Review of The Haunted Castle (1921)

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

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

Haunted Castle has none of these things.

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

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

Perhaps I wanted something like this: (see video)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of Ju-On: The Curse 2

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

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

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

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

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

 

Review of The Haunted Doll’s House

dollhouse Ready for a bonus Christmas Ghost story review?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For now, enjoy the film. Watch it here:

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


 

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

Review of The Innkeepers

innkeepers2 Who are the keepers of the inn? Why, that would be Claire and Luke of course – two quirky twenty-somethings who like to gab at the front desk and browse the internet.  The Innkeepers are also two amateur paranormal investigators.

What inn do Clair and Luke keep?  It is called the Yankee Pedlar Inn. It is an historical hotel in New England that is supposedly haunted.  It has long creepy corridors, a spooky basement, a wide, square spiral staircase – all the workings of a good haunted house flick. The limited number of guests highlights an atmosphere of eerie abandon. It is the weekend before the inn is to close for good.  This is the last chance for Clair and Luke to capture supernatural activity on their specialized recording equipment.  So during their last days as employees of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, they are hoping for a ghost or two pop out and say “Boo!”

 

 

Normally, I am cautious about posting spoilers.  But for this review I don’t think it will be a concern.  There really is nothing to spoil!  This story has no twists, no hidden meanings, no symbolism.  What you see is what you get.  What does one see?  A haunted hotel that has ghosts that do stuff.  That’s it. When all was said and done, I thought that for sure I had missed something. I went to Wikipedia, IMDB, rottentomatoes, searching for a missed clue that would tie everything together and make me say “oh wow! I didn’t realize THAT was going on!” There is no such clue. There is no “THAT” there.

For me, the somewhat empty plot drags the film downward on the likeability scale.  But this does not mean it’s a bad film. The characters are interesting, especially Claire and Luke.  Their idiosyncrasies seem fit for one another, making for some interesting character chemistry. In this way, the film plays out like a crossover between Clerks and your average haunted house movie.  There are little snippets of comedic realism here and there. For instance, there is a moment where Clair is frightened. There is foreboding silence. Tension is building. And then we hear Luke flushing the toilet. The side characters (the hotel guests) are interesting as well. They have limited screen time, but their moments in from of the camera are worthwhile.

Ti West directs this film.  He is also the director of The House of the Devil. The aforementioned film seems to be superior to The Innkeepers, at least according to critics on IMDB, rottontomatoes.  I will have to check out The House of the Devil. It seems as if it’s a haunted house film.  And while I do not dislike The Innkeepers, I was hoping for something a little bit better.  Maybe this “better” will be found inside The House of Devil?  Who knows?

 

 

 

Review of Ju-On: The Curse

ju-on-the-curseJu-On: The Curse is one of those movies you watch, you enjoy, and when it’s over, you then read about the plot on wikipedia and try to figure out what the hell you just watched!

I have seen, but have yet to write about, The Grudge, the most familiar film of the Ju-On series. (The original Japanese film, not the American)  Ju-On: The Grudge is decent but confusing. I was going to write up a review right after seeing it, but I decided to wait until I had seen the lesser-known prequels. Perhaps then, I would have more to say about The Grudge.  With a solid knowledge of the back-story, I would be armed with experience and more able to write a decent review. The Movie Doctor inside my brain agreed and he prescribed for me initial viewings of Ju-On: The Curse and Ju-On: The Curse 2, along with a second viewing of Ju-On: The Grudge.  So I have swallowed the first pill (The Curse), and…… I am less confused.  Hooray! Still…I don’t know. I feel I am missing something.  But the doctor is ordering me to complete my therapy, so this I will do.  Also, he suggested I read up on the subject.  Yes Doc, will do.

Ju-On: The Curse is a Japanese film that is available with English subtitles. It is about a house and a little boy, who at first comes off as disturbed, perhaps sad, but is otherwise normal.  Then his face contorts and he meows like a cat in agony.  There is also this young, bluish-faced woman who pops out of cubbyholes. Then there’s this girl who is missing a lower-jaw – yikes!  These are the ghosts, and there are several more.  They are all connected, in some way, to this house that is at the center of the story.  Did I say story? Perhaps it’s better to say stories!   There are six tales, each named after an important character within each story.  The stories are all connected; some take place within the haunted house; which is a modern home in a suburb of Tokyo. The tales that take place elsewhere feature characters that have been inside the house. But just because they are outside the terrifying confines it does not mean they are safe. No siree Bob!   The terror follows them!

ju-on-jaw

Now, here’s the kicker! The stories are not shown in sequence. Story 1 might be take place after Story 4.  Perhaps Story 4 takes place after Story 2, or maybe Story 6 sets it all in motion, or is that story 5?  Some films succeed with this kind of non-linear storytelling. Pulp Fiction is one example of such a success. Ju-On is not.  The tone of this film is effectively eerie, but I was forced to come down from my “creepy high” in order to figure out what is what, only to fail at this pursuit of understanding.  Hence, I was forced to go elsewhere to learn the modus operandi of the story.

