13 Ghosts/1960 Vs. Thir13en Ghosts/2001 – Which Film Wins?

13GhostsSvenInterrogation time! Where were YOU the night of October 27, 2018?  If you had any sense, you would have been snugly wrapped in a blanket on your sofa with your TV tuned to MeTV. That Saturday night in question, Svengoolie, America’s beloved comedic horror movie host, was showing William Castle’s entertaining movie 13 Ghosts.  I’ve brought up Svengoolie several times at this blog. Several of the classic haunted house films I’ve reviewed I first saw on his show, including The Uninvited , The Ghost and Mr. Chicken , Hold that Ghost, and several  more. But of course you know that, since you are a regular visitor of his page, isn’t  that correct, reader? (The interrogation  continues!)

Truth be told, I don’t always have the kind of sense I called for in the preceding  paragraph. I did not tune into Svengoolie on the date in question. I was at a Halloween  party . But us folks in the Chicago area get to watch a rerun of his show the following week on Saturday  morning. It was at this time that I turned on Svengoolie and watched 13 Ghosts. I had  already seen the movie and had written about it (See 13 Ghosts review)but it was worth a revisit. Especially  since I am writing about it once again.

During the show, Svengoolie brought up the 2001 remake  of the movie. He showed  viewers  a promo picture  from the film and invited his audience to check it out, mentioning something  positive  about it, but I can’t remember his exact words. Is this modern incarnation, titled and Thir13en Ghosts (note the unique spelling!) worthy of his praise? I say  “no”, but who am I? And Sven is too nice, in my opinion, to trash anyone’s work.

Here is a synopsis that can be applied to both films. A father/patriarch is having serious trouble making ends meet. In a stroke of timely luck, his long lost Uncle passes away (whoopie! Yay!) and Dad inherits a mansion. He can move his family into the new home. Oh but there is a “catch”, or several “catches” – The dead uncle was a collector of ghosts and these apparitions come with the new  house. He caught them from various  places around the world. Either eleven or twelve  ghosts inhabit the house  depending on the version of the movie (this discrepancy will be explained  later). By and large, these ghosts are invisible, but the dear old dead uncle discovered a way to make these ghosts more sightly. He developed these special glasses that, when worn, allow the mundane living human being to see these scary phantoms.

Now, I have mentioned that the number of ghosts range  from 11-12. So, why are these films called “13 Ghosts/Thir13en Ghosts?”  It is the thirteenth ghost that spawns the mystery of these films.  There is “the prediction” that “there will be” a thirteenth ghost by each film’s end. Whether this prediction comes true varies with each film.

So, what are the differences between the films? On the one hand we have an old fashioned,  kooky  film with an old school Leave it to Beaver type family with a Ward Cleaver type of dad, a housewife mother, and teenage daughter and curious little boy.  On the other, we have a modern  family, with a widower raising his young boy and teenage daughter with the help of a sassy African American babysitter. The ghosts in the original film are cartoon animations superimposed on the screen. The ghosts in the remake  film are actors made over in ghoulish and gore-ridden get ups. The second  film has state of the art production . Not so with the first film. The original  movie was shot in black and white, the modern in color. Finally, the 1960  flick uses that old fashion ghostly groan that grandpa might use to scare his grandchildren (ooooooooooo! Groooooooan) and the 2001  movie shows viewers a lot of state-of-the-art blood and guts.

These are just some of the differences between  the films. Let’s go further and get into the nuts and bolts of plot and style. Once we do so, we will see that these are two very different films.


13 Ghosts (1960)

WARNING: SPOILERS ARE COMING!

As previously mentioned, both movies feature a special  pair of glasses that allow its characters to see the ghosts. But it was the  original  film that gave the movie audience the same opportunity. Back in the day, theater  attendees  were given a “ghost viewer.” It had two lenses, on blue and one red. Periodically, the screen would turn blue. This was an indication that ghosts  were about to appear on the screen. Or were they? See (or not to see), the film begins with a short commentary spoken by Director William Castle.  He speaks to the audience  members  that do not believe  in ghosts and tells them to look  through  the blue lens. When doing so, they would not see any ghosts. However, he instructs those moviegoers who do believe in ghosts to gaze through  the red lens. They would see the ghosts. So basically,  the audience had to look through the red lens to see the ghosts that haunted the house in the film.

Here is the intro to the film:

This whole nifty  ghost-viewing experience  was the main point of this film. It was a kind of audience  participatory art form, and of course, a marketing  gimmick, for which William Castle was the master. The plot takes second place to this. But it’s not such a terrible plot! It’s not all that great either, but….hey! The film has ghosts! Boo! Yay!

Benjamin Rush, the attorney for the late Plato Zorba, the Dead Uncle who bequeathed his estate to his nephew,  takes care of the property transfer and brings  the nephew and his family into their newly inherited home. He warns them about the ghosts but the family doesn’t believe him…until they witness the ghostly activities for themselves. Objects move 13GhostsGhosts on their own accord. Through the special glasses, they see the ghosts. Quite the variety these specters are! There is an Italian chef that likes to toss knives around in the kitchen. There is a ghostly lion that comes equipped with a headless lion tamer. There’s a fiery skeleton and many others.  As to the whys and wherefores regarding Plato Zorba’s collection (just what in the heck did he want to do with these ghosts?), the details are unclear as the movie never fully explains this. But never mind, remember: plot is second to the ghost-viewer gimmick.

