Review of The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel

 

 

ThehauntingoflakeManorHotel-COVEROnce upon a time (more specifically, on several occasions back in the fourth and fifth grade), our teacher gave us creative writing assignments. The procedure was as follows: Mrs. Rickman would pass out copies of a drawing that had a written scenario underneath the panel. I remember a drawing of a bowl of soup that had letters rising from underneath the broth. There were question marks hovering over the bowl.

The written out scenario went something like this: “You go into a restaurant and order a bowl of alphabet soup. The waiter places the bowl before you. Suddenly, the letters in the soup form a message. What does the message say?” Our assignment was to answer such a question with a one page, handwritten story.  After all the stories were handed in, the teacher would read each of them out loud to the class. It was indeed a very rewarding experience. Among other things, we learned of the different directions to which one could lead a story.  We relished in each other’s creativity. At least I did. Some kids dreaded “Creative Writing Time.” Not me.  I loved the writing and the listening and I looked forward to hearing the stories written by my fellow peers.

Thank you Nathan Hystad and all the authors that contributed to The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel for bringing me back to my grammar school creative writing exercise. No, I’m NOT saying that the writing in this book is juvenile.  Let me explain.  Hystad created something that triggered the creativity of others – similar to the way Mrs. Rickman gave her students the tools to expand our imaginations. For The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel, Hystad came up with a back-story and scenario. Then he invited thirteen authors to write stories based on his depiction. The results are interesting indeed.

The back-story is as follows: through unscrupulous means, the wealthy Charles Hamblin, owner of Lake Manor, acquired farms and properties from victims of a drought, to later sell for a profit. Meanwhile, most of the swindled suffered another tragedy – they were victims of a plague. Hundreds of bodies were dumped in the nearby lake.  The ghosts of the victims began to occupy Lake Manor and haunt Hamblin’s descendents.

Here is the current scenario, set in modern times – , Lake Manor is converted into a hotel. Rumor has it that it is haunted. Is it? If so, by what? By whom?  It was the job of the authors to answer such questions. Each author was assigned a room number and instructed to write a story based on the experiences of the guests that stayed in the assigned suite.  These authors then got busy haunting this hotel, leaving none of their characters/guests unscathed. All are haunted in one way or another.

Some authors focus on the lake and the woodsy trails that surround it. They write about TheHauntingofLakeManorHote;bannercreatures that come out of the waters and prey on their victims. They tell tales of ghosts that arise from the watery depths to lure guests into the deadly lake. They speak of strange things lurking along the trails.  Other authors focus in on the ghostly goings on within the walls of the Manor. They unleash bizarre beings of their mind’s creation and let them roam the corridors. They haunt rooms with ghostly children. They install secret panels and passageways for their characters to uncover and explore.

There are several reoccurring characters and themes throughout the book. Members of the hotel staff find themselves in multiple stories. There’s Lissette the desk clerk, Clay the bartender and Hank the bellhop. If I were you (“you” the reader or soon-to-be-reader of this book), I’d watch out for this trio. They can be…suspicious…at times. There are other crossovers as well.  There’s an offhand reference to a certain guest in one story. This guest ends up being a main character in another tale. So pay attention, readers! Oh, and watch out for the strange dishware you and the guests will encounter along the wooded trails throughout several stories – they are labeled with the names of different body parts.

All the stories are well written. As an added bonus, they smack of style; each one different, each one delightfully unique. There weren’t any bad stories. Some were better than others. One in particular was both intriguing and puzzling, so I read it twice. I’m still not sure I understood everything even after a second reading. But hot damn, I love this author’s style! (The story is Jumbled-up Jack by Christopher Bean). Alas, there were a couple of stories with non-endings. Seriously, it seemed as if some authors were nearing the climax but then decided to step out and have a smoke, only to forget to finish the story. But overall, this book is an enjoyable read and wonderful exercise in creative collaboration. “Creative Writing Time” lives on at it is beautiful, man!

 

Review of Archie’s Haunted House (Archie & Friends All-Stars)

 

 

Archie Haunted House CoverThink real hard – what’s the scariest work within haunted house literature?

Think even harder – what is the funniest work of the haunted house genre?

Think harder than “even harder” – which haunted house book best captures the spirit of today’s youth?

Think so hard that your brain bleeds – which haunted house novel has the best graphic illustrations?

Tired of all this thinking? Good, because I am going to give your brain a rest by dumbing things down a bit as I get into the subject of today’s review – Archie’s Haunted House (Archie & Friends All-Stars), which, by the way, is not the crowning achievement for any of the above categories. Truth is, I don’t know which haunted house novel is the scariest, funniest, trendiest or “graphiciest” (the superlative of “graphic.” See I.. oh never mind, just read on!) But it’s not Archie’s Haunted House, but we love Archie anyway. Why? Because he is Archie! (circular reasoning notwithstanding)

Maybe some of you don’t know what an “Archie” is. Archie is the star of fictional comic book series about teenagers who do “teenage-ish” things in the small town or Riverdale. He’s been around since – My god! Really Wikipedia? Since 1941? And here I thought he was the byproduct of the late fifties and early sixties with all that soda- shop/sock hop kind of humor. The all-American teenage Archie, with red hair and all, had a side kick named Jughead, known for his laziness and addiction to junk food. Archie dated either blonde Betty ,the sweet, girl-next-door, or brunette Veronica, the snobby rich girl. Then there was Reggie the conceited one, Big Moose the dimwitted but good-hearted jock, Dilton the brainy nerd. The list goes on.

Archie has survived over the decades, has gone through various incarnations for multiple publications. As previously mentioned, there’s the “sock-hop” era Archie, there’s “Little Archie” (the teenagers as children), there was even “Christian” Archie. Archie tried (but in my opinion, failed miserably) to stay with the times. In the 1980’s he was saying no to drugs, in the 1990’s he was listening to grunge rock – you get the idea. In a parallel universe of Archie (the Life with Archie series),the Archie gang appear as superheroes, secret agents. They marry each other. In one story, poor ol’ Archie dies. But he lives in one of the other 2,343,120 Archie publications (number may be slightly exaggerated.)

As a birthday gag-gift, my friend and colleague gave me this haunted house issue of Archie from 2010. He knows I dig haunted house stuff and he also knows that I am familiar with The Archie comics. I read it and thought “why not ‘review’ it.” But the sum of the review is as follows – “It’s Archie” – more of that circular reasoning for ya!