According to wikipedia:

The title of the films translates roughly to “Curse Grudge”, which means putting up a curse while bearing a grudge against someone or something. The first two films in the series were so-called V-Cinema, or direct-to-video releases, but became surprise hits as the result of favorable word of mouth. Both films were shot in nine days and feature a story that is a variation on the classic haunted house theme, as well as a popular Japanese horror trope, the “vengeful ghost” (onryō). The titular curse, ju-on, is one which takes on a life of its own and seeks new victims. Anyone who encounters a ghost killed by the curse is killed themselves and the curse is able to be spread to other areas.”

 

Some of my confusion is no fault of the film and can be attributed to my ignorance of Japanese language and culture. Perhaps I would feel more at home with the film had I known the definition of “Ju-On;” or if I had the concept of the onryō engrained in my cultural psyche.  But how does this “curse” play out?  The film understates this, if it states it at all.

From the same wikipedia page:

According to Ju-On, when a person dies with a deep and powerful rage, a curse is born. The curse gathers in the place where that person has died or where they were frequently at, and repeats itself there.

Yeah, I didn’t get this. Without the above description, I would be at a loss to the whys and wherefores.  Basically, a family is brutally murdered inside their home (the house that is central to the story) and the ghosts of the victims come back and kill others that enter the home. Or, the ghosts will follow people that have entered the home and kill them elsewhere. The curse spreads and lives on.

ju-on-blue-ghost-girl

I am always appreciating fresh approaches to haunted house tales. And fresh this is! A tragedy within the walls creates a curse that spreads to those that enter the house. It attaches itself to them, so that they just might happen to take a couple of ghosts home with them.  I like it! It fits in nicely with the “Houses that exist as entities” theme that I have come to love

But for me, this series would be so much more effective it the film makers would just stick to good old fashion linear storytelling. I would be able to trace the deadly path of the curse had stories been shown from beginning to end.  The ghosts in this film, they are so darn creepy! Their faces are horrific, their movements uncanny. And the sounds they make when moving along? Unnerving, but in a “gotta love it, it’s horror” kind of way! Alas, the out-of-sequence storytelling is a trademark of the series. Fine! I will bear with it. I just wish this series didn’t have to make me work so much in order to appreciate it!

Review of 1408 (The Film)

1408-cover I wonder if Mike Enslin (Played by John Cusack) knows about “creeper weed.” He is the protagonist of Mikael Hafstrom’s film 1408 which is based on a short story by Stephen King.  In case he doesn’t know much about such things, I’ll explain it to him.  See Mr. Enslin, you know you’ve been smoking “creeper weed” if after you have taken a couple of hits, you feel nothing. So you take a few more puffs.  These extra inhalations allow you to, finally, feel something; not much, but oh well, the buzz it gives you will just have to do.  You go about your business. At some point during this business, you suddenly realize that you are stoned off of your ass!  The buzz has snuck up on ya! It “creeped” its way into your state of being, leaving you to wonder “When did all this happen?”  It’s a strong buzz too.  You’re not thinking straight. Everything is out of whack.  You’re afraid. (BTW, how do I know about “creeper weed”?  I heard it from a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy that read a book about it)

Mr. Enslin, are you all right? Oh dear. It seems that Mr. Enslin is a tad uncomfortable upon hearing of the effects of creeper weed.  But it’s worse than that Mr. Enslin, right?  You are terrified. It almost seems as if you have had a similar experience. Maybe not with drugs. Maybe with, I don’t know, a haunted hotel room that turned reality inside out and nearly drove you insane with fear?

