I can’t believe this. Here I am, reviewing Marlon Wayans’ A Haunted House and yet I still haven’t gotten around to writing about the movie it is spoofing – Paranormal Activity. That’s what happens when you’re stricken with the:
Halloween Ha Ha’s,
Haunted House boo boos
Haunted House Ha Ha’s.
Except I forgot to say “Ha Ha” when watching the movie. I did force myself to laugh several times. The laughter flowed in more of a “heh heh” fashion though.
What can I say about this movie? Do I really have it in me to analyze and criticize this kind of film? Is there anything really for me to hypothesize then publicize? Should I demonize the demon eyes?
No this is not a good film. But it was entertaining…sometimes. It wasn’t boring, that’s for sure.
Marlon Wayans and Essence Atkins star as a couple who move in together. Atkins’s character, a hoarder, brings much to Wayans’ house, including a malicious ghost. Or is it a demon? During a Ouija board session, the spirit proclaimed itself to be a “gost”. It can’t spell. Funny! Not really, but oh well. And that’s all I’ll say about the plot, aside from the fact that it loosely mimics the storyline of Paranormal Activity, but I already mentioned that, and now I’m just rambling to extend this “review.”
The thing is, many reviewers ripped this movie because of the poorly written plot. What the hell, the only purpose of the plot was to provide some kind of structure for which to attach all those raunchy jokes. I got that, never expected anything else.
But those raunchy jokes tho’!
Let’s see, we have racial stereotyping humor, white couple wants to swing with black couple funnies, gay psychic wants to do Wayans hilarity, Wayans humping his stuffed animal jocularity, man and woman both raped by a demon shenanigans, fart jokes, blunt-smoking demon ha ha’s, exorcisms conducted by jailhouse preacher hee hee’ss, small penis chuckles, and many scenes of Wayans’ bare ass for raw naked humor.. I could go on.
Though crude, I’m no prude, and I was able to at least smile at all the stuff written about in the preceding paragraph. I was never a member of the PC police and when it comes to comedy, I prefer old school raunchy over the modern perky quirky. But the jokes in A Haunted House became repetitious, and just when you’ve had enough the film doubles down on them, then triple downs, quadruples even. More. Faster. Louder.
This was my first exposure to the comedic styling of Marlon Wayans. Maybe I’ll check out more of his work but maybe not. I could take it or leave it, but if I ever feel a bit off-center, I’d be leaning toward “leave it”.
Rottontomatoes score = WOW, only 9%! Well, it’s still better than Hillbillies in a Haunted House IMHO.
Next up – GOOD Haunted House HA HA films. I promise!
Every film genre has its heroes. I’m referring to the legendary actors who brought stories to life. There are the horror film greats, for instance. Too many to name! Wouldn’t it be great if some of the signature actors of the horror films of the 30s and 40s contributed their talents to some 1960s haunted house films? For instance, what if Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine and Boris Karloff starred in such films, what would the result be? Answer: a waste of talent. An ineffective ploy to make terrible films interesting.
To their credit, the trio mentioned in the paragraph above did their jobs well. But their talents just couldn’t save Hillbillies in a Haunted House and The Ghost and the Invisible Bikini, two Horrible Haunted House Ha Ha films. Both of these movies try to mix music and comedy with horror. It doesn’t mix well. Not in these instances. Not at all.
Hillbillies in a Haunted House
*If the above youtube clip is unavailable, sorry. Copywriters claimed it.
Let’s begin with the Hillbillies. Yeeeeeee Haw! This film stars Lon Chaney Jr and John Carradine. Merle Haggard makes an appearance or two as well. It seems as if the goal of this film was simply to publicize a bunch of country music acts, so a couple of producers decided:
“Hey, let’s git us some musical acts in a film, throw some kind of story around them or something. All we need is a writer with a low-budget kind of mentality. Maybe like a haunted house plot or something.”
The comedy, I’m convinced, just naturally flowed from the stupidity, a kind of “Gee this is so stupid. Uh, maybe it’s funny?”. But it wasn’t funny, damn it! It certainly isn’t a “It’s so bad it’s good” movie either. It is just bad.
The film opens with real life country singer Ferlin Husky (playing the role of Wood Wetherby; a fictional country singer), driving with singing partner Boots Malone and manager Jeepers. They are headed to a Jamboree in Tennessee. Of course, they have to sing about it with the song “We’re headed to the Jamboree” or something.
On their way, this trio stops for the night at a haunted house. The source of the haunting is really a gang of international spies! Oh, but it turns out the house really is haunted by some Civil War solider! The End…NOT! The last thirty minutes are all Jamboree stuff. UGH!
A gorilla takes part in the scares. Olden days movies, they just love to put an actor in a gorilla suit and have him run around and scare people.
Lon Chaney Jr., what the hell happened to ya? You were this handsome, dashing thin man. You changed!
There is one good part of the movie. An excellent musical performance by Sonny James doing the song When the Cat Came Back
*If the above YouTube clip is unavailable, sorry. Copywriters claimed it.
This film is a little bit better than the first. Replace hillbillies with beach teens. Replace country music with 1960’s beach pop songs.
Here are the elements of this film:
Two Ghosts (Boris Karloff and Some Girl, who “wears” an invisible bikini. But sorry, you still won’t see nuttin’ fun) / An eccentric lady who screams sometimes / Her dumb blonde beach bum nephew / A horde of his beach friends / A young couple that start off as strangers, but we all know they’re destined to be lovers / A shady, evil lawyer and his accomplices / Nancy Sinatra, one such accomplice / A motorcycle gang / A gorilla. You have to have a gorilla. It was the law back then.
