Review of The Castle of Otranto

castleofotrantoI’m willing to bet that the following themes are all too familiar – Kingdom vs. Kingdom. A despotic Prince.   Underground passageways. A fleeing princess. Knights on the hunt. Dire prophesies.  A castle haunted with phantoms. Have I listed enough clichés?

All of these motifs are found in Horace Walpole’s novel “The Castle of Otranto”. But let’s give the guy a break. After all, he wrote this piece back in 1764.   Long before George R. R. Martin had his Game of Thrones, sooner than J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, previous to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, prior to Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolfo, Walpole wrote this fantasy novel about a time long ago (even in 1764 it was a period piece); a time of knights and kingdoms, princesses and perils, all wrapped up in a story that is sprinkled with ghosts and other supernatural phenomena. Mind you, he had his predecessors. Shakespeare was writing of kingdoms and ghosts and the 16th and the stories of King Arthur and The Knights of the Roundtable date back to the 11th and 12th century. However, Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto is credited as the very first gothic novel.

What does it mean to be the first “gothic novel?” Well let us see what the with the fine men and women of wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia, the novel, establishes:

“many of the plot devices and character-types that would become typical of the Gothic: secret passages, clanging trapdoors, pictures that begin to move, and doors that close by themselves.”

But what makes this novel standout among other fantasy and frightful novels of its time is its unique method of blending the fantastic with the mundane. Supposedly in the late 1700s, stories of the supernatural were considered “old school” (They probably had a different term for it, but you catch my drift).  Modern tales of romance and adventure were allegedly devoid of such supernatural themes and focused more on believable foes and realistic conflicts.  By mixing the two literary strands, Walpole establishes what has come to be a defining theme for Gothic literature – traces of the past making their way into the modern world. Looking at the gothic haunted house stories that come later, this theme bears out over and over –  curses born in the past that claim the lives of future generations, justice for sins committed long ago coming for the heirs of the original sinner; ghosts returning from the graves to haunt the living.

Wadpole, a British politician, was a fan of the ancient medieval period, so much so that he had a castle built to replicate a palace of yore. It’s called Strawberry Hill House and it still stand today, although it has gone through much renovation. In writing “The Castle of Otranto,” Wadpole tried to imitate the style of speech from the medieval era. In its initial publication, Wadpole included a preface that made is seem as if his tale was an ancient one, written in the sixteenth century.

Fascination for the ways of yore, nostalgia for periods of we never knew – this is at the heart of Gothic literature. What are ghosts but fanciful beings from times long gone!

So, how much of this novel is dedicated to ghosts and other things that go bump in the night? I’d say there is a smidgen of these elements. Maybe more.   Phantoms and other mysterious things pop in and out of this story. Lord Manfred, a ruthless tyrant, arranges a marriage between his son Conrad and the maiden Isabella in order to unite two kingdoms. However, before the marriage is to take place, a giant helmet falls from nowhere and crushes him. Paranormal event #1.   Lord Manfeld then takes it upon himself to have Isabella as his own. But not if she can help it. She flees through an underground passage. Lord Manfeld chases her while the painted image of his grandfather flees the portrait and interferes in the chase. Paranormal event #2.

More story follows, but I’m not going to go into much detail. There are battles. There is a love story, and there are more supernatural events; inhabitants of the castle see a giant foot that occupies an entire room, a specter in dark clothes kneels before an altar. Some of these occurrences are rather bizarre to say the least.

As to the claim that this tale deposits the supernatural into “realistic situations”, I don’t really see it. I’m not saying that this isn’t happening. It’s just that I am so far removed from the writing style of the eighteenth century and I’m a complete novice when it comes to the “ordinary, day to day life” of the royal classes of medieval society. Therefore, I’m not attuned to the supposed “realism” that is going on here. “Realism” to me is a Stephen King story, where there might be a guy in a baseball cap chomping down on a Mars candy bar at gas station and sipping his bottle of Dr. Pepper, all while speaking in local slang.   In Wadpole’s work, the characters speak in a theatrical style.  Formal, long-winded salutations seem to invade nearly every sentence of the dialogue.  The heroes and heroines always have the noblest of intentions.

I can’t say that this novel thrilled me to death. The story is fair. However, I did learn a lot from reading the book and doing research for this article. I have a better understanding of the foundations of gothic literature and I have learned a great deal about the evolution of literary styles. For this I am thankful. And onward I will go, digesting more works within the Gothic genre. Some I will like, others not so much. But I look forward to the rewarding experience. You too can have such an experience. Just pick up a book and read, read, read!

