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

Warning: Spoilers abound in this article.

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

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

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

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


Plot Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Making Sense Of Trelkovsky’s MetamorphosisUnraveling the Bandaged Figure

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kafkaesque

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

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

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

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


Similar to The Shining?

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

Some quotes from the article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Roman Polanski – His Intriguing, Tragic and Controversial Life

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

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

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


“Wrapping” it all Up

TheTenant6

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

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

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

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

Repulsion4

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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


PLOT SUMMARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A REVIEW OF MY REVIEW

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

THE BOOK VS. THE MOVIE

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

1) The Death of the Private Eye

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Monsignor Franchino and the Protection of the Conspiracy

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

 4) Real Estate Transactions

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

*****

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

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

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

THE “REAL” SENTINEL BUILDING

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

SentinelApartment

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


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

Thorne and Cross -Haunted Nights Live with Jeffrey Konvitz

Tune in at 7:00pm Central Time!

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Me: OH SHUT UP! )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or..is it?

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

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

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

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

rosemarysbabyDream

 

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

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

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

An article by Jessica Jewett provides the details:

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of The Grip of It – A Novel

Jac-Jemc-In-the-Grip-of-It-Crop

Let me begin with a disclaimer. I am a Chicago guy.  The author of the book that is up for review – The Grip of It – A Novel,  resides in Chicago. Therefore I am already in love!  All the authors of my other favorite haunted house novels live elsewhere – Maine, California, England, etc. Many are long dead, hopefully living in some heavenly realm.

Author  Jac Jemc received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (See http://www.jacjemc.com/about/). She frequently attends/conducts writing conferences and seminars throughout the Chicago area. A colleague told me she used to work at “Such and Such” indie book store over there in..not only did I forget the name of the store, but I forgot the neighborhood as well. For what it’s worth, he did point north east! Is she a transplant or native born? I don’t know, but I get the feeling that “native born” is just too much to ask for.

Kidding aside, all that Chicago stuff is not why I appreciate her work. I admire her creative approach to the haunted house story; her feat at widening its field into areas previously unexplored. I admire her for avoiding clichés and experimenting with the new.  I admire her ability to tap into the elements of psychological horror in ways that have never been done before.

Quite often, the physical structure in a haunted house story represents something else within the parameters of the narrative. It could be something as large as a kingdom (The Castle of Otranto ) or a familial lineage (The Fall of The House of Usher). Or it might represent the inner workings of a tormented mind (Maynard’s House). On other occasions, it stands for something far more complicated and abstract (House of Leaves). This last example best exemplifies The Grip of It. The house in the story represents a struggling marriage, the complications that come with starting a new life, and the fissures of silence that tear at the foundation upon which a life if built.

As is made clear in the preceding paragraph, The Grip of It is filled with a whole lot of S & M.  No, no, not Sado-Masochism. I mean “s”ymbols and “m”etaphors – Hidden rooms, scratching noises, spreading stains, buried bodies; don’t they just sound darling?  Gotta love the S &M!

James and Julie move away from the city to a new house in a new town. That’s right kids (the couple in the book are much younger than I am so I can call them that), run from your problems! They will never rematerialize in a new home in a new environment, will they? Oh yes they will, in a very haunting way.  Jemc sees to that. As their mistrust of each other increases, so do the uncanny happenings in and around their house.  Does one set of problems beget the other?  Does A affect B, only to have B  affect A? Or are A and B one in the same?

The book is beautifully written. A reader flows through  the pages with a sense of rhythm, never to be deterred by the overall brilliance of the structure. With one exception. The book alters perspective: one chapter is from James’s point of view and the next is from Julie’s.  In either case, the writing is always in the first person.  But sometimes, James will get two chapters in a row. And so will Julie. A reader must ask “Who is this ‘I’ that I am encountering this time around?”  Before embarking on a chapter, I needed to scout the terrain of upcoming words and seek out the third-person spouse in order for me to know whose head I currently occupied. Ah! Up ahead the “I” is wondering where James went. Therefore, I am reading from Julie’s perspective.  I got tired of doing this after awhile.

The Grip of It might fit into the classification known as postmodernism. I say that and yet I only have a hunch as to what defines that movement.  Ah but it seems so right! And, I think that “not having a grasp” of a definition is exactly what postmodernism is all about.  Certainly James and Julie are at a loss of an explanation.  They struggle over “The Grip of it”

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Sisters – A Review

This post is brought to you today by the letters “J”, “K” and the number 2.  No, you have not found your way to Sesame Street. You are indeed inside the den of haunted house fiction, which to the best of my knowledge is not located on this Muppet-infested street, so you can put away your Elmo flags now. Horror continues to be the agenda. Only now, we add hyphenated prefixes to the word “horror” along with the two letters that sponsor today’s post. Ta-da! This alchemy gives us the words “J-Horror” and “K-horror” or, in other terms, Japanese Horror and Korean Horror.

Today we will touch upon both J and K Horror films, not to be defined as horror films from the mentioned countries, but as genres in and of themselves. Now, what about the number 2? This sad and creepy tale that is up for review features “two” unfortunate sisters that are victims of tragedy and misfortune.  Hence, the title of this Korean film is A Tale of Two Sisters.

In preparation for this article, I “Googled” and “Yahooed” the words “Asian horror.” Yahoo took the liberty of providing several links that had the words “Japanese Horror” in the title. Google kept the search confined to my key words only.  On Wikipedia, under the category “Asian Horror”, Japanese and Korean Film are singled out from other Asian horror-film producing countries.

Asian horror films are horror, thriller and suspense films made in Asian countries, including Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, that generally follow the conventions of J-Horror (Japan) and K-Horror (Korea).

