Hilarious Haunted House Ha Ha’s Finish With Haunted Houses and The Three Stooges

All that’s here is – Halloween Ha ha’s (clap clap!)

Halloween Boo Boo’s! (clap clap!)

Haunted House Ha Ha’s

I saved the best for last! What better way to wrap up the Halloween Haunted House Ha Ha’s than with The Three Stooges?  Now now, I know some readers out there be like, “Really?  These guys?”  To youze guyz and galz, I unequivocally and proudly declare “YES. These guys! They are the best!” 

The Three Stooges, some love them, some hate them.  I love them. As I mentioned in a post at the beginning of this month, these three gentlemen of above average intelligence are partly responsible for my love of horror. When I was a kid, Moe, Larry and Curly or Shemp were on television every weekday afternoon. They had several spooky episodes. These were my favorites!

For your viewing pleasure, until Youtube removes them (if this is the case at this time, I’m sorry), I have gathered several, if not all the episodes which I think qualify as “haunted house” shorts.  There are many more spooky episodes out there, but this being a haunted house blog, I am only featuring the shorts that take place in some kind of mansion, castle, or house where weird or spooky things are going on.  There are some episodes that feature a killer or two chasing the Stooges around in some kind of house that are not part of this collection. While they might be enjoyable, they fall short of meeting my “haunted house worthy” standards. (I’m a haunted house snob damn it!)

I’m not going to bother describing The Three Stooges or analyze their style of humor. If you really unfamiliar with these comedians from the days of long ago, then gosh, I don’t know what to say! Nor will I will be “reviewing” these episodes either, not in a critical sense anyway.  I will simply write up a little something about each episode. Brief plot descriptions, some trivia, shit like that!  And then, I will post the Youtube links to the  specific shorts that I am writing about (until they are taken down).

Ready? Here we go!!!!!!!!

 

(The first two episodes I present feature Curly as the third stooge)

Spook Louder – Short #69 – 1943

Plot in short:

 In this creepy tale, The Stooges are tasked with watching over a creepy house while guarding top-secret inventions. The Stooges have their work cut out for them. They must outsmart three thieving spies that are trespassing on the premises and keep their cool in the midst of all sorts of spooky shenanigans. If all this isn’t bad enough, all parties in this house, spies and Stooges, must deal with a phantom pie thrower.

My observations:

If you are to only watch one thing from this short film, go to the 4:30 mark. There is a creepy clock on the wall that you MUST see. It’s a scene of a supposedly Russian clock, in the shape of a weird looking caricature of someone, and it speaks. It says “Yo…ho….ho…..ho!”

The three spies dress in costume. One dresses in black and wears a black hat, another dresses as a devil,  another as a skeleton. In a later episode, these same three costumes are used are worn by another trio of Stooge antagonists. More on this later.

If a Body Meets a Body – Short # 86  – 1945

 Plot in short:

Curly is due to inherit a fortune from a rich, deceased uncle.  To collect, the Three Stooges must be present at the reading of the will, which is to take place in the late of night at the late Uncle’s spooky mansion. There will be murders. Possibly even ghosts!

Trivia via Wikipedia

This is the first film to star Curly after he suffered a stroke. It is noted that he is less energetic than in his previous films.

The plot device is borrowed from a Laurel and Hardy film The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case, The Laurel and Hardy film is a spoof on the 1927 film “The Cat and the Canary”

My observations:

In this film, a bird enters a skull and wears it like a shell. Bird walks around with it, scaring The Stooges into thinking it’s an animated skull. This comedic device of a flying creature manipulating a skull is repeated several times in different films. In fact, it appears in a couple more films featured here in this piece!  

There is a rotating book case which leads to a secret room. This is also a reoccurring plot device featured in several of their films, not to mention being featured in other films that have nothing to do with The Three Stooges. A rotating book case in other films? Shocking!

 

(The remaining episodes feature Shemp as the third stooge. With one exception. You’ll see!)

 

Hot Scots  – Short# 108  – 1948

Plot in short:

The Three Stooges answer an employment ad for The Scotland Yard. The ad seeks three “yard men” and the Stooges think they are applying for the positions of inspectors. Instead, they end up picking up trash in the yard. (Get it, “yard” men? Yuk Yuk!)

But the Stooges get their chance when they happen upon a piece of trash that was actually a request for three inspectors to guard a Duke’s precious antiques at his castle. The Duke leaves, The Stooges guard and the thieves come out to play, dressed in scary costumes.

Trivia via Wikipedia

This short was later remade as Scotched in Scotland , Short #158 – 1954 using stock footage. The 1950s found the Stooges in a predicament where they were contractually bound to produce more films in a short period of time with an ever-tightening budget. Director Jules White workaround was to rework old scenes into new scenarios.

My observations:

As a kid, I loved seeing this masked dude on my TV set.

MaskManStooges

This mask, worn by a thief in Hot Scots, made such an impression on me that I thought it was used as a prop in several episodes. As I combed through all the spooky Stooges episodes that I could get my hands on, it never resurfaced. So I guess I was wrong. The exception would be Scotched in Scotland, which has slightly different scenes, but the masked dude is in both. This part of the confusion.

The Ghost Talks – Short #113 – 1949

Plot in short:

The Stooges are movers tasked with moving various pieces of antique furniture and other items from a haunted castle. One such item is suit of armor that is haunted by the ghost of Peeping Tom. As per the legend, the spirit confides with the Stooges that he was beheaded one thousand years before for opening his shudders on the night Lady Godiva rode her horse naked through the streets.  He will not have his armor removed. Meanwhile, ghostly skeletons haunt the place and scare The Stooges as well.

In the end, a fully clothed Lady Godiva on her horse enters the house and takes Peeping Tom in his armor away. History repeats itself and the devastating scene from 1000 years ago plays out. The Stooges open the shudders, hoping to see a naked Lady Godiva. They hear cheers. No, they don’t get beheaded. Instead, pies are thrown at the window and into their faces.

Trivia via Wikipedia:

This short was later remade as Creeps – Short #168- 1956 using stock footage

My observations:

The gag of “flying animal trapped in skull” reoccurs in this film. This time it is an own that dons the bonehead. He flies around saying “WHO! WHO! WHO!”

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein premiered was released in 1948. The film features a scene where the comedic duo are tasked with moving wax figures of monsters. These monsters are real, in fact, as a frightened Costello would observe. Perhaps the plot of The Ghost Talks, a short released in 1949,  borrows from A and C? Maybe? Hmmmm??

Could not find this on youtube. So here is a dailymotion link

 

Dopey Dicks – Short #122 – 1950

Plot in short:

The Stooges must rescue a woman from a mad scientist. He has designed a man-robot, which looks like a robotic mannequin. Anyway, the robot keeps knocking its head off when he bumps it into anything. It can’t see! So the Mad Doc wants to replace the head with a human head and brain.  For a good part of this film, The Stooges are chased by this headless robot.

 

My observations:

I say that this short barely squeaks in as a “haunted house” film. No ghosts or skeletons, but it is set in a creepy house with secret panels and passages. The headless robot kind of mimics a ghost.

PhilipVanZantDopeyDicksPhilip Van Zandt plays the mad scientist. I single him out because he plays a mad scientist in several Three Stooges shorts.

Spooks – Short #148 – 1953

Plot in short:

Very similar plot to Dopey Dicks. A mad scientist has kidnapped a woman once again. Again, the villain is played by Philip Van Zandt. This time, the mad doc wants to put the woman’s brain into the head of a gorilla. The Three Stooges must rescue her from this house of horrors.

Trivia via Wikipedia:

3D films were the thing in the early 50s. The Stooges wanted to get on the bandwagon. Therefore, this film was shot in 3D!

My observations:

ShempBatAfter reading about the “filmed for 3D”, I noticed the places that would feature this effect.  There is knife throwing, pitchfork lunging, blowtorch flaming, cleaver wielding, Moe’s two fingers poking. But perhaps the most outrageous three-dimensional horror is a bat with Shemp’s face!  Shemp comments on what an ugly creature it is!

Scotched in Scotland – Short #158 – 1954

Plot in short:

 This is the remake of Hot Scots. The introduction is different. In the original, Moe dances to bagpipe music with a woman while a man wearing a sheik outfit hides in a picture frame, disguised as the portrait. This scene is omitted in this film. Instead, Moe and Shemp are spooked by a , you guessed it, a bird in a skull that carries the bone head and a sheet when it flies.

A new soundtrack features the sounds of spooky winds.

 

Creeps – Short #168 –  1956

Plot in short:

This is a remake of the 1949 The Ghost Talks short using stock footage.  This time, there are three baby stooges in bed and The Three Adult Stooges tell them a bedtime story involving ghosts, knights, and murders. They tell the story of the time they are movers and tasked with moving the haunted knight armor.

The scene involving Lady Godiva is omitted. It ends, instead, with the Baby Stooges not satisfied with the story, crying that they want another story. To get them to sleep, the adult stooges hit them over the head with a hammer.

My observations:

There is a barking bat-dog hanging on the wall again. This happens in Spook Louder.

EXTRA  – Three Pests in a Mess, 1945 Short# 83 (Not a Haunted House short, but

a scary graveyard. And Curly Returns!)

Plot in short:

Curly mistakenly thinks things he murdered a man when he accidentally shoots a mannequin.  The Three Stooges bag “the body” and take it to a cemetery.  Their actions are observed by a night watchman. He phones for help, reporting that prowlers are on the loose. Three helpers arrive straight from a masquerade party.  They are dressed in the same outfits as the spies in the short Spook Louder. This time, regular Stooge antagonist Vernon Dent dons the costume of the man in black.

