The Woman in Black – Modern Gothic at its Best!

My claim to expertise has been compromised!   

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How dare I claim to be an expert on haunted house literature when I have only just recently read The Woman in Black by Susan Hill!  I am sooo late to the game – very late! I apologize for my tardiness.

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This is a major faux pas, since what we have here is a modern “classic”, in every sense of the word.   The Woman in Black is a novella of high quality. It serves as the definitive model for the various adaptions that premiered across various mediums including two films (Made for British TV movie of 1989  and Made for the Big Screen in 2012) and one TheWomanInBlackplay (In London 1987 ). It relays a standard and reminds of the “shoulds” of a ghost story; it should be descriptive, mysterious, suspenseful, and of course scary.  In addition – Susan writes with a nineteenth century style, giving the story a welcoming Gothic flavor . All of this is a testament to its greatness; a greatness that I should not have ignored for so long.

The story is simple. Who needs a lot of complexity when “simple” gets the job done, right? Anyway, retired lawyer Arthur Kipps refuses to join with his wife and stepchildren in the frivolity of telling ghost stories, for he takes the matter seriously. His real experience with ghosts rivals all of their silly yarns. His true tale is disturbing and deadly; his family wouldn’t understand.

As a young London lawyer, Arthur is sent to the remote coastal village of Crythin Gifford to attend to the affairs of the late Mrs. Alice Drablow. He must attend her funeral and then retrieve all of the significant legal documents that are scattered about at her former place of residence – Eel Marsh House (gotta love that name!) At her funeral, he sees a mysterious, sickly woman dressed in black. When Arthur mentions her to another funeral attendee, the other freaks out and won’t admit to seeing her. Likewise, no one in the village wants to discuss the late Mrs. Drablow. They want nothing to do with her house, which exists a few miles outside the village. It is surrounded my marshes. It is impossible to get there at high tide. Arthur heeds not the warnings of the people, for he has a job to do. He stays all alone at Eel Marsh House. In the end he will experience something so horrific that he will not be able to share the story with his stepchildren many years later.

As I read this novella and prepared for this review, I could not help but notice parallels between several aspects of this story and certain themes that I have written about here at this blog. First, it pays homage to the “Christmas Ghost Story”, a topic I have written about extensively (For starters, there’s this:  Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses ). The ghost story sessions mentioned at the beginning of this novella occur on Christmas Eve. One of Arthur’s stepchildren correctly points out that such a pastime is part of the English Christmas tradition; at least it was in the days of yore. I am reminded a bit about the Christmas haunted house story by the name of Smee. (See  Review of Smee – A Christmas Ghost Story by A.M. Burrage. To date, this post receives the most traffic). Like Arthur Kipps, the narrator of the ghost story in Smee is reluctant to take part in certain holiday festivities on account of a past terrifying experience. In Smee, the activity that frightens him is a hide-and-seek type game. In The Woman in Black, it is the telling of the ghost story that is unsettling. In both cases, readers learn of the backstory that causes these protagonists to fret on Christmas Eve. In both scenarios, its is this backstory that will turn into the main story.

TheWomanInBlack2Second, the haunted house of this novella is surrounded by terrain that is descriptively creepy. Ghostly grounds are a nice compliment to the haunted house that stands on its domain. I wrote about this here: Ghostly Grounds: Explorations Outside of the Haunted Houses of Film and Literature. While eerie events take place inside the house (inside the locked nursery!), most of the terror takes place outside the walls of Eel Marsh House. There is a nearby cemetery where Arthur once again sees the woman in black. Even more creepier are the marshes. Only by a Causeway can a traveler make safe passage to the house. However, the frequent sea frets often obscure the safe passages. It is here out on these foggy marshes that Arthur hears what I deem to be the most terrifying element of the story. In a good ghost story, things that are not seen are more frightening then then the stuff spoiled by sight. Had I read The Woman in Black before writing the “Ghostly Grounds…” article, I certainly would have made reference to Susan Hill’s story.

Finally, Susan Hill strives for the style of the traditional English ghost story. In my opinion she succeeds at this feat. I have written about the traditional English ghost story, in articles such as J.S. LeFanu and Haunted Houses and Everything I Know About Haunted Houses I Learned from British Literature . First of all, though published in 1983, the book is written in the Gothic style that permeates these ghostly tales of yore. For instance, The Woman in Black is told in the first person and is a story within a story, which was a common plot device back then. The sentences are long and they often give way to passive voice. Susan Hill will write “my spirits rose” instead of “I began to feel better” or “you look unwell” instead of “you look sick.” Furthermore, the story is saturated with descriptions, often about the sky, the grounds and the weather.

What does this style do for the story? A lot! In establishes tone and wraps readers in a certain kind of chilling mood; a mood that modern ghost stories just aren’t able to invoke. And yet, with all its mimicry of the old style, there is something “modern” hidden within that I cannot explain. Somehow this work stands apart from Hill’s literary predecessors. Perhaps it’s the absence of archaic terminology that I often stumble upon when reading the ghosts stories of yesteryears. Maybe she benefits by learning from the old stories in a way that the authors of the traditional stories could not since they were but fledglings of their time. I’m just guessing here. But this “something” that I’m so desperately trying to convey testifies to the overall mystery that surrounds this novel. Heck, even the time period of the story is somewhat enigmatic. Like most gothic tales, this is a period piece. But Hill never explicitly states the year. Cars appear in the book, but so do traps and horses. A man on the train “takes out his watch”, he doesn’t look at his wrist. Telephones are mentioned, but so is the telegraph. Often communication is left to old fashion letters and telegrams.

I have heard good things about the 2012 film version of the book starring Daniel Radcliffe – Good ol’ Harry Potter! I am looking forward to seeing and reviewing that film. But the book is a tough act to follow, so we’ll just have to see. But I’m optimistic.  I’m sure I will enjoy it, but probably not as much as the novella.

 

Review of The Witches of Ravencrest (The Ravencrest Saga Book 2)

WitchesRavencrestOnce upon a time, I absorbed the “Ghosts of Ravencrest.” Then I needed a break. I had to let these ghosts settle into my consciousness and give them time to digest into my subconscious before moving on. And move on I did,  carrying these ghosts with me, for they were stored in my memory banks. But alas, many of these banks were locked; their contents – irretrievable?  I had hoped not, for any understanding of the book that is under review depended on unobstructed access to these ghosts. Were “The Witches of Ravencrest” able to set them free?   Short answer – yes!