What are these conventions that the above quote references?   Again according to Wikipedia, J-Horror   “tends to focus on psychological horror and tension building (suspense), particularly involving ghosts (yūrei) and poltergeists, while many contain themes of folk religion such as: possession, exorcism, shamanism, precognition, and yōkai.”

Take all the stuff above and throw a house into the mix, and the results will yield stories that are perfect subject for this blog. So far I have reviewed two J-Horror films –  Ju-On: The Curse  and Ju-On: The Curse 2 .  I enjoyed them both and I promise to get to The Grudge soon.  After all, it made my Top 50 Horror movie list. as did Ringu, which will not be reviewed since it doesn’t feature a haunted house (Alas!)

Suffice it to say, I am a fan of J-Horror and its ghostly tales of suspense that play heavily upon the emotional states of the characters. What of K-Horror?   It is similar to J-Horror:

According to wikipedia:

Many of the Korean horror films tend to focus on the suffering and the anguish of characters rather than focus on the explicit “blood and guts” aspect of horror. Korean horror features many of the same motifs, themes, and imagery as Japanese horror

The article goes on to state the popularity of the female ghost in Korean horror films.

A Tale of Two Sisters has all the aforementioned qualifications from the preceding quote. It also has the female ghost. The story takes place in a house occupied by a dysfunctional family…and perhaps…a few other entities.  Therefore it is a haunted house story and its style is very much to my tastes.  That said, let’s delve into it, shall we?

This is a creepy film; ghosts creep around corners, creep out of cabinets, creep up to its a-tale-of-two-sisters-postervictims as they lie in bed at night.  What is the opposite of “creep?”  Perhaps “jump”, as in “jump-scares”.  I prefer the creeping ghost to the ghouls that suddenly jump-out and go “boo!”  Also, I like a camera that doesn’t rush. I like when it that takes its time treading corridors, thereby capturing many shapes and shadows along the way.  The camera work in this film accomplishes this to the tee!

The story is as follows: Teenaged Su-mi is released from a mental hospital to the care of her father in his countryside home, which was also her childhood home. A tragedy took place in this house years before; a tragedy that psychologically damaged Su-mi and necessitated her stay in the institution.  But she is home now, reunited with her younger sister Su-yeon, whom she cherishes, and her step mother Eun-jo, whom she despises.  Soon after the reunions, the hauntings begin.  Su-mi and Eun-jo bear the brunt of the hauntings; the father never seems to realize that there is anything “supernaturally amiss”. Meanwhile, the hostilities between Eun-jo and Su-mi grow while Eun-jo often acts cruelly and abusive toward poor Su-yeon.

So what’s going on here? A whole lot of “projection”, that’s what. This is a term I have used in other reviews. Basically, it’s when the mind of one of the characters is haunted (by saddness, repressed memories, etc,) and through the eyes of the character, acting like a film projector, the haunting is unleashed onto the house, which acts like the screen. Are the ghosts real or are they only figments of a tortured mind?  This mystery plays out through the film.  In fact it gets so complex that viewers are prone to get confused as to what is real and what isn’t.  This is one of the drawbacks of the film – it has too many twists for its own good.  It’s like opening a gift box, only to find yet a smaller box, which holds yet a smaller box, and finally the contents are revealed: there is a note which states that you’ve been opening the wrong gift all along!  The movie has riddles wrapped in enigmas that are showered in mysteries.  Trying to figure out what is going on disrupts the creepy flow of this film.

Here’s a hint: If there is a group of characters in any given scene, pay attention to which characters are silent; to which characters are not on the receiving end of a conversation. Likewise, are there any character combinations that are kept to a minimum? If so, why is that?

The film has all the stuff of psychology. It has memories that won’t die, memories that are continuously trying to be locked away but to no avail. The film is about disassociation. It is about guilt. It is about love and longing and bitterness and hate. It is about confronting reality…or running the hell away from it.

If after watching the film you find yourself confused, I recommend reading the plot summary at Wikipedia’s “A Tale of Two Sisters” article. It reveals all. There is one major twist that I did not get. Upon reading the revelation, I can understand how it plays out, but I don’t like it so much. I think it would have been better if the film had only the twist that I did understand better, for reasons that I can’t reveal.

Despite it’s burdensome complexity, this is an effectively chilling film. And who knows more about chilling things then our old friend The Count!  Hey Count, laugh if you love this review!

 

 

Review of Cabin in the Woods – 5th Post in my Haunted Cabin Series

Cabin-in-the-Woods-images

Hello Readers! Ready to get “cabinated” once again? But of course you are! After all, you have arrived at this post on your own accord!  Today for your reading pleasure, I have my review of Cabin in the Woods, a horror-spoof by writer turned director Drew Goddard. Goddard was a staff writer for numerous television shows including Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias, Angel and Lost. And….I have not seen a whole episode of any of these shows. Not even “Buffy,” although I have seen parts of one or two episodes. Hmm, maybe I can turn to the film “Cloverfield” to understand Goddard’s  pre-Cabin in the Woods influences.  He did write that script as well. But…nope! Didn’t see that film either.  Alas, I can only base my opinion of this guy’s work on this film alone.  But he’ll be happy to know that I enjoyed his film thoroughly.  As director and co-writer (written with Joss Whedon), Goddard shines brilliantly.

So, how should I categorize this “haunted cabin” story? Answer: I cannot.

How best should I analyze this film according to the various themes that I have extracted from a collection of haunted cabin stories (See my original article: Beyond the House – An Examination of Hauntings Within Alternate Structures – Part 1 – Cabins.)  Answer: Not very well.

In both of the two preceding questions, I lump Cabin in the Woods into a category I call “Haunted Cabins.” Is this a “Haunted Cabin” film?  Answer: Probably not.