The family treats these ghosts as a nuisance, albeit a dangerous annoyance. But what can they do? They have nowhere else to go, so they are forced to put up with Uncle Zorba’s collection of eleven ghosts. Ah, but there is another ghost in the house. It is the spirit of Uncle Zorba himself. It is revealed that ghosts remain on earth when they have unfinished business. Plato Zorba certainly has some loose ends that need tying. For one thing, he didn’t just die, he was murdered! He needs his revenge. The murderer is to be “the 13th Ghost”  He or she will die in this house. Now who could it be?

As it turns out, Dear ol’ dead Uncle Zorba left an enormous amount of cash behind. It is hidden somewhere in the house. The murderer wanted the money. And s/he is still hunting for it. Could the murder be the spooky ol’ witchy maid?  She too comes with the house. 13GhostsGhosts2And she is played by Margaret Hamilton, most famous for her portrayal of The Wicked Witch of the West in The W izard of Oz.  She leads a séance at one point as the family tries to contact the spirit of Uncle Zorba. A prime suspect, don’t you think?  If you think so, you are wrong. It is the lawyer, Benjamin Rush, who is the murderous villain. And he will get what’s coming to him. No, not the money. He will die in the house and become the 13th ghost.

In the end, the family finds the money and they are happy. Uncle Zorba is no longer earthbound, since he has his revenge. From that point on, the house is clean of ghosts. Why the rest of the ghosts pass on is anyone’s guess. Remember: Ghosts before plot. Keep repeating that: Ghosts before plot -Ghosts before plot -Ghosts before plot -Ghosts before plot.


Thir13en Ghosts – 2001

WARNING: SPOILERS ARE COMING!

The ghost hunter, a.k.a the rich uncle, goes by the name of Cyrus Kriticos in this movie, which begins not with the family that is about to inherit his house, but instead kicks off by showing the great extremes to which Cyrus and his team of merry ghost hunters go to in order to capture a ghost. Cyrus is not dead yet, but he will be after the ensuing carnage (Or will he be?).  This carnage take place in a junkyard. This ghost is like a wild animal and he resists the hunt. There are explosions, shouts, zaps, flashing lights, giant walls of cars that come tumbling down. In the end, the ghost is caught. But oh no, Cyrus dies in the aftermath of the hunt. (Or does he?)

Arthur is the down on his luck nephew. Just like in the original film, a lawyer by the name of Ben informs Arthur that his Uncle Cyrus has died and that he has inherited his house and all his wealth. Yay!  Arthur moves his family to the new home, and what a home it is!  It resembles the kind of structure Indiana Jones might encounter – there are chambers and hallways everywhere and they are separated by glass panels that open and close via a machine involving wheels, gears and levers.  Lawyer Ben is there to show them around, to get final papers signed, etc.  Oh yeah, there’s this annoying “Dennis” dude there as well. He is posing as a power company inspector, but he is really an “empath” that is super sensitive to the presence of ghosts (he screams ever so  annoyingly when he encounters them). He used to work for Cyrus and he is there to warn the family of the 12 ghosts that haunt the house.

The ghosts are locked in glass wall prison cells down in the basement. There are phrases written in Latin inscribed on the glass panels which, due to some kind of magic, act as barriers and prevents these ghosts from passing through the glass. Now, remember how I mentioned that in the original film, there were sacks of cash hidden in the house that the lawyer wanted to steal? That was a major plot point that moved the story toward its finality. Well in this movie, the cash is also there and Lawyer Ben wants it just as much as Lawyer Ben in the original film, but this is a mere subplot that gets resolved in the first 30 minutes. Ben wanders to the basement, finds the cash while inadvertently striking some lever or button which releases the ghosts from their prison cells.. He meets a quick end when a sheet of glass slides down from the ceiling and cuts him in half. Bye Ben, your screen time is done.

Meanwhile, the house seals itself off and the occupants are trapped inside. Annoying Dennis explains that “this isn’t a house, it is a machine”. It was designed for a grand ritual that will take place at the movie’s end. The ritual involves a spinning platform, shifting walls and panels, ghosts and so much more – oh my! The family ends up in the basement, and the horrific looking ghosts chase them, fight them, and kill poor Dennis.  And guess what? Uncle Cyrus is there too! No, he’s not a ghost – he never died! He had faked his death for some very nefarious reasons.

Uncle Cyrus wants his nephew to be the 13th Ghost. Now why does he want something like that to happen? Well, it’s all part of a plan. As an occultist, he follows the Black Zodiac. The 12 Ghosts represent each Zodiac sign, which is vastly different from the signs we learned from astrology. Instead of Pisces the fish and Taurus the bull, the black Zodiac gives us Torso , a ghost with missing legs, or The Angry Princess – the ghost of a young woman who commits suicide. All 12  are needed, plus one more – in order to open the gates of Hell, or achieve some sort of hellish power. The 13th ghost must come from 13Ghosts2ndMovieGhost2someone who is willing to sacrifice his life for the love of others. And so…..at the end, all 12 Ghosts are lined up obediently on the edges of a spinning circular platform.  Arthur’s children are caged in the middle of the circle. To free them, Arthur must sacrifice himself.  Gears are turning, walls are shifting.