 

Review of The Uninvited

This movie came to me in a vision. There I was, entering a tomb that is guarded by possessed skeletons. I passed them by and went on. Soon I came upon an upright coffin. Somebody opened it from the inside! There before me was a coffin-bound ghoul. He spoke to me of horror! Then he told a corny joke and unseen people threw rubber chickens at him! All this occurred in my “tele” vision. (I told you it came to me in a “vision”)

For those who don’t know, I have just briefly described the opening for the horror movie show that airs on Saturday nights on MeTV . Famous horror-host Svengoolie helms the show (and the show is called “Svengoolie’ – imagine that!), and it is a blast! You can see one of these openings in the video below.

The film Svengoolie aired last Saturday is called The Uninvited. It was the second time I have seen this classic 1944 haunted house film on his show.  I think I liked it better the second time. Here is the plot in brief –  a brother and sister purchase a house by the seaside. The twenty-year-old granddaughter of the seller objects to this transaction. As a former occupant of the house (although she was very young when she lived there), Stella still feels a connection to the place; a connection which she has trouble articulating. Her mother passed away near the house. There is a cliff nearby that drops into the sea.  Her mother committed suicide by jumping off this cliff.  Or was she thrown off? Was murder involved?  There was another woman that lived with them in the seaside home. She too died when Stella was young.  Stella insists on living in the house with the new occupants. She is convinced that a female spirit also resides in this house. This spirit, she insists, is trying to make contact with her. Is it her mother? Or is it the spirit of someone else, someone that wants to harm her.

Svengoolie had an interesting piece of trivia concerning this film. He said that this was the first film that took the concept of “the ghost” seriously. I’ll take his word for it. Offhand, I can’t think of an earlier film that put as much effort into telling a thoughtful ghost story.  For the first time, perhaps, the ghost that manifests on the screen looks “real”.  Of    TheUninvited3course, by today’s standards, the specter in The Uninvited might appear lame. But I liked it! It is a distinct change from the “dancing sheets” that substituted as the ghosts in earlier films. Most often, these “ghosts” were used for comedic effect.

In The Uninvited, the ghost appears as a glowing swirl that dances across the screen. Soon, it takes on the appearance of a female specter; transparent and blurred just enough to allow for an imperfection of form that creates the visual effect of a vaporous figure.  The ghostly sounds are quite eerie as well. There is the disembodied sobbing that is done with just the right amount of echo. There is haunting laughter that trails off to nowhere. Then there are other factors that make for a chilling, ghostly atmosphere.  Book pages turn on their own accord. Flowers die instantaneously. And special attention should be payed to Actress Gail Russell (playing the role of Stella) when she gives way to dramatic pauses that pull the viewers into the contemplative yet chilling scenes. Stella smells the fragrance of her mother. She becomes blissfully joyful. Then Stella becomes frightfully cold. She succumbs to trances.

TheUninvited2

All in all this is a decent haunted house film. It’s not the best but it holds its own. My only complaint has to do with the ways that the mystery unravels. Through dialogue, the cast discuss the clues they have found and verbally hypothesize their way to the truth. This is an instance where the phrase “show don’t tell” comes in handy. I would have preferred more showing and less telling.  Oh well, you can’t always get what you want, I guess.  Still, it’s a good film.  See it. And tune into “Svengoolie” on MeTV Thank you! Over and out!

Review of Haunter

Hey, have you ever seen the film “Haunter”?

(I think you mean “The Haunting”.  There’s the original 1963 film by Robert Wise and then there’s- )

No, I don’t mean “The Haunting”.  I mean “Haunter”

(Oh!!! You mean that 1995 film with Kate Beckinsale.)

NO!! That’s “Haunted!”  I’m referring to “HauntER!” “er!” “er!” er!” “er!”

(Hunter? )

Oh never mind!!

 

Truth be told, I had never heard of this film either (until I found it on Shudder.com a  Hauntercouple months ago) It premiered in 2013, but according to Wikipedia, this Canadian film had a limited release in U.S. theaters. Released on video in 2014, it only took in $129, 477.  Suffice it to say, it didn’t get much exposure. Equally disappointing are the lukewarm reviews.  Fifty-four percent of professional critics cited on Rottentomatoes  rated this film positively – a slim majority. But there are plenty of professional critics that panned the film.  Rex Reed of the New Yorks Observer writes that the film is “A dull, confusing movie for which nobody provided a script” Meanwhile, only forty-two percent of the non-professional critics (audience) view the film favorably.  IMDB gives this a rating of 5.9 stars out of 10.