Cabin in the Woods is a film that regurgitates common themes and tropes in order to mock basic horror formulas. And it does so in such an effective, creative and hilarious way. Whereas some of the themes from my article bear out in this film, they do so ever so consciously with tongue-in-cheek purpose.  Five teens spend a horrifying weekend at a cabin in the woods, so the “isolation” theme from my article qualifies. How about my “Outposts on the Edge of The Unknown” theme?  Does the cabin in this story serve its occupants as a temporary and fragile refuge against all the horror that exists in the woods, only to give in to the encroaching terror by the film’s end? Not really.  For the cabin and its surrounding woods, and the tunneling road that leads to its domain; all of this is, in effect, is a controlled environment; a laboratory that manufactures all things “fear.” Evil Dead, meet The Hunger Games!

The college-aged kids out there in that cabin are being watched and manipulated by an underground organization. By “underground”, I mean “secretive, etc.” Also I mean under the ground, under the grass and soil, underneath the grounds where the horror plays out. In this hidden den beneath the earth, there are men in suits and ties and women in business dress. There are computers and giant viewing screens. And there is a menagerie of creatures familiar to horror films – Ghosts, scary clowns, flying abominations,  Cabin in the woods collection of spookswerewolves, zombies, vampires, etc. When the kids find a book and read a passage that will raise the dead; the men and women of this organization open a hatch that releases zombies into the woodsy environment, although they could have chosen any of the ghoulish, walking tropes. But the zombies matched the predicament the kids put themselves in. It’s sort of a “choose your own adventure” scenario, although the kids don’t realize that they are part of a twisted game. They are the sacrificial lambs! (Watch the film for an understanding of how this plays out.)

Throughout the movie, the people of this organization watch these kids from concealed video cameras and listen to their conversations via hidden microphones. They inject gases into their environment which, when ingested, alter their behavior. They pump in pheromones that turn some of these kids into sex-crazed maniacs (Hey! Many horror films have sex-crazed kids!) They release “mind-numbing” gases causing the kids to make dumb decisions, such as splitting up when things are getting very nasty. (Hey! Kids in horror films are always getting separated!)

See what’s happening here? This organization is creating a horror movie by trotting out the tropes. They even destroy the mountain-road tunnel that leads outside the parameters of the controlled environment; thereby ensuring that one of my discovered themes plays out – the “isolation theme” (Thank you Goddard et. al for helping me save face!)

All in all, this is a highly creative platform for spoofing horror films. And five years ago, I didn’t think so. Back then when I first saw this film, I thought “I get it, but ‘meh!’”  I guess I didn’t get it after all. I knew it was a spoof film, but I thought it over-complicated and not funny.  I’m glad I often revisit films before writing up reviews. Had I not watched it again, this review would be entirely different. It’s not supposed to be “laugh- out-loud” hilarious, although I did just that during one scene. It’s tongue-in-cheek humor.

Now is this a haunted house (cabin) film? For certain, it does not meet my first standard – “house as an entity” – as specified in my article Social Theory and Haunted Houses.  What about my second standard – “House as a neutral platform that enables ghosts to show off their antics.” If I had to pick from the two, it would be this second criterion.  But it’s not a platform for ghosts. Instead it’s an arena for the “puppeteers” that control the environment, which includes not only the cabin but the woods and roads as well.  The puppeteers are the Roman nobel class and the kids are the gladiators. They are the “folks from the Capitol” and the kids are the contestants of The Hunger Games. With such examples, I bet you’re having a difficult time comparing this movie to a haunted house film! I hear ya. Oh well. It does, however, fit well in my series about cabins. At least “sort of” well?

Anyway, I have one more cabin piece for ya! Stay tuned for an account where real authors spend time in a “real” haunted cabin. Until next time stay “cabinated!”


 

* images from rashmanly.com , 2014afo.wordpress.com, and alchetron.com

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Evil Dead 2 – Dead By Dawn – 4th Post in my Haunted Cabin Series

evil-dead_-2Let’s begin with a spoiler!

(Spoiler Police: ”How Dare you!”)

Remember that guy Ash, played by Bruce Campbell, the buddy of director Sam Raimi? I mentioned him a bit in my last review of The Evil Dead . He’s the main character and sole survivor of the first film. Or..is he a survivor ?

(Spoiler Police: “Hold on, big boy! You just stop right there. Leave it as the mystery that it is!”)

When viewers last saw Ash, it looked as if he was about to get swallowed by a demon. Check this out:

(Spoiler Police: “You’re going too far – posting that scene. No more now, ya hear me?)

Well guess what? Ash lives! He lives I tell you! He lives to be the central character of The Evil Dead 2 – Dead By Dawn (Henceforth referred to simply as Evil Dead 2)

(Spoiler Police: You..you..you’ve gone too far! I’m gonna get you for this! I’ll…..)

Excuse me readers, there’s come kind of bug in my ear and as crazy as it sounds, I think it’s talking to me or something. Let me get a Q-tip and swirl it around in the ol’canal….Ah! Much better! As I was saying, Ash lives and I is a spoiler! (Hmm..the ghost of that bug is trying to tell me something. I’ll ignore it).But I’m going to redeem myself by clearing up some confusion that is associated with The Evil Dead 2. I shall bring in someone who will answer this troublesome question, “Is Evil Dead 2 a sequel or a remake?”

