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

HauntingHillHouseBook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware – There will be spoilers!!!


The Similarities Between the Films

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Differences Between the Films

 

Black and White Vs. Color

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

The SettingHill House Itself  

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

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

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

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

Initial premise/Story Setup

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

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

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

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

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

Characters/Actors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nature of the Haunting

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

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

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

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

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

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


Is there anything good about the 1999 film?

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

Haunting1999Children.jpg

Final Word

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

What is Haunting “Hill House”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in the Haunting

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

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

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

Jackson

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

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

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

THeGraveyardApartment by-mariko-koikeAni


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed:

The Graveyard Apartment – Mariko Koike

The Grip of It – Jac Jemc

The Haunting of Hill House  – Shirley Jackson

The Woman in Black -Susan Hill

Read/Not Reviewed:

Beloved – Toni Morrison

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warning: Spoilers abound in this article.

TheTenant5As promised, I have for your reading pleasure  a review  and analysis  of the third film in Roman Polanski’s Apartment  Trilogy. And that film is The Tenant!  Polanski  himself stars as “the tenant”, a mild-mannered man who is having all kinds of trouble adjusting to his environment in a new apartment. Throughout the film, viewers watch his descent  into madness. A person going mad in a Polanski  apartment  film ?  No way! (Yeah way). Polanski  plays Trelkovsky , a Polish immigrant/French citizen living in a Paris apartment  complex. His landlord  and lady are openly hostile to him. His neighbors  antagonize  him.  He is convinced that all of them are trying to drive him to suicide.

The Tenant is an offbeat film. Brilliant, but bizarre. As a testament to this brilliance, there are all kinds of themes at work in this film. Isolation, prejudice, paranoia are but a few. Before  I  go any further, I  would like to rehash some of the themes  that I  had outlined in my very first apartment  article Beyond the House: An Examination of Hauntings Within Alternate Structures Part 2 – Apartment Buildings. These themes, I had argued, pertain in general  to stories concerning apartments where strange and terrifying activities occur. A brief recap of these themes is appropriate  at this time, along with a  quick mention as to how they play out in the films and novels that I have reviewed  in this apartment  series so far.

In that intro article that kicked off this series, neighbors  are often agents of a disembodied  danger  that exists within the apartment  complex. This is certainly  true in the Konvitz’s novels (The Sentinel and The Guardian).  The neighbors  might even be ghosts or demons. Or they might simply be members of some strange  cult, as in the film Rosemary’s Baby,  Polanski’s second film in The Apartment Trilogy. Psychological  horror often plays out in a  thriller  film or novel that takes place in an apartment. Characters struggle with their own identity, as Carol does in the film Repulsion, the first film in The Apartment  Trilogy.

What of The Tenant? Well, his neighbors certainly act as agents of a disembodied  danger. But as with  the other  two films in this apartment  trilogy, the main character  is the victim of a whole lot of psychological  horror. Trelkovsky struggles with his identity , but this struggle is so severe, and it touches on another theme I had outlined in the initial  article but have  not yet mentioned  here. I had stated that  a characters ,  when living  in  such  close  proximity  to  anonymous  and strange  neighbors ,  experience a  sense  of  ambiguity about who they really are, They lose their  sense  of  self  among  the  nameless. This is what happens  to Trelkovsky . By the film’s  end, he finds himself, not only in a different body but in a very horrifying position. I told you the film is weird! But, is this metamorphosis literal or symbolic? Does he really change or is he just hallucinating?  He had been hallucinating though half of the film, so why would he stop by the film’s end?  I think I might be able to shine some light on this mystery and get down to the nitty-gritty details that might just explain in the heck is going on here.  Before I do so, it is necessary to hike through the weeds of the plot. So, a hiking we shall go!


Plot Summary

Trelkovsky leases an apartment in Paris. From the beginning, the landlord and landlady TheTenantAlvinMelvinAndShelleyWinters are suspicious of him, even though he presents himself pleasantly. This duo, played ever so effectively by Melvyn Douglas and Shelley Winters, is never short on scowls when looking his way. Part of their scorn may have to do with his accent. They don’t seem to like the fact that his is Polish, even though he is a French citizen. Reluctantly, they give him the apartment.

On day one, he is introduced to the idiosyncrasies of his place. For one thing, the former occupant of his apartment, an Egyptologist named Simone Choule, had thrown herself out the window. The landlady, with inappropriate glee, shows him where it happened. Down below outside his window there is a pane of broken glass. Simone had shattered the glass in her fall. Many of her personal items are still in the drawers and closets. He is told that the apartments are not equipped with bathrooms. To do his business, he has to go around to the building on the other side of the apartment. From his window, he can see across the courtyard and into the bathroom. There are no shades on the bathroom window and he occasionally catches someone sitting down in there.

Trelkovsky becomes obsessed with learning about Simone. She is not yet dead. He visits her in the hospital, where she had just come out of a coma. She is bandaged from head to toe and looks like mummy, although her eyes and mouth are uncovered. She isn’t coherent. Also at her bedside is Stella, a friend of Simone’s. She is distraught over her condition. At one point, Simone widens her eyes, looks at the two of them and releases a horrifying scream. Trelkovsky and Simone will become lovers.

Back at the apartment, tenants complain that Trelkovsky makes too much noise. The landlord continues to give him a hard time. Even the slightest noise prompts a complaining pounding from the floor above him. Even when his apartment is robbed, the landlord is unsympathetic. He tells Trelkovsky not to call the police, for it will ruin the reputation of the such a fine apartment complex. He visits the police later in the movie for a different reason, and they are prejudiced against him for being of Polish descent. The fact that he is a French citizen doesn’t impress them. At one point, a lady tenant pressures him to sign a petition to have a lady and her crippled daughter thrown out of the place. He refuses, and then there is a petition put forth to have him thrown out.

Throughout all of this, Trelkovsky is becoming linked to Simone in uncanny ways. The diner down the street always serves him the drink and cigarettes that Simone had preferred when she was a customer, despite his protests. A man shows up at his door looking for Simone. He had been in love with her and is unaware of the tragic events. By this time, Simone had died.  Trelkovsky is forced to stay up all night and console the man. When they say goodbye early in the morning, the man thanks him and plants a big wet kiss on Trelkovsky’s lips.  One morning, Trelkovsky wakes up and discovers that his face has been painted in Simone’s makeup.

Ahh, now we are getting to the eerie stuff. From his window, he sees neighbors in the bathroom window standing motionlessly for hours. One night he makes a trip to the bathroom and finds detailed Egyptian hieroglyphs painted on the wall. When he looks out the bathroom window, he sees himself in his apartment staring back at him through binoculars. Another night, he sees Simone through the window, wrapped in the bandages. Slowly she begins to unravel them.

Needless to say, Trelkovsky is starting to freak out over all this. He is convinced that his neighbors and landlord are trying to turn him into Simone and thereby force him to commit suicide. On his own accord, he buys a woman’s wig and starts to wear Simone’s dresses, along with her makeup. When he is out on the streets, he imagines that his landlord is following him.

TheTenantOperaAudienceFinally he gives in. Dressed in woman’s attire, he approaches the window. Down in the courtyard, he sees all his neighbors, and Stella too, cheering him on. They are dressed as if they were at an opera. They are seated in balconies theater-style. In reality, the neighbors are standing in the courtyard begging him NOT to jump. He does so anyway and falls through the glass. He wakes up in the hospital, bandaged from head to toe, and finds Stella and himself at his bedside. He screams. It is the same scene that played out earlier in the film, only this time it’s from the perspective of the bandaged mummy. He has “become Simone” and he is “literally” beside himself.


Making Sense Of Trelkovsky’s MetamorphosisUnraveling the Bandaged Figure

Has Trelkovsky really transformed into Simone? Is there some kind of time loop at work here, where the doomed tenant is destined to split from himself in the presence of his former self, while “the former self” must then unknowingly retread through all the events that happen in the film? Or his he simply hallucinating when he sees himself beside his bed?

I think the main thing to note is that Trelkovsky is doomed to follow “the same path” as Simone on account of the sense of isolation he experiences, which ultimately leads to paranoia, which then leads to suicide. Simone is, perhaps, “the vehicle” that takes him to where he is destined to go.  Or perhaps the vehicle is a disembodied presence that ensnares both of them at different times. Both are on the same plight, so in a sense they share the same soul.