For those have absolutely no clue about what I was babbling about in the preceding paragraph, I refer you to this review: The Ghosts of Ravencrest  The Ghosts of Ravencrest is the first book in the Ravencrest saga. The subject of this review is The Witches of Ravencrest, the second book of the series. I finished the first book back in February. When I started the second book in the late summer, I was a bit worried. It had been a while since I visited with the occupants of Ravencrest Manor – the haunted house of the Ravencrest series. These occupants are members of the Manning household; would I remember them?

As far as family goes, the task was easy. The only living family members are Eric Manning and his two children. Check, check, annnnnd check!  But this household includes more than just this trio of living relations – so much more.  First there is the household staff. There is Belinda Moorland, the governess for the Manning children and the aspiring love interest of Eric Manning. Since she is the central protagonist, I had an easy time recalling her as well. Being the newest member of the household, it is through her eyes that readers of the first book come to meet the rest of the staff; a collection of  odd individuals whose idiosyncrasies  range from the charmingly eccentric to the dangerously disturbed.  Then there are those other “entities” that lurk about in the house; abhorrent creatures living in the walls and mysterious spirits that haunt an entire wing of the mansion. Going on memory, it seemed that each household member, living or dead, had a role to play in this somewhat complicated  and continuously unfolding plot. Oh Lordy! How was I ever going to reacquaint myself with all these characters and remap this plot?  Turns out, the task was not that difficult.

With familiar ease, I rediscovered Grant Phister the butler and his husband Riley the gardener. Grant is the eyes and ears of Ravencrest and he seems to be the one tasked with managing the overall affairs of the household. This is no easy feat since part of his job, unofficial though it may be, is to keep the supernatural carnage at a minimum. His ease of character and witty humor make him memorable.   Officially, the untrustworthy Cordelia Heller is the household manager. She is bound to the estate by matters of wills and legality.  It took me very little time to refamiliarize myself with her wicked ways.  For she is an ancient witch that has worn different clothing’s of flesh over her many years. She has it in for Belinda, who is learning, little by little, that she has her own magical abilities that, when fully realized, may rival the skills of Cordelia.  But for now, Cordelia’s power is great! In The Ghosts of Ravencrest, she transformed a man into a crawling abomination that lives inside the walls. This thing, known as The Harlequin, is back in this second novel. He passed out of my conscience for a time, but he crawled back into my brain with the same ease for which he crawls about in the ventilation system.  Cordelia is in charge of the maids who she regularly disciplines down in the dungeon, thereby adding some BDSM flavor to this novel. Ah yes, how could I have forgotten the spicy Dominique, the Latina maid whose obsession with Jesus Christ is taken to an erotic level! Oh and I had forgotten all about Walter Hardwicke, the chauffer, always doing the bidding of Cordelia.  He is also a serial killer. Once reintroduced, I “remembered him fondly” (not really, I just wanted to use that phrase!)

Of all the ghosts that haunt Ravencrest, the three nuns stand out the most. I never forgot them and they are back again, gliding in unison in the haunted wing, forcing anyone they encounter to “Eat, eat, eat!” the cursed persimmons that they have in their possession.  But perhaps of more prominence are the ghosts of Mannings long since dead. To what extent these men and women haunted Ravencrest in the first book I could not remember. But they shine with meaning and revelation in The Witches of Ravencrest.

 The first book introduces us to all these characters and lets us readers know that GhostsRavencrestRavencrest is haunted not only with spirits but also by a strange history of familial drama wrapped in murder and treachery. This second book goes beyond the supernatural manifestations and explores the agents of such phenomena; the summoners of spirits, the casters of spells. In short, we move on from “The Ghosts of Ravencrest” to “The Witches of Ravencrest”.  In the first book we learn what we are dealing with. In the second book, we learn more about the whys and wherefores of the “whats”. We learn of the complex roles of the characters and begin to understand how they fit into the larger story.

For better or worse, The Ravencrest Saga has the makings of a literary soap opera. There is love and eroticism, murder and betrayal, a subplot here, a trail of story over there, here a conflict, there a conflict, everywhere a con-flict – Eric Manning had a house – E-I-E-I-GHOST! Some may not like this style, especially those horror fans that are not into romance sagas. While I am not a follower of such a genre, I did enjoy this book. What I missed, however, were the trips back in time that were prevalent in the first book. There are places in The Ghosts of Ravencrest where the story creeps back to the distant past. The writing style of these sections reflects the style of the period. We go back a century or two and learn about the Manning family of yore. We see how ghosts and witches were a part of the makeup of the family even back then. In The Witches Of Ravencrest, while the ghosts of the old times visit the present, we as readers are rarely allowed back into the past. I miss the old world of the story. Oh well, time marches forward I guess.

So to wrap it all up, The Ravencrest Saga offers interesting characters and a compelling story. It mixes erotica with the gothic. Sometimes this mixture works well. At other times it…I don’t know, it just “works” these other times, minus any supporting adjective. The soap opera style can be daunting, especially if one is not attuned to this style of storytelling, but in the end it pays off with its creativity of content.

 

 

 

 

Tag – You’re IT – My Next Haunted House Movie Review.

ITLogoDoneDoneI lied. IT is not a haunted house movie. Rather, IT is a horror movie that has a haunted house. There is a difference.  What’s “haunted” in IT is the town of Derry.  What haunts it?  IT haunts it!  (I’m not going to go into an Abbott and Costello routine). IT lives inside the complex sewage system underneath the town.  IT ascends via the drains, sewers  and other surface pathways. What is IT? That remains to be seen, but IT often appears as a clown that goes by the name Pennywise.  Pennywise is a bad, bad clown. He frightens the children! Not only does he frighten them, but he also pulls them down into the sewers and kills them. IT also appears as the object of nightmares, which varies from kid to kid.  Little Stanley sees an abstract face painting come to life. Eddie is chased by a leper. Mike sees burnt and rotting arms. These “hauntings” occur throughout the town in various places; in basements and bathrooms, in alleyways, out in the barrens.  Oh, and inside Derry’s “haunted house.”

In small town Americana legend, there is always a house that kids think to be haunted – one that’s abandoned and rundown.  Heck, even Andy Griffith’s town of Mayberry has such a house. As it turns out, its only spirits were the one’s brewed by Otis’s bootlegging. Well unfortunately for Derry, its old and abandoned house has much worse things than a red-nosed, happy-go-lucky drunk. The Derry house has a red-nosed, homicidal clown. And many other things!

IT has a strong presence inside the house. This is because of the well in the basement that drops down into the sewer system. Thus, the house serves as sort of a gateway to hell; a portal to where all things terrible lie.  Have we seen this theme played out before anywhere on this blog.  Yes we have!  How about here:

HP Lovecraft – Houses as Portals to Alternate Dimensions:

And here:

The Sentinel

and there are others, on and off this blog. This is a popular theme in haunted house lore. Storywriters love to hide portals to dark dimensions inside houses.