(First Picture – Costumes used in 1943 Spook Louder. Second Picture – Costumes used in 1945 Three Pests in a Mess)

ThreeSpookLouder ThreePestsInAMess

Black Rabbit Hall – Who are the Ghosts that Haunt this Story?

Once upon a post, I declared Shirley Jackson’s novel “We have Always Lived in the Castle” to be a haunted house story. Somewhere in the middle of this piece I even went so far as to title a section heading as “What Kind of Ghosts ‘Have Always Lived in the Castle’”.  This threw some readers off. They were ready to point out that “there were no ghosts in the story”. But then they read the stuff underneath the heading and it clicked. “Ah,” they said, “Now I see what you mean!”

See kids, ghosts do not always appear as things in white sheets. Nor do they always show up as glowing, semi-transparent figures.  Sometimes they are not seen at all.  Sometimes a ghost is not representative of one single personality. Sometimes there are ghosts not of a person at all, such as the ghost of a fading memory trying to resurface again, or the ghost of a feeling, long forgotten until that very moment when it suddenly haunts your heart with a confusing mixture of specificity and vagueness, familiar and foreign at the same time.     

Perhaps you can see where I am going with this. There are many ghosts lurking around the pages of Eve Chase’s Gothic novel Black Rabbit Hall, but you must widen your perspective or you’ll miss them. The summers of 1968/1969 are ghosts, ghosts of timeless seasons long gone. They haunt one Lorna in the twenty teen years, these summers that came to pass and faded before she was even born.  Lorna experiences this haunting when she visits Black Rabbit Hall, searching for a venue for her upcoming wedding.  She has vague memories of this hall as a child, but what are these memories made of? She’s not sure, and that heightens her attraction to this place all the more. She becomes obsessed with the house.  This obsession is seen as toxic to her fiancée, sister and father.

It’s a mysterious, gargantuan house with many floors and too many rooms to count. It is old and rundown, but it has its hidden charms.  The grandfather clock named Big Bertie that has never been able to tell time is one. A stone turret that leads to what would be the bridal suite is another.  Outside the hall exists terrains of cliffs and fields, beaches and tidal waves, and forests and trees. In all this Lorna will get lost. She will lose herself. She can find herself again but things will never be the same. She needs to turn to the ghosts to help her find herself. The ghosts take the form of hidden inscriptions on large rocks within the woods. They emerge within the tales told to her by the inhabitants of Black Rabbit Hall, incomplete tales she must piece together like a puzzle in order to make things whole. One such inhabitant is the servant Dill. She was there when it all happened. (When what happened?) Then there’s Mrs. Caroline Alton, the elderly lady that owns the hall and is cared for by a Dill. She’s not quite the charmer, but there’s something about her. Ghosts cling to her like moths to a light. These ghosts will connect Lorna to past events and tragedies. They will be the source of fulfilling revelations and usher in a new future.

_________________________________________________________________________

BlackRabbitHall2

Let’s go back. Back to the summers of 1968, 1969.  Black Rabbit Hall was a summer retreat for the Alton family.  Away from the hustle and bustle of London, to escape to the countryside, off they go. Hugo and his wife Nancy, and their four children; teenage twins Toby and Amber, and the younger children Kitty and Barney (Wait, what about Caroline Alton?) Summers here seem timeless. Routines give in to the whim of the weather. Big Bertie dutifully holds back on time.

But ya know, ghosts are born in timelessness. They forever exist in timelessness; coming from the past, predicting the future, invading the present and blurring time’s boundaries.  This time period is seen through the viewpoint of Amber. Something will happen that will seal tragedy within this timelessness. Amber, like Lorna many years later, like her family in the present moment, must rediscover herself and help her brothers and sisters come to terms of the new life that is upon them. 

To quote from the book:

you realize life is not at all linear but circular, that dying is as hard as being born, that it all returns to the point you think you left long, long, ago

This book was one of several items on a list of haunted house books. This list exists somewhere within the realms of the Google search engine. This is how I discovered Black Rabbit Hall.  Since it is featured on this list, I felt it my duty to justify its inclusion. That is why I spent much of this review defining and perhaps redefining the concept of ghosts. But for those who crave a more literal expression of such phantoms, you just might get it. Maybe.  Is the mysterious figure that marches out of the fields at night, leading an army of rabbit shadows, a ghost? Maybe.  

As for Black Rabbit Hall being a haunted house – aren’t houses of this kind often portrayed as conscious entities? It sure seems as if it’s the house itself that protests a certain ceremony that takes place in its confines back in the 1960s. The house and its surrounding environment whip up a quite the storm, perhaps as an indication that such a ceremony, though at the right place, is in the wrong time, celebrated by the wrong people. If anything, the house is the collective spirit of many things, many events and people.  To quote again from the book:

For all its oddness and tragedy, she knows she will miss Black Rabbit Hall , as you do miss places that make you rewrite your own map, if only slightly, places that take a bit of you away, give you something of their spirit in return

The house, in its own way, has the ability to communicate, to call to the ones the belong and shun the ones that don’t.

I recommend this book and I’m sure you will enjoy this haunted house story. If you look for ghosts in the right places, you will find them.

Review of The Cliffhouse Haunting – A Thorne and Cross novel

Hey you

Me?

Yeah you! Remember that one “American Horror Story” season, with that lodge by the lake and that creepy blue lady ghost?

Let me think…Oh yeah! She was creepy. Man, Jessica Lange impressed again, this time as Constance Leigh Welling, the self-published “authoress.”  Dragging around her assistant by his nose, the poor young Luke Donovan, played so well by Evan Peters. How she thought she was so talented, so young, so beautiful, so popular! That old narcissistic bitch! She really got her comeuppance! Thank God the daughter of the owners, Sara Baxter-Bellamy played by Taissa Farmiga, became Luke’s love interest, making Constance jealous and eventually giving him the encouragement to leave that bitch.

Uh..yeah.

Oh, and I won’t forget Dr. Roger Siechert, played by Dylan McDermott. That hilarious German-folk enthusiast, who not only took up killing people, but also liked to stick that severed finger up is ass! He called it the “chocolate wander” and it was also “The Happy Wander”, like the German song, “Valeri, Valera! Valeri , Valer- Ha Ha Ha Ha HA HA HA “

Yeah..sure.

How about that Hammerhead serial killer, named because he killed his victims with the hammer! Man, we never discovered who he was until the end. Who played him?

Beats me. Hey listen-

And through it all – the blue lady ghost! When the bathrooms in the lodge rooms flood, there were her soggy footprints in the carpeting. And even when there was no flooding, the mirrors of the bathrooms would suddenly fill up with moisture, and when that happened you just knew the blue lady was coming! You just knew it!  Thanks for the memories! I’m going to log in to Netflix and watch it again!

You won’t find it. I’ve been trying to stop you before you got to carried away, but I was too late.

What do you mean? And why did they take it down already?

I mean, it never aired. It wasn’t an American Horror Story season at all. This was a book by Thorne and Cross called “The Cliffhouse Haunting

Then why did you tell me it was?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

But I know! Afterall, I’m the idiot that wrote up that goofy exchange up there! A little more than halfway through the book, I had the thought that the Constance character resembles the appearance and actions of the kinds of characters Jessica Lange plays on American Horror story. As for the happy wandering doctor, the assistant and lodge daughter? The AHS actors I’ve chosen for the parts “sort of” fit, but come on, I had a narrative-thing going on, so I had to make them fit. There are other interesting and kooky characters in this book as well, but I couldn’t make them all fit into roles that are to be played by other notable AHS actors, cramming them it like puzzle pieces in the wrong spots (my Dad used to do this when working a jigsaw puzzle. It would piss my Mom off). AHS stories always have multiple plots. So does The Cliffhouse Haunting! AHS often has too many plot threads going on for its own good. The Cliffhouse Haunting has just the right amount. So perhaps its too good of a story for that famous cable show?

Thorne and Cross have been promoting audio versions of their books lately.  I came across their promotion for the audiobook copy of The Cliffhouse Haunting. Alas, it didn’t coax me to seek it out. It’s just that I’ve never done the audiobook thing. Hell, I have had Bluetooth for my last two cars and I never set it up. I guess for me, if it’s not music, then it doesn’t need to be transmitted to me electronically. BUT, the ad DID get me to purchase a copy to read on my Kindle app. And read it I did. So now, The Cliffhouse Haunting will join the other books by this haunting and hilarious duo that have made my page or reviews. These include The Ghosts of Ravencrest (the story has continued on, I have to catch up!), Five Nights at a Haunted Cabin, and book written by on half of the duo, Tamara Thorne, called Hunted. I do believe that The Cliffhouse Haunting is the first book by this duo.

The Cliffhouse Haunting is more of an entertaining book than it is scary. Yes, there’s the Blue Lady Ghost, and she’s creepy, but the word “entertaining” encompasses a larger umbrella of descriptors. “Scary” fits underneath its domain, as does “gory”, and “weird”. And “funny”, for which you can also remove the “ny” to make it a “fun” book, and that it is.