All this is sad to me, because I think this is an underrated film that is too good to be hidden from the masses. It is NOT dull. In fact, it is quite the opposite; I was drawn in immediately. It only took a few scenes before I had dissolved into the mystery of the house that is at the heart of this story.  Is it a confusing movie?  Perhaps at times. It is  complex but in a captivating way. It is non-linear.  Characters weave in and out of various timelines. They tunnel into different dimensions; the dimension of the living and the dimension of the dead. There is a lot packed into this 97-minute film. There is layer upon layer of awesomeness. And yet, the film doesn’t feel rushed. Nor does the plot feel oppressive and burdensome.

It is difficult to explain the plot without giving away spoilers.  On all of the major review sites, a spoiler sticks out in the very first lines of the synopsis.  I understand the reasoning behind its inclusion: the heart of the story beats according to this revelation. But I swear, for the first 15-20 minutes of the film, the revelation is not immediately apparent. Having read the various synopses, I knew what this revelation was before beginning the film, and yet I let myself flow freely in the directions that the plot was taking me, so much so that I nearly forgot the surprise.

In some of my reviews, I do post spoilers. Normally I warn the reader about this.  Depending upon what I want to achieve with the article, I sometimes need to give things away. If I’m doing an analysis of major themes, for example, it is sometimes necessary to reveal key plot point and twists.  For The Haunter, I wish to give nothing away. I am even omitting things that major review sites list freely. I want this to be a surprise from start to finish. I want it to be like the roller coaster that it is; with exciting twists and turns.

I’ll close this review by starting a new subject, hopefully to be continued in the future I consider “Haunter” to be a post-modern film. It’s non-linear and it lacks a center, so to speak.  Some other haunted house stories that fall into this category are The House at the End of Time , a film and House of Leaves, a book.  So I ask, are there commonalities across all post-modern haunted house stories that are limited to its genre?  Are there certain themes that are begging to be discovered and analyzed?  I don’t know. This would be an interesting avenue to explore. And that’s what we do here at the Haunted House Poject – drive down avenues that behold such wonderful houses of haunts!

 

 

Review of The Ghosts of Ravencrest

ravencrestOn the very first page of this blog, I state that this haunted house project is a learning exercise that leads to an exploration of various genres of literature. Here in the intro I have written:

“From the stone castles of the old world to the suburban units of the new, a haunting we will go!   We will tread across various genres; unveiling the ghosts of Gothic novels, dissecting the creatures of Cosmic horror, and exorcising demons from modern film lore.”

By golly, I really mean what I say! I am exploring new things and I love it. For example, by studying a specific subgenre (i.e. classic haunted house stories), I have been turned on to Gothic literature in general.  As to the defining characteristics of Gothic literature, I am still learning. This is a topic for another article.  But even the layperson has a rudimentary understanding of some of the aspects of Gothic tales. Upon hearing the words “gothic literature,” people think of stone castles, dark romances, and wealthy heirs that are tied to their familial lineages.

Now, some might be tempted to restrict gothic tales to the 18th and 19th centuries; an era of rapid and sometimes unwelcome change (urbanization/ industrialization/modernization), for which Gothic novels had offered fanciful escape with their stories of the days or yore. (Okay NOW I’m treading too deep into the weeds. Come back!)  Thankfully, there are authors that keep this genre alive here in the 21st century. Authors such as, oh, I dunno, say…Tamara Thorne  and Alastair Cross.  They have successfully transposed the old world into the new – brick by brick, for the mansion that is at the center of their story has been relocated from old world Europe to the modern U.S.A. Included in this move are the ghosts that had been haunting the mansion. Over time, new ghosts moved in as well.  You can learn all about The Ghosts of Ravencrest  by reading their book.

Their book is filled with delicious gothic delights. As mentioned, it has the ghosts, but there is much more. There are witches and spells, misshapen creatures, and statues that come to life.  The Ravenscrest mansion has a wing that is locked away – for there are strange things afoot in this side of the building.  There is an interesting staff of characters; a charming and witty butler, and evil and jealous administrator, an innocent governess, who is the main protagonist of the story.  There are other intriguing staff members as well, and they all serve Eric Manning, widower and heir to a family business that has been operational for a couple of centuries.   In the middle of the book, the authors take us back in time to late 16th century Europe, where we meet Manning’s ancestors and learn of the origin of this terror that haunts Ravencrest.