Let me being with a little story that gets to the heart of this confusion. It’s a story about Andy, Joe, Al and Dan (That Dan is me!) One day in 1990 something, Andy and I were watching both of the Evil Dead movies. We did it in reverse; we began with part 2 then went on to part 1. Along comes Joe midway through the first Evil Dead movie. He boldly avers, “Evil Dead 2 picks up right where this movie leaves off.” Now Andy and I just sat through Evil Dead 2, Joe did not. Andy and I said to Joe, “No, you are wrong!” Toward the end on the movie, along comes Al, walking in just as the final scene is playing; the scene I posted above. He too declares, “Evil Dead 2 picks up right after this.” Joe jumps in, “That’s what I said, but these guys say ‘no’.” Al goes on, “Yup, in Evil Dead 2, they show Ash getting picked up by the demon and thrown into a tree.” Once again Andy and I said, “No you are wrong!”

Who was right? In a way, all of us were correct.

At DenofGeek.com  Bruce Campbell answers the question, “Is Evil Dead 2 a sequel or a remake?” He says:

It’s a “Requel”!

Told you I’d bring in someone to answer the question!

Sam Raimi’s original intent was to pick up right where The Evil Dead left off – after showing several minutes of footage from the original movie in order to recap the story. Oh but alas, they did not own the rights to their own film! So they couldn’t replay scenes from the original movie. So instead they started fresh. Ash (played by Bruce Campbell) takes his girlfriend to the cabin in the woods for a romantic getaway. While there, he stumbles upon the book of the dead and the tape recorder. He plays the tape, which features the professor’s voice reading the incantation that awakens the demons. The demons arrive and possess his girlfriend and eventually grab a hold of Ash and spin him around like he’s a windmill, and then smash him against a tree. He falls down the trunk into a large puddle of mud. This is how Joe and Al remembered the beginning of The Evil Dead 2. They had forgotten about the new setup up with the girlfriend.

See, Sam Raimi and the boys had to shop for new financers and distributors for the sequel (The former distributors retained the rights for The Evil Dead.) In between the two Evil Dead movies, Raimi worked on other projects with limited success. So they thought, “Why not go back to the movie that made us successful?” Once again American distributors turned them down. It was the Italian company Dino De Laurentiis Entertainment Group that would finance the film. This time they received three and a half to four million dollars. Whooopie! What could they do with all that money? They were able to hire professional actors for on thing. They were also able to shoot scenes in other geographical areas besides the cabin in the woods. This time around, there are scenes of the professor and his wife finding the book of the dead in a cave. There are scenes at a small airport. There’s a short intro at the beginning of the movie that explains the content of the book of the dead. There are even scenes with an army of knights on horses! Oh boy!

But don’t worry, most of the scenes still take place at the cabin. Money did not spoil the making of this film. It doesn’t lose the simple “charm” of the original. In fact, some say this “requel” is an improvement. I say it’s definitely funnier and campier. The effects are deliciously cheesy and the movie as a whole is pretty damn creepy. And it gets to the action quicker than the first film. And when its time for some serious acting and the going gets tough, the tough emerge – from the clique of professional actors? No! From the film crew of buddies. I refer to Ted Raimi, Sam’s brother. Playing the “Deadite” Henrietta, he had to be in a heavy bodysuit for three days! That’s dedication.

As for me, I go back and forth on which film I prefer. For years I thought The Evil Dead 2 was the champion of the two. But when I made my Top 50 Horror Films  The Evil Dead 1 came in ahead of The Evil Dead 2. How can that be? Right now I’m back to thinking the second is superior. Oh what a fickle guy I am!

In my review of The Evil Dead , I bring forth the issue of whether or not the movie can be considered a haunted house film. If The Evil Dead isn’t a haunted house (and I say it is), The Evil Dead 2 surely qualifies. It has self-playing pianos, a rocking chair that rocks on its own accord. Inanimate objects come to life. And there is a creepy zombie witch in the cellar. Oh boy is this place haunted!

The Evil Dead 2 succeeds in flair as well as fright; subtle creepiness with flamboyant funnies – often back to back! It’s quite the piece that can succeed on all these fronts.  There is the soft haunting melody on the piano (no one is at the keys!) to which an animated dead girl dances to, all while losing her head multiple times!  There is a creepy, squealing hand that scurries about the cabin like a giant spider! This scene is followed by a slow creaking rocking chair moving all by itself. The dead zombie girl can be likened to an animated doll; a doll similar to something that might appear in an opening sequence on American Horror Story. And the hand – that’s Ash’s hand! He loses it while fighting the evil. The audience hears a crunching sound when the hand is tortured.  Viewers hear Ash shout in pain and his howl sounds much like Moe from The Three Stooges.  The influence of The Three Stooges can be seen here – very much so.

While watching Bruce Campbell act his way through these scenes, I can only think, “If Evil Dead 2only Jim Carey could be as good!” As a man of physical comedy, I believe that Campbell can do a better Jim Carey than Jim himself! And how strange, while I compare him to Jim Carey or Moe Howard, he’s also been compared to Rambo, believe it or not. My brother-in-law once said, “What that guy in The Evil Dead 2 goes through makes Rambo’s experiences seem like nothing.” I don’t know that I’d go that far, but he sure goes through a lot of shit. He loses his girlfriend, loses his hand, gets tossed around like a tackle dummy. And that’s only the beginning of his torture!

Let us now refer back to my article Beyond the House – An Examination of Hauntings Within Alternate Structures – Part 1 – Cabins  

where I describe four themes that are often prevalent in haunted cabin stories. The fourth theme I describe as “Solitary Confinement.” By this I mean:

The cabin sometimes becomes the mirror-for-the-disturbed-mind for the sole cabin dweller. Quite often, this solitary character, when confined to a cabin and cut off from civilization, will develop a psychosis that is caused by a lack of human contact

For quite some time in this film, Ash is all alone. His sanity is tested. Whereas the book Maynard’s House is the best example of this theme playing out, it works here as well. At one point Ash looks into a mirror and tries to console himself. He’s checking on his sanity. What happens is both frightening and funny!