The authors take a divergent set of characters and flesh them out in a “fun” ghost story.  There’s the typical small-town sheriff; capable, modest, down-to earth. The lodge proprietors two married men with a college-aged daughter that helps her dads run the place. I’ve already mentioned Constance, the Happy Wandering Doc, and Hammerhead; but there is the mortician that is dominated by his overbearing wife. There is the lady who can’t control her obnoxious kids. Oh, I can’t forget the person that likes to vandalize buildings with penis-graffiti art.  Thorne and  Cross love to give their characters sexual idiosyncrasies. It just wouldn’t be a Thorne and Cross book without the characters that seek out different ways to satisfy themselves. Every once in a while, one of these characters will have a criminally deranged perversion, but damn it, these are horror novels! So, be afraid and even disgusted at those characters who kill and maim in the goal of fantasy fulfillment, but laugh at the ones that who have harmless albeit different hobbies. “The Chocolate Wander” – laugh, this is funny, it wanders where “chocolate” gathers! Well, I should say, laugh until someone gets hurt, because sometimes what starts as fun and weird ends rather badly.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I like this book. I guess that’s the point of a review, isn’t it, to state whether you like it or not? I could go into more detail about the Blue Lady and the hauntings how she possesses people, and  I could delve into the legends from the past and how the circumstances surrounding serial killings from one-hundred years ago are happening again in an eerily similar manner. Like I said, I COULD go into all that, but nah, read about that for yourself when you buy the book and read it OR listen to it. Take a journey through its pages. Happy Wandering!  

Review of Dark House of Dreams

Gods and goddesses and demons, oh wow! Arachnids and familiars and oracles, oh dear! Earthquakes and famine and war, oh shit! Shiny men – skinless women – revived dead, say what?

And ghosts. So many ghosts. Hanging out on the roads, in the alleys, in your darkest dreams. Oh, and they hang out in houses too. This last point provides me with the necessary loop hole to include Joe Pawlowski’s novel Dark House of Dreams in my reviews of haunted house literature. But for the most part, it belongs in an entirely different genre.

The genre of the novel as per Amazon.com is dark fantasy.  Scrolling through best sellers that fall into this category, I came across title words such as “summoner,” “underworld,” “dragon,” and “retribution.” Hopefully these words conjure the kinds of themes this genre deals with. I am largely unfamiliar with this genre. I do not normally review books that fall into this category since my genre consists of stories pertaining to ghosts and haunted houses. A reader that is solely attracted to Gothic literature might not be interested in a book of this sort. Likewise, a reader exclusively dedicated to modern haunted house fiction might not be smitten with the stuff of this novel either. Fans looking for similarities to The Haunting of Hill House, The Shining or The Amityville Horror will find nothing of the sort in Dark House of Dreams.

The plot is rather complex and difficult to describe. Dark House of Dreams is one book in a series; the Ring Gargery Series. Much of the book devotes itself to fleshing out a story arc that will reach its curve in future novels. However, this isn’t the first of the series. The Watchful Dead: A Tale of Old Hastur (A Ring Gargery Thriller) predates this novel and is described as “a nightmare blend of gothic traditionalism, magical realism and dark fantasy.”  Perhaps this novel might align more closely to haunted house fiction theme? I should have read this first. Oh well.

Ring Gargery is the protagonist, but he’s by no means the only character to lend readers a perspective. Having spent his childhood isolated within the walls of his house, he comes of age outside the walls, in a world of slaves and nobles where travel is done by boat or horseback, villages are many miles apart and great turmoil is afoot.

An earthquake caused by a demon has ravaged a neighboring community. A giant spider, a god, is burrowing under the town and rising every so often to claim a victim. All this while Ring ekes out a living as a stableman. His pastimes include drinking bowls of wine with friends at pubs and engaging in romantic rendezvous with women. He is also searching for his mother, who mysteriously “went lost”.  Meanwhile, he has these prophetic dreams that place him in a dark house where he is tasked with exploring different “rooms” each time he drifts off to sleep.  When crossing the threshold, he enters not  a room but a landscape of some sort.

What is my favorite slice of turmoil in this story? Why that would be the ghosts, of course! A sorceress has broken down the gates of the underworld and the ghosts have been freed to walk the ….earth? (I’m not even sure this story takes place on earth). The community is forced to live side-by-side with these phantoms. They are mostly a nuisance, but sometimes they can be dangerous enough to be maddening or even deadly.  For mysterious reasons, Ring’s childhood house is overrun with ghosts. They are drawn to it the way flying insects are attracted to light.

Then there is more. There’s politics; councilmen argue and point fingers and do underhanded things. There are murders and kidnappings. There is death by public execution. And then there is more. I can go on and on.

How did I stumble upon this book and why am I reviewing it?  I found an advertisement for this book in one of the many Facebook groups I belong to that encourage authors to promote their books. The title caught my eye. When a haunted house guy such as myself sees the words “dark house”, he reads on. When he sees the word “ghosts” in the synopsis, he considers it for purchase. If the price is right (it was), he goes in for the buy. And that’s what I did. Though there are only a few instances of ghostly goings-on’s that frighten the occupants of a house or castle, dog gone it, I just wanted to say something about Dark House of Dreams.  It took work to finish this book. So many unusual character names, so many unique names for various families, tribes or religious sects (thank you Joe Pawlowski for the list of characters with descriptions at the book’s end!).  I wanted there to be something to show for my efforts. Hence this article; it’s my participation trophy.

Did I like it? In a nutshell, yes. I wouldn’t have finished it if I didn’t. I have no criticisms.  I can’t say that I’m in love with it though. It’s just a matter of taste. It is remarkably well written. And to think of the work involved in creating the world of this novel, set in a mysterious place. Every word spoken, every object used, every place the reader is taken to props up this world and fits neatly together to forge this fantastic setting.  Yes, it took work to comprehend this setting, but much less I am sure than it took to create it. So no, it’s not really a haunted house tale. And it probably does not belong within my catalog of reviews. But here it is anyway. Sue me if you must.

Classics: The Old Nurse’s Story -A Chilling Ghost Story for a Chilling Night

The season of the ghost story is upon us again. Cold nights. Early darkness. So bundle up. Wrap a blanket around your body. Sip some hot tea. Add a little Brandy to it.  Light a fire.  Silence your surroundings, but if there happens to be a strong wind outside your window, open your ears to its calling howl.

Let us now call out to the past then listen to its reply. Forgotten traditions awaken and the spirits of the Christmas season are summonsed when the telling begins. Arriving with frightful countenances formed by a willing imagination, they exist right outside our current norms. But they are there. Can’t you hear them knocking at your door? Let them in. It’s cold outside and your warmth is comfy buy lonely.  Open the book. Turn the page. Or listen to a voice and refine the audio settings.  Partake in the gift of the Victorian Christmas ghost story.  Welcome this tradition and let it haunt you.

It’s been a while. A whole year has passed since my last edition of “Classics: A Chilling Ghost Story for a Chilling Night.”  Thus, a refresher of the theme of this series is appropriate: 

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

(Two other “Chilling” Articles: The Beckoning Fair One and Horror: A True Tale)

EGaskellThe story featured in this article is meant to be read or listened to during the Christmas season. Elizabeth Gaskell’s  “The Old Nurse’s Story” was first published in 1852 in the Christmas edition of Charles Dickens’s periodical Household Words. It features a haunted house. Now, did I ever have anything to say about a “Christmas Haunted House?”  I did. I said something like this:

I believe that winter’s effect on our imaginations is enhanced when its harmful elements are still near us. Imagine reading a scary book or hearing a ghost story while the dark night can be seen just outside the window, or the howling winds are to be heard underneath the crackle of the fire. Nature’s brutal elements are right there on the other side of the house’s walls.  – From Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses

During ghost story-telling sessions on chilly nights, we are “warmly vulnerable.”  We celebrate with colorful lights and gaudy gift-wrapping and perhaps a gentle buzz, all the while “the weather outside is frightful”. We invite the doom in when we share the ghost story.  The ghost story is all the more pertinent to this situation when the plot involves eerie outside elements that want in and succeed in their attempts to do so. Outside the house. Then in. Such a house, my friends, represents to me a prototypical Christmas haunted house.

Furnivall Manor is such a house. Most of the events of “The Old Nurse’s Story” take place there. Old Nurse Hesther is the storyteller. To her current charges, presumably young, she relays this tale. She has been with the family for a long time and knows the details concerning the upbringing of their very own mother, for Hesther had raised her too! She knows of the extended family branches, the uncles and cousins and great aunts, and knows of the manor to which their mother, little Miss Rosamond, was sent to live after she was orphaned. For Nurse Hesther had accompanied the poor, grieving girl to her new home at the grand Furnivall Manor, home to aging distant relatives and servants.

Miss Furnival, lady of the manor, not quite eighty, sits most of her days in the company of a companion, the old Mrs. Stark, her lifelong maid.  They lived many years. Within the long trail of life behind you lurks the past, never fleeting, always encroaching, reminding one of past transgressions.

The house has the grandiose trappings found in many tales of haunted house lore; countless rooms, long hallways connecting the sections, several fireplaces, a gallery of portraits, a bronze chandelier, and a grand organ that was unfortunately broken on the inside.  Would it surprise you, dear reader, if I was to tell you that its internal damage prevented not the music from being played by some phantom musician? And does it cause you wonder that the east wing of the manor is sealed off from the rest of the Hall, to enter is forbidden? Outside on the grounds, along the fells, is where Miss Rosamond loves to play. Will you be shocked to know that danger lurks out there?  The danger wants in.