“The Ghosts of Ravencrest” also has romance; a budding love story. Did I mention sex? It’s got that as well, in all its most erotic forms. Yes, it has BDSM.  For those that love that kind of thing, you will enjoy these parts of the story. For those that don’t, just put up with it, okay? It’s not a pervasive thing and there is so much more to the story, so please don’t let some hangup ruin this terrific piece work. As for me, I didn’t think the sex added anything to the story. But it didn’t steal from the story either, and that’s the important thing.

I say give it a try. You can sample it piece by piece if you like. It is broken up into eight novellas. All are available at Amazon for 99 cents a piece. As for me, I took the express lane to the end with no stops in between. In other words, you can purchase the whole collection as on book. But this will be “Book 1”.  The next book is “The Witches of Ravencrest.”.  Four novellas are already available for purchase, but I’m going to wait until all are available and then buy the whole collection.


I’d like to focus a little on the authors. Tamara Thorne has been writing best sellers since  thronecrossthe 1990s.  Alistair Cross came on the scene a little later.  Both are avid fans of ghost stories and gothic literature.  The two met one day and they decided to write as a team. I’ve always wondered how co-authoring worked!  Does one author write one chapter, and the other the next, continuing in this pattern until the book’s end?  The result of this method might be a “run-on” story; directionless, since each author grabs the helm at indiscriminate moments. Another method is for one author to do most of the work while the other adds a couple of ideas here and there, but they both end up getting co-author credit. But this doesn’t seem fair.

Thankfully, Thorne and Cross have found another way to work together.

During an interview, they explain their method. Via Skype, they write together in real time -electronic face to electronic face. They use Google Docs which allows them to write and edit the same document at the same time.   They spend several hours a day at this activity.

Thorne and Cross collaborate on other ventures as well. On Thursday evenings, they host an internet radio show, Haunted Nights Live.  On the show they read ghost stories and interview guest authors. Some of the guests include V.C. Andrews (Flowers in the Attic), Christopher Rice (son of Anne Rice), and Scott Nicholson (I have reviewed three of his books at this blog).

I’ve just discovered these two, and…I don’t know…they intrigue me. Maybe they have cast a spell on me or something. They would be the ones who could do it too, for they seem to live their daily lives in the macabre, constantly surrounded by a gothic vibe –  choose a phrase, you know what I mean. Together, they have gone on excursions of paranormal investigation. The collect little toy trolls. They love cats, a gothic animal if there ever was one. They are living their passions!

So, enjoy some of the forbidden fruits of their beloved labor. Visit their blogs. I have given you several links, and here is another. Listen to their show and buy, buy buy their books!

Review of The Haunted Castle (1921)

hauntedcastleThere’s an old saying that goes something like, “No expectations, no disappointments.”  There is great wisdom in this adage. It offers its adherents healthy attitudes toward the unknown. It can even bring forth pleasant surprises.  It is beautiful.

Yeah, but I didn’t follow the advice of this adage. I had all these expectations for The Haunted Castle by F.W. Murnau, even though I knew very little about the film. What I did know was that it was a silent film, and it was really, really old! (1921).  Based on some of the silent horror films I have seen, I was expecting to see ghostly images in the form of dancing white sheets. I was preparing for special effects so rudimentary as to be almost magical; things appearing and disappearing (dissolves), choppy animation (stop motion), and more. I wanted to see a distressed person making his/her way through corridors at a comedic speed.  I was expecting various haunted house props; skeletons, knight’s armors, bats.

Haunted Castle has none of these things.

What I wanted was some of this: (see video.)

This is Le Manoir de Diable (The Devil’s Castle) by Georges Melies. (1896). It is said to be the very first horror film. Melies is most known for the film,  Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip to the Moon).  “Le Manoir de Diable” has the skeleton, bats, and the “now you see me/now you don’t” effects.

Perhaps I wanted something like this: (see video)

This is The House of Ghosts  by Segundo De Chomon. (Even though the video names this “The Haunted House,” imdb as it as “The House of Ghosts. I trust imdb) It has the sheeted ghosts. It uses stop-motion animation to present the illusion that objects are moving by themselves. It also has a scray looking, witch-like woman.

These two films are shorts: one is a little over three minutes and the other is just past the six minute mark. They were made, I believe, mostly to experiment with visual effects and film making in general. After all, film was a new art during their time of conception. Imagine what it would be if there was a silent haunted house film of feature length that incorporated the style of these two films and added a full story plot! Well I have to keep on imagining because Haunted Castle is not this kind of film.