In the first story, a costume store opens in Riverdale. The costumes are special in that the person who puts them on becomes what they are wearing. Archie is running around Riverdale as a werewolf, Reggie a vampire, etc. It takes nerdy Dilton to break the spell of these magical costumes and return the gang back to normal

The second story is about the oldest house in Riverdale. It’s supposed to be haunted, but Archie Haunted House - Forefathersthe city council sees it only as an eye sore and wants it torn down. But wait! Archie discovers the house is an important piece of history and wants it preserved. But wait again! It really does turn out to be haunted and Archie changes his mind and wants it torn down – after convincing the council to preserve it. Oh brother!

In the third tale, the girls are having a “girl-only” Halloween party and the boys come to scare them. It turn out that the boys become the ones who are scared when they mistakenly conclude that Veronica’s aunt is an axe murderer.

Finally, there’s my favorite story! Archie and Jughead, dressed as vampires, miss Veronica’s Halloween party, and so they are invited to another party – at a haunted house. In attendance are real monsters. There are mummy ladies and werewolf women, There are things with many eyes, there are ogres. There’s even a medusa. When these monsters discover that Archie and Jughead are not real vampires, they are in trouble!

Archie Haunted House - Monster Party

If you want to know the truth, I prefer the Archie comics of the 1960’s and 1970’s. My older sisters had a bunch of these lying around the house when I was growing up. I read em’ and dug em’. I cringe when the comics go out of the way to show how much they have moved with the times. In Archie’s Haunted House, Veronica and Betty discuss a Pearl Jam concert. In 2010 I think it would be a little late for that. Later, they succumb to a magic spell, and the writers compare the trance they fall into to the reactions the girls typically have after watching Brad Pitt on the screen. I would think B and V as teenagers of 2010 would go more for Robert Pattinson of Twilight. That would definitely fit – since these are horror-themed stories.

Ah but oh well. My colleague has told me that Archie comics have always thrown in references to real people and places aimed at referencing the “current times.” I’ll take his word for it; I just don’t remember the older issues being so obvious about it while simultaneously being a decade off track.

Anyway, this is a fun comic book. Not really scary, not “ha ha ha” funny, and I’m not sure who the target audience is. It can’t be today’s millennials, they won’t go for this. And I would guess that many middle-aged folks (like me) and beyond would prefer the older issues. The drawings are decent. That’s good, right? Despite the shortcomings, it’s an enjoyable read. I don’t know why. Oh wait, yes I do – it’s fun because it’s “Archie”

Archie Haunted House Nightview

 

 

 

Review of Sker House

SkerHouseWhat is an epic? When I think of “epics,” I think of kingdoms, knights and warriors. I think of castles and magical caves. I think of a fictional place from a long time ago in a place far away. I think of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. All that said; let me move on to the book under review. There’s something about C.M. Saunder’s novel Sker House  that has me classifying it as an epic and yet, it has none of the aforementioned items. I need some help. Let me consult the ever-reliable online dictionary of Merriam-Webster.

 

Yes!  The dictionary came through like a charm!  It gave me a definition I can use:

 

Extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size and scope.

The definition fits. Sker House is a rich tale goes beyond the ordinary.

It’s not that it’s a long book (amazon has it a 299 electronic pages). There’s just so much packed into this tale. And nothing is crammed in hastily. Saunders gives the characters the necessary space to grow. As he giveth unto the characters, so doth he giveth to the plot (how do you like my Shakespeare impression?), which thickens into a filling story capable of satisfying any reader’s hunger for intrigue. Take for instance, the house at the center of the story – Sker House, which is a seaside inn located in South Wales. The inn and its surrounding property are not content to toss a mere ghost or two at the reader. The book has multiple hauntings and ghosts, including the mysterious Maid of Sker and the creepy shadow people. Then there are the strange ghost lights from ships of another day. Readers will encounter hidden passages, secret gardens, mysterious scribblings, possessions of the body, and unexplainable power outages.

Any good house haunting tale, especially one of epic proportions, is in need of a telling backstory. Saunders explores the history of Sker House from multiple avenues, including the firsthand tales from a strange old codger, the revealing dreams that manifest in the sleep of the protagonists, and the image provoking photo of doomed seamen.

A strong sense of place is important to epics. Although this is not a story from a time long ago in a place far away, the author does take a foreign setting (foreign to me here in the U.S.) and make it relatable. By and large, this is accomplished through the richness of the characters with all their prides, prejudices and patterns of speech specific to this locality. Saunders seems confident describing the mannerisms of his characters. The same is true concerning descriptions of the terrain and geography. He uses his knowledge of local history and legends, borrowing loosely from these stories. But in the end, his tale is his own.

SkerHouseOriginal

(Read about the original Maid of Sker and the real Sker House. Picture above is the original house, taken from this site)

 

Here’s a little more about these colorful characters. They include Dale and Lucy, two young and adventurous journalist-wannabes who stay at the nearly abandoned inn because they wish to learn more about the ghostly legends that are associated with Sker House in the hopes of publishing an article concerning such accounts. There is the landlord/proprietor of the Inn – Machen – a suspicious curmudgeon who is both goodhearted and endearing at the same time. Then there’s Old Rolly, Sker House’s only resident. He is a quiet and mysterious man who sits at bar of the inn day after day. Even background characters such as Ruth and Izzy, the mother and daughter maid team of Sker House, are well-rounded and personable.

The only failings that I came across have to do with some of the specifics within the wide breadth of material. At times I felt the author had too much on his plate and therefore neglected to fully explain certain happenings or resolve particular issues. I don’t want to identify these exact moments for fear of giving away too many spoilers. But if you read this book (and you should!) perhaps you will notice them as well. Despite this criticism, I admire the epic quality of this work – very much so. So a few details are sacrificed in the creation of the larger picture. The point is that the larger picture fairs well. Therefore, I strongly recommend this book

Review of The House on the Moor

The House on the Moor CoverThere’s an accepted adage that one should ‘never judge a book by its cover.’ Sorry Mr. Adage, but that is exactly what I am going to do. Not only am I going to judge the cover, but I an going to evaluate the paper, fonts, and even the box it came in.  I am going to offer my opinion on the illustrations as well. And my opinion is this = Saul Goodman. (it’s all good, man!)  Oh and the story is all right as well.

Why all this mumbo-jumbo about the physical book? Well see, I stumbled onto Author William Meikle’s thread on Goodreads.com.  He posted a link to Dark Renaissance Press –the publisher for his book – The House on the Moor.   Unfortunately,  the Dark Renaissance website is down at the time of this post.  But Meikle describes exactly why I was attracted to his book in his blog.  I’ll leave it to the author to tell you about it:

The Deluxe Hardcover Edition is bound in smooth black leather, and the front cover stamped with a haunted house in red foil, further enhanced with solid black headbands and a red book ribbon. The book will be protected by a black slipcase and deluxe hardcover edition will be signed by the author and the artist.