Throughout the film, the more isolated Trelkovsky feels, the more he obsesses with Simone. When his landlord/landlady behave rudely suspicious toward him at the beginning of the film, he starts to wonder about Simone. Poor Trelkovsky, he never seems to be in control in any situation. Even his friends take advantage of him. They mock him, and he is not assertive enough to stand up for himself.  He is the outsider. He is mistreated on account of his ethnicity.

Thus he is isolated from a normal life of respect and dignity. Therefore he is pulled toward the final extreme – suicide. Along the way, he cannot help but identify with Simone more and more, even if he comes to despise this identification. It can’t be helped. He is doomed to the same plight, the same path. Thus, he “becomes her.”

At one point in the film, Trelkovsky finds a tooth hidden in the wall of the apartment. It was Simone’s tooth; it was wrapped in cotton and stuffed into a hole. Later, Trelkovsky wakes up in the middle of the night to discover that his tooth has been ripped out of his head. He is bleeding.

Trelkovsky notes that “a tooth is part of ourselves. It is “a bit of personality”. He goes on to question the notion of “the self.” He says, “At what precise moment does an individual stop being who he is?” Does it happen if he loses an arm or a leg? How about a head. He says, “What right does my head have to call itself me?”  Is he speaking of the physical head or is he alluding to the mind?  Deep stuff! All of this points to the blurring of the boundaries between one’s self and the circumstances he might find himself in. If he was in control of this thing that is called “the self”, he should be able to prevent the misfortunes that follow him, shouldn’t he? But the cruelty of the outside world forces him to forsake the self, to kill the self, to become one with a soul that is on a path toward self-destruction.


Kafkaesque

Critics/Analysts describe The Tenant as “Kafkaesque.” This term is used when comparing certain works to the writings of the late Franz Kafka. Both Kafka and Polanski were/are Jews of eastern European descent. Kafka is known to blend realism with fantasy, realism with “the absurd.” The themes of “alienation, existential anxiety and guilt” penetrate his works. Kafka died long before the reign of the Nazi-regime and the inhumanity that followed in its wake. However, Polanski, as a young boy, experienced first hand the cruelty that claimed the lives of millions of Jews. The plight of European Jews before and after World War 2 serves as an unfortunate, real life example of themes such as isolation and alienation, themes that Polanski explores in his works.

Whereas Polanski did not write the initial story that is “The Tenant” (The film is based on the book by Roland Topor , he most certainly can relate to its subject matter. More on the life of Polanski later.

The Wikipedia article about The Tenant  devotes a section on Kafka’s influences, but I’m surprised there is no mention of Kafka’s book The Metamorphosis. There’s a reason I inserted the word “Metamorphosis” in the heading of the preceding section.  In this book, an apartment-bound young man transforms into a giant cockroach-like creature. He lives with his parents and sister and is forced to support them with a job he despises. His boss is known to show up at the apartment and drag him out of bed and force him to go to work. But one day, when the young man is cooped up in his bedroom, his door closed, he cannot respond to the “rapping at his chamber door” (Thank you Poe!) For he has become a giant bug! As a bug, he cannot speak to them, he cannot even open the door, for he has no arms, he only has the legs of a hideous insect.

The debasement ushered in by his parents and boss has left him alienated, destroyed his sense of self so much that “the self” is now a hideous bug. It’s an absurd story, but that is Kafka. He goes to the extreme to make a point. Likewise, we have the fate of Trelkovsky, transformed literally or figuratively into a suicidal woman, depending on one’s interpretation. I always favor the figurative interpretation, but that’s just me. In either case, external factors alienate the protagonist, causing him to transform into something undesirable.


Similar to The Shining?

The same Wikipedia article referenced in the preceding sections compares The Tenant to the Stanley Kubrick film The Shining.  

Some quotes from the article:

The Tenant has been referred to as a precursor to Kubrick’s The Shining (1980),[12] as another film where the lines between reality, madness, and the supernatural become increasingly blurry (the question usually asked with The Shining is “Ghosts or cabin fever?”) as the protagonist finds himself doomed to cyclically repeat another person’s nightmarish fall. Just like in The Shining, the audience is slowly brought to accept the supernatural by what at first seems a slow descent into madness, or vice versa: “The audience’s predilection to accept a proto-supernatural explanation […] becomes so pronounced that at Trelkovsky’s break with sanity the viewer is encouraged to take a straightforward hallucination for a supernatural act.”[19]

Choule meeting Trelkovsky shortly before dying in the hospital, a loop not unlike The Shining’s explanation. that Jack Torrance “has always been the Overlook’s caretaker”

The notion that Jack Torrance “has always been the Overlook’s caretaker” is backed up by the photo and the film’s end. It is an old picture of a group of the hotel’s guests, perhaps taken many decades before the events of the film. Jack is in the center of the photograph. For me, I interpret his inclusion into the picture as follows: upon death, the Hotel, a sinister and sentient entity, has swallowed Jack into very make-up, which includes its history. Forever is he trapped. “Forever”  implies eternity, which does not obey the dictates that man assigns to time, mainly the concepts of beginning and end, before and after. In the realm of eternity, there just “is.”  “Is” = “Always”.

Has Trelkovsky “always been Simone Choule”?  The Wikipedia article hints at this, referring to Egyptian myth. Remember, Simone was an Egyptologist.

Ancient Egyptian religious belief, it is important to note, was based on the notion that all things are the same all throughout history

This is an intriguing idea. Still I prefer the notion that Trelkovsky utilizes the vehicle that is Simone Choule in order to arrive at his unfortunate end.  Maybe what I’m saying is the same as what the ancient Egyptians were saying? As they say “All things are the same”

It should be noted that photo of Jack in the picture that features historical hotel people is not something that occurs in Stephen King’s book. For more differences between the book and movie, read my article. However I’m glad I can “summons” the “spirit” of the story of The Shining to help me out with this article. There are similarities between the two stories, mainly, as the article mentions “the protagonist finds himself doomed to cyclically repeat another person’s nightmarish fall.”

It is said that The Shining is the ultimate haunted house novel. Since authoritative sources compare it to The Tenant, I feel better about reviewing and analyzing Polanski’s film within the category of Haunted Houses of Film and Literature. Whether or not the visions, “the ghosts” of the apartment (residents who stand still in the bathroom and stare blankly Trelkovsky for hours), originate from the apartment complex itself or from Trelkovsky’s disturbed mind, it doesn’t matter. These things are “haunting” him. Therefore, the complex is haunted.


Roman Polanski – His Intriguing, Tragic and Controversial Life

Since this article will wind down The Apartment Trilogy, I feel it proper to mention a few TheTenantPolanski things about the life of Roman Polanski. As the header states, his life is intriguing, tragic and controversial. According to The Guardian, he was confined to a Jewish ghetto in Krakow in 1943. He was ten-years-old at the time. There in the ghetto, he witnessed Jews being executed on the streets. His parents were sent to concentration camps. He was spared this fate by being sent to live with a family his parents knew. His upbringing was indeed sad.

After he became a successful filmmaker and moved to America, tragedy would find him again. His wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson Family (See the Wikipedia article on Roman Polanski.) A few years later, he was charged with sexual assaulting a thirteen-year-old girl.  Whether or not the act was consensual is up for debate. In the end, Polanski was going to be sent to prison, so he fled the United States, where he is still a wanted criminal. Since then, other women have come forward with claims against Polanski, stating that he had sexually abused them.

Just like the characters in his movies, Polanski has experienced much alienation and sorrow. I’m not excusing his sexual misdeeds. But it might be said, perhaps, that his propensity toward sexual deviance is reflected in his films as well. I am not here to praise him, but I do find value in his films. They are very artful, reflecting his good and bad side.


“Wrapping” it all Up

TheTenant6

Most critics find The Tenant to be an excellent film. It has earned a collective 90% approval rating on RottenTomatoes.com. However, not all critics favor this film. Roger Ebert  gave it only one star. He calls the film “an embarrassment.”  He goes into a lot of detail explaining the plot, and his description actually makes the film sound interesting. But he fails to explain why he thought the film was “an embarrassment” or “a disappointment”.  I share the consensus of the 90%, not so that I can be in the majority, but because this is an artful and thoughtful film. A little weird at times, but I like “weird.”