See readers, Mike Enslin doesn’t believe in ghosts or any kind of paranormal phenomena. He is an author of haunted house books (Like yours truly!). He travels to supposedly haunted inns, uncovers the history as to why the place is haunted (past murders, death by illnesses, etc.) and writes about his experience in these hotels. But he never experiences anything out of the ordinary.  Until he stays in the Dolphin Hotel in New York City. Room 1408.  A fine suite it is; luxurious, two or three rooms. The hotel manager (Samuel L Jackson) had warned him that no guest has ever lasted more than an hour inside this room. Well, Enslin arrives in his room, several minutes go my and….nothing!  Same old, same old.  (Boring impotent weed.) Okay, so suddenly there are fancy chocolates on the bed and a couple of other complimentary items and décor that wasn’t there moments ago.  Or, maybe they were there and he just didn’t notice.  Nothing else to see – move on, move on!  So the clock radio alarm goes off.  The last guest must have set it to go off at this time.  Things are a little weird, but these happenings, whatever they are, are harmless.  Then ghosts appear and start jumping out of the windows. (Uh oh….!)  More stuff happens; stuff stranger than the previous occurrences. Then More! Still MORE!   Suddenly poor Mike doesn’t know what’s real and what isn’t.  And the room won’t let him leave!  Everything goes to hell and Mike comes to the realization that the evil of the room has slowly but surely “crept” up on him. A devastating evil it is. And it won’t let him go.

room-1408_o_gifsoup_com

 

The drug metaphors I have used to describe this film; excuse me if this puts you off, but I believe they effectively describe the feel of the movie. It has the flair of a psychedelic trip; albeit a trip or horrors – a very bad trip. But luckily for us the viewers, we are grounded in reality on the other side of the screen. Any “trippy” experience to be had is thankfully vicarious. But I’ll admit that I found myself a bit exhausted by the film’s end.

I really liked this movie. It is a tense film with psychological drama mixed in with the horror. John Cusack is excellent. And Samuel L Jackson, though his screen time is limited, brings a welcoming performance.  This movie is one of my favorites. See it!

Review of Insidious

“It’s not the house that’s haunted. It’s your son.”

Really? Oh… well then! Since this is a haunted house blog, and because the house is not haunted, I guess this ends my review of Insidious.  Great movie – no haunted house. Goodbye now!

InsidiousBye

 

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Oh. You’re still here. In that case, I guess I should say a little more about this film. The quote that leads this review is from one of the film’s characters, Elise Rainer; a specialist in the field of paranormal arts. She and her team come to the aid of the Lambert family. Young Dalton Lambert (age 7? 8?) enters a coma of sorts. Shortly thereafter, freakish things from beyond the grave begin to prance around their houses (they live in two of them consecutively, moving from one to another in a futile attempt to flee from the ghosts). Elise informs the distraught parents, Josh and Renai, that their son is not in a coma. Dalton is an astral-traveler, she tells them. When he sleeps, his soul leaves his body to go on mystic, otherworldly voyages. However, during his last trip, he strays too far and enters “The Further” – a realm populated by evil spirits. Here he is trapped. At the same time, other spirits, both evil and neutral, sense the soulless body lying there in the bed. They crave it! To inhabit such a body is to taste life once again. This is why there have been a lot of ghosts hanging around both of the Lambert’s residences. It matters not which house they live in; Josh and Renai have a haunted little boy.

Wow, I dug pretty deeply into the plot, didn’t I? I hope I haven’t unearthed too many spoilers. I’m guessing I have not, not by IMDB’s standards anyway. After all, their one-sentence summary is:

A family looks to prevent evil spirits from trapping their comatose child in a realm called The Further

 

Now, isn’t that sentence packed with a whole lot of plot?

Anyway, I will reveal no more plot intricacies. I will say that this is a great Insidious 2film. It is one of the better horror movies of the modern age. And though, technically, it’s not the houses that are haunted, this film has all the makings of a good haunted house flick. Before the coma tragedy and the hauntings that follow, the family goes through the normal concerns of adjusting to a new home. Isn’t this how many haunted house films begin? Insidious certainly has the haunted house props. The first house has a tall staircase and a spooky attic. The second has a long hallway with a grandfather clock at the hallway’s end that sort of stands in an eerie spotlight. There are plenty of places for ghostly beings to hide. Creating such hiding places in suburban homes seems to be one of specialties of Director James Wan. As he does for Insidious so does he do for The Conjuring. (Hint: “The hide-and-seek clap game.” Still confused? Well then, watch The Conjuring or read my review of it here.)  The styles of both films (and the sequel – Conjuring 2) are very similar, and pleasingly so. Oh, and I must not fail to mention the baby monitors!  Witness the terror a mother goes through when she hears voices inside a room this is supposed to be occupied only by her innocent baby!