The Signed and Numbered Hardcover Edition is bound with the printed front cover art. It is furthered enhanced with black headbands, and a black book ribbon. The signed and numbered hardcover edition is signed by the author.

From – https://williammeikleblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/the-house-on-the-moor-signed-hardcovers-in-stock/

 

Now how could a lover of haunted house literature such as myself not be interested in something like this! Then, after seeing the illustrations of the talented M. Wayne Miller , I was sold. See some of Mr. Miller’s work below:

In the age of digital downloads, I am impressed that authors such as Miekle take the time and effort to publish a well designed, hardcover book. Not that there is anything wrong with ebooks – I read the all the time! I publish them myself!  But the pleasure of holding a book, flipping through the paper pages and then storing it on a cherry wood shelf cannot be replaced. The House on the Moor is joy to multiple senses.  I have already expressed how attractive the book looks.  But there is more. The cover is feels smoothly sensual when an open hand glides across its surface. And it seems to have that new car smell! Ah but it is a book – so the olfactory pleasure is, perhaps, more intellectual?

As for the other senses, I wouldn’t know how it sounds; this is not an audio book. I have made no attempt to eat it so I wouldn’t know how it tastes. But what about that other sense, the one called “imagination” which yields the power to bring all the senses together inside the brain?  The plot certainly stimulates the imagination.  It is a simple yet engaging story, filled with mood-setting charm.  John and Carole visit a mysterious old man named Blacklaw in his house on the moor.  John’s grandfather Hugh was a dear friend of Blacklaw’s in the olden days. In their prime, both men, bold and dashing, were celebrated for their feats and adventures, until one final act of daring caused Hugh’s demise. This act occurred in the cellar of the house on the moor. John is ready to hear the tale. Cautiously, over the course of several sittings, Blacklaw tells the tale as his energy is slowly drained.  It is a story of the occult and magical spells.  It is a story that explains the haunting that is occurring inside the house during present time Now readers, cue in the imagination – this power that brings together all the senses inside the brain.  I could almost taste the Scotch that guests and hosts of the house drink during the tellings. I The House on the Moor Spine 2could almost feel the warmth from the fireplace and nearly hear it crackling.  Could my mind hear the eerie chanting rituals that arise from the cellar? I think so. Could it see all the way up to the top of the library tower, where hidden in the shadows of the rafters was some kind of phantom? I believe so.

This is a book to cherish, to read by the fireplace in your favorite sitting chair with a sifter of brandy at your side. When not in use it belongs on the bookshelf in its protective black case, with a spine of shiny-red etching that spells to each and every onlooker: The House on the Moor.

Review of The Haunting of Blackwood House

Haunting of Blackwood HouseThe Haunting of Blackwood House  is the second book of Darcy Coates that I have read and reviewed. It certainly won’t be the last. I admire her talent as a storyteller. I learned of her talents by exploring her novella The Haunting of Gillespie House. It treated me to a good old-fashioned haunting, so it was only natural that I would want to visit another of her haunted abodes. So The Blackwood House was next. This house accommodated me as well, nestling me with ghostly delights and treats of terror as I snuggled in my bed, reading only by the light of my e-reader. Thank you Darcy for taking in a late night lodger and leaving the lights off for me so that your ghosts may shine!

I foresee myself as becoming not merely a fan of her books, but a friend of her work as well. As any good friend should do, I accept the good along with the mediocre. So far I see no bad. Here is what’s good about The Haunting of Blackwood House: the haunting of Blackwood House. No, the preceding sentence is not an exercise in redundancy. What I am saying is that the haunted house itself is what makes this book. It has a rich back-story – build on grounds known to be a hotbed for supernatural energy, founded by a mysterious spiritualist many decades ago, to later be inhabited by an axe-wielding serial killer that turns victims into ghosts. The house changes ownership over the years and for each set of inhabitants, there is danger. It just so happens that the families that live in the house just can’t keep from killing each other.

Mara is the house’s latest resident. She lives there alone, but her boyfriend Neil keeps her company. Sometimes he sleeps over, but often Mara spends the night in Blackwood House alone. It is when she is by herself that the house tends to show off its ghostliness. Footsteps are heard in the attic. Voices of crying children are heard from the fireplace. There are the ghostly images of a hanging man in the foyer; of a deceased woman rocking an infant in the rocking chairs. There are some eerie moments here folks, and I love them all.

So, what is mediocre about this book? Answer – the characters. Mara was raised in a family of spiritualists. She has “the gift” but throughout the story, she is in denial of it to the point where she abhors all things religious and supernatural (later it will be revealed that her “gift” tends to feed the haunting). Her animosity can get under the skin of the reader when she constantly tries to rationalize away the ghostly phenomena. Mara is somewhat of an enigma. She is high maintenance yet independent minded. Her boyfriend Neil suffers on account of this, never knowing whether to step in to offer her assistance of back off in fear of cramping her style. In short, she is annoying and he is a doormat, and these two don’t break out of these molds too often. Their love story is a side story, that doesn’t really branch off or melt into the larger story of the haunted house. Therefore, it’s a bit distracting. Mind you, these aren’t “bad” characters; they are believable (as with Mara’s case, all of us are haunted by contradictions of character), they just lack that special something that absorbs readers into their essences.

It can be summed up as follows: Mara’s psychic abilities strengthen the haunting power of The Blackwood House. In turn, The Blackwood House, with its mysteries, history, and spooky spectacles, makes for a strong piece of haunted house fiction. The brawn of the book is enough to carry its weaker elements – the characters – to the home stretch. For at times, they are baggage for the larger story. But when the baggage becomes burdensome, have no fear, for soon the focus will return to the strengths of the story – and the reader will once again feel hauntingly at home.

Review of Coldheart Canyon – A Hollywood Ghost Story

ColdheartCanyonFame! Fortune! Power! Pleasure! – these things are the gods of this world, so sayeth a religion teacher I knew many moons ago. These are the lower-case gods; false gods, gods that are appetizing to the flesh but poisonous to the soul. I’ll add a few more – Beauty! Youth!  In sum, these gods represent an overwhelming lust for “the good life.”

 Many religions have a geographical center. There is Israel, Mecca, Babylon, and The Vatican. Where might the practitioners of “the good life” congregate?  Which city values youth and beauty? Where do these youthful and beautiful creatures go to seek out fame, fortune, power and pleasure?  The answer – Hollywood! Become a movie star! Be the face that everyone in world loves! Earn your millions. Party on down! Work the scene for a while and become a producer. Make and break careers!  Oh what fun!

