Swell by Jill Eisenstadt- Half of a Review

Swell2Halves. There are a lot of those in the universe, aren’t there? All those half-ass jobs performed by people with half a brain. Then there’s Half and Half, equal parts milk, equal parts cream, or something like that; maybe this is only half true. Styx has a song on their Paradise Theater album called Half Penny, Two-Penny, you might want to check it out. Oh and here in Chicago we have a brewery called Half-Acre. Good beer!

I guess this might turn out to be a half review. Why, you may ask? Because, I only read half the book that is up for review. But I tried to go further. Really I did. When my tablet informed me that I was at the 50% mark, I read on. I made it to 54% and then I just couldn’t proceed any further. As one reviewer on the Amazon page wrote, “Swell, it’s not.” Oh by the way, that is the name of the book – Swell. By Jill Eisenstadt.  But the title of the article should have told you that!

Here’s how I discovered this book. I became interested in the literary brat pack of the 1980s. I read Bret Easton Ellis’s books “Less Than Zero” and “American Psychopath.”  Then I discovered another book by the same author – Lunar Park –  a haunted house novel. Before plunging in, I had learned that not only would the book utilize characters from the two books of his that I had read, but it would also give readers quite the rarity of a protagonist – a fictionalized version of the author himself! Whoopie! I read it, I loved it!   (Read the review here.) 

So I decided, if this worked for one Brat Pack author, maybe it would work for another. Jill Eisenstadt published a novel From Rockaway in 1987, a coming of age tale about teenage lifeguards on Rockaway beach in NYC.  I read it. It was okay. Thirty years later she published Swell (with other books between those years) and just as Lunar Park contained characters from American Psychopath and Less Than Zero, Swell would welcome back characters from From Rockaway and feature a haunted house.  So I went for it. I went back to Rockaway (Swell also takes place on the beach on the Rockaway Peninsula) …and I nearly drowned in the waves of the tedious story. I jumped out of Eisenstadt’s ocean before the tides of the tiresome could drag me even further into the depths of boredom.

Swell has very little to do with a haunted house. The subject is kind of an afterthought, just one of many weird themes. But this isn’t why I dislike the book. I dislike the book because the story doesn’t move. Or maybe it does. It moves in circles, retreading the same ground. It zigzags between the perspectives of several characters but never does it seem to go forward. This is a story about the Glassman family. Sue Glassman agrees to live in a house procured by her father-in-law Sy in exchange for her conversion to Judaism. It is a beach house in Rockaway and is known as the murder house since, long before the Glassman’s moved in, murder was committed on the premises. The former owner of the house, the eccentric and senile Rose shows up uninvited with her caregiver and annoys the hell out of Sue. Their next-door neighbor is Tim (Timmy from From Rockaway) a former firefighter now drivers-ed teacher. He pokes his nose in the story quite a bit. The Glassman’s youngest daughter plays with a ghost that might be a pirate. The teenage daughter is learning to drive from neighbor Tim. She intercourses sexually (“intercourses sexually” – ha ha, I just felt like phrasing it that way!) with the neighbor boy on the other side. Oh and there is a big conversion party coming. Half way through this book and this was all that was happening. Only one or two days of “story time” had passed. 

I suppose some might appreciate the way the different strands of perspectives are sewn together. Others will appreciate the way all of these oddball characters play off each other. To some extent I appreciate this too, but for the love of God, go somewhere with this! I suppose it does go somewhere eventually, but I’ll never see it to the end. This book is supposed to be a comedy. But I forgot to laugh

Well, this is going on a bit long for a “half review”. Perhaps I should have somehow sliced the sentence lines in half horizontally and only displayed the top parts. I didn’t know how to do that. Or I could have indented everything to one side of the screen. Either of those actions would have led to a “half review”. I guess  you’ll just have to settle for “half as long”, meaning, half as long as a typical review. Oh but this is more like two-thirds of a typical review! Oh well. Forgive me. It was a half-assed attempt for which I used half my brain.

 

Review of Girl on the Third Floor

GirlOnTheThirdFloor2

Here I go, jumping right in, attempting  to write an interesting article on Travis Steven’s buzzing indie haunted house film Girl on the Third  Floor. Usually when I set out to write these reviews/pieces , I try to follow some kind of theme. An angle if you will; an underlying concept that connects all the various parts of the piece together. Ah but maybe I shall forgo such an endeavor at this time. There is nothing worse than trying such a thing and failing, falling flat on your ass and dropping your prized piece, smashing and destroying all those fragile  connections that you had thought were so tightly screwed together (Okay there are worse things, COVID-19, Justin Bieber, Reality TV, Cockroaches on the toilet paper roll, and on and on). So for this article I won’t attempt such a thing, unlike the film that is up for review, which does try unsuccessfully to tie together a bunch of loose concepts. Film reviewer Oscar Goff of Bostonhassle.com notes that “Stevens throws a lot of ideas at the wall, and while not all of them stick, the cumulative effect is dizzying and effective”This is so true. Many of the ideas don’t stick (hence its inability to tie together loose concepts) However, this doesn’t make it a bad film, noting Goff’s comment about the”cumulative effect” being “dizzying and effective.”

Let’s begin with what is effective about the film. And to do that, I will begin with the beginning. A very impressive beginning it is!. I’m not talking  about the first few minutes either. I’m referring to the first few seconds of the film. The story had not yet begun and yet my eyes were glued to the television, taking in the opening montage of still shots that served as the background for the opening credits. Various images on parade capturing the smallest details of the interior environment of the haunted house, magnifying them so that we the viewers understand how the parts of the whole that make for bad feng shui. A dizzying wallpaper design of rose vines. A round ceiling light fixture with three protruding screws that resemble beady eyes. An aerial shot of drawer left partially open. A dead bee lying near dusty wall baseboards. Unwholesome closeups of cracks in the corners. A nail out of place. I’m betting most viewers fail to take these shots in. You shouldn’t neglect them. They foreshadow the brilliance that will shine throughout the film. They point to the film’s best friends – the camera, the cinematographer  and the editor. The talented crew and their expertise with the tools of their trade keep this film afloat. Now, what about the story? Well, it’s okay. Is there any interesting symbolism in this flick? Sigh. I guess so. But this is where I get lost. This I find underwhelming.

Former professional wrestler CM Punk stars as Don Koch, a former lawyer who has a shady past. He has cheated his clients out of money. He has cheated on his wife with other women. What a low life cheat all the way around! And he’s an alcoholic. Bad, bad Don! But all that is over now. He’s trying to turn over a new leaf. He takes it upon himself to renovate their newly acquired house. His wife Liz is so proud of her hubbie. She remains in Chicago and leaves him alone in the new house in the far away suburbs to work, work, work at rebuilding their new home. They have frequent video chats, where she regularly unleashes her boundless sympathy for her overworked hubbie. Does he need any help? Does he know what he’s doing? Is he sure that he can do without a professional?  It’s so much, dear Don!

Don really doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s constantly puncturing holes into the siding. He has only a few tools and he makes a lot of mistakes. It doesn’t help him any that the house itself is determined to fuck with him. Pipes ooze with muddied liquid. Blood spills out of electrical sockets.  Semen sprays from the shower head. If all this isn’t bad enough, the ceiling comes crashing down, revealing a hidden attic with walls covered with a child’s drawings. Oh, and how can I forget, marbles are always materializing out of nowhere. They roll across the floor on some predetermined path. Down the stairs, around the corner, and the camera follows these marbles curiously, demonstrating another fabulous feat in the art of creepy cinematography. They always lead to something pretty darn scary – maybe it’s a misbehaving room, maybe it’s to a dead body.

A local bartender warns Don that the house he bought used to be a brothel in the olden days. A sex worker was killed there. “No straight man” has been able to survive in that house. A female pastor from the church across the street also warns Don. She is a bourbon chugging, potty-mouthed pastor – whatta woman! She tells Don to leave the house. He doesn’t listen.

Don is up to his old tricks. He is drinking. He has sexual intercourse with a young, blonde neighbor. Bad, Bad Don! This young woman, Sarah Yates, turns out to be the ghost of the sex worker who died here years ago. She was testing Don. He failed and now she is out to get him! She haunts him. She does some very mean and deadly things.

Eventually Liz will show up. By the time she does Don is already possessed by the house. She will witness a ghostly recreation of a sex act that took place in the house years ago before the eyes of ogling perverts. She will triumph over the hostile supernatural forces. She will bond with the Protestant female pastor. Yay and stuff!

So what the heck is going on here, besides the typical supernatural shenanigans a haunted house loves to dish out? 

Perhaps my “theme of the themeless” description is inaccurate in that, there is an underlying theme, but it is so painfully obvious that a viewer like myself is left thinking “but there must be something more to this!”  That theme = male douchebags that mistreat women are bad and will suffer. Women will have their revenge. You go girl! This is the simple theme as per a consensus of many reviewers. Still, there are so many things begging for more explanation. The house appears to be alive, and this is one of my favorite themes in haunted house fiction. It screams or whines at times when Don is whacking away at the walls. Sometimes it even giggles. Eventually, Don will find a giant beating heart in the wall, or is it a bulging blood vessel? Whichever, but how does all this tie in with the gender dynamics and toxic masculinity theme in the film?  Perhaps there is another way of examining the theme of the house as a living entity that will answer this question.

When preparing for this article, I found bits and pieces of an interesting theory put forth by some reviewer, and for the life of me, I can’t relocate that review. In my initial sighting I  came across only a couple of sentences so I did not have much to go on in my vain attempt to search for it again. I wish I could provide proper sources but I can’t. Anyway the theory stated that the house was Don. He was, in fact, renovating himself. Rebuilding his life. Or at least making a half-ass attempt to do so. Flushing out the GirlOnTheThirdFloor3toxicity within himself. Putting up solid walls that are barriers to temptation. But there are so many toxins that he can’t handle it.  To improve yourself, you have to face all the putrid things that make you a rotten person. All that blood, shit and semen (symbolic of his uncontrollable sexual urges).Don can’t handle it. So the house is symbolic of his own body. When he digs into too deeply, it cries and gets upset. 

So all that is going on while at the same time, the house is its own independent identity, with its own history of mistreating women. 

Now does all this make sense? Somewhat. To tell you the truth I would care more about all this retribution stuff if Liz was more of a central character. For two thirds of the film, we see here only on Facetime, and she is portrayed, IMHO, as a doting wife, boring as hell, vanilla all the way, perfectly made and bred for the suburbs. Suddenly at the film’s end, viewers see her outside of screen on Don’s phone. She is strong, she is a survivor, she is a victor! And I can care less about her so she is no heroine of mine. 