The movie takes place in a castle, but it’s not haunted.  Several men gather at the palace for a getaway; a ducking hunting excursion. One of the guests is the Count Oetsch. He is suspected of murdering his brother, so the other guests shun him. It doesn’t help any that he looks and acts kind of creepy.  Soon to arrive is Baroness Safferstat, the widow of the murdered man. She has a new husband. In short, this film is a murder mystery. Except for one or two scenes, there is not much horror going on here.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I should judge a movie for what it is and not for what I incorrectly assumed it should be, right? I hear ya. Still, I’m not a big fan of this film. There is too much dialogue; too many intertitles. While I understand that these intertiles are necessary in the silent era, I prefer a film that uses them sparingly and instead focuses on movements and actions.  Many of the scenes are simply… well, “boring” for a lack of a better word. There are long scenes of men at tables drinking and playing cards. There are facial shots that go on too long. Too often we are forced to watch the baroness’s morose and motionless face as seconds go by, more seconds, and….still more seconds.

Please don’t think I am picking on silent movies. Three pre-talkie films have made my Top 50 horror movie list.  They are:

I find the imagery and style of these three films preferable to the look and feel of “The Haunted Castle”.  But “The Haunted Castle” isn’t all blah and boredom. In fact, there is an interesting twist at the movie’s end.  Still, it’s not one of my favorites. But I’m sure there are many of you who will find this film delightful.

Review of Ju-On: The Curse 2

ju-onthecurse22What should I say about Ju-On: The Curse 2?  Let’s see…what did I write about Ju-On: The Curse, the first film of the series? Let me go back in the archives and read.  Hmm.  Uh huh.  Yup. Okay. I’ll just do a Copy and Paste, place that review here and then I’ll be done!  Good day folks!

On second thought, I won’t do that. But the two films are similar is so many ways that they are almost identical. As reviews on Rotten Tomatoes point out, the first thirty minutes of the film replays the final scenes of the first film.  When I started the film, I found myself wondering, “Did I put on the wrong movie?”  “Am I once again watching the first film?”  Both movies are divided into several parts, or “vignettes.” Since the stories of the first film do not flow in sequential order, I couldn’t remember which scenes began or ended the film. This is partially why I thought I was at the beginning of the first film, when in fact I was at the ending of the first film, when in actual fact I was at the beginning of the second film. Oh the confusion!  But at least the stories in the second film are shown in chronological order, unlike the first film. At least I think they are.

Both films feature the “Ju-On”, or “The Curse-Grudge”;  a transmissible phenomenon involving murderous spirits that strike from beyond the grave. The Saeki house once again serves as the catalyst of this curse. It has a violent past, and the spirits of murdered victims wreak havoc on the living; especially those who enter the premises. Even if they survive, they are cursed. When leaving the Saeki house, the curse follows them and the vengeful spirits can then murder them in their own homes.  Then their homes are haunted and the curse can spread to the occupants of their home.

The creepy spirit of Kayako Saeki is back; along with her little creepy boy Toshio, who likes to open his mouth and release a wicked sounding cat’s mewl.  Both films are 70 minutes long, and both were made for Japanese television.  Perhaps, in this second installment, Kayako is a little bit creepier? Maybe?  Her ghostly body certainly contorts in ways that it hadn’t in the first film. And now she has the power to duplicate herself!  When all those ghostly hands (all belonging to her) attack those windows – yikes-a-roni!

I can’t decide which film I prefer. But remember, for me, these films are simply prerequisites for the film that I really wish to review: Ju-On – The Grudge, the first feature film in the Ju-On series. But of course you already know this, since you’ve memorized all that I have said in my review of the first film. I have already seen it and I do like it better than its predecessors. But I needed to see these in order that I present a well-researched review of Ju-On – The Grudge. And I will…soon.  Until then, enjoy the “Ju-On Curse” films.  They’re not bad. They’re okay.

 

Review of Hauntings: Three Haunted House Novellas

hauntingsSomewhere out there in Facebook land, in one of the many groups to which I belong, I came across a post that was advertising a free book!  We indie authors are forced to give away books from time to time order to gain exposure. The title grabbed me right away: Hauntings: Three Haunted House Novellas.  Now how can a haunted house guy like me pass on this? I couldn’t.  So I downloaded it, read it, overall I liked it, and now I’m reviewing it.  Thus, the authors’ giveaway campaign has bared some fruit.  Not that my review equates to an orchard of apples or anything.  At least, put me down as one single peach!