“Oh let her in! Please!” Miss Rosamond cries on several occasions.  The “danger” is a “she”, and where “she” enchants the young Rosamond she frightens the old Miss Furnival. Hesther too shares her Mistress’s concern, for the strange little girl from the outside has, on one occasion, unintentionally led Miss Rosamond to a dreary place where a strange lady put her into a troubling, feverish, almost frozen sleep. But Hesther could never the-old-nurses-story-snowfear the girl in the same was as Miss Furnival feared her.  To fear her in such a way, one would have to have been there, at the beginning, and taken part in the evil doings that once doomed a mother and her child to the cold, winter elements without shelter. And Miss Furnival took part!

An old nurse knows many things. She knows things your own mother would never tell you. Maybe “Miss” Rosamond had forgotten such things and repressed all the misfortune of her childhood. But there is always someone around who recalls it all. Someone who has heard the family stories and has learned through word of mouth the dreadful acts that would reenact upon the manor and cause a haunting. All this, she would confide to her charges, the children of “Miss” Rosamond. How they would react to such stories, the reader will never know.

The Old Nurse’s Story is available for free in several print formats. Open your search engine and seek and you shall find. Or, listen to it as it is narrated by a woman that goes by the name Dancing Dove, and watch the accompanying video, where an artist brings the house and its landscape to life, drawing into being as the story unfolds. I have attached the YouTube video for your listening and viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

Review of This House is Haunted

“Well ain’t that the Dickens?”

My answer – Uh, I dunno. This was an expression from the days of yore. Did it have anything to do with the famous English author Charles Dickens? Again I must say, “Uh, I dunno.”  But the book that is up for review, John Boyle’s This House is Haunted, is said to be written in “Dickensian prose”. Google Books and other sources make this claim.

The novel takes place during Dickensian times, that is for certain.  It is London circa 1867. Two of the main characters trudge out in the cold to attend a reading by the great author himself. So obviously, it is the author’s conscious attempt to establish a connection to this renowned author. Alas, I am not all that familiar with the writing style of Mr. Dickens, certainly not in a way that I can read a few lines of some latter author’s work and then declare, “AHA! I see the ghost of Charles haunting this prose!” No such ghost beckons me because I haven’t yet tasted the life of his characters and settings. No life, no ghosts. 

But I tell you this! (Interruptous Buttinski: No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn?) (Me: No, that is NOT what I was going to follow with. That is a line of Jim Morrison poetry that admittedly does follow “I tell you this”, but please, no reward will forgive YOU for wasting precious space on this page). I am familiar with the nineteenth century classic ghost story, and Google books draws this comparison to Boyle’s piece as well. I have delved into the works of Victorian era ghost story writers such as M.R James, Henry James and Sheridan Le Fanu and have found much to love about them. So I find myself quite pleased when modern writers such as Boyle recreate the style and settings in their tales of haunted houses of yore! Only a few reviews ago, I shared my experience reading Sarah Walter’s 2009 haunted house novel The Little Stranger, which takes place in England in the earlier part in of the twentieth century (Great book!) and I relished Susan Hill’s 1983 novel The Woman in Black, which takes place, uh, well, no specific time period is given, but they travel via horse and carriage, so, well, you know! Anyway, what is noteworthy is that these three authors capture not only the settings of these long-ago times but also the storytelling style. More so than these here modern days, the classic style thrills and chills with descriptive atmosphere that practically creates the ghosts that haunt the novel , confounds by purposely omitting a one-sided explanation for any ghostly phenomenon, beguiles with the stuff of psychological horror that we can all relate to, and elucidates with metaphorical allegories.

Now, I’m not sure Boyle’s This House is Haunted fulfills all of the characteristics of the classical style that I have mentioned at the end of the preceding paragraph, but it is a page-turner that makes me feel right at home in another time, place and style. The story flows smoothly. It is a simple story. Eliza Caine, is a young, unfortunate woman who leaves her home in London after the death of her father, her only close companion, and takes on a job as a governess for a young girl and boy in a house called Gaudlin Hall  in Norfolk. She learns too late that she is the fifth person to occupy that position in a relatively short time period. Three former governesses perished and one fled from Gaudlin Hall in fear for her life. Oh my, what ever is going on? Well, like the title of the book says, the house is haunted.

Instead of Charles Dickens, I am reminded of Henry James and his novel The Turn of the Screw. In that story, a woman takes on responsibility for the care of young Miles and Flora, two precocious children who appear to be haunted by the ghosts of a man and a woman, respectively. Guess what? The same thing happens here. It seems as if a female apparition is haunting young Isabella and a male ghost communicates with young Eustance.  Whatever is going on here could be deadly for poor Eliza. I must say there isn’t a whole lot of mystery in terms of the identity of these spirits, nor is there much doubt that there truly is a ghostly phenomenon. But at the book’s end, a couple of surprising things happen that cause the reader to reevaluate the nature of the spirits specifically and the overall haunting in general.

What I found most intriguing was Eliza Caine herself. Her demeanor, her backstory, her self-deprecating style that contradicts her strength of character and soft optimism. A well-written character I must say.

John Boyle may best be known for his novel The Boy in Striped Pajamas, later made into a movie. I have not read the book nor seen the movie. Maybe I should, now that I have read one of his “other” works as opposed to his “major” one.  Ya gotta do the major after the minor, isn’t that what they say? Or maybe I just made that quip up? Guess what – I did. Well it sounds cool, doesn’t it?  Anyway, This House is Haunted – an above average haunted house novel. Give it a try!

Poltergeist – It’s Heeeeeeere! (Finally!)

 

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About a week ago, I posted a review that had all the ingredients of the kind of haunted house story that I love. It was a book that I could savor, and savor it I did, reading little bits at a time every night. Sarah Walter’s The Little Stranger was one of the best reincarnations of the Gothic style in modern times.  Hundreds Hall was an old manor.  Belonging to the noble Ayers family, it was passed down from generation to generation.  Memories of times past gathered like cobwebs and hung in the corners if its rooms. The happenings that created the most tragic of memories are the ones that doomed the house and gave it a character of its own. Oh how I love when that happens; when a house in a story is described so well that it is almost portrayed as a character. The source of the haunting is mysterious; it is not only embedded into the walls; it is also enmeshed in the character of the family unit itself. It’s also a product of the unique time and place in history.  All these factors are inseparable when arriving at the haunting’s source.

The story that I am reviewing now is nothing at all like what I have just described. There is nothing Gothic about it. There is no mansion that has lingered throughout history, the dwelling is brand spanking new. It is not far off in the countryside, it’s right smack dab in the middle of suburbia with many houses of similar design surrounding it.  The house itself possesses no unique charm, haunting or otherwise. Remove the ghosts and it’s just a simple boring modern structure. And I could not savor this story night after night, for it’s a movie for Christsake! Best I could do was watch it multiple times, and I have done that, over the course of thirty-eight years. My last viewing was a couple of weeks ago.  Watched in on Netflix. Finally, I decided, finally it is time to write about this. This review is long overdue.  A haunted house story that is the total opposite of what I like. And I loved every minute of it!  Let’s talk about Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film Poltergeist.


 

My Experience With Poltergeist. Oh, and the Plot and Stuff

All of that contrast in the above section. I did that for a reason, not just to haphazardly populate the page with random words for the sake of adding length to the review. My reviews are too long anyway. But this is going to be another long one, so strap yourself in because there is so much I want to say. Like with The Little Stranger, there were so many tangled thoughts I had about this film, and I needed time to untangle them. And I waited five long years! That’s how long I have been writing about haunted houses of film and literature.

This film is a trailblazer. The very fact that it strays from Gothic norms and incorporates all kinds of modern themes separates itself from those haunted house films that came before it. Of course, the special effects are a big part of this, but its modern flair goes beyond that even. I’m referring to the setting, style, story and props.

For the record, I first saw this film in the theater in 1982. I believe my mom took me to see it. I was eleven-years-old. Was I scared out of my wits? Did I shit in my little boy Underoos?  No and no. Even back then, haunted house films intrigued me more than they scared me. Yes, it’s a scary film but for me, ghosts of the page and screen don’t unsettle me. Rather they fill me with a warm kind of creepy-fuzziness. I’m weird that way.

Do I really have to go into the plot?  I mean, isn’t the story by now ingrained into everyone’s head, as familiar as Star Wars, Snow White and Seven Dwarfs, and Little Red Riding Hood?

Fine, here’s a brief plot:

Sung to the tune of The Brady Bunch

Here’s the story, of a lovely family

Mom and Dad raising three very lovely broods

The youngest had hair of gold, like no other

It’s time to change our moods.

 

It’s the story of Carol Anne

The youngest and creepiest of the three

The ghosts took her to another dimension

Her voice heard on TV

 

So they called up all these special people

They would return her to mom and her spouse

But then these corpses came up from under

That’s when they knew to flee the haunted house

The haunted house, the haunted house, that’s when they knew to flee

The haunted house!  (Da da da da da da da!)

 

Got it? Family. Lovey-dovey. TV static. Ghosts. Ghostly arm coming through TV Screen. Ghosts attack. Tree almost eats boy. Girl sucked into closet. Disappears. Her voice is heard through the TV. Paranormal specialists come. The children’s room is a whirlwind of poltergeist activity. Toys and shit flying all around the room. Specialists stumped. Call in the “specialest” specialist of all. A Little Person. A Lady. She calms the room down. Discovers a pathway that leads to the realm of the light (you know, where the soul departs into after death). Carol Anne is in there, next to the light. Mother goes in after her. Rescues her. Yay! The End. Not! House is still haunted. Corpses are unearthed and start sprouting all over the place. As it turns out, the house was built over a cemetery. Dad works in the real-estate biz. The whole complex was built by Dad’s company. Dad’s boss had lied about removing the bodies before beginning development. Dad yells at boss. Moral of the story? Don’t ever be afraid to tell off your boss. Oh, and get the fuck out of the haunted house when you have finally had enough. And that’s what are family finally does. Now – The End.