The first theme I bring up I call “Outposts at the Edge of the Unknown.” Cabins are the outposts and it’s actually the woods that are the greater threat. But sooner or later, the danger, the savagery of the woods – its makes its way to the cabin. In both movies, the haunt begins outside the cabin in woods. Evil arises in the woods and then comes to cabin. At one point in the film, Ash is describing what is happening to some newcomers that stumble into the cabin. “It lives in the woods,” he says. Later when a woman flees the cabin and her boyfriend wants to go after her, Ash says, “If she ran out in those woods you can forget it!” In other words, the woods are worse than cabin. At the very end – savagery comes to cabin. The trees attack! They move across the ground and surround the cabin.


 

This will wrap up my reviews of the Evil Dead movies. As previously mentioned, I will not be reviewing The Army of Darkness, Evil Dead 2013 or Ash Vs The Evil Dead. I do, however, have more haunted cabin stories in the pipeline And these stories, one film and one book, might not conform to the themes I have laid out.

How dare they go against me! How dare they!

 


Images courtesy of waxworksrecords.com, Thatwasabitmental.com and skullsproject.wordpress.com

 

The Evil Dead – Third Posting in My Haunted Cabin Series

For a long time, I’ve wanted to write an article on The Evil Dead movies. After all, they’ve been favorites of mine since high school. I’ve seen them several times over the years, including those days in October of 2016 that preceded the construction of my Top 50 horror film list.  Both The Evil Dead 1 and 2 made the top 10. Then I watched the movies again a few weeks ago in preparation for this article.

Whenever I had thought about penning this piece, the timing never seemed right. I always felt ill prepared, that even though I had seen these films several times, I was missing something. I needed to take the time to research the films and learn the story of their making. In addition, there was that nagging hesitancy brought on by the opinion that these films are “not truly haunted house films.” First of all, there is no “house”. Only a cabin. Second, there are no ghosts or other mysterious entities from the past that linger. Only some nasty, ageless demons. Thirdly, as a colleague of mine pointed out, “It’s not the house (cabin) that conjures the evil, it’s a book that does that.”

For those that don’t know, The Evil Dead is a low budget film about five teenagers that shack up in a cabin in the woods. On the premises they discover “the book of the dead”. “Bound in human flesh and inked in human blood,” the book of the dead is an ancient manuscript describing Sumerian burial practices and funerary incantations. A tape recorder accompanies this book. On a tape, the voice of a professor explains that he and his wife had taken refuge in the cabin to study their precious historical find! The professor recites passages that will summons demons. The teens play the tape, the foreboding incantation speaks to both the world and underworld, and the demons come. Not all at once mind you! They sneak up on the cabin dwelling teens and attack them one by one, possessing their bodies and claiming their souls! The demons tease their prey in Evil Deada similar way that a cat plays with his mouse before going in for the kill. This “play” contributes to an uncanny, chilling atmosphere that also is part camp and comedy. But don’t worry, eventually “all hell will break loose!” (See what I did there?)

To address my initial hesitancies about writing this piece, I took my time planning out this article, researching when necessary. I discovered that learning about the making of this film enhances the viewing experience. I will share with you my findings. In regards to the dilemma about whether or not The Evil Dead is appropriate for my blog, being that it may or may not be a haunted house film, I argue that this film is very much at home here. Your honor, I bring forth my testimony!

While I love the concept of a house acting as “the-haunter-in-chief”, possessing some kind of supernatural power that conjures up ghosts, not all haunted houses have to be this way. In my article Applying Social Theory to Themes in Haunted House Stories, I argue that sometimes a house is merely a backdrop upon which ghosts perform their ethereal shenanigans. It is hauntingly neutral until the ghosts show up. The cabin in The Evil Dead surely qualifies as such a backdrop. True, the cabin does not harbor ghosts or serve as a magnet for entities from the past. Or does it? At the beginning of the movie, before any demonic incantations take place, a two-seat porch swing bangs against the cabin on its own accord. The trap door that leads to the cellar opens all by itself. This leads me to believe that the cabin is indeed haunted, not by ghosts of the past, but by traces of the last demonic episode that occurred on the premises before the events in the film, possibly with the professor and his wife. Their spiritual presence has remained in the cabin, but these demons need that incantation in order to make a more startling appearance.

Finally, Your Honor, even though it is a cabin that is central to this story and my Blog deals with haunted houses, I am currently running a special series about haunted cabins. You can read all the details at my article: Beyond the House: An Examination of Hauntings Within Alternate Structures. Part 1 – Cabins.

For this series, The Evil Dead series is not only welcome, but its omission would be blasphemy!

I rest my case, your Honor.

With all that out of the way, let’s proceed further into the inner workings of this great film.


When I was between the ages of 18-22, college age, I had friends that dreamed of being rock stars – making it “big” with the music of their own creation. I would have joined them in this dream, except for the fact I was a mediocre keyboard player at best with a poor sense of musical timing. But I had friends that were good guitar and bass players, drummers, etc. They would get together now and then with their instruments and see what they could accomplish. What I’m describing is nothing new. College age kids forming bands – I think it’s been done before.

EvilDeadBruceSamDoneThe creative team behind The Evil Dead were just a bunch of kids; friends who had cameras and costumes – friends that made films on the weekends in pursuit of a hobby. According to the documentary of The Evil Dead director Sam Raimi on The Incredibly Strange Film Show, – Raimi and starring actor Bruce Campbell were high school buddies from Michigan. Co-star Ellen Sandweiss was a friend of theirs from high school as well. Producers and assistants Rob Tabert, Josh Becker and David Goodman were part of this clique as well. Like the college age kids that join a band to rock, these guys banded together to make short films.

