

All in the Haunting

Goodreads reviewer Madeline  sums up the haunting elements of We Have Always Lived in the Castle this way:

Simply put, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the story of how a house becomes haunted. It’s a ghost story without ghosts – or, more accurately, a story of how a person becomes a ghost.

Her summary is spot on. Throughout the book,  characters fade from the world stage and become the stuff of legends, of ghosts.  Shirley Jackson has a knack for bringing out the ghosts from inside the living. She does this by creating  an ethereal environment that welcomes these ghosts, fosters them, and gives them a home.  In an eerie, odd house, these characters can be who they were meant to be. It’s a place for them to be themselves – it’s their own little world. Jackson, I believe, was in her own little world when she encapsulated herself in the writing process. I would venture to guess that  she seemed most happy inside this capsule.  And her ghost will forever remain inside her stories. Gleefully.

Jackson

The Haunted Apartment Series – All the articles, all in one place!

Hello everybody!

I hope you enjoyed reading the articles that I have written about haunted apartments. I had fun analyzing major themes and reviewing the popular films and novels that delve into this subject. For your convenience, I am linking to each and everyone of them – right here in this post! Consider this post as an index. Ok? Cool. Let’s begin!


ApartmentNextHomeDotYPDotCAIntro Article

Beyond the House: An Examination of Hauntings Within Alternate Structures. Part 2 – Apartment Buildings

In this article, I summarize themes that are often found in horror stories that take place in an apartment setting.


Rosemary’s Baby RosemaryBaby

The 50th Anniversary of the Release of Rosemary’s Baby – First Review of the Haunted Apartment Series

I published this on the anniversary of the release date of Roman Polanski’s most popular film in his Apartment Trilogy. Psychological horror meets Satanism!


SentinelBookMovieThe Sentinel

The Sentinel – Book Vs Movie – Second Review in the Haunted Apartment Series

I compare the two mediums, Jeffery Konvitz’s book to Michael Winner’s film. Also, I post a link to an audio interview of the famous author.


The Guardian TheGuardian

The Guardian by Jeffrey Konvitz -Third Review in The Haunted Apartment Series

This is Konvitz’s lesser known novel, but this sequel to the Sentinel is just as compelling. Maybe it is even better! Read them both and you can be the judge

 

 


 

RepulsionRepulsion

Repulsion – A Roman Polanski Film. Fourth Review in The Haunted Apartment Series 

First film in Roman Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy. A fine piece of psychological horror.

 

 


 

The Tenant TheTenant

The Tenant – A Roman Polanski Film. Fifth Review in The Haunted Apartment Series 

The final film of Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy. Polanski himself stars as the troubled protagonist. What a thriller this is!


 

Sensoria2018BSensoria

A Quick Revisit of Sensoria – Sixth Review in The Haunted Apartment Series 

A fair film that I had already written about. I link to the original review.

 


 

The Graveyard Apartment THeGraveyardApartment by-mariko-koike

The Graveyard Apartment – A Novel / Seventh and Final Review in The Haunted Apartment Series

A great book by a Japanese author. A haunted apartment in Japan!

The Graveyard Apartment – A Novel / Seventh and Final Review in The Haunted Apartment Series

THeGraveyardApartment by-mariko-koikeAs summer winds down, so does this season’s theme; this blog will no longer be “subletting” haunted apartments. For the time being, you’ll just have to go directly to the story creators in order to vicariously reside inside their suites of terror. But don’t be so down in the mouth; I still have one more apartment complex for you to check out! Are you feeling adventurous? I hope so, for we are going to the other side of the world. Off to Japan we go, into a suburb of Tokyo. (For those Blog readers already residing in Japan, look on the bright side – travel expenses will be minimal!) We will also travel through time back to the 1980s and visit an apartment building that is situated beside a cemetery. Get ready readers as I review Japanese author Mariko Koike’s book, The Graveyard Apartment: A Novel , which was first published in 1986 under the title Bochi o miorosu ie. Translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm in 2016, the book has been available in English for two years now. Please take advantage of this English translation, folks. It’s a delightfully creepy story and I am grateful that it is being shared with the larger world.