Director and Producer

The talented Tobe Hooper directed Poltergeist. Hooper was no stranger to horror.  Before Poltergeist he helmed films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Fun House, two great films (Many will say Fun House sucked, but they are wrong.)  Hooper passed away in 2017. May he rest in peace.

But I want to focus on Steven Spielberg, Executive Producer of Poltergeist, and one of several of the film’s writers. I’m guessing you’ve heard of him.  He certainly has a knack for resurrecting film themes of the past and clothing them in modernity, doesn’t he? Raiders of the Lost Ark is such an example. This film was made to replicate the serial films of the 1930’s and 40’s which were shown in several short segments. Always ending with a cliffhanger, the viewer had to return to the theater the following week to see how their hero escaped. Well “Raiders” was cliffhanger after cliffhanger throughout the whole movie.  How about Jurassic Park? Let’s bring those dinosaurs into the modern age. Sure, dinosaurs made their impact on films in the sci-fi movies of the 1950s and 60s, but now we have the “science” for doing so, involving advancements in DNA technology.

And then there’s Poltergeist, Spielberg’s contribution to the haunted house genre. He has established a modern foundation in which to erect a more contemporary abode of horrors.  In what ways has he done this?  Let’s examine these ways.

The Evolution of The Haunted House.

Think of the classic haunted house tale, the earliest days of haunted house literature. Most likely, the house belongs to a well-to-do family. Different generations are born and raised in the same house.  The house is old. It has its own history. Many scandals have taken place underneath its roof. If the walls could talk! (Perhaps in some cases, they can!) Examples of such haunted house stories include The Fall of the House of Usher or The House of Seven Gables.

Years later, with the creation of the middle class, the affairs of the noble class and their legacies were just not on the forefront of the minds of the masses. People could not so easily relate to the concept of serial successions of generations living within the same gargantuan hall. Thus, the manors that once “housed” families that are long gone were now portrayed as abandoned structures. But their doors were always open to visitors who wanted to spend a few nights in a rumored haunted house. Think of books and films such as The Haunting of Hill House/The Haunting, The Legend of Hell House/Hell House, and The House on Haunted Hill.

Soon, books and films about haunted houses began to reflect the challenges of the middle-class homeowner. Gary Hendrix in his book Paperbacks from Hell – The Twisted History of 70s and 80s Horror Fiction has a chapter dedicated to haunted house novels, a chapter that he names Real Estate Nightmares.  The focus of haunted house stories in these works is not on a group of visitors staying at some unknown and unfamiliar mansion. Nor is the emphasis on an ancient family dwelling in an equally ancient mansion. Rather, these works tell the story of an average middle-class family that moves into a large (but not gargantuan) house, only to realize that it is haunted. Hendrix argues that the surge in popularity of such books in the 70’s and 80s is no accident.  From my review of this book, I share this paragraph:

In true form, Hendrix ties the haunted house paperback phenomenon to the economic issues of the 1970s. High interest rates, inflation, the dawning of the suburbs, the cash-strapped and their search for the best home that they could afford. According to him, these are the reasons “the haunted-house novel reached critical mass.

And I share this from the same review:

he singles our Burnt Offerings as being a first when it comes to the economics of home purchases and the whole buyer beware motif.  I…had never thought about this. “Hell” and “Hill” House were gargantuan Gothic mansions that had visiting characters investigating the spooky happenings within. The characters of Burnt Offerings leased and lived in the deadly place. They invested their money in it. Therefore, they were trapped.

Burnt Offerings (Robert Marasco) is one of my favorite haunted house novels! Other novels that fit into this category are The House Next Door (Anne Rivers Siddons) and The Amityville Horror (Jay Anson)Poltergeist also fits into this is grouping. True, it is a film, not a novel (unless one was made based on the movie), but it deals with that average home-owner struggling to find peace in their new house of horrors. But I argue that Poltergeist takes this concept even further. Let’s explore this.

With the exception of The House Next Door, the haunted houses in the books/films that I have mentioned in the preceding paragraph are still in rather isolated places. I guess Amityville is technically a suburb, but it still seems to be somewhat remote. And, these houses are rather large, perhaps of a classical architectural design. (Colonial?) The house is Poltergeist is of the cookie-cutter type of design and is surrounded by hundreds of PoltergeistHOuseother houses that look very similar.  It’s right smack dab in the middle of modern-suburbia! There is nothing special about it. It’s the house of a suburban family of the early 80s’. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first (or at least one of the first) time/s that such a place finds its way into haunted house lore.

There is more. If you’ve read the post immediately preceding this one (Review of Sarah Walter’s “The Little Stranger.”), then you know about the concept that I call “Agents of the Scare.”  Here are some examples from that article:

“In all haunted houses, there are objects and structural components of a house that are downright creepy. Maybe it’s the swaying chandelier. Or the specter that traipses down the curving stairwell, adding to the unpleasantness of each stair tread.  How about the wall hanging portrait with the moving eyes? That locked room? Te revolving bookcase? The piano that plays by itself?

I go on to point out that the book features rather unique agents of scare, particular to very old manors. A call tube that links a voice to different floors, a servant’s bell. The author makes use of these things in very creepy ways. Poltergeist too has unique agents of the scare. Uniquely modern! There is a creepy clown doll. Yeah yeah, not so unique. But, when the poltergeist takes over the children’s bedroom and toys are spinning around in a whirlwind of paranormal frenzy, which toy pauses for the camera in mid-air? An old-fashioned doll? Not! It’s the Incredible Hulk Mego action figure riding a horse!

The best and most effect “agent of the scare” is the television. Not so modern anymore, I get it. But had there ever been a more creepier television set before? I say no.  And the way it signed off at the end of the night. Wow! See kids, (those under, say 40 maybe) once upon a time, broadcasting shut down at around midnight.  Before this happened, channels displayed various pictures, maybe nature scenes, maybe urban landmarks, all with the National Anthem playing in the background. A second or two after that last note the noise of static came while the picture on the screen turned into a jumble of flickering black and white. Like in the movie, many families fell asleep at their TVs before this nightly event occurred. Looking back, the finality of the event, and the way a clear image turned to scribbles, well, all this was kind of creepy. But it took a movie, Poltergeist, to really bring this creepy effect home. Ghosts began communicating to little Carol Anne through the white noise of static. Then when Carol Anne disappears in the house and her voice turns up inside the white noise…wow!  What a creative way to take a uniquely contemporary situation and turn it into a prop of a modern-day suburban haunted house. (Hey! Don’t laugh, this was modern back in 1982!)

There are other props and storylines that I believe were used in the film with a conscious effort to separate it from haunted house films in the past. The kids’ room was decorated with posters and toys that were currently trending in pop culture. Star Wars paraphernalia is all over the place.  At one point in the film, next-door neighbors realize that their TV remotes inadvertently work on each other’s televisions. Change the channel in House A and you wind up changing the channel in House B. Finally, the father of the family is seen reading the book Reagan – the Man, The President! Can’t get anymore modern than that! (Hey! Again, I mean “modern” for that particular time.) This locks the event of the films securely in the 1980s!

Oh yeah, there are the Spielberg special effects at work. Phantoms of light parade across the screen. So much in the way of light and flashes! So innovative for the time. I do believe this was at least one of the first times such state-of-the art effects were used in a haunted house film. It still holds up today in my opinion.

Is it my imagination that note horror movies in the 80’s were more colorful and flamboyant than those of the 60s and 70s? Perhaps even a bit more comedic? Poltergeist certainly was more colorful and flamboyant.  I don’t know about the comedic part. Anyway from the ancient manor to a cookie-cutter suburban unit, haunted houses have come a long way, baby!

 A House Destroyed – Different Interpretations of Such an Event when Contrasting a Gothic House to a Modern House.

Poltergeist

Ooops! I gave away a spoiler. In the end, the Poltergeist house is destroyed. The destruction of the haunted house at the story’s end has been a common way to close a haunted house tale. It has happened in The Fall of the House of Usher. It has happened in The Shining (the book at least). Hell, it’s happened in The Castle of Otranto, which is credited as the first Gothic novel ever!  I argue the significance of the destruction of the Poltergeist house differs vastly from its predecessors. I’ll explain.

Often in my reviews, I state how much I love the concept of a haunted house that either has its own conscience or at least stands for something larger than its structure. Such a haunted house, I often say, “is more than the sum of its ghosts.”  The Poltergeist house is not, I repeat, NOT such a house. Remove the ghosts that might temporarily haunt it and the house just goes on with its boring old self. To get technical, it’s not the house that draws in the ghosts or poltergeists that haunt the family in this film. It’s the fact that the house was built over a graveyard and the ghosts seek out a living person to attach themselves to in order to stay behind here on earth instead of going into the light. (They attach themselves to little Carol Anne. In the sequels, the supernatural forces follow the family to new places.)  So at the film’s end, when the house implodes (I guess that’s what happens to it), the supernatural beings are in effect saying, “Get the fuck out of our way, house!” The house itself means nothing to them.

In the other works, when the house is destroyed, a whole lot more dies with it. Maybe it’s a family legacy, or a kingdom, or an age. It’s an entity itself that departs from the earth when the walls go crumbling down, or when the whole structure goes KAPLOOOOIE and blows up.

Poltergeist – A Cursed Film?