There are only two things that annoy me about this film. These “things” are known as  “Specs” and “Tucker”. They are the two nerdish assistants of Elise Rainer. They constantly try to outdo each other with their skills as paranormal specialists. I get it – they are there for comedic relief. But I found their shenanigans distracting. For me their comedy went against the flow of the film.

Nerdy technicians aside, I love this film. It is creepy in its subtly and bold with its shocks. A must see for any horror fan.

 

 

 

 

Review of Ghost Story – Book Vs. Movie

MBDGHST EC005

 

Old, distinguished men in elegant attire sip their brandy and tell ghost stories. A mysterious woman unbound by time haunts successive generations of boys and men. The deadly consequences of secrets buried long ago are only just beginning to surface. All this and more make up Ghost Story, a novel by Peter Straub and then later a film by John Irvin.

In past reviews when I have compared a book to a movie, I have used a pseudo-ratio to show how books benefit from a structural advantage. I call this the “200 page/2 hour reel” ratio. Simply stated, there is more opportunity for story and character development in a book than a film. A film based on a book is often forced to take shortcuts, usually to the detriment of the story. At the same time, it is nearly impossible for a film to lay out all of the plot points of a story-heavy book, unless we allow for a nine-hour film. (I guess that’s where a television mini-series comes to “the rescue.” Ah but this often backfires. But this is a subject for another article.) What does one do about such a dilemma? Let’s ask Let’s ask Lawrence D Cohen, the screenwriter for Ghost Story.

Cohen is a masterful screenwriter who first “came to prominence” for penning the screenplay for the 1976 film Carrie, a fine film based on a book by Stephen King. In Ghost Story, just like with Carrie, he skillfully paves the road that leads from the book to the movie. Cohen and Director John Irvin know the limitations of the film medium and wisely do not attempt to exceed them. They carefully carve out a simpler yet equally fulfilling story from Peter Straub’s behemoth book. It has been suggested that film critic Roger Ebert prefers the film to the book. If this is so, I might just agree with him. Mind you, I said “might!”

Ghost-Story-BannerAs I alluded to earlier, Ghost Story is a long book. Both in scope as well as style, it owes a lot to Stephen King, from its epic quality of plot intricacies to its focus on small town characters and their foibles. In particular, Ghost Story bears a strong resemblance to Salem’s Lot.  Hank Wagner from darkecho.com  describes this similarity quite well, presenting quotes from Peter Straub himself to back up his claims:

 

Numerous readings reveal how much the book owes to Salem’s Lot. Straub has publicly acknowledged this debt, stating that “I wanted to work on a large canvas. Salem’s Lot showed me how to do this without getting lost among a lot of minor characters. Besides the large canvas I also wanted a certain largeness of effect. I had been imbued with the notion that horror stories are best when they are ambiguous and low key and restrained. Reading Salem’s Lot, I realized that the idea was self defeating.” On reflection, the debt to Salem’s Lot is obvious. Both feature small towns under siege from the supernatural. In both, the terror escalates until the towns are threatened with destruction — Jerusalem’s Lot is consumed by purifying fire, while Milburn is decimated. In each, a writer’s arrival in town seems to trigger disaster. Both writers strike up alliances with young teenagers whose lives are ruined by the terror, Ben Mears with Mark Petrie and Don Wanderly with Peter Barnes. Both forge an almost parental bond with their young allies, replacing those lost parents. In both, the evil lives on — Ben and Mark end up on the run, while Don, after ending the threat of Eva, presumably goes off to face her evil aunt.


I would only add one more similarity – both novels feature a house that is a home or former home to the evil presences of these books. In fact, I need to make this addition, for these reviews are part of the Haunted House themed project and therefore, the stories I review must include a haunted house, even though most of the action in these stories take Ghost Story movieplace outside these houses. (For the record, I have found Salem’s Lot and Ghost Story on sites that list haunted house films and literature – so there!) But here is the take away – the story is too broad to settle on in with just a few characters at one location at a specific point in time.