According to Evil Dead: The Untold Saga, Sam Raimi, using a student discount, would rent an auditorium at his college and charge students to watch the films. he made in high school. Eventually this gang of friends took a big step forward. They would drop out of school and devote all their time to making a feature length film. This film would be The Evil Dead.

Sam Raimi was not an aficionado of horror films. Comedy was more of his style. But according to consequenceofsound.net , they wanted to make a film to market to the audiences of drive-in theaters. Horror was a popular genre at the drive-ins of the 1970s and early 80s. Many times a drive-in would feature a triple feature of horror. Raimi noticed that many of these films were quite awful. He thought, “I can at least make a film that’s better than these!”

One of his complaints had to do with the uneven pace of these films. They began slowly, slowly and then something exciting would happen. Then it was back to the slow..slow and finally more good stuff He thought, “Why not eliminate make a film that has no slow parts.” And that’s what he did, effectively so. More on this later.

So, was it time to make Evil Dead? Close but not quite. First these kids needed some money. So they put together a short film that they would show to prospective investors. This short thirty-minute film, Within the Woods, was just a sample of something that would be much better, if only they had the proper financing. But it would give the potential investors a sense of the their style and story. This intro film has the same camera style as The Evil Dead (a great style it is!) and features a similar cabin in the woods/demons storyline.

Here is a copy of the film. It is poor in quality, but it provides an interesting glimpse into the evolution of the film’s story:

 

In the end they received three hundred thousand or more from local businessman. It was time to make a movie!

The film crew of college buddies, along with hired actors/actresses from local theater groups went out to a cabin in the woods of Tennessee to make the film. Amateurs with a low budget. Unprepared for nature’s harsh temperatures.

From ign.com:

“Yes, I was very young. There was no running water, and it was in the 20s and 30s — we didn’t have any winter wear. It was freezing. When you’re in that cold for 16 hours, you start to — I started to die. There was no food, and everything was covered in Karo syrup in that temperature. So I’d be running the camera, but my hands were covered in Karo syrup. You’d lean against something and get it all over your hands. The only water we had was in a hot water heater so you could make instant coffee. Boiling water over your hands from the tap; that’s how you’d wash them, to load the film into the camera” – Sam Raimi.

(By the way, the Karo syrup was used to imitate blood.)

The film ran weeks over schedule. The actors, having already committed their time, went home. It was up to these film buddies to finish the film. And so they did, using what Raimi termed as Fake Shemps.

According to wikipedia, a ‘Fake Shemp’ “ is someone who appears in a film as a replacement for another actor or person. Their appearance is disguised using methods such as heavy make-up”

Raimi based the term “Fake Shemp” on a Three Stooges dilemma. Shemp, one of the Stooges, passed away before four shorts were to be completed. So the editors spliced in images of Shemp, and had actors stand in for him at certain parts.

For The Evil Dead, it was up to the clique of buddies to fill in as Fake Shemps. There was Fake Shemp Bruce Campbell, Fake Shemp Rob Tabert, Fake Shemp Josh Beckert, Fake Shemp David Goodman (cue in that Romper Room lady – “I see Fake Shemp Billy and Fake Shemp Trudy…)

When the film was finally completed, United States distributors wanted nothing to do with it. According to the The Incredibly Strange Film Show documentary on Sam Raimi, they took the film to Europe where it was screened at the Cannes Film festival in France. After this, they found a British distributor – Palace Pictures. They distributed the film across Europe to frightened and amused audiences. Then with a recommendation from horror great Stephen King, the film found success in the United States and went on to become the gem that it is today.


I hope you enjoyed my summary of the making of The Evil Dead. I feel its inclusion  was necessary in order to fully understand and appreciate the overall style of the film –  even if you have not yet seen it!  It is amateurishly entertaining in the best way possible. It’s a simple story embellished with low budget effects backed up by the kind of energy that only young adults have – impassioned with a hobby, inspired by a dream, ready to take chances and make mistakes, unfettered by rules, all for the love of the project with nothing much to lose in the long run.

Some films just aren’t destined to have great characters and compelling dialogue. Whereas “Ash” played by Bruce Campbell would go down in horror film history as an iconic figure, in this original film, the exchanges between the characters, when they are not possessed by demons, are noticeably staged and forced. But these exchanges are kept to a minimum, which is smart and shows a keen display of foresight. Earlier in this review, I mention that Raimi wanted to minimize the slow scenes. He is true to his conviction.  This film doesn’t try to fake depth. It doesn’t needlessly create all kinds of non-horror drama for its characters. It’s filmed in its entirety in and around the cabin in the woods.

The Evil Dead is known for its signature point-of-view camera style. Audiences “see” with the eyes of the encroaching demons as the elevated camera zooms forward at bizarre angles, often accompanied by a growling kind of noise.

The clip below is worth a thousand words:

Often the camera is a voyeur, looking in the windows of the cabin from the outside and seeing one of the characters across the room. The camera also hides in some interesting places, like behind the clapper of the clock. I for one appreciate the time the camera devotes to capturing certain props such as the clock clapper, especially at the beginning of the film, letting the viewers know that what they see will be important later. This is true for a mirror, for certain weapons – for the book of the dead!

In my article An Examination of Hauntings Within Alternate Structures. Part 1 – Cabins I write about four themes that are often prevalent in stories about haunted cabins. Two of them play out in The Evil Dead. I write about isolation. Cabin dwellers are cut off from civilization. Technology breaks down. While there were no cell phones or Internet in the days of this movie (1981), Ash’s car fails to start at one point. Even after he gets it started, it really doesn’t matter because they soon discover that the bridge they drove in on has fallen apart. They are teens that are shit out of luck, trapped in a forest infested with demons. This brings me to my second point – a second theme. Cabins serve as outposts on dangerous terrain. They are the last refuge of “civilization” for miles and miles. Sooner or later, the savagery that exists in the woods will get to them.