In your average haunted house movie, the house is the primary haunt. Most of the events of the film take place inside its walls. This is not the case in IT.  I would guess the house in IT occupies less than 10% of the total screen time. Now what of the book? Does this house serve the same function in the book? Gosh I don’t know!

I read IT almost 20 years ago. I wasn’t an avid reader in those days. I liked horror but only as much as the next guy. What did I like and do back then? I don’t remember! Anyway I had only read maybe one Steven King novel, one novella, and one short story, and all those  I had read 15 years before then.  I wanted to know more about “Da King” , so I went right for one of his most lengthy works. I don’t remember how long it took to read but read, read, and read  I did until I was alllllll done!  Good boy! I loved the book and to this day I consider it one of my favorites. Maybe top-ten worthy, if not it would definitely be in the teens of my preferential list. However, I can’t remember every little detail. Oh hell, I’ll come clean – I can’t remember many medium-sized details.  The haunted house, for instance. I remember it being in the book. I remember that there was an abandoned, run down house but I can’t remember how much or how little importance it was to the story. And as much as I love the book, I’m not about to reread it.  I’m getting old  and I don’t know if I even have the strength to hold that tome in my hands!

Before I go further, I guess I better do some “reviewing”. After all, I am including this article in my review section, am I not?  So…let me get the “review” over with.

IT is great! Best horror movie I’ve seen on the big screen in a long time. It’s been a long time since there was a film based on a book from horror master Stephen King that didn’t suck, and I’m including King-based television movies and series as well. It’s scary through and through! It doesn’t try to rival the book or “be” the book; it doesn’t try to cram 1090 pages of story into two hours of film. It knows its medium’s restraints.  The child actors are remarkable and there performances are memorable. Did I mention that IT is a great film?

There, the review is done. Now back to the haunted house! A group of friends known collectively as The Losers’ Club brave the house in an attempt to stop the deadly IT once and for all. And for us haunted house lovers, its so much fun when they do!  The objects of their fears come after them!  They separate. Doors lock. Mysterious doors suddenly appear! Horror is everywhere! What are those things underneath all those sheets?  Watch out behind you! What’s that?  Fun! Fun! Fun! Fun!

Okay so IT isn’t a haunted house movie per se. The sphere that receives the haunting is the town of Derry, which of course includes the house. Later it will be the sewage system that is the primary epicenter of haunt (wait and see, kiddos!) . But golly gee willikers, the haunted house scenes in this film are fabulous! It is fun to watch and apparently it is fun to recreate  because this film has spawned haunted attractions that mimick this movie’s house. Take a look!

 

As interesting as this attraction appears, it is not on my bucket list. If I just happened to be in Hollywood and happened to be on the street of this attraction then maybe I would enter. But I’m willing to bet that whatever scare experience it has to offer, it will not match the thrill I had sitting in the theater and touring the on-screen house through the eyes of the camera. What a thrill that was! It will thrill you too! See IT!

Review of Ghosts of Manor House

ManorHouseIf you have been a regular reader of my reviews, it should be no secret that I crave certain things from the haunted houses of literature. I have a criteria by which I base my story preferences. That being said, there are many decent  haunted house stories that fail to abide by this criteria.  I may enjoy these stories, but chances are, for me to knight a book with greatness, it has to live up to my standards.  Mind you, these standards are subjective. But hey, much of this entire blog is devoted to my points of view – so let me continue on subjecting you to my subjective opinions!

In my article Social Theory and the Haunted House, I have delineated between two types of haunted houses. They are either:

A)    A place for a bunch of ghosts to hang out.

Or

B) A place that is greater than the sum of its ghosts

I prefer B) I want the houses to do more than just serve as a backdrop for exhibitionistic ghosts.  I want the house to be as much of a contributor to a haunting as the spirits that occupy it.  A good haunted house has consciousness. Maybe the house itself is a spirit. Or maybe it is alive.  The house should be able to exert its will on its inhabitants, with or without ghosts. The house should have a rich history; it should have stories from the past that speak to its present nature.  A good haunted house has a memory. Moreover, I love a house that exerts the power of symbolism. It should stand not only as a structure of brick or stone, but as a representation of an enduing entity. A kingdom perhaps, or a lineage or family. Maybe it stands for existence itself; for endurance incarnate.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you: Manor House. This house meets most of my criteria. Its ghosts respect and honor their home. So let’s give it up for Ghosts of Manor House, an excellent novel by Matt Powers.

Here are some words from the author himself:

When writing a book, people tell you to develop your characters and soon they write themselves. This became true for me, but the characters that spoke to me the most were Manor House and its partner, Mr. Travels. These two entities drew me into their world. The others are satellites, flies caught in the web of old spirits. Like the characters in this story, Manor House drew me in and captured me.

This paragraph is taken from the beginning of the book in a section called Note From the Author. And I have to say, these two “characters” spoke to me too.  I got to know Manor House in its many carnations. From a courthouse in its early years to a bed and breakfast in a more modern age.  From a revered building where harsh judgments were cast upon doomed  detainees to an inviting retreat center that loves its guests so much that it just doesn’t want to let them go!  While a regular old, aging  house collects dust, Manor’s House gathers up ghosts.  I just love Power’s description of a  “web of old spirits.”  It suits Manor House to a tee!  And now, from a tee to a tree!  The tree is Mr. Travels. Its sinewy branches cast shadows across the grounds of Manor House.  It too has seen its share of history.  Many people perished on its low hanging branches. The stuff of legend has given it a most unique origin. It is connected to Manor House in a most mysterious way. Perhaps it serves as the pulse of the house?  It wouldn’t be surprising. While the author was giving me a tour of the house via the story, I could swear I felt the house’s heart beat. Was this in the basement? I can’t recall.  Maybe its best that I don’t remember.

The bulk of the story takes place in the mid 1970s and revolves around Edmund and his family. The family has suffered through a tragedy, so Edmund arranges for a getaway to help ease their suffering souls. He reserves Manor House for his wife Mary and his children. It comes equipped with a full staff; a butler, a maid and a gardener.  Now get this – in chapter entitled “One Week Later -Escape from Manor House”, Edmund is fleeing the house while some of the staff are trying to convince him to return.  In the following chapter, “Welcome Back to Manor House,”  Edmund is alone, getting set up in his new place that is Manor House. He is supposed to meet his family there and….where are they? THAT is the question that pulls readers to the end of the book.  Yes readers, TGhost of Manor House is a suspenseful novel.   To keep the suspense alive, Powers’ reveals just enough information – here and there, chapter by chapter. It’s all about healthy, measured spoonfuls of clues. Never too much – there are no mass information dumps. You will not get literary indigestion.