But this ritual fails in the end. Cyrus dies, the children are freed, huggies and kissie for everyone, and the maid ends the movie on a sassy note, saying something to the effect of “I don’t get paid for this shit! Dealing with all these ghosts, I quit!”  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!! Let’s laugh again,  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!!


What “those other” folks might say

So, which film is better? For me it’s the classic William Castle version. But many will disagree. I have seen a comment somewhere out there in Internet Land that the original film “hasn’t aged well.”  I’m guessing many viewers agree. I suppose the superimposed cartoon-style ghosts look too silly for modern viewers. There are scenes where objects float in the air, and yes, this type of antic is used in many comedy films such as Abbott and Costello Meet (Whoever). In other words it looks more funny than scary, and 13 Ghosts was never intended to be a comedy.  Perhaps the family that is at the center of the plot is too hokey with their “Leave it to Beaver” style camaraderie and their unrealistic reactions to the situation. They treat the whole affair as if their house was infested with insects instead of ghosts.

13Ghosts2ndMovieGhostThe modern film moves faster, that’s for sure. Its ghosts look more deadly, more real.  It is filled with non-stop action and a whole lot of pizzazz. Many viewers like this sort of thing and so it would be the second film that strikes their fancy. Filmed in high tech color with bright red blood, it is more entertaining for hue-spongy eyes than a screen of “dull” black, whites and grays.

Here’s what I say!

Sure the original film is hokey, as are most William Castle films to some degree. But gosh darn it, it is a fun film, just like Castle’s “House on Haunted Hill” is a fun but hokey film! I didn’t mind the dated technology that made these ghosts possible. Cartoonish – yes. Scary – for me, a little bit! Although today’s viewers, myself included, are deprived of what Castle called “The Illusion-O Effect” (wearing the glasses to see the ghosts on the screen), I still like the concept. What a fun and creative way to promote and deliver a movie! I’m not saying that 13 Ghosts is a great film, but it is good. And it’s fun!

Now how about this 2001 remake? I was annoyed at the very beginning and this annoyance progressed like a building headache. Too much motion, too much action, too many flashing lights, too much damn noise – all within the first few minutes. This trend continues with the “machine house” and its jump-scare ghosts. While they look gory and scary, they are always accompanied by flashing lights and loud jolting noises. Watching this film is like being inside a pinball that crashes against bumpers and lighted alarms as it travels the downward slope toward the gutter. I don’t want be trapped in a pinball machine when I watch a movie.

In my review of the modern House on Haunting Hill film, I am a bit forgving for its excessive flare and over-the-top style. One of the reasons for my pardon is that the film is a remake of a movie that was never intended to be a cinematic masterpiece, so any deviations from the original style are not that unwelcoming. In the end, both films were exercises in entertainment and do not take things seriously. Does Thir13en Ghosts 2001 take itself seriously? No.  Is the original film a cinematic masterpiece. Definitely not. So I should apply the same standards for this critique, right? Answer – NO!  If the modern film had turned down the noise, did away with a third of the flashes, and just slowed the fuck down, then maybe I could enjoy it better for what it is – a jump-scare, special effects extravaganza, which is not necessarily a bad thing when done right. But here it is done wrong. Too much, too much, too much!

There is one scene that moves at an appropriate pace. A teenage girl is in the bathroom and she calmly reflects in the mirror. The ghost of The Angry Princess stands next her but goes unseen (teenage girl is not wearing her ghost viewing glasses). The ghost does not like what the mirror shows her. She sees a disfigured face. In the bathtub, the teenager refreshes herself with clear, cool water. The Princess sees only a tub of blood. This scene, while bloody and gory, is good. It allows the viewers to feel something, to absorb some of the story. If only the rest of the film was like this.

As for the plot, I enjoy the simple story of the original movie.. I don’t know why these modern remakes insist upon explaining the hauntings with over complicated plot devices. A machine house designed to somehow extract “something” from 12 spirits that will somehow unlock some dark secret power, all by using machinery with a design that would stump the greatest of engineers – this is just absurd and I would rather have the cartoon ghosts just appearing here and there to say “boo!”

Here is how I grade these two films:

13 Ghosts (1960) – C+
Thir13en Ghosts – 2001 – F

Now, let’s see how Rottentomatoes.com scores these films:

13 Ghosts (1960) – Critics Score: 36% / Audience Score: 41%

Thir13en Ghosts (2001) – Critics Score: 15% / Audience Score: 48%

While both the critics and the audience give low scores to both films, the audiences tend to favor the modern version over the original. For the critics, it is the opposite. I guess it’s “the audiences” that might agree with what I wrote in the section “What “those other” folks might say” while maybe the critics would agree with what I wrote in the section “Here’s what I say!’

If you have not seen these films, go ahead and do so, compare them, and make up your own mind as to which film is better.


 

And so, this article ends my October theme: Classic Haunted House Movies and Their Remakes – Just How Bad are These Modern Modifications? As predicted by the biased article title, I ended up enjoying the classics more than the remakes in all three cases. But some of the remakes weren’t super duper bad. Thir13en Ghosts was that bad though. I’ll let Juliette Lewis say it:

The House on Haunted Hill/1959 Vs. The House on Haunted Hill /1999 – Which Film Wins?