Furthermore, there are other things going on in this film that cry out for explanation. In addition to the ghost of Sarah, there is this deformed Nymph that appears now and then. Who is she? And what about those marbles? When Liz is exposed to the a Shining-style recreation of the sex act, she also notes a little girl up in the attic that controls the flow of the marbles. Who the hell is she? Is she the feminine spirit of this living house? Oh I don’t know. I guess it’s just an idea that may or may not stick, right Oscar Goff? 

Overall, it’s a suspenseful film with brilliant camera work. Mood and style triumph, and that’s good. Better than jump scares and high octane sound effects. As far as the story and the messaging, well, there is much left to be desired there. But I recommend this film solely on the overall flair.

Other Things to Note

Svengoolie

Ya know where I  first heard of this film? Well let me first ask this, which TV show often exposes me to classic haunted house films? If you said “Svengoolie”, you’d be right. However, The Girl on the Third  Floor has many, many years to go before it can be labeled  a classic. Svengoolie did not show this film. I saw this film on Netflix. But CM Punk made an appearance  on the show. See, Sven likes wrestling, so he brought on Mr. Punk , and Mr. Punk then told us viewers about  this film.

Isn’t this interesting?

We are Still Here

Did you know that the director  of this film, one Travis Stevens, was the key producer dude for the film We Are Still  Here? This is a 2015 indie haunted  house film and I reviewed it. You can read it here. I thought the film was so-so, and I  ended up giving director Ted Geoghegan some advice. What kind of dilettante was I, since I know nothing about the ins and outs of film-making. Oh well, I forgive myself. 

Girl on the Third Floor is Stevens  directorial debut. Despite  some criticism I say to Travis “good job”

A Real Haunted House

The unrenovated  house in the film is really haunted. Supposedly. According to CheatSheet.com this house in Frankfort  Illinois is the home of spirits of two young girls. One is the ghost  of Sadie, a 12 – year – old girl who worked as a maid in this house. She was murdered in 1901. The other is the spirit  of Sarah, who died of an illness in the house back in 1909. Disturbances such as disembodied footsteps and phantom handprints  have been reported there.

A Review of Lunar Park By Bret Easton Ellis

Let’s begin with a question that maybe some of you might have for me.

Are there any other kinds of books that I like to read, aside from horror in general and more specifically stories that feature a good old fashioned haunted house? 

My answer: Hmmmm…….

Questioner: Come on Cheely, you must be open to other genres! 

Me: I am. 

Questioner: So, what are they?

Actually I like several genres that have no name. So I have taken the liberty to name them. I like “nostalgic tales of youth”.  That’s a bit long for a genre name. Oh well. I’m talking about stories that feature prepubescent kids on bikes enjoying those eternal summers. Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine is one of my favorites. These are stories that feature kids living by their own rules, seeing life unfold before their unsuspecting eyes. In a similar manner, I enjoy coming of age tales. The characters of these types of novels are a bit older than the ones that inhabit the stories of my “nostalgic” category . They are in their teens and the whirlwinds of adolescence disrupt their innocent lives. They experience joys and sorrows beyond any previous skills of comprehension. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is an example of such a novel and a fine novel it is!

Do you know what’s even better than stories about the coming of age? Well, I’ll tell you. These would be the stories that detail what happens where “the age” comes and then “the age”  goes and all hell breaks loose. Novels of this kind feature young adults caught in a world of debauchery, decadence, delinquency and drugs. Three of those four “D” words are used by author Jay McInerney in a fictional conversation about great words that begin with the fourth letter of the alphabet.. This conversation takes place between two night clubbers in his book Bright Lights Big City. McInerney is a member of what has been called the “literary Brat Pack.” 

These were young writers in the early 1980s that often wrote about young characters of the swanky urban milieu  that indulge in drugs. Among this group of authors is Bret Easton Ellis, the author of the book that is the subject of this review (I’ll get to Lunar Park in a moment, don’t you worry, just bear with me for a leeeeeetle bit longer).Ellis is the famed author of Less Than Zero and American Psycho.  Less Than Zero is a story about  Beverly Hills college kids that are home from  during Christmas break. In California, it is difficult to have the traditional “white” Christmas, but ahhh, they find something else that is “white” and flaky to enjoy – Cocaine!  And lots of it. Parties, music, cocaine, sex, and lots of addiction and all around emptiness. American Psycho is told from the first person perspective of Patrick Bateman is a Wall Street yuppie of the 80s that obsesses over designer dress codes  and dinner reservations by day while decapitating people in his luxurious apartment at night. Ohh the subjects in both Less Than Zero and American Psycho make me giddy with goosebumps!  I love them, don’t you??

I guess I’m bleeding into a genre that actually does have a name. (Earlier in this article I mentioned that “I like several genres that have no name”). In my defense, I didn’t know it existed as a defined genre until after I began work on this article. The genre  is known as Transgressive Fiction. This genre is similar to my made up “post adolescence chaos” genre, though I’m guessing that the characters within the stories of this literary category are not always young. Simply put, according to Wikipedia, Transgressive Fiction  “ focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual or illicit ways.”

Furthermore –

“Because they are rebelling against the basic norms of society, protagonists of transgressive fiction may seem mentally ill, anti-social, or nihilistic. The genre deals extensively with taboo subject matters such as drugs, sexual activity, violence, incest, pedophilia, and crime”.

So for the record, I love me some transgressive fiction. Now wouldn’t it be something if I could find a book that at least flirts with transgressive fiction  while giving me a precious haunted house! Impossible, you say. No, it’s not impossible. The two themes merge in Bret Easton Ellis’ book Lunar Park.

I now “transgress” from genre descriptions to the heart of Lunar Park

 

LunarParkBret Easton Ellis – What an interesting, albeit eccentric, perhaps downright weird guy. The first few chapters of Lunar Park read like an autobiography  of the author’s life, a life filled with more decadence than the characters of his book. Okay-okay, he’s not  morally depraved in the kind of way as Patrick Bateman, the Wall Street serial killer. To the best of my knowledge the author hasn’t killed anyone (yet)! But Ellis describes one of his book tours as a train wreck of drug abuse and tells of the craziness that ensues on account of his incessant  partying. Supposedly, these first few chapters are true, though some have contested the veracity of some of the details. The remaining chapters, the bulk of the book, is a fictional biography of himself and his unsuccessful attempt at normalcy. Giving up his philandering lifestyle made up of bachelor pads and a non-stop habit of pill popping and cocaine snorting, Ellis reinvents himself as a family man, he settles down with Jayne Davis, a famous actress who is the  mother of his only known child, Robby. Ellis had neglected Robby all throughout his young life. He is now a preteen and the father wants to make amends. They live in a house in Midland, a suburb of New York. with Jayne’s six-year-old daughter Sarah.. They have a maid, a dog, a pool; the whole works. All they are missing is the white picket fence,  Brett is trying for sobriety and fidelity, not really achieving those lofty goals, but he’s going through the motions anyway. His past behaviors haunt him, as does the dark inspiration behind several of his characters, along with the traumatic  relationship he had with his now dead father. This haunting takes center stage at his new home at Medford. Hence, Bret lives in a haunted house.

Ok everyone, who remembers my contribution to the analytics of haunted house film and literature – my precious projection theory? Simply stated, a disturbed protagonist “projects” his/her inner demons upon the house which in turn reflects those demons back, acting like a screen of sorts. What the protagonist  sees upon the screen (the house) will confuse him/her as well as frighten. I think I first made reference to this theory on my review of The Turn of the Screw where it is suggested by many analysts that the ghosts of the story are figments of the imagination of Miss Giddens the governess.  They are perhaps products of psycho-sexual guilt and take the form of a man and a woman, two deceased former servants that were in an adulterous relationship. Thus her  “mind churns out the spirits, and her eyes act as the projectors. The house is the screen on which she sets her spirits free.” (quote from the article).

So, what kind of ghosts project from the mind of Bret Easton Ellis’ protagonist, who just happens to be a Bret himself, albeit a fictionalized version of himself?  Don’t expect your typical semi-transparent wraith of some former living person. Instead expect some kind of demonic possession of a bird doll, a toy of his step daughter. Be prepared to try and make sense of Bret’s confusion as the furniture in his house rearranges itself overnight into a layout of a former date. Scratch your head and ponder what it might mean that decorations from his childhood home appear in his new house. But there are certain things that move about like ghosts. From his neighbor’s backyard he can see shadows and silhouettes on the shades of his upper windows when there is no one home.  Then there are the muddy tracks that lead away from a make-believe grave that stands in his yard, leftover from Halloween. The trackings suggest a corpse-like figure might have slid across the grass. And I can’t forget to mention the characters from his books that escape from his novels to stalk him. Patrick Bateman, the Wall Street psychopath with the Armani suit slashes his way out of the novel American Psycho and find his way to Lunar Park to fuck with Bret’s mind. 
What do Jayne and the children think of all this? They think he’s going crazy. He is using drugs again and has been having hangovers daily. Quite the unreliable narrator that Bret! What’s really happening here is up to suggestion, as if often the case in works of this nature. It’s a post-modern piece and similar to works such as The Grip of It and House of Leaves in that there is a lot of symbolism directed at households and relationships.  Yet real horrific things happen in this story. People are murdered. Children go missing.

Lunar Park succeeds in creating a tone of bitter confusion. It’s the story of a character in uncomfortable surroundings; how can a man be at peace in the fictionalized lifestyle of a family man when he’s not even comfortable in his own skin? This foreign environment of a house in the burbs is vastly different from the bachelor lifestyle in upper Manhattan. Readers sense this disparity by confronting the sense of unreality that the book lays out quite well. 

This is a good book to read at the beginning of the Halloween season. The story kicks off at a Halloween party that Bret and his wife throw at their house that will eventually be haunted. They spare no expense on decorations. Costumed folks fill their many rooms, and what a great place for one of Bret’s psychotic characters of previous books to disguise himself! This party launches the story and plants the seeds of derealization that grows and spreads across the pages. It’s a great book. I think you will enjoy it. 

 

The Old Dark House – William Castle and Hammer Film Productions version of an old James Whale Classic

 

It’s zany. It’s stupid. It’s bizarre. It’s both fun and funny. It’s nonsensical. It’s goofy! It’s dimwitted. It’s entertaining. It’s silly. It’s not boring. It’s a WTF kind of movie.

Were there enough keywords to trap you search engine surfers inside of William Castle and Hammer Film Productions’ 1963 version of The Old Dark House?  I hope so. And as long as you’re here, look at the trailer.