Oh geez, do I really want to go here? Well I already did so I guess I will continue. Some people say the film is cursed due to the off-screen tragedies that followed in the wake of the film.  Actress Dominique Dunne played the older sister. Unfortunately, she was murdered by an abusive boyfriend in the same year. And poor Heather O’Rourke, the little girl actress that played Carol Anne – she died of bowel obstruction in 1987. Several other cast members that were in the Poltergeist sequels met with untimely deaths as well.  See this link for more info.

Ah but I don’t believe in curses. Just a lot of coincidental tragedy. But the film is noted for this so I thought I would mention it. And so I did. Next –

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Um, I really don’t have a “next”. This is the end of the article. Although the film does not fit my criteria for a what makes a haunted house great, it is still a great haunted house film. The stuff of modernity was used in all the right ways. Poltergeist is a groundbreaking achievement!

 

 

A Review of The Little Stranger – The Novel

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Some reviews are easier to write than others.  There are those stories that inspire the briefest of descriptions and the simplest of impressions. These aren’t bad stories necessarily; they can be quite good. But after the reading or viewing (novel or book), everything I want to say falls neatly in place. And there might not be much to say other than things like “very suspenseful” or “just an all-around fun bit of horror.”  Such stories don’t require layers of analysis. Nor will they transport me to wider worlds that inspire endless contemplation.  Then there are books like Sarah Walter’s The Little Stranger.  After the reading I realized there was so much I wanted to say, so much more I wanted to learn. These thoughts and curiosities I had, well, they were all jumbled up, and I had to start another book while I allowed some time for these ideas to settle and come together in their own due time.

A story that provokes simple impressions, I have stated, can be very good but it can also be very poor. This “either/or” explanation doesn’t work so well with stories that inspire a complex set of thoughts. Such complexity hardly unfolds as the result of a poorly written story.  The opposite is true. To get to the point – The Little Stranger is an excellent book. Superb! Bravo!

The Little Stranger has all the ingredients I love in a haunted house tale. Its “house” is more than “the sum of its ghosts”, meaning, its mystery is innate and not the result of a phantom that goes “boo”.  The house, Hundreds Hall, has a personality all its own. This is a story that falls under the genre of “Gothic”, and so once again, I found myself climbing that tree of this mammoth genre and exploring its various branches. Very willingly I did this. With excitement and curiosity.  I found myself comparing this story to other great literary haunted house novels but never suspecting it of concept plagiarism. Putting aside ghosts and haunted houses, the story that takes place outside these elements is engaging and speaks to matters of the heart.  I came to know the characters of the story quite well. I enjoyed visiting the Ayers family in their run-down manor and taking in all their nuances and eccentricities, their madness if I may be so bold.  And I have Dr. Faraday to thank.  Through his eyes the first-person narrative unfolds.  There is a love story in here as well. A sad love story built on longing and yearning that puts to mind that painful old adage “you can’t always get what you want.” (Thank you, Rolling Stones,!)  Because his viewpoint is “skewed” (biased) , his account of the house itself and the events that take place within its walls add to the “Skewiness” (I made this up – that state of being “skewed”) of an already “Skewed” (twisted) place and situation. Finally, I love the unique “agents of scare” that are built into the house. These would be what are otherwise neutral structural components, except that when they are manipulated by mysterious forces, they become quite creepy.

There. I gathered together all these Sarah Walter’s inspired complexities from my head and condensed and simplified them into one paragraph. My work here is done. Not!  Silly you for believing that. For you see, now I have to explain in more detail what the hell I was getting at in the paragraph above. So here comes the meat of this review!

Plot in Brief (Some spoilers)

The story takes place in the United Kingdom. It begins in 1919. As previously mentioned, the story unfolds from the viewpoint of Dr. Faraday, the family physician for the Ayers family. As a child from a humble background, the young Faraday marveled over the impressive display that was Hundreds Hall. He greatly admired the family that owned and ran it as well. Who didn’t? The Ayers were highly respected members of the noble class and they shared bits of their greatness via the feats they gave to celebrate Empire Day. The Colonel and his wife parade about with their six-year-old daughter Susan and receive grade admiration from the crowds, which are partly made up of folks from the “lesser” classes. Most of the people are not allowed in the grand Hall but young Faraday is lucky.  His mother was once a servant for the Ayers and using her connections to the household staff, she is able to grant her young boy son entrance to the Hall. And he is impressed with what he sees.

Shortly thereafter, little Susan dies, triggering change. The Ayers cease to throw Empire Day fetes. The Colonel and his wife have two more children after her death (Caroline and then Roderick). Later the Colonel dies. Things are never the same.

Fast forward thirty-years later, post-World War 2 Britain, and Faraday is now a country doctor and the family physician for the remaining Ayers. He is saddened at the state of the hall; rundown and in great disrepair, the landscape is unmaintained.  Still he admires the Hall and covets the family unit itself; he wants in.  The family has lost much of their social standing. Roderick, wounded with a limp during his service in the war, struggles with the finances. Caroline is somewhat of a recluse, more so is her mother.  And there is a hint of madness among the family.

In attempt to regain social graces, the Ayers throw a small party for other well-to-do families. It doesn’t go well. The family dog bites the nine(?)-year-old daughter of one of the guests. It’s normally a passive dog. Was the dog possessed by something? A spirit perhaps?  Roderick thinks so. According to him, he has been experiencing strange happenings in his bedroom. His mirror moves on its own accord. Fire erupts in his room, source unknown. He goes mad and is locked away.

Meanwhile Dr. Faraday falls in love with Caroline. She mildly returns this love but is quite ambivalent about this.  The servants are witnesses to what could be supernatural activity. They believe the house is not only haunted but evil. Mother and daughter fall prey to the strangeness of the house. Faraday tries to reassure them.  But its as if the house and its family have some kind of figurative disease for which the doctor cannot cure, to his frustration and great sorrow.

Is all this the work of the ghost of little Susan who dies as a child so long ago? Oh what is going on?

Similarities to other classic works

To begins this section, I quote from Wikipedia’s article on The Little Stranger:

 A mix of influences is evident to reviewers: Henry James, Shirley Jackson, Wilkie Collins, and Edgar Allan Poe.

I will address this claim, author by author.

Henry James – Turn of the Screw

With the exception of The Jolly Corner, the only work  I read from Henry James is The Turn of the Screw. But Turn of the Screw is a fine example of an inspirational source, so I’ll use that piece for comparison.

In many “spooky episodes” of our favorite television stories, a Scooby-Doo-type premise plays out – a trickster was behind the haunting all the time. There is always that person that suspects such from the very beginning. “There has to be a logical explanation,” the character will say. Well, I’m going to reverse this scenario. In both Turn of the Screw and The Little Stranger, a supernatural explanation is offered early on in the story. But we the readers know that there is something more going on to account for the bizarre events that we have encountered across the pages.  In the James novella, it is surmised that the ghosts of two deceased adulterers, a former governess and a man-servant, are haunting the children, a young brother and sister who live at Bly Manor.  But overall, the story hints that the haunting is rising up from some far deeper source, something that is buried deep within the dark tunnels of the psyche of the children’s current governess.  Likewise, Walter’s novel offers up a supernatural explanation to account for the ghostly-going-ons: the ghost of Susan, the girl that died so young, is haunting Hundred’s Hall.

In both stories, the authors give us a possible supernatural explanation.

James – former adulterous servants, man and woman, dead, ghosts corrupting the two innocent children, boy and girl. But overall the story offers a psychological explanation that may put to rest and claims of supernatural activity.

Walters – the ghost of a  little girl, sister, Susan, is haunting the place.  But it might be that something else is affecting the brother/sister siblings. The source of the scares might not have anything to do with the supernatural.  The “ghost” might just be a “collective hallucination” that plagues a family stricken with sorrow and grief. Or maybe it’s the “times” (“these days” vs. “those days”) that is the ghost?  This will be explained in further detail later in the article. (In the “Go-Go Gothic Section!” Oh boy!)

Also of note – both stories feature a brother and sister as lead characters that fall victim to a haunting that occurs in their own home.

Shirley Jackson – The Haunting of Hill House

Both stories treat the houses in each tale (Hill House and Hundred’s Hall) as conscious entities. The houses in question are either troubled, diseased, or downright evil.  In addition, both stories offer a theory that a character is unintentionally projecting negative energy upon the house, and this is what is causing the disturbances. In Jackson’s story The Haunting of Hill House it is Eleanor Lance. In Walter’s story it is Roderick. Or if not him, someone else, but who?

Wilkie Collins – ????

Duh I dunno. I never read anything by him. I should change this. (This was the easiest section to write! Hey, I only said I would address these claims, and address I did. I just forgot to fill the envelope with a letter.)

Edgar Allan Poe – The Fall of the House of Usher

Ah, my favorite and perhaps the tale I find most similar to The Little Stranger. I’ve loved The Fall of the House of Usher since I was a kid. I didn’t need that Wikipedia list to let me know that this was a major source of inspiration, for Poe’s ghost kept calling out to me as I progressed through the book.

Both stories are told from the outsider’s perspective. Each is narrated in the first person. Both narrators are visitors/guests of the family that live in the houses that are at the center of the stories. Both outsiders (The Little Stranger – Dr. Faraway/The Fall of the House of Usher – Unnamed Narrator) bear witness to the fall of great families. They watch in horror as the ones they love succumb to madness and grief. Both try and do what they can to ease the suffering of the families but in the end their efforts are futile. They feel helpless, wishing there was something they could do. It doesn’t help that they are caught up in a situation where there understanding is limited. You can’t fight a disease when you don’t even know what it is.