As previously mentioned, this article will “wrap up” Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy”. But my apartment series is not finished yet. (Yes, these stories are mine, mine mine! Just kidding). I still have one and a half more reviews to go. You may ask, “what is a ‘half review’?”.  Simply stated, I will quickly revisit a movie that I have already written about. Since I already have it in a review format, I will not be adding too much new material. And I will not be watching it again. Once is enough. Suffice it to say, it’s an average film – not too great. But wait till you read the final review about a great book that I’m betting not too many people know about. OOOO-eeeeeee is it a scary one! For those who are more interested in ghosts and traditional haunted houses, the next “one and a half reviews” will be right up your alley. Some of you just might not be into the psychological horror that haunts the apartments in Polanski’s films. Some of you might aver that those kinds of movies are not truly haunted house stories. I disagree, but it’s okay if you feel this away. I still love you!  But..get ready for what will come. Oh, and…boo!

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

WARNING: If you have a “Repulsion” about spoilers, then avoid this article!

Repulsion4

 

Welcome back as I continue with my summer theme of horror films/literature that take place within apartment buildings. In case you have forgotten, it all started with this article – Beyond the House: An Examination of Hauntings Within Alternate Structures. Part 2 – Apartment Buildings. I wrote that piece at the beginning of the season. And though summer is on its last legs, I carry on within the fictional confines of sweltering,  terror-ridden, and psychosis- inducing living spaces that challenge its occupants with a petrifying dose of the unreal. Or maybe, what they encounter is far too real – a dark revelation into the disturbances of their minds. This is certainly true for Carol Ledoux, the disturbed protagonist in the film that is the subject of this article. But let me back up for a second. Summer is a season that beckons us to the great outdoors. And here I am, writing about a suffocating indoor environment. Perhaps you find the subject untimely and therefore offensive, revolting, disgusting, loathsome and even….repulsive. If so, you share the sentiments of Carol, who in trapped in the inner-recesses of her mind, uncomfortable with the mysteries that lurk within the claustrophobic rooms of her psyche. And yet, the film Repulsion, directed and co-written by Roman Polanski, presents viewers with Carol’s paradox – she feels safe inside her mind, safe inside her apartment with its barricaded doors. Well, she is never at ease, but the apartment will at least protect her from the threats that lurk on the street, unless….these threats find their way inside her, and awaken her from a dreamlike trance for which she is not prepared to abandon. So readers, a haunted apartment can provide some solace, even in the good ol’ sunny summertime. Trust me as I take you on a tour of Carol’s apartment, a tour of her mad, mad mind, a mind that will produce horrifying hallucinations and drive her to kill people.

So, what the hell is wrong with Carol? In short, she fears her own sexuality. She mistrusts her own desires and therefore she avoids sexual encounters and repels the advances of men. In short, she finds the subject of sex “repulsive”. In a New York Times article, reviewer David Kehr points out how Carol envies the nuns she watches from her apartment window, for they are free from “the burden of sexuality.” It should noted, that Carol does not seem to be asexual, nor does she seem to be repressing any desires directed toward the same sex. (She dons lipstick to make herself attractive for a fantasy/nightmare sexual partner/rapist. More on this later) Rather, she fears “sexuality” in and of itself and all of its mystery. Kim Morgan, writing for The Huffington Post, sums it up this way:

Carol is the personification of sexual mystery — she is what lurks beneath the orgasms of pleasure and pain

Churned inside a kind of fire that enflames the rawest elements of sexuality, its no wonder she is a psychotic mess.

Most of the drama and inner-conflict play out in that apartment she resides in (in truth it’s her sister’s apartment). It is the very first film in what has become known as Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy. However, the first film of the trilogy that I reviewed is Rosemary’s Baby (Click on the link to read that review). In that review, I state what all three films have in common. And that is this:

  1. They detail the unfolding psychosis of a central character.
  2. They blur the protagonist’s perception of reality
  3. They feature an oppressive apartment setting that further augments the madness of the main character

Let’s hone in on the third point. The apartment certainly stands for everything that point expresses, and much more. The apartment symbolizes her own “fragile, egg-shell mind” (Thanks Jim Morrison for coining that term!). As everyone knows, eggs easily crack. And cracks do appear on the walls of the apartment, cracking before her stunned eyes. Carol is cracking. And the stuff of her desires and fears are seeping in.

Carol is from Belgium, but she is living in her sister Helen’s apartment in London. She is very attractive, but painfully shy and soft-spoken. Helen is sexually active and Carol is uncomfortable with this. She is “repulsed” by the loud sexual activity she is forced to listen to while she unsuccessfully tries to sleep at night. She hates it that Helen’s gentleman friend leaves his bathroom accessories behind, placed so close to her personal items.

Shot skillfully in black and white, the camera often follows Carol as she proceeds to and from work. Her first walk is accompanied by a mellow jazz tune. As the film progresses, the background music that accompanies these walks becomes frenetic. Sometimes it is the wild music of experimental jazz. Sometimes it’s the peculiar sounds made from a three-man marching band that panhandles on the streets. Often when she is alone, like when the camera stays with her on the elevator ride up to her sister’s apartment, the music is soft and simple – a few notes on the piano or flute. It’s childlike, but in an eerie way. I am reminded of the openings of many Syd Barrett composed Pink Floyd songs before the psychedelic music kicks in. This is the music of a person retreating to their shell; regressing into a protective womb. Out on the streets, men make passes at her. A suitor follows her, strikes up conversations with her. The music is untamed as the men crack away at her shell.

Helen is planning on leaving her sister alone for two weeks. She and her boyfriend are traveling to Italy. Carol begs her not to go, but to no avail. So she is left alone to confront her awakening. See, throughout the film, Carol is in a near-catatonic state. It as if she has been sleeping and is trying her damnest not to wake up. She fears the pain of sexual awakening. And she must face this awakening, alone, without her sister. As a symbol for Repulsion3her vulnerability, there is the dead, skinned rabbit. Helen meant to cook this for her boyfriend before they departed for their vacation. She skinned the rabbit and was all set to boil it, but the boyfriend insisted on taking her out to dinner instead. When Helen leaves for Italy, the rabbit sits there on the counter, drawing flies. It is a sickening sight. The rabbit is like Carol, who has been stripped of her protective layers. Helen has abandoned both. The skinned rabbit is an unsightly thing. And the things Carol will succumb to – these things are unsightly as well. Enter the horror!

A brute of a man begins to rape Carol in her bedroom at night. She first spots him in the reflection of the mirror. She gasps, turns around, and sees no one in the room. Silly girl, he exists only in the reflection. He is she; her desires, her fears. Later, he forces his way into her bed. Forces himself on her. All the while, viewers of the film hear the sound of a clock ticking. Tick..tick..tick… then RING of the phone or DING DING DING of the train outside the window. These “rings and dings” cry out in the morning, when the scene is over. She always wakes up alone.

Carol misses work for several days. She seems determined not to leave the apartment. Meanwhile, cracks sprout in the walls. The hallway walls turn into a viscous substance from which hands reach out to touch her as she desperately tries to make her way Repulsion2through the corridor. Things are breaking in. Her shell is cracking. She is cracking. Carol has two male visitors while she is alone. One is the suitor, who wants to know why she keeps avoiding him. The other is the sleazy landlord who comes looking for the rent money. But as it turns out, he wants her instead. Carol takes care of both of them. She kills them! She is repulsed so much by those that force her to confront her sexuality that she has to murder them. But before going to bed at night, she dons make-up and makes her self attractive for the phantom that haunts her bed. The poor, confused girl. So torn, so…cracked. But at least she is able to hum sweetly after kills each man. Temporary moments of peace when her dissonance is temporarily resolved.

Though brutal and unsettling, this film smack of genius. According to Wikipedia, reviewer Jim Emerson places this film in a list of “102 films to see before…”(before you die? Before something.) From the patient camera and spot-on audio to the brilliant performances, this simple and relatively low budget film succeeds in every way that a film can succeed.