Almost always, the demons in this film manifest out in the woods. Via the camera style as shown in the clip above, they encroach upon the cabin. Or they possess one of the Evil Dead Again characters that just so happens to be out in the woods. Unbeknownst to her, she takes the demon back to cabin as it hides inside her. One by one, the kids give into the savagery. One by one, their bodies “zombify” as they become hosts to the demons.

As for the special effects as they pertain to these “deadites” (humans that become zombified), whether it is the transformation process or the gory slicing and dicing of these creatures, they are quite, well, rudimentary. There is no modern day CGI and the film is better because of it. Somehow these “horror show” creatures that emerge are all the scarier in their primitive garb. At the end of the film there is an interesting scene involving claymation. Old in style but, I dunno, cool to me.

The Evil Dead is somewhat controversial, partially on account of the gore but mostly due to a scene where a tree rapes a woman. Raimi admits that, looking back, the scene was gratuitous. In The Evil Dead 2, there is a scene involving a woman and an animated tree, but the scene is less graphic and licentious.

Speaking of The Evil Dead 2, that will be the next review. At this time, I have no plans to write about the third film of the series – Army of Darkness, or the 2013 remake or the series Ash VS, The Evil Dead. These films I have only seen once and I have no opinion of their contents. In regards to Ash Vs. The Evil Dead, at the time of press, I have not yet seen a single episode. I know, I know – Bad me. But stay tuned for The Evil Dead 2. Same Cabin Time – Same Cabin channel – Thebooksofdaniel.com

Review of Winchester

WinchesterHouseIt is billed as “The most haunted house in America.” The Winchester Mystery House , built in 1883, stands today in San Jose, CA. The intrigue surrounding the Winchester Mystery House has all the ingredients for a uniquely American haunted house story.  It is at the heart of American history.  It is about Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester fortune; a fortune built upon the guns that gave the wild west its character.  With this fortune comes a curse, or so some people say.  Riches built upon instruments of death are magnets for the restless spirits of those that were killed by the Winchester rifles, so sayeth the legends.  And so sayeth the Winchester movie, directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, know collectively as “The Spierig Brothers.”

Both the truth and the myths surrounding Winchester Mystery House present much intrigue for the haunted house enthusiast. Truth – The extremely wealthy widow, Sarah Winchester, was a reclusive eccentric. She is responsible for all her house’s oddities, WinchesterStairsincluding staircases that lead to nowhere, doors that lead to nowhere, and windows that look into other rooms.  (See Cosmopolitan.com). It started as an eight room farmhouse. After years of continuous construction, it is now a monstrosity of “24,000 square feet, four stories and as many as 160 rooms. It had 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 47 chimneys, 40 staircases, three elevators and a grand ballroom complete with an organ.” (Description is from an article found at cdn.americanrifleman.org). Throughout her stay at the house, Sarah Winchester designed and redesigned, built up rooms and tore rooms down. The house was always in construction mode. Why? Here comes the myths. What else was she supposed to do with all those homeless ghosts of the rifle victims that appeared at her doorstep? She had to make room for them! Or, some say, she built this maze-like house to confuse these, keep them lost. (See article at countryliving.com)

The Winchester movie is a fictional story based on fact. I would have it no other way.  The truth has enough components to allow for the imagination to run wild.  Creators of a haunted house film based on the Winchester Mystery house should stretch the truth into strange shapes that are as convoluted as the corridors, as tall as the pointless turrets. There is just so much material to work with, enough to create the best haunted house story ever. Ever I say!

So it pains to say,  The Spierig Brothers (also the screen writers) completely waste what should have been the ideal setup. They commit haunted house malpractice. In exchange for a creative adventure through a house that has been effectively blueprinted and seemingly customized for a chilling haunting, we get cliché’s, jump scares, a bunch of boos and a whole lot of boredom.

The initial premise is promising. Dr. Eric Price (played by Jason Clark), is sent to Winchester House to evaluate the sanity, or lack thereof, of widow Sarah Winchester (played by Helen Mirren). This request is made by the lawyers representing the stakeholders of Winchester Repeating Arms Co, or those that own 49% of the company (with Sarah owning 51%).  If she is judged to be mentally unfit as a shareholder, then maybe the interests of the other parties can benefit by claiming the entire company.

Dr. Price is an abuser of laudanum, an opium-laced medicinal concoction, so when he begins to see strange things at this mansion, it is perhaps due to drug induced hallucinations. After Sarah strips him of his drug, he continues to see ghosts and hear things that go bump in the night. It turns out, he himself was a victim of a Winchester rifle. Obviously he had survived, but that unfortunate encounter with the bullet leaves him prone to seeing the Winchester curse in action. See, those who have not been affected by the Winchester rifles do not see the ghosts.

So far the story is good. But then…yuck.

What’s missing in this story is the interaction between the ghosts and the house. In fact, viewers barely get a feel for the house itself, which should be central to all the scares. True, we get plenty of overhead shots of the enormous abode with all its subsections. We see the construction in process. We see that noteworthy staircase that leads to nowhere; we see several locked and forbidden rooms (the bad ghosts are locked in them.)  But it felt as though all the action plays out in just a few rooms and hallways. Furthermore, the bizarre construction doesn’t contribute a whole lot to the scares. Quite often we are rushed through the scenery of the house. The Spierig Brothers should have studied Stanley Kubrick and paid attention to the many ways he made The Shining’s Overlook hotel come alive! They should have taken in some Robert Wise learned about the haunting atmosphere of Hill House, the house that is the subject of the film The Haunting. In both of these films, the innards of these haunted settings have a way of seeping into the viewers’ consciousness. Not so in Winchester .