There is a microcosm of such vanity and decadence in Hollywood’s own backyard. It’s called Coldheart Canyon. Over the years, the biggest names in the film business gathered in a hideaway house in the heart of this canyon. While concealed from the spotlight of the motion picture’s capital, they kept its values alive with decadent parties, mass intoxication, and bizarre orgies. This was true in life…and in death. Magic within the house helped some to achieve eternal youth. For others, it provided a desire for pleasure eternal; for fame that never ceases. Even after death, the spirits of celebrities return to this canyon to dwell in its foliage, hoping against hope that they should be permitted inside the house once again and “relive” the glory. These spirits – they materialize in solid form! Remember – I said that the gods of fame, fortune, power and pleasures appeal to fleshy beings – beings that still want to feel the erotic pleasures that only their sexual organs can muster. Out in the canyon these “spirits” wait and yearn. While passing the years, they mate with the creatures of the canyon; coyotes, birds, rodents, anything that moves and breathes.  The offspring of such couplings are quite an abomination; their body parts are half human and half animal.  All this on account of that room inside the house; a room with walls of supernatural tiles that pull its occupants into a magical forest where time stands still, where the strange and erotic come to life, where youth and beauty can be restored. Alas, the house and room are guarded by Katya Lupi, the owner and mistress of the house. Once a beauty from the silent era of film, she lives on in pristine form in the year 2001.  She is the queen of this kingdom and she deprives her former peers of the silver screen of this restorative power.  For she is cold. She is heartless. Hence the term Coldheart Canyon.

If you haven’t already guessed, I have been describing the meat and guts of Clive Barker’s novel – Coldheart Canyon – A Hollywood Ghost Story.  So please don’t go looking for Coldheart Canyon, you will not find it. It exists only in the imagination of Barker. But he ColdheartCanyon2has generously shared the contents of his mind with us so that we may also get a glimpse of this macabre world. Now there are some (and you may be one of them) that do not want any part of Clive Barker’s imagination. This is understandable, for there are sensitive folks out there. Barker graphically describes the human anatomy and the situations that arise when one piece of anatomy meets another. He also describes the anatomy of things that are not human. For instance, there is this goat boy (who happens to be the son of Satan) that is quite often visibly aroused. I’ll leave it at that.

One of the most common complaints in the one-star reviews (but there are plenty more 5 star ratings) is that this book is nothing more than a glorification of porn. Folks, it is a lot more than that. Yes it’s explicit at times. But to condemn this piece solely on account of its X-rated themes is to miss out on its profound exploration of human nature. From the no-holds-barred examination of Hollywood culture to the rich descriptions of the characters, Coldheart Canyon – A Hollywood Ghost Story is certainly a unique and compelling piece of work.

I must admit – I did not always feel this way. I first read this book shortly after it hit the bookstores. Initially I was not overly impressed. At the time I purchased this novel, I was in the mood to read a kind of ghost story like the ones I had grown up with and was anxious to vicariously explore a haunted house in the tradition of Amityville..  I did not find the kind of familiar tale I sought out.  In the beginning and with interest, I followed the plight of the main character Todd Picket- a movie star that was just beginning to show signs of aging. When his face-lift operation went wrong, he was forced to hide from the public eye in an isolated house in a canyon until he recovered. I was anxious to read about the ghostly footsteps he might hear, or the trespassing of specters across his halls, or the moans and groans of midnight ghosts. Instead I got a tale that was part fantasy, part macabre, part erotic. I was disappointed and I’m not sure I even finished the book.

Ironically, I came to like The Coldheart Canyon – A Hollywood Ghost Story after I became dedicated to haunted house lore. This second time around, I accepted the tale for what it was and not for what I had once demanded it to be. It is not your average haunted house tale. Most of the ghostly activity takes place in canyon outside of the premises. The fantasy and adventure occurs within one room of the house. Although this is not my favorite haunted house novel, it certainly belongs within the genre. Some of it I found a little hokey.  Nevertheless, it’s entertaining and intriguing. The story is unique; it’s not enslaved to formula – it is not a follower. But does it lead? I don’t know about that. Some would say it does. For me, it just “is.” As such it just persists, like many of its ghosts that are damned to its canyon.  Try the book. You might like it.

Review of The Shining (Novel, Movie, Mini-series)

The time “to shine” has arrived! I’ve been promising this review for quite a while now. Finally it has come. …Heeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!

 

** Warning: there are spoilers lurking about! They are hiding everywhere. You may encounter a seemingly innocent sentence and then suddenly, out of nowhere – BOO! One will grab you. You have been warned. **

 

ShiningnovelThe Book

Let me begin was a story refresher. The Shining is about a five year old boy named Danny Torrance that has special powers which the book calls “The Shining”. He has precognition and extra sensory perception to name a few. His father, Jack Torrance, is an unemployed writer. Formerly a school teacher, he lost his teaching when he pummeled one of his students for taking a knife to his car tires. Jack has anger issues. He is an alcoholic as well. After a heavy night of drinking, he witnesses Danny making a mess out of his papers on his desk. He breaks his arm when pulling him away from the desk. Many of Jack’s issues stem from the abuse he had suffered from his father. Nevertheless, his wife Wendy stays by his side, on the condition that gives up the booze and cleans up his act. Jack complies. Not only does he give up drinking, but he lands himself a job as a caretaker for the swanky yet empty Overlook Hotel for the winter when the Hotel shuts down.. It is up high in the Colorado Mountains. He and his family move in. Soon they will be snowbound. The Overlook Hotel is haunted. It too shines, just like Danny. Jack and Danny will unintentionally awaken the Hotel’s ghosts. Danny does so on account of his ability to shine and Jack on account of his unstable personality; ghosts just love to munch down on disturbed psyches.

In the “spirit” of the book (and the film) (and the television mini-series), I think it’s time to call forth some ghosts as well. These will be the ghosts of reviews past.

Several months ago, I wrote about house divided, brother against sister, and family tensions with the end result being the physical destruction of their house. This occurs in The Fall of The House of Usher.   A few weeks later, I presented a house that preys on the psychic abilities of a fragile young woman. You can learn more about this story by visiting Hill House at The Haunting of Hill House/The Haunting: Book Vs. Movie. Months later I introduced a family that rented a big old house for the summer. The wife/mother fell in love with it, so much so that longed to be a part of it. And the house was more than willing to possess her! This is what happens in Burnt Offerings. Then, only about a week or two ago, I informed you of a certain masquerade party. But this party was not all fun and games, was it? In fact it was quite deadly. You can revisit The Masque of Red Death anytime you wish.