 

 

This film is quite different from the 1932 original film by James Whale, although both are billed as dark comedies. Hammer Film Productions are known for their remakes of the classic Universal Pictures monster/horror films. They took Dracula and the Frankenstein monster and put them up on screen in color for the very first time. Their remakes were more graphic and sexy. Supposedly, Hammer’s Dracula was the first time the legendary monster had fangs, inserted into the mouth of Sir Christopher Lee himself!

Sometimes these Hammer remakes worked well, other times they did not. Take the The Old Dark House for instance. Whale gave us a creepy, atmospheric movie about..uh..well, about an old, dark house. In this black and white film, shadows danced, candles flickered, people screamed, and eccentric characters behaved quite eccentric-like. It is a bizarre film. Now, remove all that fancy cinematography, add a bunch of color, but keep a houseful of eccentrics. Not the same characters, but different ones, new weirdos for a new age. Does it work? Well the film never breaks down or catches on fire or anything like that. It’s just weird in a different kind of way. The original film is like “Oh wow man, this shit is so weird and stuff! Give me another hit!” The remake is like, “Okay. This is, like, weird..and stuff. But I guess I’ll keep watching. It’s something different than anything else that’s on TV right now.”

On TV – that’s right, I saw the 1963 version of The Old Dark House on television last Saturday night on a program that I have referenced many times here at this blog – Svengoolie! With interesting trivia and fitting jokes along with a musical parody, horror host Svengoolie makes the viewing fun!

The story is as follows. Remember that older chap on the Newhart show named George Utley? If you are under the age of forty, chances are you are saying “no.” Well back in OldDarkHouseCastle21963, he was a younger chap, the young Tom Poston and he is the star of this film. He plays a car salesman by the name of Tom Penderel who is tasked with the job of delivering a car to a client who resides nightly, not daily, but nightly, at The Old Dark House. He performs his task and discovers he had no way to get home. Then a storm comes and this forces him to spend the night at this house…with several strange people!

Meet the Femm family. There are Uncle Femmes and Auntie Femmes, Cousin Femmes and Father Femmes and daughter Femmes and twin brother Femmes. It’s a wonder that the  Violent Femmes failed to make an appearance.  Any diddly doodles, it turns out that the whole family is cursed to spend every night at this old,dark house or they will lose their rights to their inheritance. The dead benefactor, some long since dead Femm guy,  had a stipulation in his will that each possible inheritor would forfeit his/her inheritance if they did not return to the house before midnight each and every night. Finally, someone gets sick of this arrangement and plans a night of murder and mayhem. Murder all those other people so that, when all is said and done, only one person will be left alive – the murderer, and since that last person will then be the sole inheritor, know more of that “return to the house” long before midnight business! And wouldn’t you know it, this all plays out on the same night that the innocent Tom  gets stranded at this house? As Led Zeppelin said, Poor Tom.  

What ensues in a good ol’ fashion game of Clue. Is the killer that weird uncle that keeps zoo animals locked away in case another biblical flood occurs? It the killer that weird old mother that knits knits knits in pursuit of a finished product that can be measured in miles? Who knows. But murder is afoot. A person will be found with long needles rammed through the neck, and the laughs keep on coming!

Let’s see, what to the professional reviewers think of this flick. Oh no, on imdb it averages 5.4 out of 10 stars. While there are no critical ratings at rottentomatoes.com the average  audience reviews comes in at a mere 17%. On the other hand, the original flick stands at 7.1 out of 10 stars at imdb and comes in at a 100% rating among critics on rottentomatoes, with an audience favorability rating of 72%)

Let’s forgive this remake though, shall we? It means no harm. It’s trying its best to have fun. And it is fun. Stupid, but fun. It’s not a great movie. It’s not even a good movie. It’s not really a haunted house film either but I am featuring it here at this blog to compare it with the original, which I have reviewed here. While the original really doesn’t have the ghostly elements of a haunted house movie either, it has the mood and atmosphere and is both dark and spooky while absurdly funny. 

Oh just go ahead and give it a looksie and don’t take it seriously. Who knows, you might have fun with it.

 

 

(A) Stir of Echoes – Book and Movie Comparison

StirOfEchoesBoyHappyNewYear
My first blog post of the new year! 2020! Woo Hoo and stuff! Time to look forward! Time to reflect on the past. But when doing the latter, be careful not to get overwhelmed in those “Stir of Echoes’!  Or is it “A Stir of Echoes”? That depends on whether we are referring to the book (A Stir of Echoes) or the movie (Stir of Echoes). In this case both will suffice, for I’ll be discussing both the film and the novel!

So, whatdidja’ think about my intro and how I segued from New Years thoughts to a creepy tale of the paranormal? Pretty nifty, huh? You are saying “no.”  Oh. Well sorry. I just had to fit in some kind of “Hey it’s a new year” subject here at this blog. It’s obligatory. Everyone’s doing it! But since I don’t have any thoughts on 2019 vs. 2020, resolutions, and all those hyped-up concepts, I  thought I would simply begin the first post of the year doing what I do best – writing about scary stories. They were there in 2019, more will come in 2020. More still will come in the new decade and so many came out in all those decades of the past.

Right now, I want to go back a couple decades, back to that old century we left behind in 2000-2001. Not that far back into it. Not yet. For now, let’s go to the tail end of those 1900 years – the Prince year of 1999.

Back in 1999, four guys went to the movies. We saw The Blair Witch Project. Afterwards we went to a bar where we graded the film over beers. I gave it an A, John gave it a B, Greg a C, and Arvin gave it a D. Quite the spread!  Left with much to be desired but still in the mood for a horror movie, Arvin suggested we regroup and see some Kevin Bacon horror me. (Really? Thought me. Kevin Bacon, that pretty boy?! In a horror flick? (I had forgotten he had already starred in Friday the 13th way back when)). Anyway, we went for it (Greg stayed home), and to my surprise I enjoyed it. It was a chilling ghost story packed with mystery and suspense, taking place in my favorite city, Sweet Home, Chicago! I loved seeing familiar sites up there on the big screen. 

“Did I pick good, Cheely?” Arvin asked, “Now wasn’t that better than that Blair  Witch Project?”

Now I don’t know about that, Arv! They were two different  movies, apples and oranges my friend. But you made your point; Stir of Echoes is a decent  flick.

Many years later, I discovered this cool author dude named Richard Matheson when I read and wrote about his work Hell House. Who knew that this guy was a beloved Sci-Fi and horror writer that gave us many books that were turned into movies? Such  films include I am Legend, What Dreams May Come, The Legend of Hell House (Book =Hell House, no “The Legend”), The Incredible Shrinking Man (Book = The Shrinking  Man, no “Incredible”), and yes, “Stir of Echoes” (Book = A Stir of Echoes, this time the author’s  title has more words than the film title. Well, just one more word  = the letter “A”.)  

Again I ask, “Who knew?” 

Hypothetical Reader:  Uh, Mr. Blogger Man, a lot of people  knew this.

Me:  Okay, but did these people “in the know” also realize  that Matheson was a prolific writer for the original Twilight  Zone series?

Hypothetical Reader:  Yeah, they did.

Well, I didn’t  know any of this until about eight years ago, approximately  twelve years after I saw the movie. But it wasn’t until a few months ago that I finally read  A Stir of Echoes. Very good book.  And, to make sure that I still enjoyed the film, I watched  it again a few nights ago. Did I still like it? I did.

Now, is the book different from the movie? Yes, in significant ways. David Koepp, writer/director of Stir of Echoes does things differently. Can a Hollywood  writer (Koepp) known for writing major action and superhero movies (Jurassic  Park, Indiana Jones and The Kingdom  of the Crystal Skull, Mission Impossible , Spiderman ) be on par with telling the same yet different story as the great Matheson? For the most part, with a couple of exceptions, the answer is “yes”

Let’s explore the plot and some key similarities/differences between the film and the book.


 

In both mediums, the generic story is as follows:

After a family man, (both a husband and father) undergoes hypnosis, he awakens with psychic sensitivities. He will use this special “sight” to explore unsolved mysteries that take place in his neighborhood. Warning: the consequences in meddling in these areas can be deadly! 

 

So far, so good. Now I shall present two expansions of this synopsis. One for the book and one for the movie. Here I go, wish me luck! 

Book Synopsis

This is a tale of a man , Tom Wallace, who is hypnotized by his brother-in-law. After hypnosis, he gains psychic abilities. He can read the minds of others, he can forecast future events. He can sense danger abroad. He can communicate with the dead, as evidenced by his confrontations with the spirit of a woman that is apparently haunting his house. 

The story takes place in the suburbs, where families go about their lives. With his newfound abilities, drawn shades become transparent – in a metaphoric sense (He’s not a Peeping Tom!) He can “see” into the private lives of his neighbors. What dark secrets to they harbor?  What past tragedies have defined their modus operandi? Answers come slowly inside little peeks, like that of a person looking into a small hole in a fence, it’s aperture limiting the view of the large scene that is being acted out. It is a voyeuristic talent that he never asked for or wanted.

In the process, readers are treated to various stories concerning different families in the neighborhood. The book also examines the struggles that come when he is suddenly  “gifted” with psychic abilities and the strain that this exclusive knowledge has upon his marriage and his job. Anne, his wife, is troubled by her husband’s strange and sudden ability to “know things”.  His son Richard, approximately three or four years of age, will be dragged unwittingly into this dangerous game of crime-solving. Does he possess a special sight as well? 

Movie Synopsis

Tom Witzky is hypnotized by his sister-in-law. After hypnosis, he gains psychic abilities. These talents are forced into use by the ghost of a dead teenage girl. He comes to realize that she haunts his house, where he lives with his wife Maggie and his son Jake, who is approximately six years old. Jake has been communicating with the ghost girl since before the events that take place in the movie. Only after Tom is hypnotized does he have  after encounters with the ghost girl. Nearly all of Tom’s episodic moments of clairvoyance point to the mystery surrounding the girl’s death. Throughout the movie, he follows these clues until he discovers a startling secret that involves some of his neighbors.

Right from the get-go, viewers know that they are watching a ghost story movie. Most of the events of the movie are tied to this ghost story. His marriage becomes strained as he and his son Jake, both now possessing psychic abilities,  form a bond to the exclusion of Maggie. This bonding has to do with the mystery surrounding the ghost girl.

*********************

Notice a difference between these two descriptions? The second one has more emphasis on the ghost story, doesn’t it? But there are other differences as well. These differences might make more sense with more details. But I tried to juxtapose them in such a way so as to not give away too many spoilers. Going forward, I will not be so concerned with spoiling the plot. I will provide specific details that point out the major differences. So if you don’t want to have the plot spoiled, read no further!!!

Oh No! Spoilers Below! Oh No! Spoilers Below! Oh No! Spoilers Below! Oh No! Spoilers Below!