Also, both stories deal with an adult tortured brother and sister that are heirs to the family’s house and legacy. Likewise, they are heirs to a curse.

Similar Yet Unique

Although The Little Stranger’s influences can be found in the aforementioned literary works, it stands on its own. It is not a carbon copy; the houses in these stories are not of the cookie-cutter design. Rather, let’s think if these houses (and the stories surrounding them) coming together to form a neighborhood. Hundreds’ Hall belongs in a neighborhood that boasts Hill House, Bly Manor, etc. One should be proud to be welcomed in such a community.

Go-Go Gothic

Here I go for the umpteenth time wandering on the trails of that behemoth forest that is Gothic Literature, picking at and extracting from only some of its sprawling branches, stealing clues to bring to the next clearing where light will shine upon them and illuminate me on the story that I am currently holding in my heart. I’ve made such journeys for several articles here at this blog, and again I must emphasize that in no way am I trying to encapsulate in one article everything you needed to know about Gothic Literature but were afraid to ask. I can only explore the elements of which I am familiar and examine them within the context of the story that I am reviewing.  So, with that said, hello Gothic elements, meet The Little Stranger!

The collision of the past and the present; this is a common theme in Gothic Literature. The most obvious example in terms of ghostliness is, well, the ghost itself, or the ethereal remains of someone who died long ago making its presence known in current times. But think also of the ruins of an old castle. Long ago the castle served a mighty purpose, but not so anymore and yet part of its structure remains. What use is it to us now? Does it have something to share with us? Is it relaying a message to us modern folk about the past? Is it hiding a secret within its stone walls?  To ponder such questions is to open oneself up to the conflicts that often arise within Gothic Literature.

Gothic stories often take place in times of social change. There’s a new society on the horizon, a new social structure is replacing the old. Those that cling to the old ways have trouble navigating in the new terrain. Outmoded institutions still exist but the forces of change erode their foundations. Every passing moment they shed life-supporting stones.

After I read the book The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons, I explored some of the characteristics of American Southern Gothic, for that is the genre that best describes this novel by Siddons, at least according to critics and reviewers.  What I learned parallels with what is going on here in The Little Stranger, even though the story contexts are separated by time, circumstance, and the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Though taking place in the early 1970’s, The House Next Door deals with themes that were spawned by the American Southern Gothic movement that came into being following the events of the Civil War. The Institution of slavery had come to an end. The institutionalized social order crumbled. Two quotes from Wikipedia on Southern Gothic  explain some the significance:

continuing pressures of the past upon the present, particularly with the lost ideals of a dispossessed Southern aristocracy

 

Similar to the elements of the Gothic castle, Southern Gothic gives us the decay of the plantation in the post-Civil War South

A different kind of social change was occurring in the United Kingdom post World War 2, the time and place of the events that occur in The Little Stranger. The Wikipedia article TheLittleStrangerWaltersfor The Little Stranger  publishes a quote from author Sarah Walters on her intentions for writing the book that explains some of this social change (quote is originally from the Toronto Star):

I didn’t set out to write a haunted house novel. I wanted to write about what happened to class in that post-war setting. It was a time of turmoil in exciting ways. Working class people had come out of the war with higher expectations. They had voted in the Labour government. They want change…. So it was a culture in a state of change. But obviously for some people it was a change for the worse.

Also of note is this, from the same article:

Reviewers note that the themes in The Little Stranger are alternately reflections of evil and struggle related to upper class hierarchy misconfiguration in post war Britain. Waters stated that she did not set out to write a ghost story, but began her writing with an exploration of the rise of socialism in the United Kingdom and how the fading gentry dealt with losing their legacies

Now, remember at the beginning of the article when I wrote “After the reading I realized there was so much I wanted to say, so much more I wanted to learn.” (See, the words of the past are colliding with these present words – oooooo! How Gothic!) Upon learning of the existence of such a social change in Great Britain, I wanted to learn more. I wanted to delve into these significant changes and report on all there was to know about the dwindling of a system that “involved the hereditary transmission of occupation, social status and political influence”  (Quote is from Wikipedia: Social Class in the United Kingdom.)

But alas, this is a major feat, a job for a social historian.  Suffice it to say, the noble class lost much of their nobility. Fortunes were lost. Let’s look at the Ayers’ household, the family at the forefront of The Little Stranger. They represent what Walters called the “fading gentry”. They did not benefit from the change. At the center of this story stands Hundreds Hall. Once a grand estate now a rundown shell of its former self. It is no accident that the beginning of the story features a memory of the grand ol’ days of Hundreds Hall and the celebration of Empire Day. Good times for the Ayers.  But the British Empire would crumble as would the legacy of the Ayers.  The remaining family longs for the past but it is gone.  If only the “grand ol’ days” went marching on, status quo preserved, the family’s standing financially and socially secured.  Hmm, now is there a symbol of any sort in this book for “better days” or, more appropriately, “what could have been?”  Yes. Little Susan, who died so young. Her sister and brother never met her.

Susan Ayers – The Ghost of What You Cannot Have. (SPOILERS)

TheLittleStranger3Try to capture a ghost. You can’t. Forget about Ghostbusters and 13 Ghosts and other movies that feature sci-fi technology that allows hunters to suck these poor phantoms into some kind of device. If you reach out to touch a specter your hand passes right through it. Throughout the book, the characters go mad when they confront what could be the ghost of the little girl – the little stranger. I submit that she represents a past that could have been but was not meant to be. That is what is so maddening about her. They can sense this more perfect past; they feel it in their hearts, even see it with their own eyes. It’s there haunting them. But they can’t have it. She is a tease. Susan would be the continuation of the finer way, the preservation of the status quo. She died. And so will the Ayers. Prematurely. One by one. Death of the body or death of the mind. All because they tried to hold on to that which is designed to pass through their fingers. Then there’s Dr. Faraday. He doesn’t see the ghost but he holds onto a misguided love for a family, for a woman, for a house that no longer exists in the form that he has embraced. He survives to tell this sad tale. Maybe that’s the trick for survival. If you embrace the ghost but are ignorant of its composition, then you can endure in sadness. Become the ghost maybe. For quite often a ghost doesn’t realize its dead.

Agents of The Scare

Wow, a lot of cheeriness going on in the above section, huh?  Let’s lighten things up a bit with good ol’ fashion “fun” horror.  In all haunted houses, there are objects and structural components of a house that are downright creepy. Maybe it’s the swaying chandelier. Or the specter that traipses down the curving stairwell, adding to the unpleasantness of each stair tread.  How bout the wall hanging portrait with the moving eyes? That locked room? (How about that wardrobe in the movie The Conjuring?  Clap-clap-clap!)  You get the drift. I just wanted to take some time to highlight some of the unique Agents of The Scare that are found in this book.

Yes there is a creepy set of stairs and a landing that foreshadows doom. Oh, there is a mirror that moves on its own accord and freaks out poor Roderick (analysis – he doesn’t like confronting himself in his present state). There is mysterious writing on the wall and strange burns spots on the ceiling. But what I enjoyed most was the servant bell and the tube.  The bell, I can’t remember how it was described, perhaps decorative rope, rings out and calls a servant to a given room. Except there was no one in the room from which the bell tolled! Then there is “the tube”, which in the book is described as a “19th century tube communication device linking the abandoned nursery.”  It descends from the upstairs down into the kitchen. If the nursery is abandoned, then what is that whooshing sound that makes its way to where frightened maids work?  The sound of breath. The sound of whispers. A child’s whisper. Imagination? The servants are freaked out by it. And you will be too!

The Little Stranger – A Movie?

I think I’ll wrap things up.  What else is there to say? I have said so much and have withheld so much as well.  A great book it is! I discovered there is a movie based on the book. It doesn’t seem like it has gotten great reviews. I will wait a while before watching it. I want my memory of Hundreds Hall preserved with the stuff of mystery and intrigue; a brilliant form of eeriness. I wish not to cheapen such a memory with the trappings of a poorly made film. That would be an injustice.  With that said, peace out.

A Review of Kill Creek

Kill CreekIt began harmlessly enough.  A gathering at a rumored haunted house livestreamed for a popular horror podcast. A publicity stunt that unleashes a series of harrowing events to eventually force four horror authors to go toe-to-toe with the mysterious evil that manifests from the old Finch House. The danger is very real. They find themselves up shit’s creek. That creek would be “Kill.” Full name = Kill Creek

Aside from my shit’s creek/Kill creek pun, how did that description sound? Engaging? Terrifying? Or the opposite – tired? , hackneyed?  Despite the overwhelming positive reviews for this Scott Thomas’s  novel, I went into the book expecting the “tired” and “hackneyed.” Four horror authors of different backgrounds meeting at a real haunted house to face certain horrors that their own macabre minds cannot fathom – haven’t we seen this setup many times?

Here at this blog, I reviewed Micheal Robertson Jr.’s Rough Draft.  The premise is similar. I wrote:

“A mysterious blackmailer forces three authors to meet at a cabin and write a “rough draft” for a prospective horror novel about the cabin, the surrounding woods and a nearby town. They HAVE to complete this assignment – in one weekend – or face the consequences.”

As it turns out, this is not one of my favorite books. A book I prefer is Scott Nicholson’s Creative Spirit.  Of this I wrote:

Creative Spirit is a story about the coming together of writers, painters, photographers, musicians and sculptors. They are gathering in the picturesque setting of Korban Manor as a means of fostering their creativity in the company of like-minded individuals. Unbeknownst to them, there is more to this gathering. The spirit of Ephram Korban thrives on creativity. He siphons the “creative spirit” of others in the hopes that he may live again.”