Now, how was that trip down the haunting memory lane? It is a nice collection of “ghosts” if I do say so myself. But why resuscitate them at this time? Just for the hell of it? No. I called upon them for a reason. And the reason is: all of these stories influenced Stephen King when it came to writing The Shining.  From Wikipedia:

The Shining was also heavily influenced by Shirley Jackson‘s The Haunting of Hill House,[15]Edgar Allan Poe‘s The Masque of the Red Death and The Fall of the House of Usher,[13] and Robert Marasco‘s Burnt Offerings.[10] The story has been often compared to Guy de Maupassant‘s story “The Inn”.[16]

(I have not yet read “The Inn” Maybe it’s time to do so.)

I do believe the descriptions as I have written them point to the themes that King borrowed. Just like with The Fall of the House of Usher, The Shining is an account of a dysfunctional family that resides in a building that meets its destruction at the story’s end. As with The Haunting of Hill House, The Overlook Hotel feeds off of the psychic abilities of one of its inhabitants. In the first story, Hill House claims a vulnerable young woman named Elenaor Vance. Not only does the story hint that the house comes into power on account of her special abilities, but the house takes advantage of her emotional instability as well. In The Shining, the Overlook Hotel uses five-year-old Danny Torrance as a battery; siphoning power from his psychic nature in order to bring on a haunting. However, the unstable one of the family is his father, Jack Torrance. As an alcoholic with anger issues, the Hotel takes advantage of his personal demons as it slowly possesses him. Jack ends up being a willing servant of the Hotel; a Hotel that conjures up alcohol, gets him drunk and pressures him to kill his family – all under the guise of caring for The Hotel. Likewise with The_Shining_by_Stephen_King_Covermother in Burnt Offerings that looks after the house obsessively; a mother who gives in to the possessive demands of the house. Finally, the ghosts of The Overlook reenact a hedonistic masquerade party that took place on the property decades beforehand. At midnight on the night of their ghostly appearance, tragedy will be waiting in the same way that Death ready to pounce in The Masque of Red Death.

Yes, Stephen King borrowed from many sources. But this is not a criticism. The final product which he assembled from the various themes was indeed a masterpiece. He is like a chef that uses only the finest ingredients to concoct his stew. One does not bitch that the chef stole from the line cooks that prepped the meat, potatoes and carrots. Rather, one enjoys all the makings of this tasty treat.

I must confess. I like The Shining more than the books that influenced it. But don’t get me wrong – I love all of the preceding works. It’s just that King’s work has that extra “shine” that lures me to his story over the others. It might be the depth of the characters. Maybe it’s because all the story elements fall perfectly into place. Perhaps it’s the trip itself; the scenic drive across the story arc that makes for the best reading experience. Or maybe I just happen to have a special gene that predisposes my taste buds for the flavor of “The King!” I don’t know.

In addition to the aforementioned haunted house literature, there were other factors that influenced King’s “shining” ideas. Real life experience was one such factor. The story goes that King and his family were staying at mountain top hotel. They were the only guests! The hotel was going to shut down for the winter the very next day. It was an empty, spooky experience to be the only occupants in such a grand sized place. At night, he was plagued with nightmares. He dreamed of the corridor’s firehouse. It turned into a snake and chased his three year old son. Drawing on this experience, King began to formulate the ideas that would eventually become The Shining.

Located in Estes Park, Colorado, the name of the Hotel that inspired King’s story is named The Stanley Hotel attracts visitors to this day. Writing workshops are held there annually. (See also my blog post about Scott Nicholson’s Creative Spirit. It is a horror story about a artistic retreat and I refer to The Stanly Hotel. Supposedly, the Hotel has a haunted history in real life. They sponsor ghost tours. However, I cannot find any stories of such hauntings that take place before The Shining was published. Are these tours merely publicity stunts? I wouldn’t know.


 

The_Shining-movie_poster-03The Movie

Now, what about the movie starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall? Stephen King is not a fan. Not one bit. In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, he complains that the portrayal of Wendy Torrance (played by Shelley Duvall) was nothing short than an exercise in misogyny.

“Wendy Torrance is just presented as this sort of screaming dishrag”

On Jack Torrance (played by Nicholson), he notes that the character was sort of crazy from the onset, contrary to the Jack Torrance of the book.

“In the book, there’s an actual arc where you see this guy, Jack Torrance, trying to be good, and little by little he moves over to this place where he’s crazy. And as far as I was concerned, when I saw the movie, Jack was crazy from the first scene.”

To these ends I agree. Shelley Duvall is annoying in her fragility. Jack Nicholson does seem crazy from the very beginning. One of the first scenes shows Jack interviewing for the position of the Hotel caretaker. During the interview, he smiles and laughs in a way that only Jack Nicholson can. It’s what he does. He’s creepy no matter what. To quote Mad Magazine, “Jack Nicholson doesn’t mean to make horror films. His romantic comedies just turn out that way.” Nevertheless, if I were the Interviewer (Mr. Ullman), I would steer clear of this man.

In general, Stephen King finds fault with the overall lack of character development. Salon.com mentions a quote he gave to BBC.

“We’re looking at the people, but they’re like ants on an anthill, aren’t they doing interesting things, these little insects”

I too have the same impression. But I must say, this “ants on an anthill” perspective is both the weakness as well as the strength of the film. Yes you read that right. Let me explain. What viewers lose in terms of character development they gain in atmosphere.   The film has fostered an air of detachment. Quite often, viewers are far away from the happenings, only to slowly zoom in with the camera as it creeps upon scene after scene.   This helps to create a larger-than-life environment; The Overlook Hotel is so much larger than life that it includes death in its equation as well. The brilliance of Stanley Kubrick is evident in the jagged angles of his aerial shots of the mountain road that lead to the hotel. From a corridor on the other side of the room, we see the characters walk the length of a corridor further away in the eye the camera; another trick of atmospheric cinematography to create a feeling that is the opposite of intimacy. It is one of remoteness; of being led into a situation that is beyond anyone’s control. One of the film’s famous scenes is of little Danny Torrance riding his big wheel through the lounges and down the corridors. When he rides across the tile floor, the rumbling of his plastic tires is heard echoing against the corners of these chambers, wherever they might be. Every now and then he rides across carpeting. The noise stops – for a few seconds. These are somewhat unsettling seconds, for we know the echoing rumbling will return. And it does. The vastness of the Hotel is juxtaposed with one if the “ants” that resides on its premises – one if its little toys on wheels.

Let me be clear, the book is definitely better than the film. If I was Stephen King and some filmmaker changed key parts to my story, or flattened out my characters, I might be upset at the final result as well. But since this is not my book, I can enjoy Kurbick’s vision of King’s novel, and enjoy it I do. Of course I’m not alone. It seems to make every top ten list of haunted house films (For example, Time and MovieWeb).Kubrick does not fully explore the depth of the characters. It is obvious that his favorite character is the Overlook Hotel itself. But he certainly raises the hotel to frightening heights.