There are several subplots occurring in this story. In the end, it is the story that surrounds the ghostly elements of the plot that ties most of the various subplots together, both in the film and the novel. The book doesn’t let on that this is happening until the very end. However, the book does cover a broader spectrum of events concerning what Tom sees with his special powers – not everything that enters his special sphere of awareness has to do with the ghost story. 

Let’s go over some “for instances.” While at work, Tom suddenly has a premonition that something has happened to his wife. He rushes home and discovers that his wife had an accident and hurt her head. This event occurs in the book but is absent from the movie and it has nothing to do with the ghost story. Other examples include Tom’s ability to know the gender of his pregnant wife’s unborn baby (in the book and not the movie. Remember – the book was published in 1958 – they did not have the medical technology that they have today to ascertain the gender of a pregnant woman’s unborn baby.). Both the film and the novel cover the moment when Tom suddenly knows that his wife’s father?/mother?/grandmother? (I forget which) has passed on before the fateful phone call came. But the book covers this event in much more detail.

The best example of a difference between being part of the ghost plot/not being part of the ghost plot has to do with The Babysitter.

The Babysitter From Hell

In the book, the Tom and Anne go out to dinner, I believe, (they could have been at a movie, a concert, but this is irrelevant), leaving little Richard with a babysitter. While at the evening event, Tom is struck with the notion that Richard is in grave danger! They rush home just in time to thwart an attempted kidnapping on the part of the babysitter. This has nothing to do with the ghost story.

In the movie, Tom and Maggie are to attend a sporting event with their neighbors. Alas, the babysitter cancels. But little Jake mysteriously suggests that his mother should call a sitter named Debbie Kozac. Maggie checks around and finds that the teenaged Debbie comes highly recommended. As it turns out, the teenage ghost girl told Jake to mention Debbie to her mother.

Tom and Maggie attempt to attend the event. Before entering into the stadium. Tom suddenly realizes that Jake is being kidnapped. He rushes back to the house, but Jake and the babysitter are no longer there. Intuitively, he knows to check at the nearby train station. Once there, he discovers Debbie holding Jake. Ah, but she is not trying to flee with him aboard some train! It turns out that Debbie was only bringing the boy to his mother who works at the station. She wants Jake to tell the mother about a conversation he was having  that she overheard. Jake claimed to be talking to Samantha Kozac, Debbie’s somewhat mentally challenged older sister who had disappeared without a trace. The official story was that Samantha had run away but Debbie and her mother don’t believe that. This kidnapping-by-the- babysitter plot ties in very much to the ghost story.

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So, what’s the deal with Samantha Kozac? We’ll get to that, but let’s back up a bit and explore differences in terms of setting and characters before we get to the “biggie”!

The Neighborhood

 

In the book, the story takes place in the suburbs of…is it California? I forget, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s a generic suburban setting with lawns,houses on either side and across the street, with “the plant” nearby where Tom and his buddy across the street carpool together to work. Middle class all the way.

In the movie, the story takes place in a Chicago neighborhood. It is a white man’s blue collar neighborhood  all the way. Neighbors have beer parties and barbecues on the street, they talk of sports and men to their manly things (fathers are proud of their football playing sons). They talk with neighborhood accents. 

(Note: It was cool seeing scenes from neighborhoods such as Logan Square, Lincoln Park. But, uh, production guys? These ain’t blue collar hoods. These are gentrified yuppie havens. No middle-aged white men with thick gray mustaches acting all machismo. For that you go to the South Side. But hey, doesn’t affect the story, I know.  I’m just saying..)

Who are the People in Your Neighborhood? 

 

The bookStirofEchoesBookOlderLet’s see, nextdoor to that Wallace’s there is a couple, forgot their names, but the woman is very flirtatious and often her nasty thoughts are broadcasted onto Tom Wallace’s most receptive mind.

Across the street there is Frank and Elizabeth Wanamaker. Frank is Tom’s buddy. But Frank is quite the asshole, and he is always cheating on his wife and putting her down. Somewhere on the other side of the Wallace’s are his landlord and landlady, Harry and Mildred Santas. See, the Wallace’s are only renting the house they live in.  They are an older and quite private couple. Harry is a bit cantankerous. Before renting the house to the Wallace’s, they allowed Mildred’s sister Helen Driscoll to live there. But one day she just ran away, leaving a note announcing her departure, and they had never heard from her since. 

The movie – Tom’s buddy is Frank McCarthy who lives down the street with his wife Sheila and their teenage college-bound son Adam. Frank is played by Kevin Dunn in the movie, and Kevin truly is a Chicago guy! Adam is a budding football star.

Tom leases his house from Harry Damon, who I believe lives across the street. Sporting a gray mustache, he has a son named Kurt who is Adam’s age. Kurt and Adam are buddies.

The Hypnotist

 

The book – It is Anne’s brother that hypnotizes Tom. He is a licensed hypnotherapist.

The movie – It is Maggie’s sister that hypnotizes Tom. She is a pot-smoking, new age flake.

The Creepy Boy – Tom’s Son

 

The book – Little Richard is perhaps 3-4 years old. It is hinted that he might be a “sensitive” like his father. At one point, the ghost communicates through his little voice. 

The Movie – No “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts,” about it, Jake,who is older than the Richard of the book, is one psychic little dude, more so than his father will ever be. The movie begins with him talking to a ghost, before we are even introduced to Tom. I think the movie was going for a “creepy kid” angle.

 

The Gun Shot

 

The book – Tom hears a gunshot before it happens. He rushes to the scene where the shooting is to take place. But alas, it has already happened. Elizabeth Wanamaker has shot her husband Frank and then has fainted. Frank survived the shooting and he doesn’t press charges against his wife. It was an “accident”. Turns out, Elizabeth has psychological issues.

The movie – Tom has a vision. He is standing in the house of his buddy Frank. Adam stands before him with a gun. An argument ensues. Is the kid going to shoot him? No. Instead he turns the gun on himself and pulls the trigger.

It turns out that Tom is seeing what Frank is about to see, looking through his eyes. Tom rushes to the house but he is too late, Adam has already pulled the trigger. Adam survives but he is in critical condition.

 

There’s a body in the house!

 

The book – Through a series of supernatural clues, Tom is convinced that Helen Driscoll, his landlady’s sister, had not run away and is in fact, sadly, dead. She is the ghost who is haunting their house. Perhaps Harry the landlord killed her. It turns out that Helen was promiscuous and had been shacking up with her sister’s husband. Maybe he killed her to keep the affair a secret (dead women tell no tales – or do they?). But he needed more evidence. Perhaps her body was hidden on the premises somewhere? In the movies, bodies are hidden in the lowest portion of the house, so he goes there, to the crawlspace. Finally while in the crawlspace, his psychic intuition kicks in and he knows where to dig. 

This is perhaps the most awkward and rushed part of the book. His psychic proclivities do not lead him to the cellar but rather his knowledge of horror stories in general does this. Anyway, they find the murdered body of poor Helen.

The movie – Tom is convinced that the ghost of the teenage girl that haunts his house is Samantha Kozac. He postulates that she did not run away but instead was murdered. However he is troubled by all these psychic messages and he asks his sister-in-law to undo whatever she did to him under hypnosis to open his brain to the supernatural StirofEchoesBodinBagworld. She tries, but turning hypnosis, the spirit invades his mind and orders Tom to “DIG!”

Tom goes home and digs up the back yard. Finding nothing, he digs around in the cellar. Eventually he stumbles upon a wall with loose bricks. He removes the bricks and finds a hidden, enclosed space. There in the space is the body of Samantha Kozac wrapped in plastic.

 

The Big Reveal 

 

The book – After finding the body, Elizabeth Wanamaker pays the Wallaces a visit. She points a gun at them. What’s going on?

It turns out that she killed Helen. Not only was Harry sleeping with her, but Frank had been visiting her bedroom as well and Elizabeth found out about it. Elizabeth had watched Harry leave the house of his sister-in-law, knowing why he was there. When he was sure that he was gone, she snuck into the house and killed Helen with a fireplace poker, then buried the body under the house. It was she who forged the note about her running away.

A struggle ensues, but the Wallaces aren’t harmed. Elizabeth is locked away in a psychiatric hospital. 

The movie – Tom reaches out to touch the corpse of Samantha. When he does so, he receives a vision of what happened to Samantha in the final moments of her life. He sees with her eyes.

Before the Witzky’s move in to the rented house, the place is vacant. The landlord’s son Kurt uses the house as a place to party with his buddy Adam. The two boys lure Samantha into the house and attempt to rape her. In the struggle, they accidentally kill her. They hide the body and go to their fathers’ for help. The fathers, Harry the landlord and Frank, Tom’s buddy, agree to conceal the crime. When Tom finds out their secret,Harry and Kurt try to kill him but Frank intervenes and saves him.

 

Which is better – the film or the book?

 

Both the film and the book are very good. Each tells a similar story and both are successful at doing so. But I guess in this case the old adage is correct – the book is better than the film.

The book tells a broader story, even though the film does quite well with a more narrow tale. However, there is one part of the movie that I have failed to mention that cheapens the film a bit. I’ll mention it now.

Maggie and Jake are walking in a cemetery and they stumble upon a cop who also happens to be gifted with  “special sight.” The cop and Jake immediately recognize this about each other. The cop is a large black man and this whole exchange reminded me of The Shining, with the little Danny Torrence talking to the Overlook Chef Dick Halloran. It was kind of a rip-off moment if you ask me.

A later scene where the cop talks to Maggie reveals that both her husband and son are figuratively walking through a dark tunnel. Tom has a flashlight with a small beam whereas Jake has a large beam. In other words, Jake can see into the paranormal world much better than his father. The reason for this whole scene was not to explain to Maggie what is going on, but to explain to us, the viewers, what is happening with this father/son “gift”. How in the hell does this cop know all this? He just does. A rather contrived way to explain the whys and wherefores if you ask me.

Otherwise, both the book and the film are very good. I recommend both.

 

 

Classics: Horror: A True Tale – A Chilling Ghost Story for a Chilly Night (A Christmas Ghost Story Special)

She aged prematurely. Weary with a voice ridden with sighs, the spinster accepts these conditions. Still, Rosa wonders if all this was preventable. Perhaps if certain precautions were attended to, she could have avoided the happenings that solidified her fate on that night before Christmas many years ago, circumstances that make her story all too fitting for the literary category of tales concerning Christmas ghosts and haunted houses. 

Welcome  to the second  edition of Classics: – A Chilling Ghost Story for a Chilly Night. The title of the story for this edition is Horror: A True Tale, written by John Berwick  blackwoodscoverHarwood way back in 1861 for Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Volume LXXXIX, No 543. (see the accompanying photo for an example of what this magazine looked like). This piece is an example of a traditional Christmas ghost story, so appropriate for this wonderful time of the year! 