At 133 pages, Ghosts of Manor House is what I would consider a short novel. It is short, but it is complete. Within this novel of limited length, there is a tome of possibility. I’m looking for sequels and prequels. Of course that is up to the author.  Or maybe it isn’t! Maybe it’s Manor House itself that is on control. Matt Powers brought it to life and maybe the house will exert its living influence back on the author and entangle him in its “web of spirits,”  forcing him to write his way out!  With no sadistic intentions, I hope this happens.

Visit Matt’s Blog at https://www.ghostsofmanorhouse.com/  or just click on the picture below an teleport yourself over there!

ManorHouse2a

Review of V/H/S

VHSShould this be the review where I delve into the found footage phenomena and provide insightful analysis on its effectiveness at establishing horror? Uh..nah!  Maybe instead, I can go into what works and what doesn’t work when using the found footage style of filmmaking to make a haunted house film?  Nah to that as well.  Truth be told, I am no expert on these things. Moreover, a lot that depends on personal preference.  Quite often it boils down to a) You like found-footage films. b) you do not like found footage films.

For me it’s hit or miss. V/H/S, the film under review, is a found footage film.  For the most part, it is a miss.

Since some of you might be unfamiliar with the found footage subgenre, an explanation is in order. I was about to do some explaining but then I thought, “to hell with that”, why not find a description and then quote it? I think, therefore I do.  So here is a definition/description from Wikipedia:

Found footage is a subgenre in films in which all or a substantial part of a fictional film is presented as if it were discovered film or video recordings. The events on screen are typically seen through the camera of one or more of the characters involved, often accompanied by their real-time off-camera commentary. For added realism, the cinematography may be done by the actors themselves as they perform, and shaky camera work and naturalistic acting are routinely employed. The footage may be presented as if it were “raw” and complete, or as if it had been edited into a narrative by those who “found” it.

The most common use of the technique is in horror films (e.g., Cannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, [REC], Cloverfield), where the footage is purported to be the only surviving record of the events, with the participants now missing or dead.

Fun House was the first horror movie I saw in the theater. I saw it was with my dad. In the film the characters are murdered, one by one.  Only one person, a girl, is left at the film’s end. After the movie, my  dad had told me that he knew she would live because someone has to survive to tell the story. He was correct. But with found-footage films, a sole survivor is no longer necessary. The camera is left behind to detail the events. If part of the story is “missing”, that supposedly only adds to the overall mystery.

Found-footage films are supposed to look “real”. That is, they are made with an intentional amateurish quality so that they appear to be made in real time and not according to a script.  Therefore when something horrific happens, the intended illusion is that it is happening “for real”.  I get all that. But to me, V/H/S is largely unwatchable. Too much shaking, too many haphazard shots, too much , too much too much. And besides, what’s with the letter –forward slash – letter –forward slash title. Can’t a simple “VHS” do? I guess not.

I am writing this review on account of the two haunted house films that appear in this anthology.   There are six films in all, with one being the film that ties the rest together.

The “tie-together” film is Tape 56/frame narrative. A group of petty thugs break into a house in an attempt to steal a VHS tape for which someone is willing to pay a lot of money. The man who lives there is a tape hoarder. But the intruders find him dead in his chair, in front of a TV, in a room with hundreds of tapes. The intruders started playing some tapes. The tapes they play make up the rest of the stories in this film. So what we have here is five found footage films inside one found footage film.  How….arty?  Mmmm…mmeh.

Anyway, let’s get to the relevant films. “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” directed by Joe Swanburg, is about a woman who lives in a haunted apartment. The whole story plays out on video chat. Emily occupies the big square of the chat and we see chat partner James in the smaller square.  James (along with us the viewers) bears witness to the haunting when he sees the video images of young ghostly girls creeping around behind Emily.  This is an okay film story wise. The typical annoyances that are built into  found footage films are kept to a minimal. Still, viewers have to put up with straying camera angles now and then. We have to watch the main chat screen succumb to the pixilation errors. I hate when this happens when I am on a video chat so I certainly don’t want to watch it happen in a film I am paying to watch.

10/31/98 is the better of the two haunted house films. Directed by a group collectively known as Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez & Chad Villella), the film is about a trio of young men who arrive at a huge, multi room/multi floor house for a Halloween party. All the rooms are lit up, but where are the guests? They decide to explore the confines. They make it to the topmost part of the house and they stumble on something very disturbing. After this they make a run for it. This is when the house itself freaks out.  Through the shaky, mobile camera, we see arms reaching out from the walls. We see dishes rise off the table. In every hall, every room, as they run, run  run, we see something creepy and unnatural. It’s almost like a Halloween haunted house attraction, only this place has some real magic going on.  I love it all– except for the shaky camera. If only for a camera that was held still and directed properly, then maybe I can better see those lovely haunting antics. But no, can’t have that. After all, this is a found-footage film.

My favorite of all the stories is not a haunted house film. It is Amateur Night, directed byVHS2 Bruckner. Three guys go bar hopping and bring home two women. One of them happens to be a succubus. Once they learn of her demonic tendencies, the rest of the night doesn’t go so well.  Loved the film but once again, the shaky camera ruins the whole thing.

Perhaps some people feel that the shaky camera work enhances the horrific realism. I am not one of those people. However, there are some found footage films that I really like. One film really pays off with this technique. While some don’t consider it a haunted house film, I do. If memory serves me correctly, the shakiness is kept to a minimum, if it’s even there at all. I’ve been meaning to review this film for some time. I will do so. Soon. And then and only then will its title be revealed.

 

Review of Maynard’s House

MH2For this review I present an extraordinarily original story that is sadly overlooked. A Google search for Maynard’s House yields a few relevant results but not many. If not for a burning desire to revisit the summers of my youth, I would have missed this fascinating story about a haunted shack in the blizzardy mountains. That’s right folks, you read correctly: a severe case of summer nostalgia led me to a cold and isolated terrain that scrambles the real with the unreal. How did a wholesome quest for summer bliss lead to all this?  I’ll tell ya.  Read on!

Two and a half months ago, the summer of 2017 was just beginning. There I was, your humble and lovable Haunted House Host, yearning for those teenage summers. Yearning to go to a place where time took a leave of absence, where rules were meant to be broken. Breaking the rules is part of growing up, is it not? I was wishing to approach new experiences with wide eyes and a weightless soul.  Well, none of that was happening, so I did the next best thing; I read about such experiences.  Long story short, I sought out novels with the theme of summer nostalgia.  One such book was The Summer of ’42 by Herman Raucher. Known mostly for the movie adaption of the same title, it is author’s memoirs of a summer he spent on the island of Nantucket as a teen. It is a summer of mindless shenanigans, of idle times and ravaging hormones. It is also a tale of bittersweet romance and sorrow.