 

Book Vs. The Movie

Here is a list of some of the differences between the film and the book.

Jack Torrance

  •  Book – A writer and school teach who struggles with alcoholism and anger issues. His shamed history includes beating up a student, breaking his son’s arm and almost getting into a deadly car accident with his friend at the wheel. Takes job at the overlook to build up his resume and write a play. His character constantly struggles to curb his anger and do the right thing.
  •  Film – Jack’s history is downplayed. He seems quite unbalanced from the very beginning

 

Tony

  • Book – Little Danny’s imaginary friend. Tony is the one who “reveals things” to the boy, i.e. the past, the future, the thoughts of his parents. Turns out that Tony is a product of the boy’s deepest caverns of the subconscious
  •  Film – Mostly the same, except toward the end, Tony seems to take possession of Danny. This doesn’t happen in the book.

 

Mr. Ullman

  • Book – The manager of the Overlook. He can’t stand Jack Torrance. He does not want him as the caretaker but his hands are tied. The board of directors (one of which is Jack’s friend) has guaranteed Jack the job. He treats Jack condescendingly. Later in the story, Jack unearths scandal on the hotel. As revenge, Jack phones Ullman and threatens to write a book on all the wrong doings that have occurred at the Overlook.
  •  Film – The manager takes a liking to Jack from the very start. Even with his rather unsettling posture in the interview. Go figure!

 

The History of The Overlook Hotel

  •  Book – There is a lot of history presented in the book. A former caretaker named Grady killed his family then himself. In room 217 (237 in the film), an older woman kills herself. Going back further in years, a mob execution takes place in the presidential suite. The hotel had changed hands often, operating as dummy corporations under the helm of the shady Horace M Derwent. He held a masquerade back in 1945 to celebrate a grand reopening of the hotel. Later in the story, the masquerade returns to life, with every occupant that has died on the premises over the years. The book goes on to describe the party as  “a long and nightmarish masquerade party went on here and had gone on for years”  and “The parties that were all one went on and on, populated by generations of guests”
  •  Film – Very little history. The Grady tragedy is mentioned. Also, the film has it that the Hotel was build over an Indian burial ground. This is not so in the book. Here’s something to note: the two twin daughters of Mr. Grady, their ghosts appear to Danny, inviting him to play in with them forever and ever. This doesn’t occur in the book.

 

The Boiler

  •  Book – One of Jack’s duties as the caretaker is to depressurize the boiler in the basement. “It creeps” is what the caretaker of the regular season tells Jack. This boiler is what ends up being Jack’s, and the Hotel’s undoing. The Overlooks blows up with Jack inside. His family escapes safely.
  •  Film – This plot is left out of the film. Jack meets his demise freezing to death in a ShiningMovieFrozenJackmaze of hedges. Too bad this was left out; it was also symbolic of Jack’s sanity.

Dick Halloran

  •  Book – Cook at the Hotel, meets with family before all employees vacate the premises for the winter. Shares the gift of “The Shining” with Danny. Tells Danny to call him telepathically if anything goes awry during their stay. In the end, Danny calls him and Dick comes and rescues them
  •  Film – Much the same. More description of his character in the book. However, in the film, he dies. Jack axes him to death. Halloran is played by Scatman Crothers  This is the second time Jack Nicholson bests poor Crothers. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nicholson gets him fired as the night watchman at the insane asylum. But I guess that’s better then dying.

Hedges

  • Book – The hedges are cut so that they resemble animals; horses, tigers, lions. They come to life at various points. A lion ends up chasing Halloran’s snow mobile.
  •  Film – Instead of hedge animals, there is a maze of hedges. Jack chases Danny in there. Danny finds his way out ant escapes but Jack doesn’t.

 

Also of note, Jack does not write “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy” over and over again obsessively in the book, nor does he say “Heeeere’s Johnny!” He does not chase his family with an axe. Rather, he uses a mallet. And those creepy twins – the little girl ghosts – they are not in the book.

ShiningMovieTwins             The_Shining_by_Stephen_King_Jack_Coming_up_the_Stairs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

The Television Mini-series.

 

ShiningTV2I knew a guy, big Marvel comics fan, and whenever you asked him about a recent marvel superhero movie, he would say something to the tune of “I liked it! It stuck to the original story of the comics” or “I didn’t like it, it strayed from the original story”. To him, the quality of a film adapted from previous material seems to be solely based upon how well it regurgitates the plot of its predecessor. How well a story re-translates itself from book to film doesn’t seem to be an important factor in his analysis. I mean, if a film based on a book totally sucks, but it sticks to the original story, then by his standards the film isn’t allowed to suck.

Let’s apply his standards to The Shining movie and to The Shining television mini-series.The movie sucked because it strayed heavily from the original plot and the mini-series was fucking awesome because it, for the most part, told the story as per the book. Okay, let us be done with this application, shall we? Because it is this application that sucks. It is this guy’s standards that blows chunks.

The movie strays heavily from the original plot. It is not as good the book but it is still a good film. The television mini-series, on the other hand, closely resembles the book. Does this make it good? No, but it is not terrible either. Well not all of it is terrible.

 

Here’s what is terrible – the acting. It was typical made-for-TV acting. The man and woman who play Jack and Wendy Torrance seem better suited for a shampoo commercial. The boy that plays Danny has too many lines. He talks way too much and actually makes me cry out for little Jake Lloyd from Star Wars The Phantom Menace.

Elliot Gould plays Ullman and he does so robotically. Seriously, listen to him when he speaks – he sounds like a low-toned Speak n Spell.

Nevertheless, the series has its enjoyable moments. It is scary and it does give viewers more background information than the film.   But I still prefer the film. In fact, sometimes ShiningTVthe series tries to imitate the film. When Jack smashes his way into the bathroom, in the book he says nothing. In the film he says “Heeeeeere’s Johnny!” Which will the series choose to emulate, the book, which it had been kept true to all along, or the movie? For some reason, it chose the movie, but instead of the calling out to The Tonight Show host of the 60’s and 70s, Jack says “booo!” followed by “here come’s papa bear!” Corny! The series should have had him remain silent.

************************************

The Shining, as a whole, is a magnificent piece of work. Beginning with King to be retold by Kubrick, it is a story that invokes one of my favorites haunted house themes – a house that is an entity in and of itself – a house that is more than the sum of its ghosts. I love the Shining and may it shine on forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and…..

 

 

 

Review of The Masque of the Red Death

RedDeathThis is the second time I am reviewing a piece from the great horror master Edgar Allan Poe. The first was The Fall of the House of Usher.  That review was so much fun to write! After all, it was one of my favorite horror stories when I was growing up. On the other hand, I had just learned of the existence of The Masque of the Red Death the other day. Let’s face it, as noteworthy as Poe is, I am just not an expert on his library of works. I received a vague description of the story’s themes from a colleague. It seemed interesting and so I went ahead and read this short story. I was not disappointed.

Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to put forth a plot summary and then an analysis.

Sound good? But of course it does!

[Spoilers below – oh no, oh no! Spoilers below – oh no, oh no! ]

The Masque of the Red Death takes place in the Middle Ages.  A plague is afoot.  Countrymen are being struck down by the “Red Death”.  This contagious disease is quite nasty. Blood spills out of the pores, decorating the skin with streaks of foul red; hence the term “Red Death”.  Prince Prospero will have none of this.  He decides that he will not fall prey to this disease, nor will about a thousand of his favorite citizens.  To protect himself and his favored parties, he fortifies them in his castle. A rather bizarre castle it is!

There are seven apartments and the only thing that lights up these rooms comes from outside the suites. There are corridors running alongside these rooms. Each corridor/room wall has a window made of stained glass of varying colors. Lit candles sit beside the window glass on the corridor side. The candlelight shines through these colored filters and fills the room with the hue of the corresponding stained glass.  Some rooms are warmly blue, others are magnetically purple. Some are a grand ol’ green.

What are the guests to do in these rooms? Party on down, of course! There are jesters and musicians. There is plenty of food and drink.  The guests are having a “gay old time” (WILMA!!!!!!!!) They dress in fine costumes. After all, this is a masquerade party!

Oops-a-daisy! I forgot to mention the oddest room of all. The candle shines through a stained glass of red. A velvet hue smothers the room with a frightening reminder of the “Red Death” that lurks outside these castle walls. (“Far beyond these castle walls….”) Black tapestries hang down from the ceiling. In front of them stands a large ebony clock that for reasons to be explained later is quite unsettling. Suffice it to say, this is not a popular room. The partygoers stay away from the room; it is forebodingly empty.

It’s a happening party! Most of the time. The key word in the previous sentence is “time.”  The ebony clock chimes loudly on the hour, every hour. When this happens, the music stops and the party people chill out. A contemplative set of moments overtakes them. How bizarre!  When the clock goes silent, the party resumes and the frolicking continues.

It is nearing midnight when people take notice of a cloaked figure. This strange character wears a mask that mimics a deceased victim of The Red Death.  The face is corpse-like. It has streaks of blood dripping out of its eyes.  Prince Prospero is incensed. How dare someone make a mockery of the dreadful disease and its plight of terror!  The figure traipses though all the rooms; blue, purple, green, on and on until finally it reaches the red room.  The Prince follows.  He corners the phantom.

The midnight chimes fill the chamber. The cloaked figure turns to face Prince Prospero. The Prince drops dead. Members of his court rush the red room. They unmask the figure. There is no one inside the costume.  Then, everyone dies. All of them! The fortification of the castle could not save them. The Red Death is the victor.

 

RedDeath3

 

It took me thirty odd years to arrive at a satisfactory understanding of The Fall of the House of Usher.  I had only read the “children’s” version when I was young and didn’t tackle the original story until 2015.  Even after reading it, I had to refer to certain websites (Poedecoder.com and Sparknotes.com) in order to obtain a comprehensive comprehension. (“comprehensive comprehension” – those two words together, don’t they sound funny?) Let’s see if I can do better the second time around.  Instead of taking thirty + years to arrive at position where I am able to submit an analysis,  I think this time I will only need a day or two. Two nights ago I read the story and today I will analyze it. Furthermore, I will not use the aid of “poedecoder”, at least not beforehand. This time I will seek out an alternative source – my own mind.  Afterwards, I will check with Poedecoder.com  and Sparknotes and see if our analyses are similar.

Let me take a deep breath….Done! Okay, here I go –

The cloaked figure is death itself. The party is a microcosm of humanity in general.  Many people see life as a mechanism to fulfill their casual whims . They are fortified in their falsehoods of security; rarely realizing the ultimate fragility of their existence.  Only now and then do they stop and contemplate their own mortal nature. But these contemplative sessions are brief and the people go on with their amusements.  However, it’s a rigged game. Soon or later they will meet death.  Death finds us all.

~ Me

That’s about the gist of it. Let’s see what others have to say, like Martha Womack at poedecoder:

“The prince’s name suggests happiness and good fortune, and the prince, just like all beings uses happiness to wall out the threat of death.”

~ Martha Womack

I agree. I sort of mentioned this, not in the same words but the general meaning is the same. Let’s see what else Womack has for us:

“Poe’s story takes place in seven connected but carefully separated rooms. This reminds the reader of the past significance of the number seven. (The history of the world was thought to consist of seven ages, just as an individual’s life had seven stages. The ancient world had seven wonders; universities divided learning into seven subjects; there were seven deadly sins with seven corresponding cardinal virtues, and the number seven is important in mysticism.”

~ Martha Womack

Well I didn’t get into any of that!   Interesting. Anything else, Martha?

“We hear the echoes of the “ebony clocks” that we carry within.”

In other words, it’s our own biological clock that is ticking away. Time is running out on us.  There is also a nice bit of analysis going on within Sparknotes.com.

What wisdom to these folks have for us?

“The clock that presides over that room also reminds the guests of death’s final judgment. The hourly ringing of the bells is a reminder of the passing of time, inexorable and ultimately personal.”

 

Agreed. That’s similar to what I wrote about how the clock chimes to the pause and bewilderment of the guests. The recurring but temporary reflections upon death that come at different life stages – these life events remind us all of the inevitability of death and give us reason to pause. But I don’t think either source, poedecoder or Sparknotes,  specifically made reference to how the people of the party would casually RedDeath2resume their partying once the “death reminder” ceased to hold them hostage. We think of death and then we go on and put it out of our minds. Rarely are we ever fully prepared when death makes its final calling. At the same time, both sources have analyses that I did not mention, nor had I thought out.  They are excellent reference pages.

Well, that’s all I got. Except perhaps for one more mental note. Should The Masque of the Red Death be considered a haunted house story?  I think it qualifies. The whole story takes place in the strange castle that harbors mysterious rooms of mood-enhancing color, a scary clock that chimes to the somber attention of the guests, and a masked phantom of ethereal substance the brings forth death. That all seems pretty haunted to me. What do you think?