In the first edition of this series, (The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions), I explain my intentions. I’ll revisit a paragraph that summarizes these intentions well:

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

I will proceed according to the objectives specified in the above paragraph. First I’ll describe “the traditional Christmas ghost story” and then I’ll place Harwood’s chilling tale within its context and let the walk-through begin.

So, settle in, sit back and come with me inside a classic Christmas  story. We’ll wander into “certain” depths. As for the depths of “uncertainty”as to what scared this woman  so much on that festive yet fateful holiday night, it’s up to you to plunge deeper into her nightmare by reading the story  yourself. You can read it here for free – Horror: A True Tale by John Berwick Harwood. 

The Telling of Ghost Stories on Christmas Eve and the Plight of Poor Rosa

The telling of ghost stories on Christmas Eve was a common tradition back in them there days of yore. Many authors captured  this tradition in the stories they penned. Such stories usually begin at a Christmas gathering. Guests sit by a fire, their glasses are filled with wine. They have been well fed, their minds are a bit hazy, and they  listen to the “teller” as s/he speaks of a fanciful tale of witches, goblins, or sprites. Sometimes the story spoken by the narrator is the story that the author wishes to convey. The story itself might have little to do with Christmas activities, but the telling will take place on the Eve of the holiday. Other times the story told by the narrator is only a catalyst  for the horror that will take place to one of the listeners after the telling. Very likely, it will occur after the party winds down when the spooked listener prepares for bed. Such is the case here in Horror, a True Tale.

In my article Christmas Ghosts and Haunted  Houses I make the case for the “Christmas  Haunted House”, a recurring theme in Christmas  ghost stories. This is the place where the festivities  are taking place. It’s fun to listen to ghost stories in a place of warmth. The lighting might be limited for the sake  of atmosphere, but there is light , unlike the darkness that exists on the other side of the walls, outside, on a cold, windy night. Such weather will not be ignored  by the secluded party guests. Its winds will howl and tree branches will scrape against the eaves. The cold face of frost will press against the windows. All this adds to the scary entertainment. Fun additions. An added soundtrack accompanied by some visuals. Little  do they know that they are not only inside a Christmas ghost story but, worse yet, they are inside a Christmas haunted house. Such a house will gladly accept what I had called “winters symbolic doom” inside it’s walls. Once a place of cheer and stories, later a place to harbor the scary things of darkness that were previously confined to fancy. This is what happens to Rosa’s house.. And poor Rosa will be its victim.

All this anticipation – setting things up for the climatic event. This is 90% of Harwood’s tale. It’s all about the journey to the resolution, and this is quite all right, for any thoughtful traveller will tell you that it’s the journey itself that counts most.

Rosa, both lamenting and accepting of the life she led, robbed of love  and companionship, remembers all too well that fateful Christmas party in her father’s mansion; the shortage of sleeping  chambers, her strange godmother for whom she gave up her room. She will tell you about what went down. She will tell you how she  ended up sleeping in that chamber the servants whispered about. And you will listen if you are a curious person. But of course you are!

She will tell you of the tales told around the fireplace where the Yule’s log blazed, tales that caused her soul to shiver. Such a shivering would persist later that night as she escorts her strange godmother to the safe bedroom that was once hers but is no longer. The godmother  is a bit too knowing, and she offers that maybe they should share the room. Rosa refuses and walks the dark corridors into a wing of the house she had rarely entered , certainly never at night by candlelight. She will encounter those classic haunted house staples, such as the gallery with portraits of long since dead relatives with following  eyes. She will pass the armors of “once-upon-a-time knights” that stand menacingly in the shadows. All to get to a strange room where she will be alone. Or will she?

She will  imagine the things from the fireplace  stories joining her in her chamber. Will it be a walking corpse, a lifeless  skeleton?  

Never trust a strange sleeping chamber when you’re inside a haunted house story. Had she known she was but a character inside a chilling tale, she would have known better. 

This is as far as we will tread, readers. Tread further, y’all. Read the story. Join Rosa. Don’t leave her all alone.

 

Don’t “Overlook” the Film “Doctor Sleep” – The Overlook is Already Provided.

Ewan McGregor stars as Dan Torrance, a.k.a Doctor Sleep, which is also the title of the film that is up for review. “Doctor Sleep” is Dan’s nickname, given to him by patients at a hospice ward on account of the way he uses his psychic abilities to help dying patients “crossover” with peace and dignity. As much as he is loved at this ward, his talents are needed elsewhere. Dan Torrance will go on one hell of a psychic adventure.

In order to better understand what this is all about, a trip down memory lane is in order.

(Here be me pretending you don’t realize this a sequel to The Shining. Just go with it. Be all wowed and shit!)

The Book – The Shining

DoctorSleepOverlook1

Once upon a time there was a man named Stephen King. In 1977,  He went ahead and wrote a book that was called The Shining. This is my favorite book from this horror author icon and it helped to develop my love for haunted house stories. One of the main characters of the story is a little boy named Danny Torrance who possesses a sixth sense that is called “The Shining”. People who “shine” have the talent to read minds, see the future, talk with ghosts, and/or engage in many other psychic abilities, many of which plague the “shiner” with horrifying visions. Danny’s mean ol’ father, Jack,  brought little “Shining Danny” to The Overlook, a hotel in the mountains that also has “The Shining” (places can shine too). This hotel just loves to conjure ghosts from its past and replay the most bloody scenes that have ever happened on its premises. The Overlook uses little Danny as a battery in order to bring its own Shining abilities to full charge. A fully charged Overlook hotel drives Jack mad and turns him into a homicidal maniac. Jack tries to kill his family, even his dear little boy Danny.  In the end, Danny and his mother escape and The Overlook is blown to pieces. Jack perishes in the explosion.

The Book – Doctor Sleep

DrSleepBook

 

Again upon a time, this man named Stephen King wrote a sequel to his groundbreaking novel The Shining. The time was 2013. The novel is called Doctor Sleep.  Danny Torrance is all grown up. He works as an orderly at a hospice center where he uses his “shining” abilities to help dying patients pass over peacefully to the other side. He meets a little girl named Abra who reaches out to him telepathically. She too has “The Shining” and she is in danger. Abra is being pursued by a deadly gang of psychic vampires known as The True Knot. These folks have been living an unnaturally long life by killing children who “shine” and feeding off of their essence, which leaves their victims’ bodies  in the form of steam. By inhaling this steam, they can cheat death.. The True Knot. seeks to have the feast of a lifetime on Abra, for she is the “shiniest” of all and her essence will sustain these vampires for who knows how long. Dan Torrance comes to her aid, and there is a showdown on the grounds where the Overlook once stood. Dan and Abra vs Rose the Hat, the leader of the True Knot,. Even though the building is gone, its “shine” of remains. Will the residual vitality of the spirit of The Overlook somehow lend its strength to Dan and Abra? Or will it work to their disadvantage?

Wait a minute!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Overlook is no more, and yet I am including Doctor Sleep in my reviews of haunted house films.  Oh why would I go and do such a thing? Because, silly, that brief synopsis outlined in the preceding paragraph describes the book, but  I am reviewing the movie. Things are different with each medium. Think of it this way – The book Doctor Sleep is the sequel to the book The Shining. On the flip-side, The movie Doctor Sleep is a sequel to the film (not the book.) The Shining. To keep with the continuity of mood, the film is shot in the style of Stanley Kubrick, the late famed director that directed the film The Shining and gave it is signature eerie style. So you could say that the film Doctor Sleep, directed by Michael Flanagan, is very .  “Kubric-esque”, and this style is very much welcomed in my opinion. In Kubrick’s film, The Overlook remains standing at the end of the film, unlike in King’s book.. Does this mean that this creepy mansion up there in the snowy mountains of Colorado will once again open its doors to movie viewers? 

(Hypothetical Reader: Oh please let it be so! Please? Pretty please? Please tell me I will get to visit The Overlook again! Please? Oh why won’t you just say “yes?”)

(Me: Okay! YES!)

(Hypothetical Reader: Yay!!!!!!!!!! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap!)

DoctorSleepOverlook2

I am very happy to report that the film Doctor Sleep not only includes a fully intact and supernaturally functional Overlook Hotel but that its inclusion comes naturally and serves as a climactic plot device. The title of the article probably already gave this away, but I’m glad you are still giddy with relief. The film begins at The Overlook and comes full circle to finish at the hotel. And I like the film all the more for its inclusion. For this I am so grateful.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do like the way King ended The Shining with the hotel going “Kaplooie!!!!!” due to Jack Torrance’s negligence at keeping checks on the boiler. This ending was foreshadowed in the beginning of the book when Jack is trained on the boiler upkeep and is told to watch out, for “it creeps”, meaning that pressure builds and therefore the settings must be adjusted daily. Likewise, Jack himself fails to keep checks on his own boiler, meaning his temper and sanity. He too “blows” at the end. Brilliant symbolism!

Here’s how I breakdown my preferences. I do like the book The Shining better than the film, but the film is great and it comes in at a close second. I love the film. However, I do like the film Doctor Sleep better than the book. Flanagan’s vision triumphs over King’s, even though it is King’s story. Sorry Stephen, that’s just the way the Overlook crumbles. And it’s not just the presence of The Overlook that makes the film superior to the book. Other factors contribute to its superiority as well. Let’s take a look at some of those factors in the next section.

Doctor Sleep – Book Versus Movie

For the record, I did read Doctor Sleep. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the finer details of the story. In preparation for this article, I made an attempt to refresh my memory by searching my Kindle library, hoping to find the book and do some on-the-spot skim reading. Alas, it was not in my Kindle library. I must have downloaded it from Barnes and Noble on my Nook, which I don’t have anymore. And there was no way I was going to purchase it again. I did like the book, but I didn’t love it, certainly not enough to buy it again.

One of the problems I had with the book has to do with the way King portrays the True Knot. They are senior citizens travelling around in Winnebegos, wearing polyester clothing and straw sun hats. When they extract the psychic steam from their victims, which is  used to prolong their already lengthy lives (like vampires, their true ages are much greater than what their appearances suggest), what they don’t absorb there on the spot they store in canisters. Old people with canisters of vapor – to me this seems like a play on oxygen tanks, a device that many of our elderly are forced to possess. No, I’m not taking offense to any unintentional mockery of the plight of the elderly, I just think the whole set up is hokey. They just don’t strike me as a fearsome bunch, even though they do the unmentionable, i.e. killing and feeding off children.