Author Jack Kilborne assembles a group of trauma victims and tosses them into a haunted house to see what would happen in Haunted House: A Novel of Terror.  They are not authors or artists, mind you, but the theme remains the same – a group of disparate characters must put aside personality differences and overcome the horror that they are subjected to. The personality clashes between Eleanor Lance and Theodora is quite evident in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House  yet another book, (A GREAT BOOK!) to gather strangers together in the confines of walls possessed.

Does Scott Thomas’s Kill Creek go into significant detail delineating the personality differences of his characters? Oh yes it does and once again we have a collection of opposites.  This applies to not only their personalities but also the genre styles. The writing styles of the four authors are subject to painstaking contrast. There’s Sam McGarver, the flawed but likable central protagonist, writer of mainstream horror novels. Then there’s TC Moore; she’s the brash, headstrong author of splatterpunk novels. Sebastian Cole is the elder of the bunch; the sophisticated author of horror classics. And finally we have Daniel Slaughter, the somewhat naive, Christian horror author of young adult novels in which evil is always conquered by the righteous. When readers first meet TC Moore, they are introduced to a seemingly static, one-dimensional  character, obnoxiously brazen. I know when I encountered her I asked myself, “Oh God, am I really about to suffer through a novel where characters that are so tightly packaged into stereotypes are thrown together into the  tired trope of ‘we’re all in this (haunted house) together’ without any twists or depth?” The answer came as I progressed further into the novel. I was wrong in my initial assessment.  These characters do expand and reveal themselves in unexpected ways. As to the story – there’s more going on here than just a bunch of misfits struggling awkwardly together against the forces that go bump into the night. Scott Thomas touches on a theme that is dear to my heart. This would be the theme I define as  Haunted House “Sui Generis” – in the sociological sense.

Sociologist Emile Durkheim believed that society, as it was there before any living individual was born, is independent of all individuals.”  For purposes here, replace “society” with “haunted house” and “individuals” with “ghosts”. Such a house is not haunted on account of its ghosts; it’s haunted in and of itself. It may not even harbor ghosts, yet it is haunted. It has a will of its own that is independent of any trapped spirits that roam about its bowels. Shirley Jackson’s “Hill House” is such a house, as is the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Any author that not only incorporates this theme but expands upon it earns my respect. And expand Thomas does! 

In the tradition of Shirley Jackson, Thomas begins with the assumption that a house can have intrinsic qualities from an unknown origin. “Some houses are born bad,” Shirley Jackson surmises with figurative description, comparing houses, perhaps,  to living entities. Thomas agrees but offers a different take. “No Houses are born bad,”  he writes. While paying homage to Shirley Jackson with this line, Thomas not only places his story within the context of the “Haunted House Sui Generis” theme, but he also plots the trajectory for the theme’s expansion, though the reader may not know this at this time. The house in question, Finch House, is indeed a bad house. But it was not always this way! It began its “life” rather neutrally. Terrible things happened  in or around the house, things that gave the house a reputation and sparked rumors and legends, and this reputation both created and fed the hunger of the house. It is a hunger for more horror, for more evil. It has a craving to be the most horrifically haunted house that it can be. 

In an interview conducted by horrorscribes,wordpress.com, Scott Thomas offers:

What if there were just some lonely, empty house in the middle of nowhere that people began to think was haunted.  And what if enough people told scary stories about this place that, eventually, it was haunted.  Was there always an entity in that house and these people woke it, or was it their belief that created the entity?  That “chicken or the egg” haunted house scenario really interested me. I began to see the house as a major character—a structure that was never supposed to be a bad place but became bad, almost against its will.

“I began to see the house as a major character,”  To quote again from Thomas. I love when an author sees a house that way!

So yes, Scott Thomas invokes familiar tropes and setups. But authors build on the works of other authors and there is nothing wrong with that! It’s the finer details that matter in the end. If the author builds “cookie-cutter” haunted house stories, all replication and no innovation, then “BAH!” to that author. Thankfully Thomas doesn’t do that, but I must admit that for a while, I thought this was exactly what was going to happen. 

Now what would a haunted house that loves to be the subject of stories want with a group of authors? I think you know where this is going. In fact, Thomas offers numerous hints to the direction of his story in the very beginning of the book. I’ve already mentioned the “No house is born bad” hint. But there are others. And it thrills me greatly to examine them because they are found in a lecture that the character Sam McGarver gives to his students. See, he is a part time teacher. He teaches “Introduction to Horror in Popular Culture” at a college (Oh! How come I never encountered such a class when I was in college?) But why am I so “greatly thrilled” to examine this, simply for the hints? No. It is the way the lecture (fictional though it might be) analyzes themes within the fictional haunted house stories of film and literature (and horror in general). That’s what I attempt to do here at this blog! So of course I am excited about it and I want to attend Sam McGarver’s class so bad! 

During the lecture McGarver states:

The Gothic tradition is about secrets, dark secrets, awful secrets, hidden just behind the facade of normality. Modern horror is still heavily influenced by this tradition. But it’s not creepy old castles that hold these secrets anymore. The Gothic has invaded our everyday lives. The old farmhouse in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The suburban Japanese home in The Grudge. Even a video tape in The Ring. The infectious evil that used to be confined to crumbling ruins in the eighteenth-nineteenth-century literature, like Lewis’s The Monk, Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, and Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer has spread to our cities, our small towns, our homes. And that makes it even scarier, doesn’t it?

Note at the end, McGarver speaks of an “infectious evil” that begins in a classical haunted domain but “spreads” into modern daily life. Is there a hint here? Yes. The four authors/characters in Kill Creek will be required to make a second trek to Finch House. Why? Because something from their initial visit has followed them into their personal lives and they revisit the Finch house in an attempt to stop its chase.

McGarver talks about Gothic tradition. I love this. Whereas a complete study of the many elements that make up the Gothic tradition is quite the task (I’ve studied these for a while and I feel that I’ve only scratched the surface), McGarver narrows it down to a few interesting elements. Now, am I including these elements here in this article simply because they strike my fancy? No. I am including them because they foreshadow what will come about in Kill Creek.

And here they are:

  1. Emanation from a Single Location

  2. A Sense of Forbidden History (Turn of the Screw, Poltergeist) 

  3. An Atmosphere of Decay or Ruin (The Others, The Woman in Black, Crimson Peak. For mental decay = The Tenant)

  4. Corruption of the Innocent (“This is perhaps the most important element of any good Gothic horror story Without it, what do you have?  A shitty old dump with a dark history no one remembers.or cares about. You need that one person who ensures that the evil lives on)

 

To break these down in a way that applies to Kill Creek,  Finch House is the single location from which the evil emanates (Element #1). Finch House also has a sense of forbidden history. (element #2) An interracial couple is murdered on its premises, two “Finch” sisters later inhabit the house and succumb to its horrors. Plus, there is a secret and sealed room, another trope within haunted house literature. But this theme is explored quite well. What is behind the brick wall that seals the room off? This is part of the  mystery that will haunt the characters after they leave the house. And they better move fast because the house knows about certain secrets that each of the authors harbor and it can use this knowledge against them. It knows their weaknesses; their darkest fears.

Finch house certainly is an atmosphere of decay and ruin, as is true with the many haunted houses of literature (Element #3) Now for that last – the corruption of the innocent (Element #4). What is especially noteworthy is McGarver’s explanation, when he said “you need that one person who ensures the evil lives on.” Pay attention to this – it will point to a most unexpected yet intriguing ending.

Kill Creek is Scott Thomas’s first novel. On the Amazon page for this book  under the Kill Creek Scott Thomasheading “About the Author”, it states:   “Author, Thomas Scott, a former Marine and State Trooper, resides with his wife, Gwen, and their Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Bene, in Brunswick, Georgia.” Quite an interesting background.  Thomas wrote a second novel which might also feature a haunted house, but I could be wrong about that. I haven’t read it. Yet. The novel is VioletWhat’s interesting is that the description of the author has been expanded. It says:

Scott Thomas is the Stoker-nominated author of Kill Creek, which was selected by the American Library Association’s reader committee as the top horror book of 2017. Originally from Coffeyville, Kansas, Scott attended the University of Kansas where he earned degrees in English and Film. He has written TV movies and teleplays for various networks including Netflix, Syfy, MTV, VH1, the CW, Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and ABC family. Scott was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for his work on R.L. Stein’s The Haunting Hour. He lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his wife and two daughters. Violet is his second novel.

My question is – Did all his works for TV and movies transpire after his success with Kill Creek? This I don’t know. His success with his initial novel came about when Inkshares discovered his work and set it to publication. According to Wikipedia  Inkshares “is a publishing and literary rights-management platform founded in 2013. It is an open platform with a community of over 100,000 authors and readers. Authors post partial manuscripts which are sorted based on reader interest. Selected manuscripts are edited by Inkshares for publishing in North America”

Did Scott Thomas participate in the way wikipedia describes? Did he garner reader interest which then led to a publishing contract? If so, what a great success story. I love when indie authors “win.” I am an indie author myself. Haven’t “won” much, except for the joy of sharing my work. In the end, I guess that is winning also.

I’m anxious to read Thomas’s second novel Violet. If it does indeed feature a haunted house, I will review it and share the review with you.  Until then, bye bye!

 

 

Swell by Jill Eisenstadt- Half of a Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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