One more film will complete Polanski’s apartment trilogy. The final film, both in order of release and here at this blog, is The Tenant. Polanski himself stars in the film. He is the disturbed tenant. Hopefully I will have this review completed within a week or so. Until then, I bid you farewell. To my apartment dwelling friends, enjoy your living space. But please don’t confuse it was the dark recesses of your mind. This will only haunt the place, and the consequences can be deadly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer of Night – A Novel of Sweet Summer Nostalgia Doused in Terror – A Great Summer Read

Summer of Night - Dan Simmons - Warner Books - Mar 1992I’ve been writing about haunted apartments lately. I will continue  to do so, but for right now, it’s time to step out of those oppressive flats and enjoy  the summer – before it’s gone. (It’s already late July, folks! Yikes!) Yes I know, apartments are my theme for this summer, but doggone it, summer is a time to read and write about topics that directly relate to this fun and sunny season. Topics such as bike riding, movies in the park…and ghostly forces. Ghostly forces? Yes you read that right. Summer is no time to “give up the ghost” (I used the same expression in a wintertime ghost article. Hee hee! Here it is, for further reading: Wintertime Ghosts.)  There are plenty of summer horror novels out there. But in my opinion , Summer of Night  by Dan Simmons is the best of the bunch.

Last summer, I read two books about the summers of youth – Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury  and Summer of 42 by Herman Raucher. Then I wrote an article comparing these two books with later works  by these same authors that take place in the autumn and winter. They are, respectively, Something Wicked Comes This Way (Bradbury) and Maynard’s House (Raucher). The latter are horror novels. In the article, I argue that similar themes are found in both the summer books and the novels of fall and winter, but that the “flavor” of these themes vary with the season. The link to the article is posted below:

From Summer to Autumn: The Spirit Remains the Same (The Darker Sides of Ray Bradbury and Herman Raucher.)

I’d like to think of this article as a sequel to the one I wrote last summer. Only this time, I focus  only on one book and one author. What’s so unique about this book is that it unites two themes that are usually  allocated to separate stories. On the one hand, I’m talking about fun summers of boyhood pleasures, oh that precious  nostalgia! On the other hand, I’m referring to dead soldiers that walk the night, phantom trucks that will plow over its victims, farm machinery that acts on its own accord. For the record , the similarities  and differences stressed is last summer’s article  are more nuanced than Summer = longing /Autumn = foreboding. (There is fear and death in both last year’s summer novels and a bit of nostalgia  in Something Wicked…) Still this article ties into last year’s piece since its goal is to balance seemingly opposing themes on the thin edge of your screen. Plus it’s a season based book. Summer  = youthful joy. Night = many things scary. Put that together and we have Summer of Night, a book that forces its pre adolescent characters into a dawning of the full gamut of human emotions – joy, sorrow, fear and all the stuff in between.

If I were to do a theme involving haunted schools, Summer of Night would certainly make the list. What is more terrifying to a young boy than the sight/site (both words SummerOfNight6work in this context -I think!) of his school building after classes have been dismissed for the summer! But the boys of Elm Haven, Illinois have no choice. Living in a small town, they can’t escape its looming presence. But there is more to fear here than its symbol – an oppressive environment of rules and structure; the antithesis of summer vacation and everything those two and a half months of freedom represent. On the very last day of classes, a boy wanders down into the lowest floors of the building to a sequestered part of the school. Classrooms go unused here and the halls are empty. The boy goes to use the bathroom. Inside the bathroom, he witnesses something terrifying. And he’s never heard from again!  The teachers, the townsfolk search for him to no avail.

This episode of the boy gone missing is only the beginning of the horrors that with haunt a group of friends throughout the summer. It begins at the school. It continues throughout the town and its rural surroundings; in the cemetery, out in the woods, down the long country roads, and even in their own homes – in their basements, in their bedrooms, underneath their beds. That which haunts them will be traced back to the school in the end. It harbors something evil.

SummerOfNight4The events in this story take place in the summer of 1960. The boys of summer  are as follows: Dale Stewart, Lawrence Stewart (Dale’s younger brother), Mike O’Rourke, Duane McBride, Kevin Grumbacher, Jim Harlen. Included in this group is one girl – Cordie Cooke. Together they must solve this mystery that plagues them. If they fail, the consequences are deadly.

Much of the story takes place from the view point of Dale. With his brother Lawrence, they represent typical “All-American” boys of 1960 – good hearted, nice parents with a solid upbringing. Mike is the ambitious one of the bunch. He holds down part time jobs. He’s an early riser and he regularly performs duties as an altar boy at his parish. Duane is an odd one, often silent, but when he does speak, he outdoes his peers with his vocabulary. Though intelligent, this precocious farm boy is not “the nerd”.  He is self-assured and comfortable with his modest, simple attire. Cordie is the outcast, the “backwards” redneck. She is also tough and can probably take on any of these boys in a fist-fight.

The point of all this is – the kid characters are extremely well-developed. Aside for their relatable personalities, their daily summer activities are made up of the youthful rituals that many of us engaged in when we were young. Reading this book will create within you a longing for those innocent days when the world was fresh and new, and excitement was always minutes away. Sounds like I’m describing a carefree atmosphere, doesn’t it? A carefree environment in the midst of a horror novel, with death and suffering? Believe it or not, Author Simmons succeeds on both fronts. You just have to read it to believe it. When the kids are not scared out of their wits, they are playing baseball all day, losing track of the time. They are taking bike trips to far away places; down the country roads, into the woods, where they have “club spaces”, where they have good natured rivalry with other “kid clubs” (there are also some serious incidents of bullying in other parts of the book that is not good natured, but that is part of the horror). They watch movies in the park, they look for hidden “bootlegging chambers” that are supposedly hidden underneath some field.

My favorite part of the book – the introduction. Or maybe it’s called “Author’s note.”  It occurs before the story, was added in later editions of the book. It’s a commentary by the author about the social environment of today’s youth. Simmons mentions how many of the pastimes of the kids of yesterday, pastimes he himself took part in, are just not available to today’s youth anymore. At least not in the same kind of way the he and his storybook characters experienced them.  Today’s kids often grow up in overprotected, over structured environments. They are not allowed to be bored. Boredom can inspire kids to be creative, to create the kind of fun that lasts within memories forever. The kids in Summer of Night might say “Goodbye” to their parents in the morning, not see them again until dinner, then off they go again on another adventure. Many kids today the same age as these characters are barely allowed out of their yards. And often they don’t want to, since they can stay home with their tablets, video games, etc. etc.

I recommend reading this commentary AFTER finishing the story, for there are spoilers within its message. In many ways, I agree with what Simmons is getting at. Still, I just have to believe “that spirit” conjured by the summertime youth of a bygone era still exists in some form today. To appreciate this book, one does not need to have grown up in 1960.  There are elements of timelessness in it – celebration of youth, curiosity with the unknown, a freedom from supervision. Yes even today I believe (or at least hope) that kids have amble time away from the prying eyes of adults.

This book owes a lot to Stephen King’s IT.  However, it stands on its own. And it does something that IT does not – by describing so many minute but welcoming details concerning the daily activities of these child characters, it wraps readers warmly, strange enough, in a summer of bygone days. In sum, it succeeds as a nostalgic tale in a way that King’s novel does not (although this comparison is not entirely fair; King was not necessarily striving to invoke a longing for a past era.)


We All Have “That Favorite Summer”

 

I dream of one day writing the ultimate summer nostalgia novel. I am especially attracted to the title of Simmon’s book – Summer of Night. I remember the summer nights fondly back when I was fifteen years old. There was a song from the House music genre titled I Fear the Night.

I was mistakenly convinced that the singer was singing the words “I Feel the Night”. Under this false presumption, I had made this the theme song for the summer of 1986. See, I truly believed that there was this vibe, this “magic” if you will, that existed in some kind of objective state. It was there for the taking, and was most potent during the nighttime – the nighttime of the summer. All you had to do was “reach out with your feelings” (thank you, Star Wars, for that quote) and the night and all its magic was at your disposal. It was called “feeling the night”. Ironically, the song’s real title and subject are more appropriate for a horror movie, or a horror novel like – Summer of Night.