 

HouseOnHauntedHillSkeletonCption

 

Who can survive the night in the House on Haunted Hill? There have been many tragic deaths within its confines. Those of us with an appetite for haunted house stories know that a house with a deadly history foreshadows future doom  for those story characters that choose to roam its  rooms and corridors. Why oh why do these people embark  upon such a journey? For fun and games?

Someone is making a game out of this situation. An eccentric rich man is willing to pay large sums of money to anyone that spends the night in The House on Haunted Hill…and survives. He decides to host a birthday party for his wife at this house. A strange  party this is, for the guests are strangers to him. These strangers are the contestants  in his deadly game of survival. Why is he doing this? That is the  mystery, but viewers learn  early on that he is very suspicious  of his wife. She has tried  to murder him on past occasions. Is all this a scheme  to extract  some kind of twisted revenge on his wife? Will she, once again, try to murder him and do so before the night is through.

In the first  release of this film, there is a skeleton  that rises out of a vat of acid to prey on people. In the second  release of this film there is a chamber designed to rid a mental patient of his/her schizophrenia. But the inverse  is also true – it can drive a sane person insane. Get ready folks, there  is a lot of weird  things afoot  in these two different  versions  of the movie The House  on  Haunted  Hill .

Welcome readers to my second compare and contrast article concerning classic haunted house films and their respective remakes. I hope by now you have read the first article: The Haunting 1963 Vs. The Haunting 1999 – Which Film Wins? If not, click on the link and read, read read!

The films in the preceding article are based on Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House.  Though the films in this article share a name that is similar to the novel (“Hill House” vs. “Haunted Hill”), they are of different species and should not be confused with “The Haunting” movies. Let’s compare the two original films, (The House on Haunted Hill and The Haunting), in brief.  The House on Haunted Hill (1959)  by William Castle is by no means the definitive haunted house film. In my opinion, that description belongs to the Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963).  Castle’s film possesses not the pristine creepiness of Wise’s film. The Haunting is for the serious student of spooky cinematography – The House on Haunted Hill is a fun popcorn film filled with gimmicky scares. I like The Haunting considerably more than The House on Haunted Hill, but truth be told, Castle’s film is entertaining, so please don’t think I am panning his film. It too is enjoyable in its own way

Look what I’m doing – this is supposed to be an article about the similarities and differences between the two House on Haunted Hill films, and here I am instead devoting much attention to the differences between The House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Haunting (1963). Why am I doing this?  All will be explained in the chart below:

Where:

  • A = The Haunting (1963)
  • a =  The Haunting (1999)
  • B = The House on Haunted Hill (1959)
  • b = The House on Haunted Hill (1999)

The likability gap between A and a  <   B and b. Such a variance can best be explained by an overall categorical comparison

See, now everything is explained!

(Hypothetical Reader:  “I don’t know what the fuck you are getting at! And will you please use plain English and ditch the mathematics?)

What I’m trying to say is that I prefer The Haunting of 1963 so much more than its remake.  While the original House on Haunting Hill film is significantly better than its remake, The House on Haunted Hill of 1999 isn’t altogether terrible; it is better than The Haunting of 1999. I am more forgiving of the style and content changes that earmark the modernized version of The House on Haunted Hill. The reason for this pardon has to do with the laxed tone of the original film. The House on Haunted Hill/1959, though not technically “horror comedy, is silly at times. It “makes” fun, and therefore, the gesture can be reciprocated. We the viewers are allowed to “make fun” of it while enjoying the movie at the same time.  By the same token, The House on Haunted Hill/1999, while seriously flawed, is also a fun film. It doesn’t take itself as seriously as The Haunting/1999. Because the original film is gimmicky by intentional design, the remake is bequeathed certain liberties in the name of fun or even absurdity. The Haunting/1963 does not call for such directional change, and yet its 1999 remake awkwardly pursues a different path to the point of identify confusion. Is it attempting a serious, gothic-style haunting or is it settling for a hammy display ghost-centered theatrics? It doesn’t know. Meanwhile, even though I enjoyed The House on Haunted Hill/1959, it cannot compete with the masterpiece that is The Haunting/1963.

Here is another chart that utilizes a grading scale to explain my preferences:

The House on Haunted Hill/ 1959 –  B+
The Haunting/1963 – A
The Haunting/1999 – D
The House on Haunted Hill/1999 – C-

Let’s see if rottentomatoes.com critics/audience feels the same way.

The House on Haunted Hill/1959 – Critics score – 92% / Audience score 72%
The Haunting/1963 –  Critics score – 87% / Audience score 82%
The Haunting/1999 – Critics Score: 16%/ Audience Score 28%
The House on Haunted Hill/1999  – Critics Score: 29%/Audience Score 42%

Wow, the aggregate of critics prefer the The House on Haunted Hill/1959 to The Haunting/1963. But the general trend regarding the modern films seems to agree with my preferences. So there!

Okay, let’s move along and find out what these two “House on Haunted Hill”  movies are made of!