Throw this whole mess into a haunted house and let the zany antics begin!
it lists twelve such films and “Ghost/Invisible” is number 10! Wiki! You contradict yourself! Anyway, it’s funny how all the films released before The Ghost and The invisible Bikini star Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello (okay, Funicello skipped out on the one of them). Wikipedia states that Avalon and Funicello appeared in marketing promos for this ghostly, beachy film, but they were not cast in it. These beach party films had reoccurring actors but the only actor that appeared before is Deborah Walley, and she did not get on board until the fifth film Beach Blanket Bingo . So THAT is why, I guess, Ghost/Bikini gets to be included inthe “beach party film” club! Good Grief!
This film has its fun moments. But it’s not good enough to be a “so bad it’s good” movie. Perhaps it’s a “so bad it’s okay” movie? Maybe.
Finally, I have a new book soon to be published! It’s a scary one, but it might not be ready in time for Halloween. That’s okay, the story has more of a late November feel to it. In the upcoming days and weeks, I’ll post some updates and teasers. The title is The Acquaintance.
Since I’m saving the spookies for later, what’s gonna happen here pre-Halloween? A whole lot of hilarity and/or stupidity, that’s what! It’s like that Queen song:
All we hear is, Halloween Ha Ha’s
Halloween Boo Boos
Halloween Ha Ha’s!
Yes, I will be reviewing a few comedy-related haunted house movies. I’ve reviewed Haunted House funnies before, but now I’m doing it as a theme. Get ready for what I’m calling The Haunted House Ha Ha’s! Some of the films I will review are soooooo stupid! Oh well, we all need our intelligence sapped once in a while, right?
So get ready, the first couple of posts just might be: Horrible Haunted House Ha Ha’s.
Hope you all are having fun with your ghosts. I love my ghosts. They create such a booo-tiful experience.
My last post was about gathering all my stray ghosts into one basket. These would be the ghosts of inspirations past; the things that fostered my love for the horror genre. Throughout the piece, I reiterated the complications involved in such a gathering. I couldn’t and cannot remember the first horror movie I saw. I couldn’t and cannot recall my very first encounter with the spookies! But I did my best to highlight the influences television and film had on me. As it turns out, some of those ghosts escaped my gathering efforts – slippery bastards! By restricting myself to horror-on-the-screen, I totally missed the off-screen influences that turned me into such a “horrific guy.” (relax, just some healthy self-deprecating humor). I was remiss.
Thank you Smidgy, my dear sister, for reminding me! And I will retread these spooky avenues of my life; these roads that I neglected.
Haunts and Spooky Props
In the previous article, I mentioned that I found scary-themed stories and images on the big and small screen fascinating rather than frightening. What really scared me were the various objects of horror outside the screen. This would include scary masks and the people that wore them in an effort to scare me. They succeeded in their efforts. Also included were scary noises such as ghostly moans. Now, where might one find these kinds of things all in one place? Why, they are found in haunted house attractions, or “haunts” as they are often called! When I was a wee lad, these places scared me so. But I was coaxed into them, dashing through the groans, nerves in a fray, through the house I go, screaming all the way – AAH AAH AHH AHH! Yeah Yeah, I know, I mentioned all this in the previous article. What I failed to mention (or if I mentioned it, I didn’t stress it enough), was the pride I felt AFTER experiencing such a nightmare. I was a survivor. The things in the haunt that scared me so were no longer in front of my face. They were stored safely in my mind as memories. And they were not the memories of nightmare, either. I relished reliving the experience, reminding the adult who took me through the haunt of the terrifying experience which had resurfaced as a fun experience. “Daddy, remember when our car passed by that vampire with the sharp teeth and outstretched arms? (okay, I probably didn’t know the word “outstretched” then, but just go with it!) “Smidgy, remember when that coffin opened and there was a creak and a hand popped out!”
See, when I had control of haunting visuals, when the threat of surprise and the dark notion of the unknown were removed from the equation, I loved the scenes of horror and the props that brought these scenes to “life.” I loved the Halloween decorations my Mom would put up every year. Black cats and skeletons hung on the walls. A light-up plastic ghost holding a pumpkin stood on our table. Every year my Dad would carve pumpkins, one with a Casper face and the other with a mean face. Lit up, they were placed outside above our front door. But what was most fun were the “props” that I could handle, play with. My favorite was a plastic skull connected to a black stick/handle below its jaw. It had pebbles inside its head and it was made for shaking. I guess it was supposed to resemble a skull prop in some Voodoo ceremony. I also had plenty of masks, slimy spiders and bats, and other ghoulish things.
(*Side Note – In them there days, we bought most of our Halloween stuff and a store called Tom Naples on North Avenue. They had a pumpkin patch and sold other produce. They also had plenty of Halloween props. Down the street on North Avenue was the yearly carnival with Amlings Haunted House. North Avenue near 1st Avenue was the place to be during Halloween season!*)
DIY Haunted Houses
One day, my sister Smidgy suggested the we could make our own haunted house.
“REALLY?!?!” I was so excited. I survived Amlings Haunted House. Now the tables would be turned. No longer would I be the haunted. I would be the haunter.
I wanted to know when this could happen.
“Oh, we can do it today,” Smidgy said.
Today?? Did I hear right? Not only was I going to be a haunter, but I was going to be a haunter immediately! What more could a kid want? Instant gratification.
We got to work. Using a tape recorder, we recorded spooky sounds onto a tape. We took over the top floor of our house, which consisted of two bedrooms, a hallway, a bathroom and two closets. In the bedrooms we hung props galore! I remember a bloody doll hanging from the ceiling.
The “victims” of our house would be the other family members. I was the guide. I led them up the stairs and into the hall. Smidgy hid in the closed-door bathroom. Across from the bathroom was a closet. Inside the closet was a stuffed animal snake attached to a rope. Smidgy held the rope’s end from inside the bathroom. I opened the closet door for our victims when all of a sudden, the snake would spring free! Scary!