Now, how did I get turned around one hundred and eighty degrees from a summery love story to a winter’s horror tale? Well the article: From Summer to Autumn: The Spirit Remains the Same (The Darker Sides of Ray Bradbury and Herman Raucher),  contends that each book has similar themes. So in fact, they might not be polar opposites. Ah but that is a topic for another article – like the one I just referenced! But to get back to the original question, I have to thank good ol’ Amazon (Henceforth referred to as “Amzy”); Amzy is always so keen with its suggested reads! Naturally, since I downloaded one book by Herman Raucher, Amzy assumed I would want to read others by the same author.  Amzy showed me There Should Have Been Castles and A Glimpse of a Tiger, two love stories involving teenage characters. Who would guess that an author known for penning humorous stories of youth and romance had a real scary story within him? His final book (to date), Maynard’s House, is that story. Standing up on the Amzy lookout post with all the other members of the Raucher collection, its stare met my eyes while the glazes of the other titles brushed passed my shoulders. Ghosts are always looking for new places to occupy. When they see a man with an aura in the shape of a haunted house (hint: that’s me!), they move in for the taking.  I didn’t find Maynard’s House – it found me.  It found me at the closing of one of those other titles, standing on the sunny shores of a New England beach. It pulled me out of The Summer of ‘42 and took me across the ocean, over the horizon, to a different kind of reality.

While I have said that there are similar themes in both books, a paragraph from the From Summer to Autumn… article summarizes a key difference between The Summer of ’42 and Maynard’s House:

The first book is about the building a man. This man is constructed on a warm sandy beach in the wake of a wartime tragedy. The second book is about taking apart a man. He is deconstructed in the cold winter snow.

mhAustin Fletcher will come apart. He is a war-weary veteran of the Vietnam War. His war buddy, Maynard Whittier, dies on the battlefield. Maynard wills his house to Fletcher. This house is a simple shack in a hostile wilderness. But Austin will reside in it. After all, he is very much like the house. He is a simple man living in an inimical world. The house, however, will not take to him.  Unaware of his final fate, Austin makes his way to the snowiest regions of Maine to seek out the shack.

Austin begins his journey to the “salvage center for his soul” (not from the book; I made that up) via a freight train with some passenger accommodations. He is the only passenger. Snow halts the train, but Austin marches on, contending with the harsh elements on foot. He almost dies, but strangers help him along the way and he warms up at way stations.  Austin doesn’t take to these strangers. Although kind and helpful, he is put off by their localized eccentricities.   He doesn’t seem to take to much. He’s not exactly the most lovable character. The story itself describes him as forgettable; a face in the crowd.  Nevertheless, I as a reader was anxious to continue on the journey with him, partly out of morbid curiosity.

Maynard’s House is psychological horror. It is implied that Austin suffers from PTSD. He is an unreliable narrator. It’s always fun to take an unreliable narrator and stuff him inside some house and wait for the fun to begin. Ordinary objects take on such horrifying shapes. Anything can happen.  Eventually Austin makes it to the shack. Shadows dance at night. A rocking chair creaks and moans.  We are forced to ponder – is all this real?  This things he sees, are they just images from his mind?

Projection. According to Wikipedia, “Projection” is a psychological defense mechanism “in which humans defend themselves against their own or qualities by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.”  This often bares out in horror stories. Take the horror that is on the inside and project it outwards. We saw this happen in The Innocents (Henry James – “The Turn of the Screw”). We see it again here. Austin’s brain is the projecter. The Shack, “Maynard’s House”, is the screen. On this “screen” he projects his ghosts. The fun thing about projections – they can sliced and diced into symbols. The oversize bear that threatens to bring down the shack, is it a projection of his own self-destructive nature, is it a symbol of the harshness of the world against a vulnerable man, or is it literally a big bad bear?  The freakish, elusive imps that disappear into snow drifts, are they really some kind or primordial species or are they children, a boy and a girl? If  one is a young girl, sometimes youthfully forbidden while at other times seductively mature, is she the physcial manifestation of sexual guilt?

Literalism. What you see is what you get. Books such as Maynard’s House need a dose of literalism for nothing more than to keep the reader guessing. Austin’s encounters might not be the results of symbolic projections at all. The hauntings just might be the very real consequences of curses and witchcraft. Legend has it that a witch was hanged on a nearby tree back in the sixteenth century. Maynard tells Austin some of this before he dies. Locals fill Austin in the stories as well. Diaries found in the shack tell the story of past inhabitants, dwellers long before Autin and Maynard. The House didn’t like many of them either.

Witches. As I learn about the traits of the various classes of horror characters, I am coming to realize that witches exceed at mind-fuckery. Ghosts, demons, zombies – they frighten and terrify. Witches do the same, but they have this uncanny ability to manipulate reality and turn it on its heels, sending their victims spiraling off into the insane unknown. This might be what is happening to poor Austin.  There’s the pointed witch hat the “knocks” at his door. Should he answer?

Maynard’s House is a gripping novel. It deserves the same appreciation that is bestowed MH3upon so many of the great haunted houses books. It hides among Herman Raucher’s novels of youth and romance. Perhaps Raucher’s claim to fame, Summer of ’42, steers his brand on a course that leaves horror far behind. Well it found me and now I am presenting it with the hopes that it finds you.   The house might hate you and try to throw you away. However, the house might also love you. In that case, it might try and keep you. Forever.

 

Speed Dating With the Dead – A Review

Attention Everybody! God is temporarily breaking down the barrier between the living and the dead.  And that’s not all!  The Almighty is hosting the angelload of all social events – Speed Dating With the Dead!  I shall participate! Here I go…..

*** Sitting on a cloud. Waiting for my date to materialize. Waiting… Waiting…

DanMarylinCloudThere she is! Jack pot! It’s Marilyn Monroe!  I must be on cloud nine! Gee Marilyn, your halo is almost as golden as your hair!  My earthly beauty will never match your heavenly brilliance. Talk-talk-talk/Listen-listen-listen .  Uh oh., our time is almost up, the cloud is about to get me a new date. Hey Marylin I enjoyed our….

CloudLightningAni2

Lizzy Borden, uh…h-how interesting, you even have a “ghost axe”. Isn’t that, uh, something. S-shouldn’t you DanLizzyCloudbe part of the speed dating group that is being managed by, well, the people “downstairs”? You’re shaking your head “no”.  Hmm awkward chat/awkward chat/awkward chat.  Well gotta go, our time is up…

 

CloudLightningAni2

DanAmeliaCloudWow, Amelia Earhart! Nice to meet you! What’s that? You never died? You flew your plane into the clouds and broke through Heaven’s door, and you’ve been living among the angels ever since? Ha Ha Ha!  What a way to cheat death! Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me!