 

 

 

Review of The Haunting of Gillespie House

Haunting of Gillespie HouseThere are occasions when a novel helplessly succumbs to the tropes of its stated genre. Page after page is littered with overused themes.  They reach out from these pages and smack the reader across the face.   “Look at me! Look at me!” they shout from in between the lines, “Look at me and let me lock you inside every literary device that I the author I can conjure up from the catalog!”  Conversely the opposite is also true.  Like a summer wind that blows across an ocean beach, the familiar and expected can be refreshing.  If a story is imaginative and well written, then the proverbial themes within will wrap the reader in nestling comfort as s/he settles on in to the story.  Such is the case with Darcy Coates’s The Haunting of Gillespie House

 

This beautifully written piece features a large house in the countryside. Protagonist Elle agrees to stay and watch over this house while the elderly owners (Mr. and Mrs. Gillespie) go away on a trip. The house is shrouded with mystery and intrigue.  There are locked rooms with hints of activity occurring behind the doors. Peculiar scratching-noises are heard within various walls.  The third floor contains rooms with beautiful antique furniture strangely hidden away. Certain revelations lead to the conclusion that there is a secret passage somewhere in the house. But where is it?

The grounds surrounding the house have their share of intrigue as well. There is a hidden cemetery with gravestones of Gillespie family members dating back to the 1800s. All of them have the same year of death inscribed into the stone, which alludes to the fact that some kind of horrible tragedy was responsible for these deaths.  Fast forwarding to current times, Elle discovers that deadly misfortune has also plagued the surviving members of the Gillespie clan – poor Mr. And Mrs. Gillespie have recently suffered through a sad set of circumstances.

As I made my way through this creepy and enjoyable journey that is the book, I was reminded of the thrills I experience when I play graphic adventure video games. These games are usually non-linear and there are plenty of puzzles to be solved along the way. (See MystShivers, and Amnesia: The Dark Descent . The last two are Haunted House themed games.)

For those not into gaming, I hope that I have not cheapened The Haunting of Gillespie House by making this comparison. But for me, the association is appropriate because both platforms inspire suspense as I travel though the various mediums anxiously wondering, “what is behind door # 6?”

The Haunting of Gillespie House – the tone is inviting, the descriptions are colorful, and the writing is superb.  Do I have any complaints?  Minor ones, mostly concerning the length of the story.  This is a long novella.  I wanted more – I wanted a novel.  The ending is somewhat abrupt.  I felt there were seeds to more story planted here and there. With just a little more nurturing they could have developed into something great.  However, it turns out that The Haunting of Gillespie House had already outgrown its original intent. Darcy Coates states in her after word that this tale was supposed to be a short story.  It ended up being much too long to fit within the boundaries of the short story format as unintended themes manifested and grew. This happens quite often when writing a story.  So she had to let the story grow into its preferred outcome. I think there could have been more, but who am I?

As a bonus, Coates includes a short story entitled The Crawlspace for readers that purchase her ebook. This story is what was left behind when The Haunting of Gillespie House grew to big for its bridges. When I say, “left behind”, I do not mean to imply that this story is a collection of discarded material. Rather, it is the youngling that The Haunting of Gillespie House was destined to spawn from. Keep in mind though, that it is a different story altogether.   It’s a good story too.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. This well-written piece is a page-turner.  While The Haunting of Gillespie House does put readers in a somewhat uncomfortable state of wanting more, it also leaves behind a desire to explore more works from Darcy Coates.

 

A Review of Night Things

nightthingsWhat a noble effort! A publishing company dedicated to reviving rare and out of print books. I am referring to Valancourt Books. Some of their specialties include gothic and horror literature. Take these two genres, get them drunk and throw them in a room together. What will spring off from this mating? Haunted House novels! There are plenty of such novels available for purchase at their website. The subjects of some of my previous reviews are books re-released by Valancourt Books. They include Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco and The Elementals by Michael McDowell. Of course I read an original copy of The Elementals and the publisher listed was Avon Books:  A Division of The Hearst Corporation,  but still, it is available today at Valancourt Books.

I loved both Burnt Offerings and The Elementals. I’m sorry to say that I can’t share this love for the novel that is up for review in this blog entry, another title rereleased by Valancourt Books. I’m loving me some Valancourt Books, but I’m not feeling it for Night Things by Michael Talbot, originally released in 1985.

To be fair I liked the first half of the book. It’s the second half that ruins it for me. I felt as if one writer began the story then threw down the pen and went off to go sailing. Then it seemed a second wannabe writer was snooping around the first writer’s study and came across the half-completed manuscript and then decided to finish it. This seems so at least from the perspective of the plot. The writing style is consistent.

Night Things has a promising beginning. It includes a backstory of a woman shrouded in mystery, who, as a young girl, has been plagued with haunting visions. As an adult, she had fortified herself in a custom designed house. Its interior is like that of a labyrinth with connecting rooms and long corridors, all built utilizing uncanny geometry. Some reviewers have compared this house to the houses of The Haunting of Hill House and House of Leaves.  But I cannot indulge in this comparison since Night Things is inferior to both of these novels.

Many years later, a newly formed family of three is set to stay in the house for the summer. Relationships are strained. Lauren’s new husband Stephen does not take to ten-year-old son (approx. age) Garret, nor he to him, and this tension sets forth some interesting character dynamics. Late in the night a ghostly phantom begins to visit Garret in his bedroom. Shit is getting good! All the ingredients for a good haunted house novel are in place.

But then…

Stephen takes a long absence from the story and this absence creates a conspicuous void in the pre-established story. Myth and spiritualism and “the explanations of it all” are awkwardly dumped into the story by passerby characters. The “Night Things” lose their mystery. One such “thing” has the hackneyed title of “The Master”. He leads around pathetic man in the likes of Dracula’s Renfield or Frankenstein’s Ygor.   The Epilogue doesn’t seem to fit with the ending developments.

I wish I could have enjoyed this book more, not only for the sake of Valancourt Books but for the author as well. Michael Talbot died of Leukemia in 1992 at the young age of 1992. NightThingsTalbotHow sad. It should be noted that his accomplishments in writing come not from his fiction pieces such as Night Things, but from his works of non-fiction. He was a writer in the fields of science and new age. He wrote several pieces for Omni  and Village Voice.  Perhaps his most noteworthy work is The Holographic Universe, which is free online:

 

https://archive.org/stream/HolographicModelOfTheUniverse/holouni#page/n3/mode/2up

Here’s an excerpt:

“. . . there is evidence to suggest that our world and everything in it. . . are also only ghostly images, projections from a level of reality so beyond our own it is literally beyond both space and time”

 

In Olav Hammer’s “Claiming Knowledge: Strategies of Epistemology of From Theosophy to the New Age,” Hammer states that Talbot postulates that “Consciousness affects material reality.”

I have read similar theories. Whereas I do not subscribe wholeheartedly to these theories, I find them fascinating. Perhaps I will explore Talbot’s work in these matters and leave his fiction behind. Night Things notwithstanding, it seems that Talbot was an interesting and highly intelligent person.