I then led the victims into one bedroom, closed the door, while Smidgy sneaked out of the bathroom and into the second bedroom. The victims were “scared” when seeing the scary display. I then led them to the second bedroom, where Smidgy hid in a closet, holding a rope that was tied to a small rocking chair that held a doll. She pulled the rope and…wow…look! The chair seemed to be rocking all by itself! How ghostly!
Another time my Dad made a haunted house with me. He took my favorite skull and created a body for Mr. Shaky Skullhead. Mr. Shaky Skullhead wore a hood and my Dad hung him in the closet with an eerie light shining on him. Once again I was to guide the victims into the den of the spookies! I took them into the dark bedroom where my Dad stood in the shadows holding a rope that was tied to the closet doorknob. He would pull the rope and “AAAAAAAHHHH!” – there was the spooky skeleton!
After these experiences, I wanted to make haunted houses all the time. It didn’t need to be Halloween season. I made them year-round. I made them with friends, dragging my poor Grandma around while we hid in toy boxes and jumped out of closets. She pretended to be scared. She was a good sport. We tired the same thing with Blanche, a neighbor lady who babysat me and prevented me from being a young latchkey kid (until I became a latchkey kid at the age of twelve). She…well, instead of walking into the room and following the cue of “Oooo, it’s so spooky in here,” she would utter, “What are you doing messing up your fadder’s room?” When she finally “cooperated” she said something like, “That’s a neat trick”. Oh Blanche, it wasn’t a trick, it was a haunted house!
As a teen, I made a haunted house in our basement with my young nephews. We would scare their school friends. I spent and entire Saturday hanging sheets from the ceiling to create passageways. My buddy was trying to egg me on to go with him some place. “Can’t. I’m making this haunted house”. He be like, “WTF? Danny this is stupid!” It wasn’t stupid, it was fun. I had the props, I had the scare actors (my nephews!). The victims came over, ran as fast as they could through the haunted house, and it was all over in the span of one minute. Oh well, like I said, it was fun.
Many many many years later, I worked as a scare actor in a haunted house. Me an old man compared to my ghoulish peers (mostly teens). Minimum wage, but what the hell, I just wanted to finally, for once in my life, be a “legitimate” ghoul in a “real” haunted house.
So, my experiences frequenting haunted houses and making my own were a huge contributor to my love for the horror genre. I needed to set the record straight. I had to catch those stubborn ghosts that refused to be packed into my basket.
Are there any other stray ghosts? Probably, one can never gather all of life’s influencers. I’ll keep a look out for the possibility of others. In the meant time, I say, “Happy Haunting to you all!”
Welcome to the post that will kick off my contributions to the Halloween season! I thought it would be interesting to share with you the history behind my love of horror related entertainment. So without further “a-boo” (GET IT? A”boo” instead of “ado”?) here it is!
How many have encountered a Facebook post asking about the first horror film you saw? Or a post inquiring about the film that scared you the most? Oh but we aren’t supposed to give out this kind of personal information on social media anymore because such a post could be linked to a phishing scam! And that’s why I never give these posters the answer!
Ah, that’s only half correct. It’s true I never answer but that’s only because my response would be far too complicated for such a platform. Okay, fine. I can uncomplicate a response. A short, direct to the point answer would be:
First horror movie – I don’t remember.
Horror movie that scared me the most – None.
Be honest, my responses are unsatisfying, aren’t they? And you might be saying, “Really? You don’t get scared? That’s bullshit!” Well now just hold on a sec there, part’ner! Give me a chance to explain. My explanation is what this entire piece is all about.
My First Attractions To The Horror Genre
It’s no secret that I am a fan of the horror genre. Hello! I operate a horror-themed blog for Christ’s sake! But when did all this love for horror begin? Sorry, I don’t have an exact moment or memory that can serve as a catalyst for my fandom. As far as I can tell, I have always been attracted to all things spooky (perhaps I have inherited “horror genes”?). Growing up, whenever a normal run-of-the-mill TV show had a special horror episode, I was glued to the set. Whenever The Brady Bunch aired an episode where the kids would haunt their own house, I was there. Whenever The Three Stooges ran away comically from spooks, I was present and attentive.
Did televised or big screen horror ever scare me? In terms of fictionalized horror in general, I was often scared, but not so much from ghoulish things on the set or the screen. I will explain this distinction later. Perhaps it was the Saturday morning cartoons and other children-themed shows that aired during those weekend AM hours that gave me my first taste of horror. It was a programming paradise for us little kids born in the 1970s! I was between the ages of 4-8 when I took part in this paradise. Saturday mornings would not be complete without a healthy dose of Scooby Doo, Where are You? . I loved the gang’s adventures inside haunted houses where they would encounter ghosts and monsters, which of course always turned out to be villains in disguise. Maybe this cartoon fostered my love for haunted houses?
The premise: Wax figures depicting Dracula, Wolfman and Frankenstein come to life and become crime fighters! Okay that sounds hokey, but as a kid I loved it. Even before The Monster Squad, I remember being fascinated by the fab-four of horror monsters. This quartet includes Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. I had Mego-Action figures of these monsters and I loved to play with them.
Was it these toys, gifted to me, that attracted me to the larger legends surrounding these monsters? Or was it the comic books that featured these four scare kings that brought me up to speed? It’s difficult to pinpoint. It seemed as though these monsters were embedded into my psyche at an early age. They were staples of childhood culture just like the Teddy Bear and The Choo-Choo Train. We kids of the 70s even had breakfast cereals based on them. Skits on the children’s show The Electric Company feature these monsters. Morgan Freeman played Dracula. Check out the youtube video below!