In the movie, most of the True Knot have younger bodies. They appear to be in their thirties, forties and fifties. This would make sense, wouldn’t it? If they enjoy their prolonged lives so much, wouldn’t it make sense to do so in younger bodies? I seem to remember, in King’s defense, that yes, they would love to have less aged bodies, but they were running low on “steam” and disease and aging are catching up to them, much to their dismay. But their style of dress, i.e. polyester, and the way they present themselves, like escapees from a retirement home, all this just made me chuckle. In the movie, they dress in leather, have tattoos, wear hippie-like clothing. They come off as more of a threat. Yeah, yeah, the whole “retirement community dress-style and culture” serve the book characters well by making them the least suspect in regards to reports of missing children, but this setup didn’t serve me well as a reader ready to be horrified by a band of ruthless monsters. The elderly Satan worshipers of Rosemary’s Baby they are not. That clan of seniors worked for me. These did not.

The True Knot of the film; they held my respect as fearsome folks. They did a good job of making me hate them for their selfish and murderous acts. They are bad, bad people – and when the “good guys” get the upper hand, finally, there is relief. I nearly applauded during a scene when Dan Torrance and his friend are able to kill some of them – and I was in the theater without a companion! 

The canisters of steam are included in the film. But for some reason, they seem less hokey.  I don’t know why I have such “a steam” issue; maybe I should practice more self love. (get it? “a steam” vs. “esteem”? You don’t get it. Fine! Moving on). I just can’t help but question “do we all release steam on death or only people who “shine?” If only people who shine release such steam, then is it this “steam” that gives them their psychic abilities? To me it’s sort of like the midi-clorians of Star Wars, Lucas’s poorly received concept of micro organisms that grant the powers of The Force to its host. But anyway, scenes where the gang of “True Knotters” hover over a dying victim and inhale the steam bring to mind a pack of dogs fighting over a corpse’s bones. These scenes epitomize quintessential horror quite well,  so I won’t belabor the point any longer.  

While I don’t remember all the details of the book’s final showdown, I do remember that it was a bit drawn out. While it was not quite as bad as the grueling car chase in King’s Dreamcatcher, it still was a “page turner” in a different kind of sense – I kept turning the pages hoping for it to end.

This was not so with the movie. Not at all! Enter The Overlook!

The Showdown. Look, it’s The Overlook!

DoctorSleepDanAndAbra

Dan Torrance and Abra lure that last remaining member of The True Knot, Rose the Hat, to The Overlook. It still stands but it is shut down permanently. Dan Torrance knows how dangerous this place is for people who shine. He doesn’t want to return but he must, in the hopes that the Hotel will put an end to Rose’s reign of terror even if he has to die in the process.

Though I went to the theater alone, I clapped when I watched Michael Flanagan recreations of the wide angle tracking shots of The Overlook’s neighboring lake and mountains. It was late afternoon on a weekday, and I was one of five people in the theater. But I didn’t care, I was excited. The same eerie music made me feel right at home as well. I was a happy man and I knew I was in for a treat.

When he’s finally standing outside the deadly hotel, Dan knows that he needs to “wake the place up”.  He does so with his very presence. He enters the foreboding building and he slowly strolls the halls and relives some of the less finer moments of his childhood.  The axe holes in the walls are still there, holes carved out by his mad father once upon a time. 

During one of his hall strolling scenes, darkened ceiling lamps crackle to life when Dan passes under them. The feeling I got watching this was that I was back inside Flanagan’s’ vision of Hill House from his Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House. Creepy, luring and patient. I loved that series and I was giddy with anticipation watching a similar vision come to light inside The Overlook. There are plenty of Easter eggs – references and recreations of The Shining’s ghosts and deadly scenes. Here in this deadly arena “a Shining” battle will take place as heroes and villains turn their powers against each other. 

 Bringing it All Home – finishing the film in the style of King’s “The Shining”

Doctor Sleep the film ends in a similar way as The Shining the book. The first thing Dan Torrance does upon revisiting The Overlook is to re-calibrate the boilers so that they will blow the whole place to smithereens. A place like The Overlook is simply too dangerous to be left standing.  

Like his father before him, Dan will suffer a similar fate. The hotel possesses him. He runs around with an axe and tries to kill Abra, the girl he sets out to save. Just as he’s about to slam the axe inside her head, he temporarily comes to his senses. A similar situation happens in the book The Shining but not the movie. In the book, Dan breaks free from his trance for just a few moments, enough time to warn his son Danny to run. And run Danny does.  Likewise in the film Doctor Sleep with the grown up Danny and young Abra. At the end of Doctor Sleep the film, the hotel will go up in flames, just as it does in The Shining novel. I thought the film’s ending was a fitting tribute to King’s resolution.


 

By the time you read this piece, movie theaters will probably no longer be showing Doctor Sleep. When I saw it, there were only a few theaters left in the Chicago area showing this film. After seeing it, I began writing this review, then all of a sudden Thanksgiving weekend through me off course. But here it is, finally, and you might have to wait to stream or rent it. Oh but see it you must, by whatever means. Don’t Overlook Doctor Sleep!

Classics: The Beckoning Fair One – A Chilling Ghost Story for a Chilly Night

Beckoning2Ghost stories go so well with cold, dreary nights. There’s nothing that hits the spot on such an occasion like a classic ghost story. Sorry kids, a story written twenty years ago is hardly a classic. I’m referring to chilling tales that were penned more than a hundred years ago. Yes, these are the classics that we must allow into our warm dens on cold nights, for something about their ancient age prepares our immediate atmosphere for the immortal existence of the very ghosts that we seek to summons from the page. 

This post will hopefully be the beginning of a series. On many occasions I have read and written about  haunted house story collections. These would be single books that feature several ghost stories from various authors from across the ages. Too often I have reviewed these compilations as a whole while neglecting its most brilliant components – the individual stories themselves. Oh sure, I had singled out a story here and there, but in doing so I also left behind many great works that shared the same binding. Alas, in a single review, one cannot dive into the depths of each story that a compilation offers.. So here’s to some of the great stories I left behind, no longer to be lost at sea, roaring with the waves that push toward the shore to penetrate your awareness. So prepare yourselves for another post in the future with the same title format:

Classics: (story title) – A Chilling Ghost Story for a Chilly Night.

Elsewhere in this blog, I make a case for Christmas Ghosts and  Haunted House stories. It is true: traditionally, ghost stories were often spoken on Christmas Eve evenings. Ah, but one needs not the festivities of the Xmas holidays to bring in the ghosts; any old cold night will do. Outside your warm abode it is cold. Winds crack like death’s whip against your windows. The ethereal light of the night seeps through whatever gaps  of transparency your house allows; its scattered and slivering presence reminding you of the formidable darkness that has allowed for these glowing inklings to exist. But you are inside, perhaps feeling the warmth of a fire or heater. Soft is the chair you sit in, snug is your blanket.

Warm tea by your side, maybe with a hint of Brandy. And..there is your book. A captivating tale of a haunted house written in the nights of yore. In the earlier days, some of the best ghost stories were short ones.Short stories or novellas, to be read in one or two sittings. Perfect for such a night, to reach a conclusion, a completion. End the day, end the story, end the night. Sweet dreams.

The first in this series is The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions. This story was first published in 1911 in the Widdershins. I came across it in a compilation entitled Inhabited: Classic Haunted House Stories, which also features stories from Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Henry James, and several others. It is my intention not so much to review these stories as it is to walk through them much like a fearful visitor might walk through a haunted house. Hopefully I can capture the atmosphere without giving too much away. But while on the walk, there will be time for analysis here and there and room for stray thoughts that creep about like watchful specters. 

So, let’s get to it! The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions. It beckons and we abide. 

 


 

Beckoning3The “To-Let” boards hanging lopsided on a wooden fence tell all. The paling surrounds the old red brick building that somehow stands at a distance from the town square, even though through any of the house’s windows the town and its life can be easily taken in. But no one lives in any of the building’s flats. This sets the eerie scene and Paul Oleron stumbles into it, unwittingly casting himself as the soon-to-be-troubled protagonist – the renter of one of these flats.

Oleron is an author, approaching middle age. Never has he reached great success in his writings. He rents a small place to write, another to sleep, and yet another to store furniture inherited from his grandmother. It’s time, he feels, to consolidate. Bring everything together, layout his life and spread it across the rooms of one of these flats in the red building. Reflection time.What can possibly go wrong?

For those readers that appreciate a descriptive setting, you’ve come to the right place. The house will grab you, just as it grabs Oleron, with its pictorial focal points at various intersections of walls and doorways, with the way his furnishings blend into the makeup of the place, with the overall mood set by the moonlight that creeps into the windows, or the flickering light of the candles. Or by the shadows. Shadows.  All in all, it’s a most appropriate place to cast (project?) one’s shadows and watch them brood.

Projection, in psychology  “is a form of defense in which unwanted feelings are displaced onto another person, where they then appear as a threat from the external world.” (from Britannica.com ) 

In my musings of haunted houses of literature, I often expand on the projection theory to include the inanimate as the target of such displacement. This would be the house, which paradoxically, becomes eerily animated in its own way.  The occupant, the protagonist, casts the dark shadows of his soul onto the house, and in return, the house haunts him back.

However Oleron does not see the house as a threat. Quite the opposite. Likewise, he does not understand that his own inner-workings will be his undoing. His friend sees this quite well. Her name is Elise Bengough. But he will not listen to her. Oh what in heavens is going on?

Paul Oleron has written fifteen chapters of his up and coming novel “Romilly.”  Elise is certain that her friend’s novel will be a masterpiece. It is sentimental, it is worldly, the character Romilly, she embodies romance; Romilly is Elise herself!  But Oleron is not like this, nor does he want to be partnered with a woman of these qualities, not in his work (the novel), not in his life (a prospective romantic relationship with Elise). No, “Romilly” is all wrong, and he will start anew, rework those fifteen chapters, recreate Romilly into a more fitting character, much to the dismay of Elise. She begs him not to do this. But Oleron sees things differently.

Oleron questions his life. His career as an author has not made him happy. And though his seemingly only friend, Elise Bengough, is devoted to him like no other, he questions his relationship with her. There has to be a better pairing, a better life.

His new house is a step in the right direction. Here he is “paired” with something that is “right”. Elise disagrees. She hates the place, and Paul loves it and courts it as if were a welcoming lover, possessed with the kind of feminine spirit which he desires. The house in turn seems to despise Elise. It stabs her with nails where no nails should be. It captures her foot on the stairway, the sturdy board of the step sinking in as she puts her weight on it.