Back in 1986 I had a group of friends. We all navigated around our neighborhoods on our bikes.  Every late afternoon, I wondered where the night would take us. Sometimes it took us to Mikey’s backyard where he had the pool. Sometimes it took as to Tracey’s front porch. Sometimes it took us to Johnny’s alley. Often we would have beers, bought at a bar a mile away that sold to us minors. We pedaled our bikes with six-packs wrapped in our arms.  We snuck out late at night and hung out at park benches. We had bottle rocket wars. We smoked an occasional joint. We “felt the night.”

Now I know what you’re thinking. Earlier I was lamenting the loss of freedom for the children of today. Some of the things my friends and I did that summer fall into the delinquent category. So one might say, “See! When children are left unsupervised in an environment without structure, this is what happens. Kids do bad things.” Well, touche’. But we really weren’t bad kids.  And for the record, we were a bit older than the kids of the novel , and Simmons argues more for an adventure-filled summer for the pre-teenage kids, before things like drinking and drug use enter the picture.

For better or for worse, I love remembering the summers of my youth, adventures and misadventures alike;  I learned from both. Therefore, I just love books about summer nostalgia. Since I am a horror novel fan, Summer of Night is the perfect book for me. And it just might be the perfect book for you too! Read it and find out for yourself.


A Winter Haunting

Dan Simmons follows up with several sequel books. They catch up on the lives of the children characters after they become adults. I’ve reviewed one of these books.  It’s called A Winter Haunting. It’s also a great book. As with Summer of Night, it makes use of the season as a metaphor for the character/s current state of affairs. In this book, Dale Stewart returns to his childhood home town for the holidays (Pre-Thanksgiving – New Years Day). There, he tries to piece together what happened during the events of “that summer”. His memories haunt him. He is alone, isolated in a farmhouse. It’s cold and snowy. He has made several mistakes in his adult life. In this isolated environment, he is forced to confront his demons. Are they literal or metaphorical? Both. It’s a complex book. I recommend this book as well.  Here is the Amazon Link: A Winter Haunting

 

 

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

TheGuardian2CoverHowdy folks! The last time I posted, I expressed my concern for all you apartment dwellers without air-conditioning that might be scorching  in the summer heat. My concern continues; I’m an empathetic kind of guy! This empathy extends to people that have to deal with other nuisances of apartment living, including rats and cockroaches, loud neighbors, and…the Forces of Hell! That’s right readers, I feel for Author Jeffrey Konvitz’s apartment-dwelling characters that have to contend with the hellish spirits that were unleashed from his mind and onto the pages of two of his books. (Warning: Spoilers from The Sentinel are up ahead!)  These are the same evil forces that were kept at bay by Father Halloran when he was The Sentinel. (A great book!) These forces are back again under the blind yet watchful eyes of Alison Parker, who has replaced Halloran as “The Guardian” (an equally great book!) of the gates of Hell. The last review focused on The Sentinel. This review will focus on The Guardian, a worthy sequel to Konvitz’s original masterpiece. Please stay with me, reader, as I welcome The Guardian into this summer’s theme: Haunted Apartments.

In my review of The Sentinel, I had linked to an upcoming podcast episode of Thorne and Cross’s weekly program  Haunted Nights Live. Every Thursday they interview a different horror author, and the guest in the episode that I had linked to was to be none other than Jeffrey Konvitz. Since then, the interview did happen and it went well. I’m hoping most of you followed the link and listened. If not, have no fear, for it is archived.

And…..here is the link – Thorne and Cross: Interview with Jeffrey Konvitz 

In the interview, Konvitz, an entertainment lawyer by trade, has several interesting  things to say about The Guardian. It is his favorite of the two books, but he does not express this favoritism in a boastful way. Quite the contrary! He is a down to earth kind of guy, and he had revisited his work after many years, having forgotten much of what he had written. Upon reading, he was saying to himself things like “Oh my God, did I TheGuardianKonvitzreally write this? How did I ever think up this part?” These aren’t exact quotes but the sentiments are accurate. While I agree that The Guardian is great, I like it just as much as The Sentinel. If only there was a third book to make this a trilogy. Well folks, Konvitz confirms in this interview that there is an outline for a third story. Hopefully one day this outline will blossom into a full-fledged novel. While I will not be dishing out the kind of spoilers as I did in my review of The Sentinel , I’ll say this about The Guardian – it ends with a major cliffhanger. When reading the last few paragraphs, I was like “Oh no he’d didn’t!” But Konvitz did it, and his “literary actions” left me wanting more!

So, let me say a thing or two about the story of The Guardian. Spoilers will be kept to a minimum (but there will be spoilers regarding The Sentinel). Also, unlike my review of the first novel, this article is not a juxtaposition between a book and movie. The Guardian has not been made into a film, unlike its predecessor.At least I don’t think it has. But if it were done right, I’m sure it would be a very good film.

The Guardian Synopsis (With spoilers from The Sentinel)

The setup is similar. There is an apartment complex in New York City. A strange blind nun sits at the window of the top floor apartment. The tenants all seem to be friendly with each other, and they gossip among themselves as to the nun’s situation. Those of us who have read The Sentinel understand her business. Us readers are one up on the tenants. Meanwhile, Monsignor Franchino is back, along with some priests that are new to the series. Through these characters, we discover that once again, it is time for a changing of the guard. There is to be a new sentinel. In the first book, readers didn’t know about any of this until the end. The mystery revolves around why the priest sits at the window, and why Alison’s neighbors are so strange.

In the beginning, readers don’t know that the neighbors are really hell bound souls and the don’t realize that, by the book’s end, Alison would assume the duties of the guard and prevent these souls from escaping the apartment and roaming free across the earth. But now, all this is old hat. The big question is – who among this fresh list of new characters will be the new sentinel? This question stokes the mystery; every character is suspect. Several characters are not what they seem. One is destined to be the new guardian. And, perhaps, there are other characters that just might be in league with the dark forces, willingly or unwillingly. Who are they? Read to find out.

Several characters from The Sentinel reprise their roles. When a detective investigates a shocking disturbance at this apartment, he calls on Detective Gatz, now retired, for help. In The Sentinel, Gatz tries his best to pin a murder on his nemesis Michael Farmer, former boyfriend of Alison Parker. As far as the outside world  is concerned, both Alison and Michael  had simply vanished after the events that take place in The Sentinel. They know not that Farmer has gone to Hell and that Alison assumed a new identity as a Holy Gaurdian. Gatz, however, suspects she that something else had gone down. Something unnatural. He’d rather not get mixed up in this case again. But he will find himself right back in the middle of it, to his misfortune.

As previously mentioned, Monsignor Franchino returns. As protector of The Guardian  and all the secrecy that surrounding that role, he has his work cut out for him. The stakes are higher this time. Things are more dangerous. In The Gaurdian , readers learn more about The Sentinel /Gaurdian  conspiracy. They learn of new players; for it takes many to protect it. Otherwise there will be hell to play. Literally. Can mere numbers counteract the forces of evil? One little slip and….


 

I think that’s all I’m going to say. Hopefully the info I provided is spoiler free. I had to reveal some details in order to keep things interesting. And interesting it is! My advice: Buy it tonight and discover just how interesting it is! You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

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

How is it going my apartment dwelling friends? This summer has certainly shed its warmth upon us. Here in Chicago, we have already had days of severe heat. (Note: At the time I wrote the beginning of this article, it was hot. I assume no responsibility for any unusually cool weather that may have transpired since then). I hope all of you have functional air conditioning, especially you folks in the upper-floor apartments. If not, I feel for you.  But know this – matters could be worse.  Sure, an apartment that is at the mercy of the heat index makes for some uncomfortable living conditions, but imagine if your cozy little abode was at the mercy of the souls bound to Hell!  These souls could tell you a thing or two about bearing conditions in an overheated environment, believe me!  Heat or no heat, an apartment haunted by the souls of the damned just doesn’t cut it when it comes to creating that “homey” experience. It gives a new meaning to an event called “the house warming party.”  Just ask Alison Parker. She is the protagonist in Jeffrey Konitz’s novel The Sentinel,  as well as Director Michael Winner’s movie of the same name. She can tell you what it’s like to live with such “hellish” neighbors.