Yeah so,  regarding all those clouds and “dates”;  none of that has anything to do with Scott Nicholson’s book Speed Dating With the Dead. The novel has nothing to do with dating; speedy or slow, ethereal or substantive – none of that stuff.  It is, however, about a paranormal convention that convenes at a hotel that is supposedly a hot spot for ghostly activities. Turns out, this group of paranormal thrill seekers gets more than they bargained for.  They are expecting ghosts.  They will get demons instead.  The highly creative title comes from the observations of one of the ghost tour leaders, “Roach.” Roach suspects that the hotel is populated with entities that are far more dangerous than the residual spirit.  He is a trained demonologist and he frowns upon amateurs who trifle with paranormal sightings as if they were some kind of amusement park attractions. Thus, he terms this activity “Speed Dating With The Dead.”

From the book:

The Roach nodded while ignoring her. Paranormal tourism had all the inherent risk factors of traditional outdoor adventuring, with the same fear and response and endorphin rush. The Roach frowned upon speed dating with the dead, but he figured he could best serve on the front lines where meta-physical bullets flew hot and fast

The two main characters are Digger Wilson and his teenager daughter Kendra. Digger is the head of Spirit Seekers International and he arranges the paranormal tours at White Horse Inn. He has a special interest in this hotel. It is rumored to house several apparitions, but he is mainly interested in making contact with one specific specter – the spirit of his late wife Beth. On her deathbed, she promised to reunite with him at The White Horse Inn, the same hotel where they had celebrated their second honeymoon.

There are so many characters in this novel. The perspective is constantly changing and this jumping back and forth between characters is kind of like speed dating.  This is one of Nicholson’s styles. I have read five of his books and in all of them the story unfolds within the viewpoints of several characters.  On the one hand, this method widens the story. Readers come to understand different story angles and they meet some very interesting fictional people. However, it can get tedious trying to keep track of who is who.

Nicholson can be considered a craftsman of the modern ghost story. As much as I like the gothic tradition, this is not Nicholson. He’s not about prolonged descriptive atmosphere and hidden symbolism. His scares march to a faster beat.  He’s more about scenarios such as – You’re locked in the basement – There is no light – Sparks ignite from a broken down furnace – There are demonic things in there with you – people are panicking.  Look for this and other similar scenarios in Speed Dating With the Dead, a book that has the flair of modern horror films. It is The Conjuring and/or Insidious put into words.

As for the “whys and wherefores;” I’m not sure they exist. What is the meaning of the story? I have no idea. There is some kind of revelation at the end that makes no sense to me.  Parts of the story seem missing. Maybe the demons ate them, I don’t know.  But it is a scary book. The situations these ghost hunters get into when they break off into small groups and tour the many rooms and floors – wow!  Things might not always hold up plotwise, but there are some scary things hiding in the dark corners of this story.

Sensoria – A Swedish Ghost Story

SensoriaMeet Caroline Menard. She is fleeing a sad life and is starting over. Her marriage was bad. Her child never made it out of her womb. She has just moved into an apartment complex where she struggles to make sense of her life and her new surroundings. Since moving into the new place, it seems that she is always sensing…something.  She hears things in her apartment. She calls out “hello!” No one ever responds. She appears rather uncomfortable when she makes her way to the attic storage or down to the basement laundry room. It’s as if something is always following her.

The other tenants are rather peculiar. They all assume she lives with a family and find it odd that she lives alone. But it seems that each tenant she meets lives alone as well. There’s the finicky older lady who is both noisy and awkward at the same time. There’s the creepy guy upstairs that stares at her. And there’s a blind gentleman, who appears to be the most normal. But something seems a little bit off with his character as well.

Perhaps Caroline isn’t alone. The viewers of the film observe things that she cannot see. From inside the bathroom mirror, after Caroline retreats further into the bathroom, we see a ghost pass by in the adjoining hallway. The door to the kitchen cupboard opens by itself and a dish flies out and shatters.  We see it happen. She only hears it. When she comes into the kitchen to find the broken dish, she assumes it has just fallen.  Throughout the film, we watch as this ghost sneaks little peeks at her here and there. It is stalking her and we want to warn her but we can’t.

Caroline meets a little girl named My in the hallway. She is perhaps the strangest of all the tenants. She won’t tell Caroline her apartment number. Caroline takes a liking to her and My keeps her company. But My is afraid of her grandmother. Who is this grandmother? Does she live in the same apartment complex? This is a mystery.

Sensoria is a Swedish film from Director Christian Hallman. According to imdb.com Hallman’s resume includes several documentaries and short films. Sensoria is his first feature length film. He is listed as the director and the writer. In an interview at rarehorror.com, Hallman cites Roman Polanski’s film The Tenant as a major influence. I cannot draw a comparison because I have yet to see the movie. I must correct that situation soon. What I can do is offer more comments on this film. And I will. Please proceed to the next paragraph.

I like the overall style of the film, which patiently creates a creepy ambiance. The camera is like an artful eye that allows viewers to see the surroundings from unique vantage points. Lanna Ohlsson , who plays Caroline, gives a subtle performance that pays off.

Oh but however, (there’s always a “however”) I have certain issues with the film’s, how should I say it, structure? Is that what I mean. Hmmm…. Hey, I know! I’ll let Caroline herself sum up what I am trying to say:

…. like a jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces don’t fit together, some are badly constructed, some are missing.

Caroline says this to her friend, referring to her own life. Ironically, it sums up the movie as well. The situation regarding the strange tenants is never adequately explained. The tenant’s bewilderment about Caroline’s lifestyle; the “Oh you are living alone. I just assumed that..(you’re living with someone)” statements they utter, I don’t understand  what their points. Towards the end of the film, there are scenes that I think are meant to be plot twists, but gosh darn it, they just don’t make sense to me.  The film teases viewers into thinking there is something more, something hidden underneath the surface plot.  But it is only a tease. Furthermore, there are a lot of slow scenes – Caroline walking down street – going to laundry room -sitting at table eating soup. Earlier I mentioned that I admired the film’s patience. But to a certain extent. The film is patient. I am not. Not all the time anyway. And I believe that many viewers will be impatient  during certain scenes.

But I can’t thrash this film either. So let me end on a more positive note by describing sensoria2some of the brilliant camera work. At one point we see a tire-swing slowly swaying in the wind. This is in the foreground while Caroline walks in background talking on phone.