Ah but our Oleron, he’s so smitten by the place that he even appreciates its audible idiosyncrasies, like the dripping of the faucet.  Drip, drip, drip! He even creates a tune to this rhythm of drips. But it isn’t a tune of his creation. He later learns that the little ditty that crept out of his head was an old song of which he had never heard. It is called “The Beckoning Fair One.”  Oh he is being beckoned alright, and he takes other sounds that the house will offer him, causing him to muse that the “whole house (is) talking to him had he but known its language.”  (quote taken directly from the novella)

Maybe this is the beginning of the haunting. It’s hard to tell, because the haunting creeps up on him subtly, like a gentle breeze. There are no outright “boos!” in this story and isn’t it better this way? Isn’t it more fitting that we, like Olderon, are lulled into such a haunting and slowly wrap ourselves in its clutches, mistaking its trappings for a false warmth? I think so.

The way Oleron blends so willingly into the house and its hauntings makes him think that, perhaps, he is like a ghost. From the novella:

“his own body stood in friendly relation to his soul, so, by an extension and an attenuation, his habitation might fantastically be supposed to stand in some relation to himself. He even amused himself with the far-fetched fancy that he might so identify himself with the place that some future tenant, taking possession, might regard it as in a sense haunted. It would be rather a joke if he, a perfectly harmless author, with nothing on his mind worse than a novel he had discovered he must begin again, should turn out to be laying the foundation of a future ghost!”

Ah but there is another ghost! Maybe. Perhaps.

“Formerly, Oleron had smiled at the fantastic thought that, by a merging and interplay of identities between himself and his beautiful room, he might be preparing a ghost for the future; it had not occurred to him that there might have been a similar merging and coalescence in the past. Yet with this staggering impossibility he was now face to face. Something did persist in the house; it had a tenant other than himself.”

The ghost of the story, if there is one, is feminine, a female. But she will not express herself in the form of a traipsing phantom. At her most literal she will be the “other occupant” of the house, whose presence is mostly felt and not seen. “She” is at her strongest whenever Paul rethinks his feelings about both the original Romilly and Elise Bengough and begins to accept them. “She” will put an end to this nonsense with her beckoning.

When is “she” the most transparent, the most objective, plainly existing outside of Oleron’s head? Perhaps it’s when she manipulates the comb. At first this hair-combing phenomenon occurs via a phantom sound only. It’s electric, static producing, and steady. Later he will see evidence of this phenomenon. A lesser story might go about this by showing a ghostly feminine figure tooling with her ethereal hair. A better but even still lesser story would omit the visual apparition and offer only the sight of a phantom comb going up and down in the air. But Paul Oleron, living inside a more patiently profound tale, will witness only the reflected candlelight upon the comb through the reflection of the glass that holds his dear grandmother’s face inside a picture frame. It is this light that bobs in the darkened room. And the crackling sound does its thing.

A dilemma is before him. What is the meaning of this occurrence? The novella expresses it this way:

Granted that he had not the place to himself; granted that the old house had inexpressibly caught and engaged his spirit; granted that, by virtue of the common denominator of the place, this unknown co-tenant stood in some relation to himself: what next? Clearly, the nature of the other numerator must be ascertained

Oleron would go on to obsess over this dilemma. And over Romilly. And over Elise. He would come to despise the latter two. (In Romilly’s case, it would be the woman of his original creation. The new Romilly? Would that ever come to be?). But he will become infatuated with the mystery tenant to the point that he would wait for her to express herself night after night after night at all costs. Many nights, there would be no expressions, leaving him heartbroken, alone.

I think we have gone far enough into this story, far enough into Oleron’s  strange abode with the mysterious female occupant , assuming she does in fact exist. You, reader, are always welcome  to venture further, then you will find out what happens to the endlessly devoted Elise, and you will then also know whether or not Oleron finishes his novel. Will you solve the mystery  concurring the strange occupant? This is a novella crammed with many possible interpretations. For a medium-sized story it is filled to the brim. 

So the next chilly  night when you’re in mood for a ghost story to encapsulate your restful  sitting, The Beckoning Fair One  is there, Beckoning you. Go for it.

Stephen King’s “Rose Red” – A Haunted House Miniseries

Haunted Houses of Miniseries

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(Picture above be the Rose Red House. It be big!)

Up until now, I have restricted my reviews of haunted house stories to those that came from the mediums of film and literature. The stuff of other media service providers I have ignored. It’s time to take a look at the haunted house fiction that has stemmed from some of these alternate service providers. Mainly, I’m referring to a trending phenomenon known as the “mini-series,” which is defined by Wikipedia as “a television program that tells a story in a predetermined, limited number of episodes.” 

Yes folks, it’s time to branch out beyond the big screen, for exclusive programming from services such as Netflix and Hulu have in some cases eclipsed the popularity of traditional films. Likewise, programs from cable networks such as FX have successfully cemented themselves in the American psyche. The “miniseries” is a big factor in all this (Think Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things)  Hell, I have to acknowledge that even traditional over-the-air television has produced some analytic-worthy miniseries about haunted houses.  And acknowledge I do in this blog post that is dedicated to a haunted house miniseries that aired on ABC for three consecutive nights back in January, 2002. Okay, so this might not be the best example of a “trending phenomenon”, given that this aired seventeen years ago, but oh well, sue me, this post/review/article is about Rose Red, screenplay by Stephen King, directed by Craig R Baxley. 

What are some examples of haunted house themed miniseries that are more current? Well, the most recent I can think of is Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, which is very loosely based on Shirley Jackson’s acclaimed novel. Another is American Horror Story: Murder House which aired on AMC. AHS has featured several haunted houses in there many seasons, but I believe “Murder House” is the most known.  There are probably other haunted house miniseries stories out there, but these are the three that come to my mind as I write this article.  I have seen all three. Which is the best of the three? Definitely The Haunting of Hill House. Which is the second best? Probably American Horror Story: Murder House. Poor ol’ Stephen King is bringing up the rear. Too bad, because he wanted his series to be a memorable tribute to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, for his story is very similar to Jackson’s famous novel. Years later, Mike Flanagan (creator of the Netflix The Haunting of Hill House series) would succeed with this in ways that King’s story could not.  Even so, Rose Red is an entertaining piece of work.

In the future I will write up articles on The Haunting of Hill House and American Horror Story: Murder House.  But for now, it’s all about Rose Red. In fact, over the past month, I’ve hosted four watch parties at my Facebook Page, with the subject of each viewing being Rose Red. Four Sundays of October – Rose Red Part 1, 2, 3 and 4 was streaming to the world. This satisfied my craving to do something different this year to celebrate the Halloween season. A couple of people actually watched! For a few minutes here and there. The day after each viewing (those Manic Mondays, ugh!), I wrote a plot summary of the previous night’s story line. 

To read up on the specifics of the story, follow the links below (there will be spoilers)

Rose Red Part 1

Rose Red Part 2

Rose Red Part 3

Rose Red Part 4

Since I have already detailed the plot, I will focus mostly on analysis, review, opinion and trivia in the paragraphs that follow. I will retread through some of the plot basics when it pertains to the analysis, or when it just insists on sticking its head into the conversation.  Ah well, let’s just see what happens. Here I go!

Here begins the Plot-In-Brief (very brief)

(you mean it’s already sticking its head in the conversation?)

(yeah it is, deal with it!)

A professor of parapsychology pays a team of psychics to spend a weekend at a rumored haunted house. The professor, Dr. Joyce Reardon, theorizes that the collective sensitivities of the team to paranormal activity will work toward stimulating the house to behave ever so hauntingly. The goal is to obtain verifiable data from the haunting that will hopefully legitimize the science of parapsychology.  So they get to work. Ghostly stuff happens. Things get dangerous. People die.

Here ends the Plot-In-Brief

 


(Intermission song – La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La La.  Okay song and intermission is now over.)


The influences behind Stephen King’s Rose Red

Now my faithful readers, does anything in the “Plot-in-Brief” section seem familiar? It should if you’re a fan of literary haunted houses. The plot also describes Shirley Jackson’s novel “The Haunting of Hill House” to a tee. This is no accident. Stephen King wrote Rose Red with Jackson’s story in mind. There will be more detail on this later.  But his influences don’t stop there. No siree Bob! King also draws heavily from the legend surrounding the very real Winchester House; a (haunted?) house that was in a constant state of expansion (Rose Red expands – on its own supernatural accord!)

Wikipedia provides details regarding The Haunting/The Haunting of Hill House/Winchester influences. And I will draw more from this article later regarding this subject (ooo, that’s the second time I promised this! Will I fulfill on this promise?)   But I venture further than Wikipedia and argue that King borrows much from Robert Morasco’s Burnt Offerings, a story about a house that rejuvenates by killing its occupants. 

Since the key plot points in these other works/situations play out so similarly in Rose Red, might the argument be made that King simply stole these ideas? 

Before I answer that question, let me point out that my favorite novel by King, The Shining,  was in fact the outcome of several influencing factors. The great tectonic plates of haunted house literature coming together to create the mountain that is The Shining. Such plates are Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Marasco’s Burnt Offerings, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher and The Masque of the Red Death.  In my article about The Shining, I defend King this way:

Yes, Stephen King borrowed from many sources. But this is not a criticism. The final product which he assembled from the various themes was indeed a masterpiece. He is like a chef that uses only the finest ingredients to concoct his stew. One does not bitch that the chef stole from the line cooks that prepped the meat, potatoes and carrots. Rather, one enjoys all the makings of this tasty treat.

(Oh yeah, going back to my “three haunted house mini series” declaration way at the beginning, I am now reminded of a fourth. This would be The Shining – not to be confused with the movie. But I already reviewed it, so there’s that!)

“Tasty treat” = “The Shining”, according to me. I continue to agree with this. However, I must clarify that sometimes a chef can throw together all these typical ingredients, creating a concoction that is distinctive and compelling; a unique mixture that is to die for. (People die in these works of King!) But there are other times when the chef mixes together the same ingredients and the result is something only slightly better than bland. This would be Rose Red.

In The Shining, King utilizes his influences to build on a story that has never been told before. But with Rose Red, the influences are indeed the same stories told in a slightly different way. This is the main difference. The result is a series that is entertaining but far from great.

So I guess those that insist that King stole these ideas have some merit to their argument. However, King’s main goal with Rose Red was all about replication. Originally, he wanted to write a remake of  Robert Wise’s 1963 film The Haunting (which is based on Shirley Jackson’s book The Haunting of Hill House), but one thing led to another, and he ended up rewriting the script so that it could be distinctive from Wise’s film. (This is part 1 of my promise fulfillment. And there will be a Part 2!) 

If King is a “thief” (and for me that is too harsh a word), then the modern day master of modern horror stole from himself as well. As I was going on and on about  “The Shining,” I failed to mention that its themes play out in Rose Red. For that matter, so do some of the themes in his first novel Carrie. How, you may ask?  I’ll tell you what – I’ll describe how all the influences that I have mentioned find their way into Rose Red.  Read on!