Welcome to the second review of this summer’s theme: Haunted Apartments. The introductory article can be found here. As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the subject of this article is The Sentinel, both the book and the film. Back in 2016, I wrote a review for the movie only. The article can be found here: The Sentinel –A Film Review. At the time of press (Hee Hee, I am using newspaper terminology for my Blog. Hee hee!), I had not yet read the book. That has changed. I have since learned that the book is better (which is not always the case), and it has helped to shed light on some of the confusing parts of the film. The film isn’t bad, by the way, but it’s “not great”. How does “good” sound? Goodish? I’ll explain later. Anyway, this article couldn’t be more timely, for on Thursday, June 28, Thorne and Cross (a two-person author team whose books I’ve reviewed) will interview Jeffery Konvitz on their weekly podcast called Haunted Nights Live. I’m looking forward to this interview and I’ll present more details on this later.

Let me outline this article for you. I shall begin with a plot summary. WARNING: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS! When it comes to analyzing, which goes beyond reviewing, spoilers are almost unavoidable. And…I will be analyzing, as well as comparing and contrasting the two mediums (book vs. film). Therefore I must delve into the weeds of the plot, including it’s hidden treasures (to tell you the truth, I have already revealed a spoiler: the neighbors = Hellbound souls. This isn’t apparent and the beginning of the story. OOOPS!) After the plot summary, I will present what I call “A Review of My Review.”  In addition to reading the book, I have revisited the film again. In fact, I have watched it twice since I wrote the initial review. Have things changed?  A little bit. I’ll explain as I revisit that review. Then, I will detail some of the major differences between the film and the novel and explain why the book is better.  After this juxtaposition, I’ll say a thing or two about the real apartment building that was used in the film.  Finally, I’ll present more details on that Konvitz interview, and wind things down with a joke or two. Sound good? But of course it does! So let’s get down to business!


PLOT SUMMARY

Alison Parker is a successful model in New York City. However, she has a lot of emotional baggage, and her ability to take care of herself is questioned by her boyfriend the lawyer, whose name is Michael Farmer in the book, but goes by Michael Lerman in the film.  He pressures her to marry him and insists that it would be best to let him take care of her. However, Alison is an independent woman and insists that she must live alone, at least for a while. She finds an apartment building that is surprisingly affordable. She is curious about the old man that continuously sits by the window of his top-floor apartment, staring out onto the streets below. The realtor tells her to pay him no mind. The man is a retired priest named Father Halloran. He is blind. The realtor suggests that he is senile. The Archdiocese of New York looks after him. But there is nothing to worry about. He is harmless.

Alison is a survivor of two suicide attempts. The first attempt occurs when she is a teen, shortly after she accidentally witnesses her father participating in an orgy with two prostitutes. The second occurs after the mysterious death of Farmer/Lerman’s wife. See, Alison’s relationship with him began as an affair. Supposedly, the wife took her own life, heartbroken over her husband’s affair. Feeling guilty , Alison had tried to take her life as well. These suicide attempts are important plot points regarding the resolution of this story.

Alison’s neighbors are flamboyant to say the least. There is Charles Chazen, who prances around with a bird on his shoulder. There are the two women who are lovers. One of these women openly masturbates in front of Alison. At the apartment complex, Alison attends a party for a cat. Mostly she is amused by all this (but not so with the masturbating woman), but she will not tolerate the noisy neighbors that live directly above her. In the middle of the night, they shuffle about, shaking the lamp that hangs from the ceiling above her bed. She visits the realtor to complain, only to find out that she has no neighbors aside from the blind priest. All the apartments she had visited are vacant.

Alison confides with Michael about this. In response, he hires a private detective to watch her. Meanwhile, Alison continues to hear noise coming from the upstairs. Possessed with the keys to the apartment above her (I forget how she came upon these keys), she enters the place and sees her dead, naked father running toward her. She stabs him. There is blood.

In reality, Alison had stabbed the detective (the film barely makes this clear), prompting an investigation from Detective Gatz. It turns out, Gatz and Farmer/Lerman are arch enemies. Gatz had investigated the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Farmer/Lerman’s first wife (remember I had used the word “supposedly” when I wrote that she had taken her life). He was convinced that Farmer/Lerman had her killed by hiring that private investigator as a hitman, the PI that was stabbed by Alison. But he failed to provide the proof. Gatz now has a second chance to pin a murder on Farmer/Lerman; the murder of the detective.

Meanwhile, Farmer/Lerman investigates the apartment complex that Alison lives in. He discovers that the Archdiocese of New York owns it. More compelling, he discovers, is that the Father Halloran, the priest that sits by the window, is a “sentinel”. He was never a priest. He was a man that had attempted suicide. To atone for that sin, he is forced to guard the gates of hell and prevent the souls of the damned, including Satan himself, from entering into our realm.

At midnight on a certain date, there is to be a changing of the sentinel. Halloran is to retire and Alison is to take his place, atoning for her sins (the suicide attempts). By the story’s end, Alison is surrounded by the souls of the damned. Michael Farmer/Lerman is among them. He perished at the hands of another priest who was protecting Halloran from Farmer/Lerman, who was trying to kill him. Farmer/Lerman is now bound to Hell, not only for his attempt on the life of the sentinel, but for the killing of his wife.

Led by Satan, who is Charles Chazen, the evil souls of hell try to get Alison to take her life. For, if at the time of the changing of the guard, they can convince the “sentinel-elect” to take his/her life, then Hell wins and the evil spirits can roam free into this world. But Alison accepts her duty. God wins, Hell Loses. At the story’s end, it is now Alison, that sits at the window, dressed in a nun’s garb, looking old and frail. She too is now blind.  This legion of sentinels and the ritual of the changing of the guard have been going on since the days of The Garden of Eden. All sentinels are people who have attempted suicide. Sentinel duty is a way for them to atone for attempting this grave sin.

(As a side note: the book mentions the first sentinels were angels that guarded the gates of The Garden of Eden. I can’t help but wonder, were they put on guard duty before or after Adam and Eve were evicted. If before, they didn’t do a good job keeping the Devil out. But it’s understandable. Satan came in the form of a snake. He could have slithered between the legs of the angels and under the gate while the angel/s were having a cigarette or something)

A REVIEW OF MY REVIEW

abandon-hope-all-ye-who-enter-hereDone

Wait! Come back! It’s okay for you to tread into this section of this article. This line is from “Inferno”, the first canticle of Dante’s three-part poem The Divine Comedy. (I have the Divine Comedy in hard cover, classic bound style. I started reading it. I should finish in about, oh..twenty years or so. I’ll keep you posted!). According to this fourteenth century epic, this is a warning posted at the gates of Hell. Michael Farmer/Lerman uncovers this inscription on a wall within the apartment complex, which was previously hidden behind a wooden panel or some kind of covering. Does this mean the apartment hides the gates to Hell? Yes and “mostly yes.”

In my first review, I placed this story under a category I define as “houses that serve as a portal to some other dimension.” The inscription Farmer/Lerman finds seems to justify this claim. While I argue my claim remains true, this matter in a bit more complex. Upon further reading, it seems that “gates of hell” are not confined to this one location: an apartment building in New York City (although that would explain all the unsavory elements that populate the streets of New York!) The souls of the damned will gather at whatever location the sentinel happens to be stationed. See, throughout history, the sentinel did not need to sit before this one window at this one apartment complex in this one city.  Perhaps in the otherworldly dimension, there is a fixed guard station as well as a stationary entrance/exit to Hell. But here on earth, the locations of these places vary throughout time.  Who knows, maybe in the heyday of the Roman Empire, the sentinel stood guard at a building in Rome with the gates of Hell nearby. Likewise, while the sentinel’s living body sits or stands at a fixed location, his/her soul is free to roam.

Most of the info above comes from Konvitz’s sequel, The Guardian. I apologize for treading into areas that belong in a separate review, but I felt it necessary to explain, as it does impact my claims stated in my first review. While the apartment building does serve as portal to another location (i.e. Hell), this “portal” is transient based on the structural layout of civilizations at any given time.