Looking back, I find it very interesting that little kids in the 70s enjoyed the same movie monsters as their parents or even grandparents. While Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster originated in novels, most people were introduced to these grisly creatures from the movies. These were, as I have already mentioned, the movies of previous generations. And yet, these monsters went on the be icons for future generations.
Speaking of the movies…..
The First Horror Movies I Saw on Television
I can’t tell you the first. I just don’t know. The best I can do is relay my memories of watching horror movies on TV Saturday afternoons. Perhaps I was watching WGN’s Creature Features?
The link has the show airing late Saturday nights in the early 70s and I was in bed then, but maybe it reran in the late 70s in the afternoon? Again, I don’t know. But I do remember watching horror movies some Saturday afternoons when I was five, six and seven years old. Usually, it was at the suggestion of an adult, like my older sister. No, she was NOT trying to scare me. She knew that I ALREADY liked this kind of stuff.
I remember watching a haunted house movie about a loud banging noise coming from behind the walls. I remember staring at the TV set in fascination. This movie was The Haunting. I also remember another movie about a Haunted House where a ghost kept possessing people. “See Danny, she has a ghost inside her” my sister explained. “Now Danny, the ghost is inside him!” This movie, I discovered later in life to be The House That Would Not Die.
Do I remember being scared watching films of this nature? Not at all. Seriously. Somehow at an early age, I learned that what happened “inside the glass” (on the TV) was fantasy. It was not real. Reality happened “outside the glass”. The picture tube of the TV served as a barricade to lock all horrors inside a box of fantasy where they belonged. I felt protected by this barricade. Armed with this mental security, I was able to let my fascination take over.
So, what about the horror movies featuring the Fab-Four? I honestly can’t remember if I first saw these movies as a real young kid (age 4-9) on Saturday afternoons or if it wasn’t until I was a little older (age 9-12) on Saturday Nights on the television show called Son Of Svengoolie. It’s safe to say that it was Chicago horror-host Son of Svengoolie (now just “Svengoolie) that got me to pay attention to these films. Well, as best as a 10-year-old can pay attention, anyway. I often had my Mego Monster action figures out when the Son of Svengoolie aired. I created my own stories with the figures while the weekly movie aired.
I do remember paying attention to the ending of the movie Frankenstein. My Dad was explaining to me why the villagers were chasing the monster. He let me know the monster drowned a young girl, but he didn’t mean to. He thought she would float like the flowers he had been tossing into the water. So when the villagers’ burned down the windmill that the Monster was hiding in, causing the rafters to fall on him, trapping him, I felt something. When the flames surrounded him and The Monster cried out, I wasn’t sacred per say. I felt disturbed. I felt sorry for The Monster. The next scene featured maids gleefully wishing Dr. Frankenstein’s bride-to-be Happy Nuptials. I thought “this isn’t right”. A living person (the monster) had just cried out in fear as he was burning to death and the next thing us viewers know, we are watching happy ladies.
Along came The Bride of Frankenstein (again I saw this on Son Of Svengoolie). Yay, the monster somehow survived the flames! My Dad watched with me again. He explained that the created “Bride” would not like the Monster. He was right. She shrieked at his face. Again, I felt sorry for him. This poor guy, he never gets a break. After being rejected, the Monster killed this “Bride”, along with another scientist and himself. Was I horrified at this murderous rampage? Not really. I was kind of rooting for the monster to do his thing.
Oh, I almost forgot about a horror movie I saw when on television long before I started watching Son of Svengoolie. (well, maybe one or two years before; that’s a long time in child years). This time it was my Mom that suggested I watch this film. Again, it was because she knew I liked this kind of thing. “Danny, it’s about a young girl who everyone is mean to. But she has magic”. The movie was Carrie. It was edited for television, of course. But looking back, I think, “gee this was a creepy film to show a young kid”. She did send me to bed before the infamous prom scene, when blood was dumped on Carrie’s head, triggering her to kill everyone with her magical powers. Surprisingly and perhaps nonsensically, she told me I can get out of bed and watch the end of the movie (I was still awake). This would be the scene where Carrie kills her mother and then herself. Again. I felt disturbed, not scared. I felt sorry for Carrie but not afraid of her as some kids might cower from a horror monster. Even at the very end when her hand reached up from where she was buried, I didn’t see Carrie as a monster to be feared. I might have jumped at the surprise of such a thing, but I never ever thought that in real life, a bloody hand would emerge from underneath the soil in our backyard or anything like that.
The First Horror Movies I Saw At The Theater
This I do remember. I’m not going to count King Kong (1976) or Jaws 2. I’m going to pass over those flicks that I saw in the theater and go to Funhouse (1981). My Dad took me to see this film. I wasn’t scared but I guess I was a bit “disturbed;” that’s the word I’ve been using in place of “scared,” so why stop now? What disturbed me was watching characters that had been with me since the beginning of the movie get picked off one by one. Though I had encountered movie deaths before, never had I seen the “heroes” die so unceremoniously. When the poor guy got an axe stuck into his head as he rode the Funhouse car, I knew he was never coming back. When the young lady stabbed the monster in the back and he still went on to kill her, I worried that the monster was unstoppable. In short, this was my first introduction to slasher films. But I didn’t leave the theater with a fear of carnivals or psychotic Funhouse proprietors, or a fear in general of slasher movies. Instead, I was ready for more.
Funhouse was my gateway drug to harder, “slashier” films. The gate opened and I invited the rest of the slashers in. Come on in, Michael Meyers! Entre vous to you, Jason Voor Hees! I couldn’t get enough of them. Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Silent Night, Deadly Night – a killer Santa Claus! Ohhh yeah, I was on board! Cheesy or not, I had to see them. My Bloody Valentine, Midnight, One Dark Night. I was hooked. And still, I wasn’t scared.