After a summer that was very much immersed in the psychological horror from Roman Polanski , we turn now to an apartment complex that is haunted by good ol’ fashioned sprints. Don’t get me wrong – I loved Polanski’s  Apartment Trilogy, (read about them herehere, and here), but it is time to move on to other things, malicious things! These malicious spirits that haunt Koike’s apartment complex are of mysterious origin and consistency. But these forces are very powerful; they have the ability to strike a person dead from afar!  I won’t compare these supernatural forces of to the demonic entities that roam about in the apartments  of Jeffery Konvitz’s novels. Apples and oranges, my friends. The Konvitz  novels (The Sentinel and The Guardian ) succeed as mystery thrillers, thick with plot and doused in conspiracy. Koike gives readers a more visceral THeGraveyardApartment by-mariko-koike Authorkind of scare. She writes about the things that make a trip down into a basement a terrifying experience. I refer to the shared basement in that exists in the story’s apartment complex – the storage center. . Down there the air currents are possessed. Down below there are hidden tunnels. From deep within their cavernous mouths, taunting voices call out to tenants that happen to be in the basement, beckoning them inside. Beware of the elevator that takes you down there! It often loses operational control to the things that haunt this complex! But the basement isn’t the only place in the facility plagued with supernatural terror. Sometimes ghostly hands press against the lobby windows. Oh my!

THeGraveyardApartment by-mariko-koikeAni


 

Here be the stuff of plot! We have the Kano family; Teppei the father, Misao the mother, and Tamao is their young daughter.  This family moves to the Central Plaza Mansion, an apartment complex in the suburbs of Tokyo. It also happens to be located beside a cemetery (that never a good thing in a horror novel!) The deceased family pet, a bird named Pyoko, visits young Tamao in the night and warns the little girl about the dangers lurking in the new place. She tells her parents about these nocturnal visits, but they attribute them to their daughter’s overactive imagination.

Throughout their stay at Central Plaza Mansion, they meet several neighbors. They all seem normal, but by the book’s end, they will all move away. These neighbors sense a certain “strangeness” about the apartment complex that that the Kano family is aware of but chooses to ignore. Misao does some research about the property and the surrounding land, only to discover the forestalled plans of an underground mall. Deep beneath them, the tunnels for this venture had already been carved. Why did the project stop? Did all this digging disturb the spirits in the cemetery on the adjoining land? If so, are these spirits still stirring and are they pissed at any modern developments that have encroached on their sacred land, developments such as The Central Plaza Mansion?

Finally, the Kano’s decide to leave. Teppei’s brother and his wife come to help them move. But is it too late? In the forward to Robert Morasco’s book Burnt Offerings ,  Author Stephen Graham Jones distinguishes between two types of haunted houses: those that want the living to stay away, and those that want to devour the living. The Amityville Horror house represents the first type, while the house in Burnt Offerings House represents the latter. The complex in The Graveyard Apartment seems to be somewhat of a hybrid. Yes it wants to devour its inhabitants, but it first gives them a chance to leave. As the old expression says, “you snooze, you lose.” The Kano’s are snoozers. Uh oh!

The Graveyard Apartment: A Novel rates at about 3.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com, which is the average from over fifty reviews. Some loved it, some hated it, and some thought it was just “so-so”. As for me, I would say I “near-loved” it. Some of the complaints have to do with the side-stories that don’t always seem to go anywhere. I admit, dialogue gets bogged down in places. There are too many exchanges that have little relevancy to the overall story. Back when I was summarizing the plot, I left out this detail – Teppei and Misao started their relationship via an extra-marital affair. Teppei’s first wife discovers the affair and kills herself. Thus, Teppei goes on to then marry his mistress (Misao) and the two give birth to Tamao in wedlock. This is all back-story. As such – does any of this have any relevancy to the supernatural activity at the apartment?  Maybe, but maybe not. Teppei’s brother Tatsuji is mixed up in the overall family dysfunction of the back-story, and he ends up with his brother and his family when the ghosts really get down to business. Since it’s these two families that receive the worst of the horror, could there by any symbolism at work here? I would say “no”. The book has an overall literal tone to it, and therefore, any allusions to such symbolism would seem over-analytical. If you want to read a story where the haunting of a house is symbolic of the destruction of a marriage/family, I recommend The Grip of It by Jac Jemc.