******

In my first review, I criticize the performances of the two main actors; Christina Raines (Alison Parker) and Chris Sarandon (Michael Lerman,) For Sarandon (former husband of Susan Sarandon), I lay it on thick: From the original review:

“Unfortunately, this former husband of Susan Sarandon has a lot of screen time. Too much! Large chunks of the movie revolve around him as he confers with police and priests. See, he is using his skills as a lawyer to research the haunted apartment complex and discover more about the strange blind priest. Oh God, I wish he didn’t! I found myself shouting at the TV, “Just stay out of it Mr. Mustachio Douchebag! (he dons a cheesy mustache. I don’t know if he has “that other thing”) I want to see more of the neighbors and the haunted complex and less of you and your research!”

These seniments remain. However, “the stuff” of “Mr. Mustachio’s” research and his interactions with characters outside the apartment complex are actually important to the overall story. I learned this from reading the book. However, the way the film presents all this – Meh! This will be explained in more detail in the next section: Book Vs. Movie.

THE BOOK VS. THE MOVIE

As previously mentioned, I prefer the book to the movie. I have already alluded to the whys and wherefores. Are you ready for more details that will back up my preference? But of course you are! Simply stated, the book devotes more time to certain story details than the film. In past book vs. movie articles, I defend any given film’s omission of certain plot points by citing the “200 page/2 hour reel” ratio. I invented this ratio; maybe one day I’ll be inducted into the mathematical hall of fame, I don’t know. But what I mean is that by the very nature of each medium, there is more opportunity for story and character development in a book than a film.  Films cannot be expected to cover all the information that is in a book.  But gosh darn it; the details that the film omits are important! A large chuck of the film is hard to follow, due to the sparse attention to important points. For instance:

1) The Death of the Private Eye

In the book, Farmer has connections with a shady detective (his name escapes me). Quite possibly, Farmer had hired him to kill his first wife – this is back-story. In the main story, Farmer hires her to spy on Alison. He does so, occupying in the same abandoned apartment rooms that Alison investigates when she sees her the soul of her dead father attack her. Alison stabs the spirit, but in reality she stabs and kills the private eye.

The film barely touches upon this. The film shows the private eye on the street when Alison roams the apartment rooms. Later, it shows Detective Gatz, who has it in for Farmer, finding the body of the detective in a junkyard. Viewers are left to wonder how he died, and just what in the heck his murder has to do with the story.

2) Farmer/Lerman’s Nefarious Ways/Conflict with Detective Gatz

Sure the film touches on this, but it was a soft touch. A little nudge? The book explains how Gatz had tried to bring conspiracy of murder charges on Farmer for the suspicious death of his wife, and fails miserably, embarrassing himself and his department. Now there is a new unsolved murder – the death of the Private Eye, who was, mostly likely, hired by Farmer kill his wife. But he must tread cautiously, for he does not have the backing of his superiors due to his past failures on any cases involving Farmer.

Toward the film’s end, when the ghost of Farmer/Lerman is in league with the hell-bound souls, it is explained that he is there (in Hell) on account of his attempt on the blind priest’s life. Oh but his misdeeds go way beyond that! The attack on the priest was an act of sudden rage, temporary insanity if you will. And he fails to kill him. So when watching the film, it seems odd that his violent confrontation with the blind priest has earned him this spot in hell. According to the book, he also had his wife killed, and had done other nefarious deeds. A much better telling/explanation of Farmer/Lerman’s final fate.

With all these film plot holes surrounding Farmer/Lerman, and add to that Sarandon’s poor acting skills, the parts of the movie that poorly dwell on all this, are confusing and boring. The supporting actors save this film! John Carradine as Father Halloran  Ava Gardner as Miss Logan the realtor, Arthur Kennedy as Monsignor Franchino (More on him in the next paragraph), Eli Wallach as Detective Gatz, Burgess Meredith as Charles Chazen, a.k.a. The Devil (he is the best part of the film!), Sylvia Miles and Beverly D’Angelo as the lesbians – great, great great!  Here’s some irony for ya – in the film, the neighbors try to seal our heroine’s fate to an eternity in hell. Outside of the film, it is Sarandon (Lerman) and to some extent Raines (Alison Parker) that “try their best” to drag this film “down”. But the actors that play the hellish souls are the ones that save this film and bring it “up” when things go “low”

3) Monsignor Franchino and the Protection of the Conspiracy

Arthur Kennedy has a significant amount of screen time as Monsignor Franchino, protector and facilitator of the duties and rituals involving the protection of the sentinel and the changing of the guard. A welcome presence he is, for is acting is good. However, his duties in the book go beyond his duties in the film. He is a “fixer”. In the book, he is the one that removes the body of the Private Eye from the apartment and dumps it in a trash compound. After all, one cannot have a crime scene in an apartment where the sentinel stands guard. It would ruin everything.

 4) Real Estate Transactions

The realtor that leases the apartment to Alison secretly works for the Church. When Farmer/Lerman seeks her out to question her about the hapenings in the apartment complex, he can’t find her. The Church has hidden her. This is NOT made clear in the film.

*****

A lot of film bashing going on in this article. But the truth is, I like the film. It has major flaws but the supporting actors save it.

Do I have any criticisms over the book? Minor ones. The first has to do with the overall story, both in the film and book. And it’s not really a criticism per say, more of a disclaimer. Much of the story is based on “truths” as according to the Catholic Church.  In this story, homosexuality and suicide are treated as grave sins. Those that engage in such sins are portrayed either as evil or in need of some serious redemption. The two women lovers seem to be cast to Hell on account of their same-sex relationship. This runs counter to today’s standards, where the rights of LGBTQ are being fought on a daily basis, with many successes as of late. Also, “suicide” is now perceived as an unfortunate outcome of a mental illness. It is generally not considered as an act deserving of an eternity in Hell. Remember, the film and book came out in the 70s. Perceptions were different then. Leaving aside these anachronisms, the story is still a good one.

Now here comes a minor criticism of the book: It lacks section dividers. Three paragraphs might describe the events of certain characters in the apartment complex, and all of the sudden, the fourth paragraph takes us to a new character in a new setting. This is confusing. But as a reader, I got used to this. Mostly. In the end, this style is forgivable.

THE “REAL” SENTINEL BUILDING

This article would be remiss if it didn’t cover the set location – the real apartment building that was used in the film. That building, according to OnTheSetOfNewYork , would be a Brooklyn brownstone located at 10 Montague Terrace, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn. The apartment was used in both exterior and interior shots.

SentinelApartment

According to 6sqft.com, there is a co-op up for sale. It can be yours for the measly price of $1.15 million. Check out the rooms!


Well, this article is coming to a close. Please check out Thorne and Cross’s Haunted Nights Live on June 28 for their interview with Jeffery Konvitz. Every Thursday night, they interview a different author. Here is the link to this week’s show:

Thorne and Cross -Haunted Nights Live with Jeffrey Konvitz

Tune in at 7:00pm Central Time!

I would like to have had written a review of Konvitz’s sequel to The Sentinel – The Guardian – before this interview, but alas, it will to come after.

Now, I wonder if “The Sentinel” is roasting in the top-floor apartment on those hot summer days. Did Father Halloran have air conditioning? It gets awfully hot in a top floor apartment.  And since he guards the gates of hell, he has other heat to contend with.So to all you apartment dwellers w/out AC, it could be worse. Be thankful you are not the sentinel. If you were, things would really get hot, hot, hot!

 

 

 

 

 

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

Guess what day it is? It’s Adrian birthday. Let’s sing to him!

Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday Dear Adrian! Happy Birthday to you!

Adrian turns fifty-years-old today. Maybe you’re thinking,” Who the heck is Adrian?” Well I’ll tell you. He is the son of Satan! But he’s probably best known as Rosemary’s Baby, Adrian came into this world on June 12, 1968 through the vessel known as the movie theater. Whatever became of him? I don’t care, so I will not utter – Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby. Supposedly it is a very bad film. I haven’t seen it but I heed the critics’ warning to avoid this yarn. The original film, however, is a masterpiece. Two and a half decades since its inception and it is still one of the best horror films ever made.