As with other anthologies, there are some stories that I prefer over others. But I’m not going to delve into the nitty-gritties of my individual preferences. They are purely subjective and would negate from the fact that all these stories have their strengths. Like the three legs of a tripod, they have a solid-enough structure to support the novel as a whole.  And it doesn’t matter so much that these legs aren’t examples of the most innovative feats in engineering!  They are standard legs, standard stories – but they do their job.  Perhaps they can use a bit of polishing here and there (another round of editing). But as an indie author myself; I know how difficult editing can be (especially when you can’t afford a professional).

What I would like to do is: very briefly, I will summarize each story and then itemize the elements that stand out; the story components that have made a lasting impression on my memory.

First there is The Haunting of Monroe House by Olivia Harlowe.  A pregnant couple rents a house in the country. Is it haunted, or is there something about Sam’s pregnancy that is making everything so – strange? Here are the things that stand out – the peacocks, that scary closet, those wall-scratching noises, the farmer and his wife; an interesting couple indeed; characters well written.

Second there is The Haunting of Briarwood Lodge by Violet Archer. Colin inherits a lodge house that is the taboo of the town. No one will go near it. Except a young woman named Juno.  Together, Colin and Juno explore the strange happenings that are going on at Briarwood Lodge.  Here are the things that stand out – The attic window,  the corridors, that circle of chairs, the poltergeist-style activity. Oh, and how the house can, at will, lock its inhabitants inside!

Third, there is The Haunting of Briarwood Lodge by Mason Graves. Tom and Rebecca move into a new home. Tom is spooked by the stories surrounding the history of the house. Rebecca dismisses them as myths.  Who is correct?  Here are the things that stand out – Tom’s journey into the crawlspace, the mystery surrounding the original owners of the house, and the weird old lady that stalks the house.

All in all, this is a fun read.  Perhaps there will be more haunted house tales to come from this trio?   There is a website that hints at this, although it is a bit empty at the moment.

http://hauntedhousenovels.com/

Also, Violet Archer has many creepy short stories (each several paragraphs long) at her blog

https://violetarcher.com/blog/

Enjoy!

Review of The Haunted Doll’s House

dollhouse Ready for a bonus Christmas Ghost story review?

Toward the end of my article Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses, I wrote a preview concerning up and coming reviews of Christmas related haunted house stories. I was to review A Strange Christmas Game by J.H. Riddell and Smee by A.M. Burrage. I have fulfilled those commitments. But the Christmas/holiday season continues to roll along, so I said to myself, “By golly, I have time for one more!” I then discovered how much I enjoy talking to myself, so I continued on with the conversation I was having with yours truly, and I said, “I would be remiss if I do not at least touch on the work of M.R James, after all his name is synonymous with The Christmas Ghost story.”

Unfortunately, this touch amounts to a small nudge, because I am not actually reviewing his writing. Rather, I am reviewing a short film that is based on one of his stories. The film is The Haunted Doll’s House by Stephen Gray, and an interesting film it is!

Christmas festivities are usually not the subjects of M.R. James’s ghost stories. But, they were stories that to were read out loud on Christmas Eve. This is an old English tradition, and you can read about it here.

The Haunted Doll’s House has nothing to do with Christmas. Unless, one thinks of a doll house as a Christmas gift for a young girl, but this is a bit of a stretch. According to literature.wikia.com,  it was first published in 1923 for the magazine Empire review, it later became part of anthology titled “A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories”

Now fast forward ninety years to 2013, and we have Stephen Gray’s film version of the classic story. (I’m sure there were other incarnations somewhere in the ninety years, but oh well to them.)

According to www.thin-ghost.org,  this film was made with “no budget.”  It is minimalism at its finest!  There is live action along with some creepily effective animation.

All I’m going to say about this plot it this: a man purchases an antique dollhouse. The dollhouse is haunted. Want more details? Watch the film.

How does this film stack against James’s original story? I don’t know. I still haven’t read anything from M.R. James. That is my bad and I promise I will do so soon.

For now, enjoy the film. Watch it here:

http://www.thin-ghost.org/dollhouse


 

Betcha thought I forgot about the third Christmas promise I made! I didn’t.  In addition to promising Christmas Ghost story reviews, I said that I would write my own Christmas Ghost Story. And I have. But now I’m checking it twice. I want to make sure it’s both scary and nice!   It will be up soon!

Review of Smee (A Christmas Ghost Story By A.M. Burrage)

smeeGoosebumps! (Uh…what?)  You heard me. Goosebumps!  (I don’t get it). These little shits crawled all over my skin as I read this delightful tale. And when I listened to an audio arrangement of the story, with creepy sound effects and all, these bumps honked like a mudda’ goose!