What the Heck was I Afraid of Then?
Oh my God, was I a fearful kid. I really was. I was afraid of spiders (I’m still not very fond of them). I was afraid of loud noises. The weekly Tuesday morning screeching of test alarms (you know, in case a nuclear was at hand they had to make sure the damn thing worked) sent me running off my big wheel crying into my mother’s arms! Not-so-loud noises freaked me out as well. Firecrackers off in the distance frightened me. Hell, a kid with a cap gun scared me when I was four-years-old.
Ghosts and monsters scared me too, when they were “outside the glass” of the TV. If some adult pretended to me a monster and came at me, I screamed. When my Dad moaned into the furnace “Ooooooo GUUUURRRRRU!!!” in such a way that his moan travelled throughout the house via the heating vents, I cried and cried. See, the protective barrier that was the TV tube was absent in these situations. The fourth wall was crushed. The sounds of the haunting banging from the movie “The Haunting” didn’t frighten me because they came within the world of pretend inside the television. But the ghostly sounds of my Dad’s moan were right there inside my very own house. Even when I knew it was him making those noises, I was still scared. It was unsettling.
Haunted houses as Halloween/carnival attractions scared the shit out of me. I was terrified when my Dad took me into a cheesy sit-in-the-car-and-watch-motorized-ghosts ride. The creepy, motorized thing that came out of the coffin at Amlings Haunted House in a suburb of Chicago freaked me out. The first time I went into a haunted house with live actors, my Dad had to carry me through the whole thing.
After I became a veteran of these “Haunts” as they are sometimes called, I learned to enjoy them. Yes I would be afraid going in but that was part of the fun. Not too long ago, I worked as a scare actor at a local Haunt. It was fun.
I guess it’s a dimensional thing. Ghosts and goblins existing in the 2nd dimension, on the flat screen, hardly every scared me. The same creatures in the 3rd dimension though, that was a totally different story.
What About Books?
I learned to read at an early age. I was even spelling words before I mastered the art of talking, so my parents and older sisters have told me. Alas, as a young lad, I didn’t use my gifts to their fullest potential. I didn’t read much during my single digits. I had comics but mostly I just looked at the pictures. This includes horror comics as well.
I read a little bit more during my middle school years. Here I took in some Young Adult horror. I read novels that were part of a Book series. One such series was called Dark Forces, the other Twilight (No, NOT the vampire stuff). In these books, teenagers were encountering ghosts and demons, but in the end, everything turned out okay. Not in a Scooby Doo way. The ghosts and demons were real, in the story, but the endings were usually happy.
Somewhere around this time I did read a Stephen King Book or two. In my high school years, if I read anything it was either what was assigned to me in English class or some rock and roll bio, like a Jim Morrison or Led Zeppelin book. But not horror for some reason. I was losing interest in that sort of thing.
It wasn’t until my late twenties that I delved into reading. I read all kinds of genres, including horror. But then I would read more horror. More. MORE! Horror from the 18th century. Horror from the early part of the twentieth century. Short stories, Novellas and long novels.
When I finally took up writing, what was the first thing I wrote about? Horror! I love writing about this genre.
So there you have it, the history of Dan Cheely’s love for the horror genre and what scares him. Have a Happy Halloween season and look out for more posts from me during this season of ghosts and witches!
Once upon a post, I declared Shirley Jackson’s novel “We have Always Lived in the Castle” to be a haunted house story. Somewhere in the middle of this piece I even went so far as to title a section heading as “What Kind of Ghosts ‘Have Always Lived in the Castle’”. This threw some readers off. They were ready to point out that “there were no ghosts in the story”. But then they read the stuff underneath the heading and it clicked. “Ah,” they said, “Now I see what you mean!”
See kids, ghosts do not always appear as things in white sheets. Nor do they always show up as glowing, semi-transparent figures. Sometimes they are not seen at all. Sometimes a ghost is not representative of one single personality. Sometimes there are ghosts not of a person at all, such as the ghost of a fading memory trying to resurface again, or the ghost of a feeling, long forgotten until that very moment when it suddenly haunts your heart with a confusing mixture of specificity and vagueness, familiar and foreign at the same time.
Perhaps you can see where I am going with this. There are many ghosts lurking around the pages of Eve Chase’s Gothic novel Black Rabbit Hall, but you must widen your perspective or you’ll miss them. The summers of 1968/1969 are ghosts, ghosts of timeless seasons long gone. They haunt one Lorna in the twenty teen years, these summers that came to pass and faded before she was even born. Lorna experiences this haunting when she visits Black Rabbit Hall, searching for a venue for her upcoming wedding. She has vague memories of this hall as a child, but what are these memories made of? She’s not sure, and that heightens her attraction to this place all the more. She becomes obsessed with the house. This obsession is seen as toxic to her fiancée, sister and father.
It’s a mysterious, gargantuan house with many floors and too many rooms to count. It is old and rundown, but it has its hidden charms. The grandfather clock named Big Bertie that has never been able to tell time is one. A stone turret that leads to what would be the bridal suite is another. Outside the hall exists terrains of cliffs and fields, beaches and tidal waves, and forests and trees. In all this Lorna will get lost. She will lose herself. She can find herself again but things will never be the same. She needs to turn to the ghosts to help her find herself. The ghosts take the form of hidden inscriptions on large rocks within the woods. They emerge within the tales told to her by the inhabitants of Black Rabbit Hall, incomplete tales she must piece together like a puzzle in order to make things whole. One such inhabitant is the servant Dill. She was there when it all happened. (When what happened?) Then there’s Mrs. Caroline Alton, the elderly lady that owns the hall and is cared for by a Dill. She’s not quite the charmer, but there’s something about her. Ghosts cling to her like moths to a light. These ghosts will connect Lorna to past events and tragedies. They will be the source of fulfilling revelations and usher in a new future.