The House  on  Haunted  Hill  – 1959

To appreciate   the “silly yet scary” tone of this film, one must understand something  about the film’s director and creative  marketer, the late great William Castle. I’ll give you a couple of “somethings.”

Castle was the master of marketing gimmicks. These gimmicks played out at the theaters where his films were shown. These manufactured stunts related to certain scenes in the film. For instance, during his film The Tingler, about a centipede-like  creature that attaches itself to the human spine  and causes a tingling  sensation, Castle  equipped certain theaters with vibrating chair device that caused viewers  backs to tingle. In his movie 13 Ghosts, viewers were given special  glasses to wear if they wanted to see the movie ghosts. (This movie will be featured  in my next compare/contrast article).

Did he have a gimmick for The House  on Haunted  Hill? You bet he did! Remember at the beginning of the article when I referred to a skeleton  that rises out of a vat of acid? Well, in select  theaters, he arranged  for a skeleton  to slide across a hidden wire over the heads of seated viewers. What fun!

Think of William  Castle  as a prankster that pulls off cheesy  yet scary pranks. We all had that relative that threw a sheet over his head and jumped out of a closet with a “boo!”. In retrospect, that’s cheesy, but the trick scared its victims and ended up being a whole lot of fun. This is what  his films are like. They are also filled with mystery and creative twists. Think Scooby-Doo (but the mastermind  is not always Old Man Crowley!) . The House on Haunted  Hill follows this criteria. It’s mysterious, scary, and delightfully cheesy .

The rich  eccentric, Frederick Loren  is played by Vincent  Price. As usual  his performance  is brilliant. Without  him, my rating of this film would drop by a grade and a half. The way he goes at it with his  wife Annabelle, played by Carol Ohmart . ..growwwwwwwl!!

Frederick makes sure to inform his guests that they have until midnight  to change  their minds about spending  the night. At midnight, the servants leave and lock the doors, sealing all guests  inside until dawn. For protection during the long night, he “gifts” each person a gun. The guns are “gift-wrapped” inside a tiny coffins. What could possibly go wrong  with  this scenario?

The most annoying  character is Watson Pritchard (played by Elisha Cook Jr.) He owns the house but doesn’t  reside in it. He is the one that knows about the history  of this house and he is terribly frightened of it. But he is in need of money and hopes to win the ten thousand dollars  that Frederick promises to each surviving guest. Throughout  the movie, he plays the scaredy-cat and carries on in an irritating , squeaky voice.  In addition, his pervasive facial expression  of cartoon fright gets old real fast.

Guest Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig) receives the brunt of the haunting. She finds a HouseOnHauntedHill1959 severed head in her bedroom. She sees ghosts and witch-like  figures here and there, around this corner, outside this window. (The “floating” witch-like  character  looks like on of those  carnival fun house dummies.) During her stay, she finds a love interest, one Lance Schroeder (Richard Long). He looks out for her and tries to calm her.. How sweet!

During the night, Annabelle (Fredericks wife) is found hanging over a stairwell, a noose around her neck. At first the group thinks it’s suicide, but there is a doctor  among the guests. He examines the body and decides, due to the way she had been hanging, she couldn’t  have done this to herself. Someone  had murdered her. But who?

Initially, Frederick  is the suspect. After all, the guests learned how much he despised his wife. But Frederick objects, insisting that one of them had murdered Annabelle. In the end, no one is sure what to believe  and they all suspect  each other. So, in this type of situation, for everyone’s safety, what is the best course of action? At the doctor’s suggestion, everyone retires to their own personal  bedrooms. The one who breaks this rule, the one that might decide  to take a late night stroll, is quite  possibly  the killer. I wonder if this film began the “we all most separate” trope that is pervasive  in horror films. Maybe not, but the separation  plan as specifically laid out in the dialog is patently absurd. Oh well, on we go with the rest of the movie.

Now, here comes a Twist!  Let’s do it!  (MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!)

The body of Annabelle  lies on a bed. The doctor has left his room. He approaches  Annabelle. Surprise! She is not dead. She and the doc are lovers and have been planning something  nefarious. See, they have been haunting the house, purposely scaring the shit out of poor Nora, hoping that in her frightened state, she would shoot Frederick, thinking he is the murderous, evil facilitator of the house haunting. They arrange for Nora to encounter him down in the cellar by the vat of acid in a situation where she would mistakenly think he was there to kill her. The plan works! She shoots him! He falls over and she runs away.

The doctor then descends to the cellar to get rid of the body of Frederick. He pulls the corpse toward the vat of acid, intending to throw him inside, where the acid would eat away at his skin and guts, reducing him to bones.  The screen goes dark, there is the sounds of a scuffle.

Hey readers, how about we do another Twist!

Annabelle makes her way down to the basement. The skeleton of Frederick rises out of the vat of acid and chases her. His evil voice accompanies the chase. The skeleton leads her to the edge of the vat. Its boney arm reaches out to her. She fall in!

And yet another twist! (No Chubby Checker this time. Sorry!)

The real Frederick comes out of the shadows. He had been operating the skeleton with wires, making it move. He was never dead either. The gun he had given Nora was filled with blanks. When the Doctor was moving “his body” and the screen went dark, Frederick had stopped playing dead and fought the doctor and pushed him into the acid vat.

In the end, he gets away with killing his wife and her lover. A nice happy ending! Yay!!!!!!

Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap!


The House  on  Haunted  Hill  – 1999

Forty years after the original movie, society is blessed with – this. The “this” is that which I am about to describe. Oh, I should knock off the mockery, for as I have already stated, this remake isn’t all “that bad”. It’s just bad, without the “that”.

In the original film, the backstory concerning the house is given, but not in great detail. Seven people had died in the house before the events in the film. All of them had lost their heads.  The whys and wherefores concerning these head losses are not given. Nor do we know if the backstory is even true. It might just be the wild imaginings of that annoying guy. In the modern version, the backstory is central to haunting. In this version of the story, the house on haunted hill was once an insane asylum. The doctor who ran this institution was not a very nice guy. (Not even a little nice? No!)  What made him “not nice?”  Well for one thing, he operated on patients without using anesthesia. That’s not very nice. The film shows him with a patient on the operating table, who is twitching in pain as the “not nice” doc rips out some of his organs. There is a nurse or two there as well, perhaps another doctor, and they are all cruelly taking part in this operation.  This kind of thing is common parlance here at this asylum – the patients are the doctor’s guinea pigs.

One day, the patients rise up. They kill the doctor and his evil staff. While the carnage ensues, the place goes on automatic lockdown. Steel barriers seal off all the doors and windows. It’s an automatic thing, controlled by machinery.  The insane people set the place on fire. But they can’t get out!  So, they all die; doctors, staff and patients. Hmmm, I wonder is such a tragedy will cause some kind of haunting later in the film, when once again, a rich eccentric will invite complete strangers to this “house on the hill” for his wife’s birthday party? The answer – yes!

HouseOnHauntedHill1999While the original film is marked with gimmicks and sideshow scares, this film is filled with – gore, gore, gore! I have already mentioned the operation scene. But there is more in store than what was shown as the backstory. There are a lot of flashing lights, buzzing sounds, and mechanical zaps!  Parts of the movie remind me of any opening sequence for American Horror Story, whichever season.

The rich eccentric (played by Geoffrey Rush) goes by the name Stephen Price.  I like how is character is named after the great Vincent. Throughout the movie, they simply refer to him as “Price.” They even make him look like Vincent Price a bit with a similar hairstyle and thin mustache. Price is an amusement park mogul, and there is a cool scene at the beginning of the film involving a roller coaster. Anyway, the set up is the same – Price is at odds with his wife Evelyn (played by Famke Janssen). They would like to kill each other, if only there was a way!

The screen chemistry between Rush and Janssen, I must say, is pretty good. Maybe not quite up to par with Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart team, but still they put on a good show. Once again, a birthday party is planned for the wife at a haunted house. Guests will be paid a million dollars if they can last the night. In the earlier film, the reward was ten thousand dollars, but that kind of money doesn’t go very far in 1999. Oh already, there is a twist! The computer erases the guest list and creates an alternative list. This doesn’t happen in the first film. What is going on? (Hint: Ghosts are playing around. Oooooooo!)

Four guests arrive at the house, lead by a fifth person – Watson Pritchett (That’s almost the same name as the charter he is playing from the first film, which is Watson Pritchard, according to Wikipedia). He is the one granting everyone access to the house. He owns it but refuses to live there. He doesn’t even want to be here tonight. He knows about its past and knows that it is haunted in a very deadly way. This Watson is less annoying than the one in the original film. This one is kind of funny in an entertaining kind of way. The other guests include a doctor dude, a pilot dude, a journalist dude-et, and a secretary dude-et. Of course Price and Evelyn are there and….let the games begin!

Watson wants to get the hell out of there. He doesn’t plan on spending the night. But oh no, the automatic lockdown kicks in. Doors and windows are sealed. Who did this? Is it Price? Evelyn? Or…the ghosts? (Hint: it’s the ghosts). So the cast of characters need to figure out how to get to the controls that operate the barricade and deactivate it. On the way toward the machinery, they pass a lot of torture devices.

The same basic plot of the original film plays out here in pretty much the same way. All guests are given guns. Evelyn if found dead, not by hanging, but someone had the gall to strap her to an electroshock machine. Price is blamed and they lock him in the chamber that “Makes an insane person sane, and a sane person crazy”. Ahh, I don’t feel like describing the chamber, so just see the film to see what that’s all about.  But- eureka! Evelyn isn’t dead. The doctor guest is in cahoots with her. They want Price dead. Eventually Price is freed from the chamber and is shot dead. Oh no he isn’t! He is wearing a bulletproof vest. He and his wife then physically fight each other, but both ended up being destroyed by – the ghosts.

Alas, there is no skeleton rising from a vat of acid in this version of the story. The modern movie replaces those sideshow special effects with, once again, the wonders of computer graphic images. Back in high school, did you ever learn about the four types of conflict within the short story? If memory serves me correctly, they are:

Man vs. Man
Man Vs. Nature
Man Vs. Himself
Man Vs. Society

(Sorry for the sexist terminology, this is how I learned to refer to this conflicts)

Well now there is a new one:

Man Vs. CGI Amorphous Blob of Spirits. (That’s what the thing at the end of the movie looked like to me anyway – one shadowy blob consisting of hundreds of spirits)

In a similar manner as The Haunting 1999, it is this CGI Monster of Spirits that is the bad guy. Why oh why are they so mad at these guests that they want them dead. Well, remember when I mentioned that the computer had swapped one guest list for another? As it turns out, the ones invited via the phantom computer operator are descendants of the staff that ran the evil insane asylum. The spirits need their revenge, don’t they?  So once again, just like The Haunting 1999, the writers felt the need to tie the characters to the backstory via familial relations that were kept secret. Oh my!