There are exterior shots of the complex at night from behind thin, curving tree branches. This is the stuff of atmosphere; these are the works of art that hide within the film. They pass by subtly but their presence is meaningful.

In the end, I do recommend this film despite its many flaws. Atmosphere wins. If nothing else, just let the camera be the guide and appreciate what its eye is capturing.

Childhood Memories That Would Not Fade On Account of “The House That Would Not Die”

HOuseThatWouldntDie

When I was a little boy back in the mid-seventies, many things scared me; loud noises, spiders, deep water, some creepy guy that attended one of my older sister’s parties. But apparently, ghosts and haunted houses didn’t make the scare factor – at least not the ones that appeared on TV. As a “young man” in my single digit years, I remember watching haunted house movies with my sister (the hostess of the party with the creepy guy) on television and loving them. She introduced me to some memorable movies. Well, mostly memorable.  Somewhat memorable?  I’ll explain this ambivalence.

Years and years went by and certain scenes from two of these movies stayed with me. The larger plots were forgotten; the titles and other identifying specs remained unknown.  I described what I had remembered about these films to my sister but my descriptions did not help to jog her memory. (This same sister attended a Led Zeppelin concert and to this day cannot recall anything from the set list, so my attempts to mine her memory banks were doomed before the mining had started).  Unaided, all alone (poor, poor me), I set out to relocate these haunted houses and rediscover the chilling haunts that lurked within them. All I had to go on were the images and impressions of a seven-year old. Were they reliable? Let us see!

Images and Impressions from Mystery Haunted House Film #1

  • There was a loud “BANG BANG BANG!” coming from behind a wall.
  • Somewhere near the end of a film, I remembered one of the male characters saying something to the effect of “I’m going to see what that is”, only to be thwarted by another man who kept saying “Don’t go in there…don’t!”

For years I had wondered what was behind “that one wall”. Did the characters ever discover what lurked behind it?  I now believe that the movie in question is The Haunting.  The BANG BANG BANG occurs throughout the film from behind several of the house’s walls; it is not delegated to one specific barrier to some unknown location.  As for the two men arguing – this occurs but it is a minor exchange. My memory had blown the conflict out of proportion.

My first adult experience of The Haunting occurred in the mid-nineties. (I saw it again in 2015 and reviewed it then.) Finally I had found the “BANG BANG BANG” film. The mystery had gone unsolved for twenty years!  It would take another twenty years to solve Mystery #2 . Finally, in the early part of the summer of 2017 (just a few weeks ago!), I saw Mystery Haunted House Film #2

Images and Impressions from Mystery Haunted House Film #2

  • I remembered that there were four characters; but I only recalled the appearances of two – a young woman with long hair brown hair and a young man with a black mustache.
  • The young woman kept shaking and acting freaky. My sister explained, “There’s a ghost inside her!” Later in the film, the young man with the mostache would suddenly get violent. Whenever this happened, my sister would say, “Now there’s a ghost inside him!”

 

What film could this be? I had searched though lists of haunted house films of the 1960s and early 70s, breezed through many a synopsis and looked over movie stills. Finally I came upon something that seemed to capture the images from my memory. Wouldn’t you know it – the film is free on youtube!  After watching the film I decided with 88 percent certainty that this was the “There’s a ghost inside her/him” movie.  It’s called The House that Would Not Die.

Once again, my memory proved inaccurate. There are indeed four main characters in this film with one being a young woman with long hair and another being a young man with a mustache. However it isn’t the young man that has an aggression problem.  In addition to the two youngsters, there are two older characters, played by Richard Egan  and Barbara Stanwyck. It is Egan’s character “Pat McDougal” that turns violent whenever a ghost enters his body.

So, after all these years of yearning for clarification, is the film so remarkable as to be well worth the wait? No not really. It’s your average made-for-TV movie. That’s right my friends, this movie first premiered on ABC on Oct 27, 1970 – just in time for Halloween. It’s not a bad film. It is what it is, and what it is is (no I will not delete the repeated word!) a typical “woman inherits a haunted house” story.  Ruth Bennett (Barbara Stanwyck) is the inheritor, and she and her young niece Sara Dunning (the long haired woman played by Kitty Winn) move in to the huge house. Right away, Ruth hits it off with Professor Pat Mcdougal, who is constantly shadowed by his bright pupil Stan Whitman (the young dude with the mustache, who is played by Michael Anderson Jr.)  The film rushes to unite all these characters so that – yay! – it now has a cast to haunt. As previously noted, spirits frequently possess poor Sara and poor Pat, forcing them to adopt the personalities of their possessors. This is why Pat becomes violent at times. It’s not his fault, so let’s not judge him too harshly. The spirits have been hanging around the house since the days of The American Revolution. This is why the film is titled The House That Wouldn’t Die.

This film will not sway those that are indifferent to this genre.  But I submit that fans of old-skool haunted house flicks might feel at home in this film. However, I hesitate to call it a “classic” because that would but it on par with legendary haunted house films such as The Legend of Hell House and, yes, The Haunting (Gotta love those BANG BANG BANGs!). The House That Would Not Die just doesn’t hold its shingles when compared to these other films.  But it’s entertaining in a dramatic kind of way. The ghost story is somewhat chilling. And the acting is above average. Of course, Stanwyck is always great, which brings me to my last and final misconception.  I had told someone that Stanwyck’s final film was William Castle’s The Night Walker – 1964. I was half-right. The Night Walker was Stanwyck’s final film on the big screen. She made several made-for-TV movies throughout the 70s, including The House That Wouldn’t Die.

Images and Impressions – these are some of the ghosts that have haunted me throughout the years. And I welcome them, even when they materialize in ways that challenge my memory. If nothing else, I appreciate the scenes from “The House That Would Not Die that have stayed with me since I was a child. For that to have happened, the filmmakers had to have done something right. And they did. They made a fair/good movie.  That’s not too shabby!

Watch the Movie – Free on Youtube (While it lasts)

Review of “Nyctophobia” – A Novel of Summer Sunshine and Foreboding Darkness.

 

TheElementals   Prelude to the Review

Hello there readers! Let me begin by bombarding you with some song lyrics.  And here they are –

“Maybe your mind is playing tricks. You sense and suddenly eyes fix.

On dancing shadows from behind”

“I have a constant fear that something’s always near”

Fear of the Dark, Fear of the Dark!”

Aw heck, I’ll go even further. Here are all the lyrics, appearing ever so nicely in this music-accompanied video –

Thank you Iron Maiden for letting us know what it’s like to fear the dark.   Might there be a word out there that defines such a fear?