Let’s go back. Back to the summers of 1968, 1969. Black Rabbit Hall was a summer retreat for the Alton family. Away from the hustle and bustle of London, to escape to the countryside, off they go. Hugo and his wife Nancy, and their four children; teenage twins Toby and Amber, and the younger children Kitty and Barney (Wait, what about Caroline Alton?) Summers here seem timeless. Routines give in to the whim of the weather. Big Bertie dutifully holds back on time.
But ya know, ghosts are born in timelessness. They forever exist in timelessness; coming from the past, predicting the future, invading the present and blurring time’s boundaries. This time period is seen through the viewpoint of Amber. Something will happen that will seal tragedy within this timelessness. Amber, like Lorna many years later, like her family in the present moment, must rediscover herself and help her brothers and sisters come to terms of the new life that is upon them.
To quote from the book:
you realize life is not at all linear but circular, that dying is as hard as being born, that it all returns to the point you think you left long, long, ago
This book was one of several items on a list of haunted house books. This list exists somewhere within the realms of the Google search engine. This is how I discovered Black Rabbit Hall. Since it is featured on this list, I felt it my duty to justify its inclusion. That is why I spent much of this review defining and perhaps redefining the concept of ghosts. But for those who crave a more literal expression of such phantoms, you just might get it. Maybe. Is the mysterious figure that marches out of the fields at night, leading an army of rabbit shadows, a ghost? Maybe.
As for Black Rabbit Hall being a haunted house – aren’t houses of this kind often portrayed as conscious entities? It sure seems as if it’s the house itself that protests a certain ceremony that takes place in its confines back in the 1960s. The house and its surrounding environment whip up a quite the storm, perhaps as an indication that such a ceremony, though at the right place, is in the wrong time, celebrated by the wrong people. If anything, the house is the collective spirit of many things, many events and people. To quote again from the book:
For all its oddness and tragedy, she knows she will miss Black Rabbit Hall , as you do miss places that make you rewrite your own map, if only slightly, places that take a bit of you away, give you something of their spirit in return
The house, in its own way, has the ability to communicate, to call to the ones the belong and shun the ones that don’t.
I recommend this book and I’m sure you will enjoy this haunted house story. If you look for ghosts in the right places, you will find them.
I am the ugly fat thing that sits in his basement and writes about I Am the Pretty Little Thing That Lives in the House, a 2016 haunted house film from director Osgood Perkins. Actually, I have lost a lot of weight, and come to think of it, I am handsome. Perhaps my appearance is debatable. As is the quality of this film. Very much so.
The average rating on IMDB comes to 4.6 out of 10 stars. Oh dear. On rottentomatoes the average rating among critics is 57%. The average among the audience is only 24%. Wow, that is low, man. Reeeeal low. And yet, critics such as Brian Tallerico of rogerebert.com are generous with praise. Released in limited theaters back in 2016, it found its home on Netflix a year later. If I remember correctly, the average rating among Netflix viewers is 3 out of 5 stars.
I’m guessing those who pan it do so for its slow pace, lack of substance, and its arguably pretentious style. Those who like it, perhaps, admire its atmosphere, its creepy tone and the simple visuals of the rooms, stairs, and hallways that create a haunting mood more effectively than a camera obsessed ghost. Though the film does have a ghost, it’s not camera obsessed, but nor is it camera shy. It shows up in the right places, sometimes in the background, sometimes it’s more obvious.
I seem to have devoted more attention to what is good about the film in the previous paragraph than what is not so good. Does this mean I like the movie? Sure I do. But it’s not without its faults.
It’s a simple story, perhaps even a cliché’. A young hospice nurse is to be the live-in caretaker of a retired horror authoress, who is mostly bedridden and suffers from dementia. Iris Blum consistently mistakes Nurse Lily Saylor for “Poly”, who turns out to be the protagonist of Iris’s best-selling novel “The Lady in the Walls.” Meanwhile, strange things happen to Lily during her stay. Some phantom force rips a phone out of her hands. She hallucinates and sees her arms decay. She hears a thump, thump, thump inside the walls. Due to Iris’s mental state, Lily cannot have a coherent conversation with her, so she cannot turn to her for explanations. All she seems to be able to talk about is “Poly.” Searching for answers, Lily begins to read “The Lady in the Walls.”
What was it they taught us back in grade school about journalism, the 5 or 6 questions a reporter must ask to get to the meat of the story? I believe it was “who”, “what”, “where”, “when”, “why” and “how.” Well, this film fails at answering many of these questions. I know, this isn’t a report for the six o’clock news, this is a film, a work of art for Christ’s sake! Still, I believe much of the film’s criticism stems from its unapologetic ambiguity. Quite often, Lily narrates and speaks directly to us, the viewers. But it’s not always her that speaks. Sometimes it’s Poly. Thanks to the subtitles (I watch most films with subtitles) I knew who was speaking. Otherwise, I would have been at a loss. This is a problem with the “who”. “What” is this film about? To go into a deeper examination than what I have already explained is tricky, if not impossible. It’s one of those films that, when it’s all over, might cause someone to say, “What the hell did I just watch?” See, a problem with the “what”.
The “where” is achieved. A house in New England. This is “where” all the action (and inaction) takes place. There is nothing to be desired outside its premises. “When” does this film take place? The film doesn’t explicitly give a time period for the present-day action. But there is a wall phone with a long cord, a rabbit-ears television and a tape deck with cassettes, so one can assume it’s the 80s? Maybe? Then again, the story alternates time periods now and then, sometimes in confusing ways. Why and how is the house haunted? A vague answer comes from Lily herself as she narrates to us at the beginning of the film:
On ghosts in general
They have stayed to look back for a glimpse of the very last moments of their lives.