 


 

And so….

There is one area, in my opinion, where both films fail. And that is – creating an establishing shot of a large, creepy haunted house.  The “house” in the 1959 film looks like this:

HouseOnHauntedHillOriginalHouse

Kind of a random array of blocks and squares if you ask me. Following suit, the 1999 film uses an establishing shot that invokes no real sense of “haunting:”

HouseOnHauntedHillModernHouse

It looks more like something out of a Star Wars movie.

Be that as it may, The House of Haunted Hill 1959 is a good film, not necessarily great. The House of Haunted Hill 1999 is a tolerable film, so long as one is not offended by gore and noise. The second film has its fun moments, but it should not be on anyone’s top 50 list of great horror films. Maybe not on any top 100 list either.

Both films invoke humor, and humor is a good thing, right? I mean, we all need to laugh. The original film is comfortable with its gimmicky status and doesn’t try to be anything else. The second film, though overblown with effects and filled with unintentionally cheesy story arcs, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that is a good thing too. And what a great way to end this article, on a “good” note.

 

 

 

The Haunting of Hill House – The Netflix Series – What it is and What it isn’t

Who has been coming to my door these days?

HillHouseNetflixDoor

 

I’ve been getting a larger than usual number of hits at this blog lately. Sometimes WordPress records the search words that lead people to my page.   Some of the “search phrases” as of late are as follows:

  • is haunting of hill house the same as the book
  • the haunting versus the haunting on hill house
  • how does the haunting of hill house tie in with the haunting
  • the haunting of hill house same like the book
  • can hold my pee and peeing alot (Don’t know how this searcher found my page about haunted houses with this!)

In short, visitors are searching  for clues as to how the new Netflix  series The Haunting of Hill House  ties into  either:

  1. Shirley  Jackson’s  book by the same name, OR
  2. The Haunting, which is the movie that is based on Jackson’s novel.

Search engines  have led them to my site, which features  articles and reviews  of both the movie and book. But alas, visitors have found no information  about the Netflix  series  – until now!

I appreciate  the extra traffic. To show my appreciation, I  will answer some possible  FAQs about the Netflix series. I just started watching it: I have seen the first  five episodes. In an article I wrote about the movie The Haunting,  I express doubt  about the whole idea of turning Shirley Jackson’s novel into a miniseries. (The link to this article is at the end of this piece) However, now that I am halfway through it, I can honestly say that  I am hooked. I love it! The show is very very good!

Let me begin with  what the series  is not. It’s not a sequel to the book ( or movie). It is not a prequel either. It is not a crossover , it is not a spinoff; it exists in a story universe of its very own. What it does do is utilize the same character names of the book and it recreates several parts/scenes of the book/movie within an entirely  different  context. Admittedly, the series is a bit confusing  with its constant  jumps in time and non-linear  storytelling. Do yourself  a favor –  don’t try and figure out how the Nell of the series has become or was once the Nell of the book. Same goes with Theo. The characters of the series are very different than the characters that are portrayed in the original  story (though not entirely different This will be explained later). Please don’t add to any existing confusion  by trying to tie the characters  of the series to the book. It just won’t work. There is no prevailing story arc that flows from the original incarnation to this latest manifestation.

Before I delve into what the Netflix  series is, I first  need to explore  “the is” of the original story, the story that came from the brilliant  mind of Shirley  Jackson. The movie The Haunting (1963)  follows Jackson’s  book pretty closely, so for the purposes of this article I will treat both the book and the film as one in the same (although  in another article I write about the differences between the two mediums and their versions of the story. The link to that article  is posted at the end  of this piece.)

Dr. Montague   (Named Dr. Markway in the film, but who cares) recruits two people to take part in a study  that aims to investigate the paranormal  activity that has  been rumored to be rampant  at Hill House. Both participants have an affinity  toward the supernatural  in one way or another. Theo, the brash bohemian and implied lesbian, has ESP, can read minds, etc. Eleanor  Vance was once the victim of poltergeist activity  – stones showered down on her house when she was a little  girl. Dr. Montague hopes that Hill House will be more likely  to display paranormal   activity in the presence  of people that are attuned to the supernatural.

The two ladies join Dr. Montague for a prolonged  stay at Hill House. Also there is Luke Sanderson. He is due to inherit Hill House and he too stays with the trio at the house . He doesn’t believe  the ghost stories but he is taking part in this study mostly to protect the interests of his future property .

Hill House has a history of madness and unexplained  deaths. Built by one Hugh Crain, two of his wives lost their lives in the house or around the property.  His daughter Abigail  lived in the house from birth to death. She occupied the nursery the whole time. She died as an old lady , who called out to her caretaker  in the middle of the night. The caretaker  did not come to her assistance and , unaided in her ailment , Abigail passed on. The caretaker would later hang herself beside a spiral staircase.