There are several, according to Wikipedia. There’s “scotophobi”, and “lygophobia” but the most prominent name for this fear is “nyctophobia.”

Also from Wikpedia, nyctophobia …

“…is triggered by the brain’s disfigured perception of what would, or could happen when in a dark environment”

 Nyctophobia is also the name of a book written by Christopher Fowler. Does this book describe a character with a brain that produces a “disfigured perception of what would, or could happen when in a dark environment?” It sure does.  Read on to learn more!


The Meat and Guts of the Review


I am posting this review on July 13, 2017 so a “Happy Summer!” is on order. There are several horror writers/lovers out there that think very little of summer.  They prefer Halloween to the 4th of July and autumn leaves to sandy beaches.  I am not one of those authors. Whereas I do love Halloween and autumns, I also love me some good ol’ summertime!

Remember, one does not have to take a vacation from horror in the summer. There are summer horror books for your reading pleasure. Jaws  is perhaps the most famous book of summer scares. (selling more than 20 million copies) But are there summer books about haunted houses? Yes there are. A couple of summers ago, I reviewed one such book – The Elementals by Michael McDowell.  In the novel, there exists a haunted house off of the Gulf of Mexico on the Alabama panhandle that is surrounded by ocean waves and sandy dunes. Well I found another summer haunted house story for ya! There is not much in the way of oceans in Nyctophobia. Instead it offers us a semi-arid region of mountains and cliffs with lots of sunshine.

The majority of the book’s events play out in the summer months inside a house besides a cliff. The house seems to be a magnet for the light of the passing sun. Its large windows accept the sunshine willingly, which spreads out through the many rooms evenly and with precision. Officially it bares the title “Hyperion House” but it is nicknamed “The House of Light”.   It has…

Uninformed Critic: CUT!!!!!!!

Mr. Me – Yeah, what’s up? Why did you interrupt this review?

Uninformed Critic: This is supposed to be a book about the fear of darkness. You even brought in a heavy metal band for illustration. And here you are going on and on about summer, about sunshine, and blah blah blah!

Mr. Me – I’ll get to all the nyctophobia stuff, don’t you worry! I’m not going to leave you in the dark about these topics.  (See what I did there?  We were chatting about darkness and then I went and….)

Uninformed Critic:

Pow

 

Oww! My head. Somebody doesn’t take corny jokes too well! Sigh!

Anyway, in order to appease the fist-happy Uninformed Critic, I guess I should mention that there is this strange secluded section of Hyperion House that receives no light. It replicates the interior layout of the house, although it is much smaller than the main sections of the residence and it is sealed off from them. This section includes several rooms and an upstairs. It is not wired for electrical usage.  Locked doors prevent the light of the main house from creeping inside. Closed shutters keep the sunlight from shining in through the windows.

Doesn’t this setup seem quite strange? Callie thinks so. She is the newest occupant of Hyperion House. She is starting a new life; new country, new husband – and the new house comes equipped with servants who are quite familiar with the accommodations. The maid is reluctant to discuss the darkened section of the house. She has the keys to the locked doors but refuses to give them up. Her husband refuses to pay any mind to the situation.

Callie has had a troubled youth. Throughout all her troubles, she suffered from NYCTOPHOBIA US COVERNyctophobia – a fear of the dark. As an adult, she seems to have conquered the phobia.  But she really wants to go inside the dark, secluded section.  What’s in there? Will her childhood fears reemerge from the darkest corners of the house?

Such an interesting premise, wouldn’t you say, Uninformed Critic?

Uninformed Critic: yeah, yeah…grumble grumble grumble….

Ah but there are more interesting things afoot! Callie is an architect and she appreciates the genius behind the house’s construction.  It is revealed that the original owner was an architect and he strategically designed the house to allow for maximum influx of light. From its cliffside location to its architecture and design, he built the house in such a way as to be in tune with the astral bodies – the sun, the moon, and the stars.  He was a worshiper of the ancient gods of the sky.  Thus the house is appropriately named “Hyperion House.”  Hyperion is a god and according to Wikipedia:

With his sister, the Titaness Theia, Hyperion fathered Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon) and Eos (Dawn).[1]

Hmm…the father of the sun, moon and the morning – could his divine influence have something to do with the strange balance of light and darkness within Hyperion House? Could be! It certainly adds another dimension to the story.

The location of this house is another thing that I find interesting. Through the eyes and minds of authors and filmmakers, I have traveled to haunted houses all over the world. In the States alone, authors have taken me to houses in the canyons near Hollywood, houses on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, and to a variety of haunted domiciles in the New England area. I have traveled overseas and traversed through many of the haunted houses of The United Kingdom. Filmmakers have shown me haunted houses in Sweden, India and Japan. Finally, Fowler has taken me to a place I long to visit in real life – Spain. Location is an important part of this story.  Descriptions of the locale are well woven into the fabric of the story. From the locale we get “locals” – these folks dutifully contribute to the overall atmosphere of the story.   The sunbaked village lady that loves her cigarillos, the shy librarian of the makeshift library that develops a crush on Calle, these people have the kind of folksy charm that makes me think I’m a tourist rather than a reader.

Nyctophobia is not your average haunted house story. It is not of the gothic type. It is refreshingly unique. If you’re the type of reader that is fond of plot twists, you’ll get them!  However, this brings to the one of the two things that weaken the structure of the story. I’m not sure if the final twist adequately addresses all the mysteries that this story conjures. Maybe it does and I just misunderstood.  But I can’t help but feel as though something is missing; something that would make the overall story a bit tighter. The second weakness has to do with Calle’s background. Her troubled life that precedes her marriage is revealed in little dribbles here and there throughout the book. Because of such dribbling, I am not left with a solid understanding of her past sufferings.  For instance, her trials with nyctophobia are barely dealt with at all!  They are mentioned, but without example, story, or experience.

Despite its shortcomings, Nyctophobia is a good read. Read it while enjoying the sunshine of summer and maybe you will relate to the sunlit house of this story. Or read it in a darkened room and connected with the sealed off chambers of Hyperion House.  Read about light, darkness and all those mysterious things that pass between them.

Postlude to the Review

I learned of this book from a posting in Goodreads.com. The post is called Best Haunted House Fiction that Isn’t ‘The Shining’.  It is a list of 100 + haunted house novels and the order is in constant flux as users continuously vote on the ranking. At the time of press, The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson) and Hell House (Richard Matheson) are, respectively, in the first and second position. (Have read and reviewed both here at this blog). Nycophobia currently sits at #36. I’d say that’s a fair assessment. I wouldn’t put “Nycophobia” in the top ten, but it does deserve some kind of list recognition. Have a look at the post. Do you agree with the items on the list?