On ghosts haunting a house
There is nothing that chains them to the places where their bodies have fallen. They are free to go, but still they confine themselves, held in place by their looking. For those who have stayed, their prison is their never seeing. And left all alone, this is how they rot.
That’s about the best answer the film will give. If it’s not satisfactory then the appetite for further knowledge will just have to go unfed.
But, did you notice how awesome those quotes from the movie are? This is a film that wants to be a novel. Or a poem. There are many more poetically haunting slices of narration. Perhaps the most quoted is the first narrated line of the film:
I have heard myself say that a house with a death in it can never again be bought or sold by the living. It can only be borrowed from the ghosts that have stayed behind.
Beautiful, right? With the right visuals properly synced to such beautifully haunting words comes a moving experience. This synchronization happens many times. “And left all alone, this is how they rot”. We see the rot in the mold on the walls, in the mysterious black puncture wounds on Lily’s skin. “Their prison is their never seeing” Enter the blindfolded woman, the original doomed occupant of the house.
The film moves in dreamlike sequences, nonlinear at times, with metaphors painted over the loose edges. I might be so bold to state that I might have liked this film better if it doubled down on all this. Forget any attempts at a straight story, just move with the words and use the camera to paint the images the words tell us to see. I am willing to bet the naysayers would only scream a louder “nay” at this suggestion. And who am I to suggest such a thing but a slightly overweight guy in the bowels of his house. If I had to grade this film on a letter scale, allowing for +’s and –‘s, I’d give it a solid B. B from the basement.
Yeah you! Remember that one “American Horror Story” season, with that lodge by the lake and that creepy blue lady ghost?
Let me think…Oh yeah! She was creepy. Man, Jessica Lange impressed again, this time as Constance Leigh Welling, the self-published “authoress.” Dragging around her assistant by his nose, the poor young Luke Donovan, played so well by Evan Peters. How she thought she was so talented, so young, so beautiful, so popular! That old narcissistic bitch! She really got her comeuppance! Thank God the daughter of the owners, Sara Baxter-Bellamy played by Taissa Farmiga, became Luke’s love interest, making Constance jealous and eventually giving him the encouragement to leave that bitch.
Oh, and I won’t forget Dr. Roger Siechert, played by Dylan McDermott. That hilarious German-folk enthusiast, who not only took up killing people, but also liked to stick that severed finger up is ass! He called it the “chocolate wander” and it was also “The Happy Wander”, like the German song, “Valeri, Valera! Valeri , Valer- Ha Ha Ha Ha HA HA HA “
How about that Hammerhead serial killer, named because he killed his victims with the hammer! Man, we never discovered who he was until the end. Who played him?
Beats me. Hey listen-
And through it all – the blue lady ghost! When the bathrooms in the lodge rooms flood, there were her soggy footprints in the carpeting. And even when there was no flooding, the mirrors of the bathrooms would suddenly fill up with moisture, and when that happened you just knew the blue lady was coming! You just knew it! Thanks for the memories! I’m going to log in to Netflix and watch it again!
You won’t find it. I’ve been trying to stop you before you got to carried away, but I was too late.
What do you mean? And why did they take it down already?
I mean, it never aired. It wasn’t an American Horror Story season at all. This was a book by Thorne and Cross called “The Cliffhouse Haunting”
Then why did you tell me it was?
I don’t know. I just don’t know.
But I know! Afterall, I’m the idiot that wrote up that goofy exchange up there! A little more than halfway through the book, I had the thought that the Constance character resembles the appearance and actions of the kinds of characters Jessica Lange plays on American Horror story. As for the happy wandering doctor, the assistant and lodge daughter? The AHS actors I’ve chosen for the parts “sort of” fit, but come on, I had a narrative-thing going on, so I had to make them fit. There are other interesting and kooky characters in this book as well, but I couldn’t make them all fit into roles that are to be played by other notable AHS actors, cramming them it like puzzle pieces in the wrong spots (my Dad used to do this when working a jigsaw puzzle. It would piss my Mom off). AHS stories always have multiple plots. So does The Cliffhouse Haunting! AHS often has too many plot threads going on for its own good. The Cliffhouse Haunting has just the right amount. So perhaps its too good of a story for that famous cable show?
Thorne and Cross have been promoting audio versions of their books lately. I came across their promotion for the audiobook copy of The Cliffhouse Haunting. Alas, it didn’t coax me to seek it out. It’s just that I’ve never done the audiobook thing. Hell, I have had Bluetooth for my last two cars and I never set it up. I guess for me, if it’s not music, then it doesn’t need to be transmitted to me electronically. BUT, the ad DID get me to purchase a copy to read on my Kindle app. And read it I did. So now, The Cliffhouse Haunting will join the other books by this haunting and hilarious duo that have made my page or reviews. These include The Ghosts of Ravencrest (the story has continued on, I have to catch up!), Five Nights at a Haunted Cabin, and book written by on half of the duo, Tamara Thorne, called Hunted. I do believe that The Cliffhouse Haunting is the first book by this duo.
The Cliffhouse Haunting is more of an entertaining book than it is scary. Yes, there’s the Blue Lady Ghost, and she’s creepy, but the word “entertaining” encompasses a larger umbrella of descriptors. “Scary” fits underneath its domain, as does “gory”, and “weird”. And “funny”, for which you can also remove the “ny” to make it a “fun” book, and that it is.