The story I am referring to is “Smee” by A.M Burrage, which was originally published as part of a collection in the book Someone in the Room, 1931.

(To  read it online. Check out  http://www.scaryforkids.com/smee/ )

(To listen to the story, check out this narration from David Lewis Richardson

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muJyiMMAfTk )

(Was it really so scary that if caused goosebumps?) Well, it was scary. Scarier than some, less scary than others. (Was it, I don’t know, touching?) Well, people touched a ghost now and then, it that’s what you mean. (What I mean is, “What’s with the goosebumps?!”).  The overall concept of this story gave them to me!  Twelve friends playing a hide-and-seek type game inside a huge, dark house, and then suddenly – there is this mysterious thirteenth player that hides with them!  This description alone should be enough to tickle a whole assortment of inner senses.  But then there’s more.  To complete the story is to witness multiple rounds of this game; numerous chilling adventures to court your most precious fancies.

The story takes place on Christmas Eve.  It is a story within a story.  Tony Jackson is forced to explain to his friends why he wishes not to partake in their post-dinner, hide-and-seek game. To explain his hesitancy, he relays a story of a Christmas Eve past, where, after dining, he and eleven friends play a game called “Smee!,” which is similar to hide-and-seek.  The name is based on the phonetic similarities to the phrase “It’s me!” One person per game bares the title “Smee.” No one knows the identity of “Smee” except for the one that chooses the card that assigns that person the title.   “Smee” then hides and the others seek. When a seeker encounters another player, s/he calls out “Smee?” If the other player replies with “Smee!”, the seeker moves on.  When the real “Smee” is found, s/he is silent when asked about his/her identity. The finder then joins Smee in hiding and waits. Soon, all the players except for one will be hiding with Smee.  The last player to find “Smee” (and the rest of the party) is the loser.

Poor Jackson had a frightening experience playing that game on that particular Christmas Eve.  It just so happened that a ghost had joined in the game!

At the beginning of every game, the one who is “Smee” leaves the group to hide. Now, wouldn’t the players see the one who leaves? If they were not witnesses to “Smee’s” departure, wouldn’t they still be able to deduce the identity of the absent player by process of elimination? In order for this game to work, the house had to be pretty damn dark so that no one can see each other!  And so it is in this tale. Also, the house has to be big. Once again, the house in the story meets the requirements.  There are many hiding places in the numerous rooms and corridors. The host warns that, due to certain constructional patterns, some of the areas in the house can lead to danger if one is not careful, especially when roaming around in the dark. Now, isn’t this just the perfect setting and situation to add such haunting delights?

Let me refer back to the article I wrote several days ago, Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses. In the article, while borrowing from other sources, I describe the setting of a Christmas Haunted House.  I rephrase a section of Keith Lee Moris’s article:

 “Winter’s ability to capture our imagination is at its strongest precisely when we are the farthest slightly removed from its more harmful elements.”

Then I go on to say (in my words):

Let’s say, perhaps, that our frolicking friends are feeling “warmly vulnerable” during a ghost story session at a Christmas Eve gathering. Let’s remove the last visages of safety and allow winter’s symbolic doom to come inside. It’s warm. Festive. Have a drink. Merry Christmas! Fires. Games. Ghost stories. And then – real ghosts haunt the house. Frightful! This is what I would call A Christmas Haunted House.

In other words, A Christmas ghost story with a haunted house usually begins in a warm house where a festive party is taking place. This party distracts the characters from the darkest elements of winter – in the beginning. But as the story unfolds, the harshness of the season creeps inside (symbolically), often in the form of a ghost.

Stories of ghosts invading Christmas celebrations are perhaps reflective of our ancient ancestors’ struggle against the forces of nature at winter solstice.

In my article, I argue:

 During the festive solstice celebrations, the lingering darkness and the bitter cold continued exert their powers.  These forces surrounded their fragile, festival fires, where the celebrants sought warmth and light.

Soon the fires would be extinguished. But the darkness and the cold temperatures would remain. 

“Smee” certainly deals with the “dangers of darkness” theme.  Here we have a group of  smee-coverfriends celebrating Christmas – a holiday known for its colorful lights. They have already dined and are feeling quite cheerful. They then test their fragile bubble of festivity by eliminating the light. They find themselves in darkness, which is always present underneath the light. And with the darkness comes frightening entities.