The team of four witness several supernatural occurrences.  They stand in cold spots, they observe doors that won’t stay closed, they hear loud banging noises against the walls. But it is Eleanor  that receives the brunt of the haunting. Even so, she is drawn to Hill House, and Hill House  is drawn to her as well. It wants to keep her inside. Forever.

That is the classic  story in a nutshell. So, what’s the modern series all about? It’s about a family  -The Crain’s (the same surname of the original Hill House occupants in the backstory  of Shirley Jackson’s novel). They stay at Hill House for a summer.  There is Hugh the father, Olivia the mother, Shirley  the eldest daughter (approximately  twelve-years-old) and her younger  siblings:  Steve (Maybe age eleven?), Theo (age ten?) and the two young twins Luke and Eleanor  (approximately 5 or 6 years old  ). See what they did here? They use  the names of  the characters  from the original  story. While the series gives them similar traits as the original characters, they are different people in different contexts. In the original story, Luke, Theo and Eleanor are strangers to each other  until they met at Hill House. In the series  they are siblings.

Most of the family members have experienced some kind of ghostly disturbance during their stay at Hill House. After a tragedy , the family flees the house. The series juxtaposes between several time periods. We see the kids as grown ups.. As adults, they suffer through various life dilemmas and troubling psychological problems. Most of their problems  can be traced back to that summer spent at Hill  House. See, “the haunting of Hill House” follows the kids into their adult years . It is like a hand, and though most of the family has escaped Hill House’s palmy grip, Its  fingers stretch throughout the years, pointing its horror in the survivors’ direction,  poking at their daily lives. Even in their adult lives , they are haunted by ghosts.

The Netflix  series is creepy , dark, and very morbid. In other words , it’s great! And, it creatively  reimagines  some of the classic  scenes, fitting them into updated  contexts. Waking up in the middle of the night to feel a phantom hand holding your hand – this scene plays out in both the series and book. Finding graffiti on the wall of Hill House that reads “Welcome Home, Eleanor”, this happens in both mediums. Breaking out into a HillHouseNetflixOriginalHauntingdance before some creepy Hill House statues – yep, this scene can now be considered both classic and modern. The “Hill House” of the series has many of the same features of the Hill House of the 1963 movie,  including a large gate at the beginning of the driveway, and the “twisted” spiral staircase. Both Hill Houses feature rooms that are locked – for the safety of the inhabitants. The caretakers, Mr. and Mrs. Dudley, are featured in both the series and the book. But again, please remember, these are recreations of the famous scenes, not repeats, not meant to tie directly into the happenings of the original story. These are what they call “easter eggs”; features that pay homage to the earlier works.

Like in the book, the Theo of the series has a talent for “knowing things”. In the original story, she reads minds and knows the cards of another card player. In the series, she touches things (and people) and suddenly she gains knowledge about the object of her touch. While her sexual preference for women is only implied in the original story, she actively seeks out female sexual partners in the series. As in the book, Hill House “calls” out to Eleanor (Nell).  When they are children, Luke has an imaginary friend – Abigail (possibly a ghost?) Abigail is the daughter of Hugh Crain in the book/movie, the one who spends her whole life inside the nursery.

There are plenty of other similarities and references to the original story within the series, but I won’t go into them all.

If you are already a fan of the Netflix series but have yet to watch the movie The Haunting (or read the book The Haunting of Hill House), I encourage you to do so, then you yourself can discover the ghosts that crossover between the mediums .The movie is a classic and the book is a very intriguing read. Likewise, if you are fans of the film and the novel but are hesitant to try this modern reimagining of the story, I strongly suggest that you let go of this hesitancy and climb on board. You won’t be disappointed.

 


 

As promised, here are the links to articles and reviews that I have written about Hill House, The Haunting, and other good stuff:

1) An article comparing the book The Haunting of Hill House  to the 1963 film The Haunting:

Review of The Haunting of Hill House/The Haunting: Book Vs. Movie

2) An Article comparing the film The Haunting/1963 to the remake – The  Haunting/1999

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

3) An article reviewing another book written by Shirley Jackson – We Have Always Lived in the Castle

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

 

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

This is an article comparing the film The Haunting (1963) to its remake, The Haunting (1999). To read an article about the Netflix series: The Haunting of Hill House, click here:

The Haunting of Hill House – The Netflix Series – What it is and What it isn’t 


 

HauntingHillHouseBook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware – There will be spoilers!!!


The Similarities Between the Films

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Differences Between the Films

 

Black and White Vs. Color

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

The SettingHill House Itself  

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

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

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

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

Initial premise/Story Setup

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

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

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

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

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

Characters/Actors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nature of the Haunting

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

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

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

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

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

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


Is there anything good about the 1999 film?

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

Haunting1999Children.jpg

Final Word

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warning: Spoilers abound in this article.

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

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

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

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


Plot Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Making Sense Of Trelkovsky’s MetamorphosisUnraveling the Bandaged Figure

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kafkaesque

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

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

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

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


Similar to The Shining?

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

Some quotes from the article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Roman Polanski – His Intriguing, Tragic and Controversial Life

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

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

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


“Wrapping” it all Up

TheTenant6

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

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

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

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

Repulsion4

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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”