There should have been spirits haunting every bizarre corner. Instead, the majority of the story focuses in on the spiritual shenanigans of one vengeful spirit. This spirit possesses a little boy and takes him on sleepwalking escapades.  When this happens, the film becomes any of a number of horror movies, Conjuring 2, Insidious, Poltergeist, The Exorcist. At one point the spirit enters Sarah herself, and when she speaks, two vocal tracks play simultaneously; one of her own voice and the other is a voice of ‘demonesque’ quality, producing that overused eerie sound effect that has been used in Evil Dead 2 and many other films. At one point the spirit yelled in a sort of “shout growl” and I cringed.  In another scene, furniture and anything in the room that is not nailed down soars in the air. Poltergeist activity everyone! Ooooo! So many gimmicks to this film. A movie about a house of the such bizarre designs should not need gimmicks. It should be the house itself that brings forth the chilling entertainment along with a camera that has the patience to take it all in. It should not rely on the same old bag of tricks that gets passed around from horror movie to horror movie.


At this point, I would like to step back from the review of this film and focus in on some of the actual history of Sarah Winchester, The Winchester Mystery House, and The Winchester Repeating Arms Co. Toward the end of this “history lesson”, I will offer some of my ideas for plot devices that might have made the fictional story more interesting. Some of my sources included Cosmopolitan.com, MilitaryFactory.com, winchesterguns.com, and several others. I reference in the appropriate places.

According to Cosmopolitan, Sarah Lockwood Pardee, born in 1840 in Connecticut, would later go on to marry William Wirt Winchester in 1862. William was the son of Oliver Winchester, owner of Winchester Repeating Arms Company. After William’s death in 1881, Sarah received an inheritance worth 20 million dollars. By today’s standards, that equates to roughly $450 million.

In the years following, Sarah continued to earn money from the sales of guns. The Winchester Repeating rifle was an innovative product and therefore commercially successful. According to MilitaryFactory.com ,the Model 1873 became known as the “everyday man” rifle. This is due to its lever-action repeating assembly. In fact, Winchesterguns.com noted that the Model 1873 is referred to as “The gun that won the west”. The expansion of the railroads brought the demand for these rifles to the west. WinchesterBillyTheKidBuffalo Bill once endorsed Winchester rifles. The teenage William H Bonney (a.k.a Billy the Kid) posed with a Winchester rifle in a picture (photo courtesy of Winchesterguns.org). And it was this repeating rifle that brought Custer’s army down; his boys had single shot rifles, the natives were equipped with the repeaters.

A lot of guns sold, a lot of deaths. Could Sarah have felt guilty from profiting off of these deaths? If so, did this guilt in someway contribute to her bizarre building designs? (The Cosmopolitan article describes the house as “objectively nuts.”) Country Living Magazine offers three possible theories . First, the article mentions that Sarah was at her happiest when she and her husband oversaw the construction of their New England home. So, perhaps Sarah was trying to recreate this happiness by embarking upon an endless construction project. Theory #2 suggests that Sarah was simply being generous to contractors, builders and architects. She wanted them to remain employed. I find this theory to be less truthful than the ghost story. I prefer theory #1 but with a darker twist – the constant building and rebuilding was an obsession; perhaps an obsession to ward off metaphorical ghosts. If Sarah wasn’t haunted by the deaths of those that died by the rifle, then perhaps she was haunted by the deaths of not only her husband, but also her daughter who died when she was just one month old. If Death equates to destruction, then maybe continuance = building. Perhaps if she stopped building, she would think only of death. A similar scenario occurs in the movie Reign Over Me. A 9/11 widower (played by Adam Sandler) recalls his last conversion with his wife before she boards one of the doomed aircrafts. They had argued via phone about remodeling their kitchen. Obsessively, he has his kitchen remodeled over and over , as if he is making amends with his wife’s wishes, trying vainly to deal with his guilt by constant rebuilding. Like the fictional 9/11 widower, maybe Sarah just felt the constant need to rebuild.

Theory number 3 is the fun one. It is the theory of the ghosts; ghosts of the victims of the guns. There are just too many of them coming to her in her San Jose house. She needed to build ad-ons. In these rooms the ghosts could flourish, or be confined, or get lost and therefore be less of a nuisance. Since the details of this theory are at best speculative, it is fun to expand the legends, to “ad-on” to it you will. It’s a house that can spawn hundreds of ghost stories. Why not have the stairway that leads to nowhere lead to an entirely different room upon descent? Why not have a large circular room spin like a merry-go-round, so that when its rotation stops, the exit doors lead to very different locations than the original pre-spin exits? Why not have a ghost drag a guest up one of the chimney flues, only to take that guest, mysteriously, to another chimney flue in a different section of the house? The possibilities are endless, but this film by The Spierig Brothers limits them severely. Yes, the movie brings in the architectural oddities, but ineffectively so. What do film goers get with the windows that look into other rooms? Jump scares, what else!

Since the film is unsatisfying, what then can one do with that hunger for Winchester haunts? I suppose a trip to the house might satisfy that hunger. According to USA Today the house is open to tourists. Some people have claimed to see the ghost of a worker pushing a wheel barrow. Others have claimed to have seen the ghost of Sarah Winchester herself. But there is one thing to note: there is no record of Sarah ever claiming that her house was haunted. None. All the stuff of ghosts comes from second or third hand accounts. But if you want to believe in the ghosts, then you will believe in the ghosts. And maybe then you will actually see one at this house. Isn’t that how the expression goes – “believing is seeing?” (okay I guess I got it reversed. But I like my phraseology better!) And maybe, just maybe, you can also believe that this movie is good. If you can do that, then good for you. You have found enjoyment in a place that I could not.

Folks, I leave you with this. It is another account of the “Spirit of the Winchester”