There is very little mention of the weather in this story.  We truly don’t know if “the weather outside is frightful.”   However, during the game, one of the players mentions that she would rather play a quiet game beside the fire where it is warm. So to a small extent, cold temperatures contribute to the overall sense of gloom.

“Smee” offers the ultimate Christmas haunted house. It is dutifully dark and sprawling with passages. Complying with the archetypal Christmas ghost story irony, the frightful exploration of the house is all part of a jovial, holiday game.  “Oh what they find is frightful, but the story is so delightful.”  Yes it is! Turn on your Christmas/holiday lights, shut off all other lighting and listen to this story.  It will be fun!

Review of A Strange Christmas Game

strangechristmasgame2

Folks, we have approached a milestone.   This will be the first piece of ghostly literature for which I have listened to a narrator speak the story to me.  I followed along with the text on a website as an audio file played on.  The story is “A Strange Christmas Game” by J.H. Riddell, (a.k.a. Charlotte Riddell) 1863. You too can read and/or listen to this story.  Just click on the link below and listen and listen as famed author and storyteller Michael Whitehouse narrates the story narrates the story.

http://www.vaultofghastlytales.com/2015/12/a-strange-christmas-games-by-j-h-riddell.html

I found several versions of the telling on the internet, each varying in wording. I wasn’t sure which was the best, most true to the original source, etc. But in the end I paid it no mind and just settled on a version that is hosted by www.vaultofghastlytales.com

Followers of my blog, surely by now you have read my recent article Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses? Here is in excerpt from that article:

“Let’s say, perhaps, that our frolicking friends are feeling “warmly vulnerable” during a ghost story session at a Christmas Eve gathering. Let’s remove the last visages of safety and allow winter’s symbolic doom to come inside. It’s warm. Festive. Have a drink. Merry Christmas! Fires. Games. Ghost stories. And then – real ghosts haunt the house. Frightful! This is what I would call A Christmas Haunted House.

People of days past used to tell ghosts during the cold winter. Winter was perceived as dark, dreary and scary. At Christmas Eve gatherings, celebrants would eat, drink and be merry. They would play games. And… they would tell ghost stories. Ghost stories are fun when one is beside a warm fire and in the accompaniment of family and friends; feeling all warm and cozy, while the threat of winter rages outside their windows.  A story of a Christmas Haunted House takes advantage of the characters’ fragile coziness. They are feeling festive and carefree, just like the real life folks that gather around a fire to hill a grisly take. But the doom and gloom of winter invades their celebration in the form of ghosts. Their gathering is soon invaded my scary phantoms.

Does “A Strange Christmas Game” meet these criteria? I say – Mostly.

In the tale, brother and sister inherit a manor, Martingdale, which is supposedly haunted. strangechristmasgameMany years ago, original owner Jeremy Lester is playing cards with his friend on Christmas Eve. The clock strikes midnight, Lester’s guest leaves to go home. Out against the brutal elements of winter he wanders, but it is Jeremy that is never heard from again!

Has the winter doom invaded Lester’s home and whooshed him away?  Not exactly. When one reads further into the story, a different situation arises. But at this point, the story teases us with the “wintertime ghostly home-invader” scenario. However, it does address the Christmas ghost story theme of “game time gone ghostly.”

For sure, the dreariness of winter plays out symbolically within the story – within the house.  For instance, here is an excerpt from the book that points to this:

Altogether, Martingdale seemed dreary enough, and the ghost stories we had laughed at while sunshine flooded the rooms became less unreal when we had nothing but blazing fires and wax candles to dispel the gloom.

When summer ends and winter begins, brother and sister hear footsteps in the night, along with other strange noises. Is this the doings of the spirit of Jeremy Lester?  Read or listen to the story and find out for yourself. But one thing for certain – their home is haunted by ghosts that invade on Christmas Eve. However, the ghosts are not interrupting any Christmas festivities. Brother and Sister have been a wee bit too scared to be concentrating on Christmas.

Another thing to note; at the story’s climax, a snowstorm breaks out.  There hasn’t been such a storm for forty one years. –The last winter storm occurrs on the same night that Jeremy Lester disappears – on Christmas Eve.

This is a fun story. And it mostly meets my Christmas Haunted House criteria. Now, by all means, J. H. Riddell was under no obligation to adhere to the dictates of my half-baked analysis of Christmas haunted houses in literature. Afterall, I came up with them one hundred and fifty years or more after this story was published (with the help of others of course!)

I hope you give this tale a listen, a read, or both.  It’s a perfect story to ingest on a cold, winter’s evening.