(Mr. Buttinski: Psst! Technically, the events in the film take place a few years BEFORE 1968, so Adrian’s actual age would be…

Me: OH SHUT UP! )

  I have chosen this 50th birthday of Rosemary’s Baby to launch the first review of my Haunted Apartment series. (Read the opening article here.) What a great film to begin this series, if I do say so myself! I go straight, smack dab into the center of Director Roman Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy. Let me explain. Polanski  directed and helped write the screenplays for three horror films that take place within apartment complexes.  rosemarys-baby-the-dakotaRosemary’s Baby is based on the book by the same name, written by Ira Levin. Imposemagazine.com calls Rosemary’s  Baby the centerpiece of the trilogy. This makes sense, as it is the second of the three films by order of release. Also, it’s the most known, most popular, and in my humble opinion, the best. The other two, Repulsion and The Tenant, released, respectively, in 1965 and 1976, are very brilliant films as well, but it’s hard to top that “cute” little baby, even though we are only permitted to view his eyes. Before I delve into the intricacies of Rosemary’s Baby, a little more needs to be said about the trilogy itself. A paragraph ought to cover it!

The Apartment Trilogy consists of three separate films with different plots and characters. The second and third films are the not the sequels of the first. Instead, they are united by these commonalities:

  1. They detail the unfolding psychosis of a central character.
  2. They blur the protagonist’s perception of reality
  3. They feature an oppressive apartment setting that further augments the madness of the main character.

In regards to the apartment setting, Amanda Meyncke, in an article for MTV.com, writes, “Polanski masterfully  plays upon our fears of small confined  spaces, as well as our intrinsic fear of the unknown.” Truth be told, I’m not sure if Polanski set out to create an Apartment Trilogy. It seems if that term, along with all the analysis that followed, appeared long after the release of these films. Perhaps Polanski simply thrived in a setting that worked well for him and just let the creative juices flow, while the categorization came after the fact. Here at this blog, I will also explore the other two films as part of the Haunted Apartment series. But for right now, on to Rosemary’s Baby!

Here is a synopsis…and more. Urbanite couple Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into the Bramford apartment building, despite the misgivings of their friend Hutch, who warns them about the shady history of the building, which includes tenants that had engaged in witchcraft and cannibalism. Oh my! They barely settle in when the eccentric old couple in the apartment next door befriends them. The nosy but seemingly well-meaning couple, Minnie and Roman Castevet, learns a couple of things about the Woodhouses: 1) Guy is a struggling actor. 2) They would like to have a baby soon.

Suddenly, the plans and dreams of the Woodhouses fall into place. Guy gets a great acting gig (at the expense of another actor who goes blind and can’t perform the role) and Rosemary is pregnant. The Castevets practically micro-manage the pregnancy. In a pushy way, they recommend an obstetrician. Rosemary agrees to use him. They put her on a strange diet of herbs and milky concoctions

Rosemary is worried. Her pregnancy does not seem normal. She is in constant pain. Her skin turns sickly pale. She craves raw meat! But no one, not her neighbors, not her husband, not even the doctor will sympathize with her. They all seem to think things are “normal.” Hutch turns Rosemary on to the idea that the Castevets’ are modern day witches and that they plan to sacrifice the newborn baby. Suddenly, she believes that everyone is part of the plot; the doctor, her husband, and the neighbors – which by this time in the film there are many; more goofy, old ladies. Scared for the safety of her baby, she tries to flee everybody, including her husband. She calls everyone witches, but they catch her, sedate her. Before sedation, she goes into labor. She awakens later to sad news. The baby didn’t survive. Various neighbors look after Rosemary as she lies in bed. Meanwhile Guy blames Rosemary’s recent “erratic behavior” on pre partum hysteria. All the stuff about witches, all those conspiracies, these were all delusions brought on by hysteria. The end!

Or..is it?

Are you ready for THE SPOILER! Oh come on, you already know what’s coming!

The baby isn’t dead. Through a secret passage in a closet that connects the Woodhouse apartment to the Castevet apartment, Rosemary enters her neighbor’s domain to find her baby in a carriage surrounded by black cloth and tapestry. Demonic paintings hang on the walls. All the neighbors are there. Quirky, goofy old ladies are shouting Hail Satan! You gotta love that! The Castevet’s explain to Rosemary that she has brought the son of Satan into the world. Guy tells his wife that he helped arrange all this in exchange for a successful acting career (these Satanists put a curse on the one actor who went blind). Their son is Adrian, the son of Satan. Viewers are only permitted to see its’ eyes, scary demonic looking eyes.

What is most memorable about this film? Is  it the performances? Could be. Mia Farrow brilliantly portrays the tortured Rosemary with real emotions. It’s as if she herself is succumbing to psychological torment. Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevet steals the scene many times. She won an Oscar for this role. She’s very entertaining, as is Sidney Blackmer as Roman Castevet. He too gives a commanding performance.

Performances aside, certain scenes have become etched in the collective conscious of audiences, scenes such as the dream sequence. One evening, Rosemary and Guy decide to get busy at making the baby. Before they do so, they eat some chocolate mousse, a treat given to them by the Castevets. Something in the dessert causes Rosemary to become ill. She lies in bed and succumbs to a dreamlike trance. She’s on a cruise ship, all the neighbors are there. She’s tied to a bed naked. Demonic arms feel her body. I’m not doing this scene justice with my description. It must be seen.  It’s very surreal and uncanny.  And it features a bunch of naked old people!  But don’t worry, the anatomical details are hidden in shadows.  Mostly.

rosemarysbabyDream

 

Anyway, when she wakes up in the morning, Guy tells her that they had made love overnight. Oh but he’s lying! It was Satan that had his way with her the following evening.No one will ever forget the end – the big twist. See, many viewers had watched this film, probably thinking that the terror was all in Rosemary’s head and that she was delusional. All that was laid to waste at the end with the old people in the apartment giving praise to Satan while babysitting the Underlord’s newborn. Surprising, scary and funny all at the same time!

There are some subtle things about this film that I enjoy. For instance, there is a reoccurring sound of a clock ticking in the Woodhouse’s apartment. Sometimes its prominent, other times it fades into the background. It adds to the tension. It signifies that something will happen by the movie’s end. We just have to wait. Tick tick tick!

rosemarysbabyApartmentBuildingFrom a cinematography stand point; I appreciate the opening sequence that shows an aerial view of a skyline of apartment buildings. The camera pans across them, and finally it settles on the one; the apartment building where the action of Rosemary’s Baby takes place. Architecturally, it’s a beautiful building. In the film it is called the Bramford Building. According to Onthesetofnewyork.com, in real life it is called the Dakota. It stands at the northwest corner of 72nd   street and Central Park West in New York City. Designed by the Architectural firm of Henry Janeway Hardenbergh and constructed in 1880, it has High gables, deep roofs, a profusion of dormers. It’s style is that of the North German Renaissance. It is the perfect building to set the scene.  For one thing, it has a haunted history. There have been many ghost sightings in and around the premises over the years. Celebrities who stayed here have witnessed paranormal events. Maury Povich described the place as “Very haunted”. John Lennon claimed to have seen a UFO while looking out one of the windows.  Tragically, Lennon would die here. He would be shot to death while standing in front of the Dakota Building. Later residents would claim to have seen his ghost within the building.

An article by Jessica Jewett provides the details:

http://jessicajewettonline.com/ghosts-of-the-dakota-building

Did Polanski know about the hauntings before using The Dakota as his establishing shot? I don’t know. But he certainly provided a fitting backdrop for the events that take place in the film.

Finally, there’s the William Castle scene. Oops, did I forget to mention that this master-of-gimmicks director produced this film? I guess I did. Known for directing films such as The House on Haunted Hill and 13 Ghosts, he teamed with Polanski to make Rosemary’s Baby the successful film that it was. And he has a cameo! He enters a phone booth after Rosemary exits. I just thought I should mention this. I don’t know why. Perhaps because I dig the late Great William Castle.

 

And so, this will wrap up this review. Adrian, Son of Satan, I don’t know where you are today. Are your sitting before a cake with fifty candles? I’m sure your daddy down in Hell could provide the flames for these candles. I’m sure he’s proud of you. Happy Fiftieth Birthday!  And to you, Rosemary’s Baby the film – Happy Birthday.  Ah but you’re a timeless film and therefore since conception, you have entered the realm of eternity. Your greatness will live forever!