How is Rose Red  like The Haunting  of Hill House?

Here is how both stories play out. A team of investigators led by a professor stay at a house that is rumored  to be haunted in an attempt to hopefully scientifically study paranormal activity. The team is made up of psychics or people that are somehow attuned to psychic activity. In both stories, the current heir of the house is present as well to either protect  his interests or help the team to better understand the layout of the house. I know, I know, I covered much of this way at the beginning of the article. I’ll move on.

Both houses are said to be “born bad,” meaning that they are not a neutral object   temporarily afflicted with ghosts. In Rose Red Professor Joyce Reardon uses this phrase to describe Rose Red,  accurately attributing it to Shirley Jackson. 

Both houses once belonged  to a well-to-do families that  suffered many tragedies over the years. The backstory  of both houses are long and complicated and each house has quite possibly “worked on” its occupants  over the years, causing them to die or disappear.

How is Rose Red Like Burnt  Offerings?

Both  houses in each story feed off of its occupants in order to rejuvenate or simply stay alive. The Haunting of Hill House does not necessarily  actively seek out occupants  to eat, to the best of my knowledge, even though some people, due  to their psychic or emotional makeup, are more likely to become possessed by the house  or lose their soul to it. The current owner of Rose Red, Steven Rimbauer , claims his house has eaten his relatives over the years.

Also, in both houses, dying plants blossom  and come to life as its human occupants perish.

How is Rose Red  like the legend surrounding The Winchester  House?

The Winchester  House is a real house that was owned by the heiress of the Winchester Rifle  fortune. It was under constant construction as new editions were being added all the time. Some of the designs were rather arcane, such as doors and stairways leading to nowhere.

Why the never ending construction? One theory suggests that the heiress was super generous and just wanted to keep the construction crew employed. Another theory offers a simpler explanation: the heiress was batty as fuck.

Ahh, here comes the more fun theory. It has been rumored that the ghosts  of those that died by the bullets of Winchester rifles haunted the house. In order to make room for all these spirits, the heiress had to constantly  build and add on. It didn’t matter if the interior layout made sense or not, just as long as the house was in a state of perpetual building.

If this ghost theory is to be believed, would it be that much of a “stretch”  to say that the house just builds itself and constructs its own rooms, hallways  and wings? (see what I did there? I used “stretch” and when something expands it stretches and…oh hell, I’ll just move on). Well  this is what happens with Rose Red. Steven Rimbauer states that no one knows at any given time how many rooms the house has because  the number is constantly in fluxThe investigative team at Rose Red witnesses the house changing before their very eyes. Hallways change, turning the house into a maze of sorts. Walls suddenly erect. Scary stuff.

How is Rose Red  like  The Shining?

Both stories have houses (or hotels) that siphon psychic energy  from a psychically gifted child. In The Shining it’s Danny Torrence  who reads minds, sees visions from the past, and mentally calls out to people mentally  that are far away physically. In Rose Red it’s Annie, an autistic  thirteen-year-old who possesses strong telekinetic  powers. She is the key to awakening Rose Red, Professor Joyce says. Likewise  Danny is the battery that charges The Overlook Hotel and brings it to its most haunted  state.

How is Rose Red like Carrie?

In Rose Red, a girl (Annie) with tremendous  telekinetic powers creates a shower of boulders to fall from the sky upon a house. Diddo  Carrie White. Eleanor Lance in the Haunting of Hill House had also created such a phenomenon when she was a child. But Annie, with the power to open and shut doors with her mind, most resembles Carrie. At one point Annie, using her powers,prevents s the doors and windows from opening, trapping everyone  inside the house. Carrie keeps the doors and windows of a school telepathically sealed while she burns the place down, trapping the teachers and students inside.

Let’s “redescribe” the plot of Rose Red while summing up these influences – all in one paragraph!

A Professor  of parapsychology  invites a team of psychics to study a haunted house that was born bad and has a history of tormenting  the successive generations of a prominent family (The Haunting of Hill House). They will learn that the house “eats people” and siphons  their spiritual energy so that it can rejuvenate. (Burnt Offerings). This house has the ability to redesign itself and expand at will. (The Winchester House). At the beginning of the study, the house is supposedly depleted  of energy – a dead cell. Professor Joyce Reardon hopes to recharge  the house by using a psychically gifted child as a battery (The Shining ). She will succeed, and the girl , who once made boulders  fall upon a house , will fall under the house’s spell and telepathically seal all the doors and windows  to prevent the visitors from escaping while bad things happen to them. (Carrie)

Any Other Influences?

For the hell of it, I’ll throw in Poltergeist  for the modern  touches the Rose Red series brings to the otherwise classic haunted house  themes. By this I mean the special effects. Rose Red has scenes where unbound energy causes  electrical jolts and flashing lights, with the scared and wowed  faces of the team reflected in these flashes. With the few glowing ghosts added in for extra measures, we get a toned down production of The Spielberg caliber.

This is not too far fetched, because Stephen King originally wanted to collaborate with Steven Spielberg on a remake of the Robert Wise film The Haunting (which of course is the screen version of Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House). King would contribute his talents (the writing) while Spielberg would his kind of genius ( the production).  The two ran into creative differences (a Steve Squared equation ended up a null set, awwwww!) and Spielberg ended up assisting in some way with director Jan de Bont’s remake of The Haunting (1999) while King revised his script, which then was used for Rose Red. As it turned out, Spielberg hated the final product of The Haunting so much that he had his name removed from the credits. I opine that Rose Red is significantly better than The Haunting 1999(And see, I fulfilled Part 2 of my promise to give more detail on the why’s concerning the specifics King’s influences).

Summary

Rose Red has his flaws. Aside from the regurgitation of plot material,  I couldn’t get past some of the story logistics. Professor Joyce Reardon’s determination to scientifically validate the reality of paranormal phenomenon turns obsessive, neurotic, and finally, psychotic. She ends up losing her sanity in Rose Red and causing others great distress and even death. All this, and yet she has a team of psychics, some of who have powers that would put the mutants of the X-men series to shame. Isn’t that proof enough?  Also, the backstories are a bit complicated, and when the series wraps itself up and tries to tie these backstories into the main story, the knots aren’t all that tight. In other words, the “revelations” are a bit “meh” and even “huh?” 

But overall, it was entertaining, and that counts for something. And I should mention, if I haven’t already, that those that die or get lost in Rose Red come back as “zombified” ghosts. They are under the spell of the house and they will prey upon any one who enters. That bit of the story was interesting.

When I wrote my weekly plot summations, I gave the impression that the story I was having such a great time enjoying the series!  I described the plot with enthusiasm, tried to make the story seem as suspenseful has possible. Was I lying? No.  I did enjoy the series and it was suspenseful at times. In other words, I enjoyed the ride. But when it was all over, and I put on my reflective hat, I realized that it was , well, as I stated earlier, a little bit better than bland. I don’t know about you, but when I start on a meal that is tasty but could be tastier, I finish it. And that’s what I did here. 

Cast Trivia

Let’s conclude this article with fun trivia! Question: What other television  programs did the actors of Rose Red  star in? I won’t go  through the whole list, just a few. Okay only  three!

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Professor  Joyce Reardon  is played by Nancy Travis and she went  on to star as Vanessa Baxter in  ABC’s Last Man Standing, wife of Tim Allen’s character Mike Baxter. Since I don’t watch  that show, I’ll say no  more and move on to shows I like – classic  TV shows.

 

RoseREdKevinAnd

 

Rose Red features a character named Victor Kandinsky, played by Kevin Tighe. Victor is a psychic with precognition. Victor is the most physically fragile of the team of investigators. He is the oldest of the crew and he’s almost always on the verge of a heart attack. He takes medicine for this condition. This is quite the opposite of the character he played thirty years prior, a young and hearty, able-bodied hero. This would be paramedic-firefighter Roy DeSoto on Emergency!

Ya gotta be a certain age to remember that show! I was real young when it aired, just a wee little boy under the age of five. My mom watched it and so therefore I watched it, and tried to play along with the story with my action figures.

RoseRedMillerAnd

 

The biggest surprise for me came when I researched actor David Dukes who played Professor Carl Miller, the “bad guy” of this series who tries  to sabotage the efforts of the psychics studying paranormal activity at Rose Red. Please don’t confuse him with the racist politician David Duke; Dukes (with the “s”) has experienced enough unjust hatred over the years on account of a character he played in the late 70s. On a brief but memorable appearance on the show “All in the Family,” he played an unnamed character who tried to rape Edith Bunker, who at that time in 1977 was seen as America’s most innocent (naive) and beloved housewife. This was the first portrayal of an attempted rape on television and Dukes suffered for his performance on this Emmy winning episode. He received death threats from fans who just were not able to separate reality and fiction.  That being said, I’m not blameless either for this stigma, for when I discovered that he starred in the episode “Edith’s 50th Birthday”, right away a voice in my brain shouted out “Hey, you’re the guy who tried to rape Edith!” No brain, he is not. He is a guy who portrayed a fictional character who tried to rape another fictional character.

(Wikipedia info on the All in the Family episode “Edith’s 50th Birthday”)

The other actors of Rose Red had interesting roles in other media as well but I won’t go into all of those. Discover for yourself what other roles these actors played!  I will however point out one nameless character that popped into the Rose Red series for a few minutes – a pizza delivery guy who delivers a pizza to the team at the haunted house. “Gee, that guy looks familiar,” some viewers might say upon his arrival. Others will know his mug right away – it’s none other than Stephen King himself!

 

 

Rose Red Final Chapter – Recap of Last Sunday’s Watch Party

Poor little Annie! Last Sunday night she was knocked out cold. While she was unconscious, the doors of Rose Red opened. When she came to her senses, the doors locked once again, trapping the team inside.

What does this mean? It means, it was Annie and her psychokinetic powers that was keeping them sealed inside. But don’t blame Annie; it was the house, Rose Red, that put a spell on her, forcing her to do its bidding. If you want to blame someone, blame Dr. Joyce Reardon. That evil witch figured out that this was Annie’s doing and she encouraged her to keep them sealed in. Joyce had gone mad. She was determined to witness Rose Red at its most malevolent.

Members of the surviving team ended up reaching Annie through psychic means. They got into her brain, beyond the barrier created by Rose Red, and convinced her to open the doors. And so she did. And so they escaped. But not Joyce! No, she willingly stayed behind. And several of the ghosts of those that perished at Rose Red surrounded her, claimed her, and the house swallowed her up!

Well, that’s it! Look for a review and analysis of the series as a whole! Coming soon. Bye now!