The authors take a divergent set of characters and flesh them out in a “fun” ghost story. There’s the typical small-town sheriff; capable, modest, down-to earth. The lodge proprietors two married men with a college-aged daughter that helps her dads run the place. I’ve already mentioned Constance, the Happy Wandering Doc, and Hammerhead; but there is the mortician that is dominated by his overbearing wife. There is the lady who can’t control her obnoxious kids. Oh, I can’t forget the person that likes to vandalize buildings with penis-graffiti art. Thorne and Cross love to give their characters sexual idiosyncrasies. It just wouldn’t be a Thorne and Cross book without the characters that seek out different ways to satisfy themselves. Every once in a while, one of these characters will have a criminally deranged perversion, but damn it, these are horror novels! So, be afraid and even disgusted at those characters who kill and maim in the goal of fantasy fulfillment, but laugh at the ones that who have harmless albeit different hobbies. “The Chocolate Wander” – laugh, this is funny, it wanders where “chocolate” gathers! Well, I should say, laugh until someone gets hurt, because sometimes what starts as fun and weird ends rather badly.
Oh, I forgot to mention that I like this book. I guess that’s the point of a review, isn’t it, to state whether you like it or not? I could go into more detail about the Blue Lady and the hauntings how she possesses people, and I could delve into the legends from the past and how the circumstances surrounding serial killings from one-hundred years ago are happening again in an eerily similar manner. Like I said, I COULD go into all that, but nah, read about that for yourself when you buy the book and read it OR listen to it. Take a journey through its pages. Happy Wandering!
Gods and goddesses and demons, oh wow! Arachnids and familiars and oracles, oh dear! Earthquakes and famine and war, oh shit! Shiny men – skinless women – revived dead, say what?
And ghosts. So many ghosts. Hanging out on the roads, in the alleys, in your darkest dreams. Oh, and they hang out in houses too. This last point provides me with the necessary loop hole to include Joe Pawlowski’s novel Dark House of Dreamsin my reviews of haunted house literature. But for the most part, it belongs in an entirely different genre.
The genre of the novel as per Amazon.com is dark fantasy. Scrolling through best sellers that fall into this category, I came across title words such as “summoner,” “underworld,” “dragon,” and “retribution.” Hopefully these words conjure the kinds of themes this genre deals with. I am largely unfamiliar with this genre. I do not normally review books that fall into this category since my genre consists of stories pertaining to ghosts and haunted houses. A reader that is solely attracted to Gothic literature might not be interested in a book of this sort. Likewise, a reader exclusively dedicated to modern haunted house fiction might not be smitten with the stuff of this novel either. Fans looking for similarities to The Haunting of Hill House,The Shining or The Amityville Horror will find nothing of the sort in Dark House of Dreams.
The plot is rather complex and difficult to describe. Dark House of Dreams is one book in a series; the Ring Gargery Series. Much of the book devotes itself to fleshing out a story arc that will reach its curve in future novels. However, this isn’t the first of the series. The Watchful Dead: A Tale of Old Hastur (A Ring Gargery Thriller) predates this novel and is described as “a nightmare blend of gothic traditionalism, magical realism and dark fantasy.” Perhaps this novel might align more closely to haunted house fiction theme? I should have read this first. Oh well.
Ring Gargery is the protagonist, but he’s by no means the only character to lend readers a perspective. Having spent his childhood isolated within the walls of his house, he comes of age outside the walls, in a world of slaves and nobles where travel is done by boat or horseback, villages are many miles apart and great turmoil is afoot.
An earthquake caused by a demon has ravaged a neighboring community. A giant spider, a god, is burrowing under the town and rising every so often to claim a victim. All this while Ring ekes out a living as a stableman. His pastimes include drinking bowls of wine with friends at pubs and engaging in romantic rendezvous with women. He is also searching for his mother, who mysteriously “went lost”. Meanwhile, he has these prophetic dreams that place him in a dark house where he is tasked with exploring different “rooms” each time he drifts off to sleep. When crossing the threshold, he enters not a room but a landscape of some sort.
What is my favorite slice of turmoil in this story? Why that would be the ghosts, of course! A sorceress has broken down the gates of the underworld and the ghosts have been freed to walk the ….earth? (I’m not even sure this story takes place on earth). The community is forced to live side-by-side with these phantoms. They are mostly a nuisance, but sometimes they can be dangerous enough to be maddening or even deadly. For mysterious reasons, Ring’s childhood house is overrun with ghosts. They are drawn to it the way flying insects are attracted to light.
Then there is more. There’s politics; councilmen argue and point fingers and do underhanded things. There are murders and kidnappings. There is death by public execution. And then there is more. I can go on and on.
How did I stumble upon this book and why am I reviewing it? I found an advertisement for this book in one of the many Facebook groups I belong to that encourage authors to promote their books. The title caught my eye. When a haunted house guy such as myself sees the words “dark house”, he reads on. When he sees the word “ghosts” in the synopsis, he considers it for purchase. If the price is right (it was), he goes in for the buy. And that’s what I did. Though there are only a few instances of ghostly goings-on’s that frighten the occupants of a house or castle, dog gone it, I just wanted to say something about Dark House of Dreams. It took work to finish this book. So many unusual character names, so many unique names for various families, tribes or religious sects (thank you Joe Pawlowski for the list of characters with descriptions at the book’s end!). I wanted there to be something to show for my efforts. Hence this article; it’s my participation trophy.
Did I like it? In a nutshell, yes. I wouldn’t have finished it if I didn’t. I have no criticisms. I can’t say that I’m in love with it though. It’s just a matter of taste. It is remarkably well written. And to think of the work involved in creating the world of this novel, set in a mysterious place. Every word spoken, every object used, every place the reader is taken to props up this world and fits neatly together to forge this fantastic setting. Yes, it took work to comprehend this setting, but much less I am sure than it took to create it. So no, it’s not really a haunted house tale. And it probably does not belong within my catalog of reviews. But here it is anyway. Sue me if you must.