So from time to time, the story strays, but for some reason, these detours didn’t bother me. I was enjoying the side chats with neighbors and some of the back-stories, even if they didn’t amount to twists. Eventually the plot moves along toward an ending that really ruffled some feathers. Some reviewers say that there “really was no ending” or that the ending was “too abrupt”. For me I say that “yes the ending is abrupt” but it “is an ending”. It isn’t an ending that I expected, but in the end (see what I did there!) I realized that, maybe it’s not the best conclusion, but I understand how the turn of events could lead to such an outcome.

Overall, I would give the book around 4.3 out of 5 stars. The overall creepiness of the story prevents the rating from slipping below the 4-star realm.

I discovered this novel on one of those many “list articles” that are floating around on the Internet. The name of the article, from unboundworlds.com is 21 of the Best Horror Novels Written by Women. I am grateful that I found this article, for it turned me on to Mariko Koike and her very scary novel. I can’t comment on her writing style, since I read her story via a translation. Still, I can appreciate her imagination and general sense of storytelling. At least I can do that!

For trivia sake, I have read five out of the twenty-one books of this list and reviewed four. They are:

Reviewed:

The Graveyard Apartment – Mariko Koike

The Grip of It – Jac Jemc

The Haunting of Hill House  – Shirley Jackson

The Woman in Black -Susan Hill

Read/Not Reviewed:

Beloved – Toni Morrison

Surprisingly, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is not on this list. I’ve read that one! Then again, it’s not really a horror novel. So maybe its omission is warranted.

 

A Quick Revisit of Sensoria – Sixth Review in The Haunted Apartment Series

Sensoria2018BThis post shall be brief, for I have already reviewed the Swedish film Sensoria, by Christian Hallman, and I really don’t have much to add. However, I feel that I need to return to this film for the sole purposes of including it in this summer’s theme – Haunted Apartments.

Plot in brief: Caroline moves to a haunted apartment complex. There is a ghost that follows her around. We the viewers of the film see the ghost in action, but Caroline does not. The other tenants are rather strange, including a young girl who takes a liking to Caroline. The identity of the girl is one of the mysteries that drive the film to its conclusion.

For a more detailed description, please see my original review Sensoria, a Swedish Ghost Story.

In the original review, I link to an article that states how this film was strongly influenced by Roman Polanski’s film The Tenant. Back when I wrote the review, I had not yet seen The Tenant. That has changed. Of course you know that – I published my review and analysis of the The Tenant just a couple of weeks ago (In case you are late to the game, click on the link “The Tenant” in the previous sentence to read the review). Having seen both films, I can spot the influences. the enigmatic neighbors that appear in Sensoria and the overall surreal environment can be traced back to Polanski’s film. Also, both films have a central character that transforms in some way by the films end.

The Tenant is the superior film. One of the flaws of Hallman’s film has to do with its twists. They don’t work the way they do in Polanski’s film.  In short, the twists stay twisted. They don’t take viewers to a welcomed yet unexpected place. However the film succeeds with mood and scares. It’s an average film. In my original review, I ended by recommending this film. I guess I still do.  It’s worth seeing, but it’s not the kind of film that merits a lot of analysis.

Coming up next, but perhaps not for a few weeks, a review of a splendid book about a haunted apartment complex in Japan. Sorry for the upcoming delay, but my life has become busy as of late. But hey, come mid-September, when hopefully the review will be ready, it will still be summer – technically – according to all that autumnal equinox stuff. The equinox knows all! Therefore, my summer theme will still conclude in the good ol’ summertime!