 

Like with Stephen King’s The Stand and It, there are multiple characters with story lines that encompass more than a few pages. While the primary characters consist of the five old men that tell ghost stories (Collectively known as “The Chowder Society”), the writer/nephew of one of these men (Don Wanderly), and the “ghost” in her many incarnations, there are so many others – the promiscuous wife of one of the old men, the drunk plow driver, the cantankerous sheriff, thrill seeking teenagers, and on and on it goes. The story takes place in a snowy town in New York, but the book takes readers across the country as a large chuck of one of the plots (there are a few) unfolds in California. Oh yes, the town of Milburn has the obligatory haunted house. In fact there are several! The evil goes where it wants – haunting several abodes and businesses, including a movie theater that continuously runs the film “The Night of the Living Dead.” Several of the townsfolk fall prey to the evil. They become possessed, they become the objects of their worst nightmares; they die. And it doesn’t help matters any that a series of snowstorms shuts down the town. The people of Milburn are besieged on all fronts by so many forces.

I say, if you like Stephen King’s epic and character-heavy novels, then it is highly likely that you will enjoy Ghost Story as well. I know I did.

Now, how does one turn all this into a movie? By focusing on one central plot and abandoning the side stories. By letting go of most of the characters and centering only on a handful. And this work well, with a large part of the success coming from the suburb cast:

Douglas Fairbanks Jr      John Houseman                      Fred Astaire              Melvyn Douglas

ghoststorymen

 

It was the final film for Astaire, Fairbanks, and Douglas. Melvyn Douglas has so far appeared in two other haunted house movies that I have reviewed. (See The Old, Dark House and The Changeling.  Although I did not mention him in these articles.)

The film focus in on one plot – a young woman (as a ghost or whatever evil form you call it) returns from the dead to seek revenge on the four old men (Astaire, Douglas, Fairbanks and Houseman) who had killed her when they were young. This plot line occurs in the book as well but it is much more complicated. Normally when I do a book vs. movie review, I make a bullet-point list outlining the differences within each medium. I feel that is unnecessary here as I have already honed in on the most significant difference. Once that difference is understood and accepted (and accept it I do), an inventory of the nitty-gritty components of such a variance becomes pointless (In more ways than one: meaningless and “no bullet-points.” Get it?) The story that is portrayed is done with great care. It is better to minimize one’s focus to achieve a clear vision than to try and maximize the field of vision, only to achieve a blurry and unwatchable product.

As great as the book is, I find myself preferring the film (Or, I “might” prefer it to the book, as I said earlier). At times during my reading, I found myself lost in the tangled trails of plot. Yes, these trails do untangle and eventually lead you where you want to go, but still, it was a tedious experience at times. The film is straight forward and satisfying.

Not that I am against the complex – by no means. I enjoy books of great breadth and depth.

Perhaps such a comparison is unfair. It’s like comparing a plate of apples to a gourmet meal. It’s just that, as much as great as a gourmet meal is , sometimes I just want apples.

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Thank you for reading this article.  I invite you to check out my latest book: The House Sitter
– A writer haunted a house with his own stories.

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Review of The Changeling

ChanglingCoverGeorge C Scott portrays John Russell, a grieving widower that rents a historical mansion where things go “bump in the night.” Truthfully, it’s more of a “bang”, but it’s no less creepy. Searching to begin anew after tragically losing his family, Russell, a music composer, accepts a teaching job at university. With a new job comes a new life, new acquaintances – and a new home. New and scary. He has no idea what experiences are waiting for him; what mysteries he will help to unravel in The Changeling 

Most of the scares come from sounds, and effectively so. In the tradition of The Haunting, loud disturbances haunt the rooms and halls. Joining the audible haunts are the ghostly cries of a young child. The background music is quite chilling as well. But there are plenty of terrifying images to accompany these sounds and cries. These are largely the ghostly recreations of tragedies past. In one scene in particular, a ghost submerged in water cries for help; his cries rise to the surface in bubbles. This scene is an example of awesome editing and creative synchronization of visuals and sound. In another scene, a locket and chain rise up from the soil of a well like a slithering snake. A decent scene indeed!

The drawback of this film has to do with the back-and-forth change in scenery. Just when the viewer is settling into the dark and chilling atmosphere of this dark house, the scene awkwardly changes to a busy street on a bright morning of another day. Too much time is spent solving mysteries outside of the house rather than in the very heart of the haunting.

However the overall story is good and the resolution – the reason this film is called “The  the-changeling-1980Changeling” is intriguing indeed.   This isn’t the best haunted house film out there but it has its redeeming moments. It is definitely worth seeing.

 

 

 

 

Review of The Conjuring 2

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Demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren heed their call and once again come to the aid of a family that is plagued by evil spirits. This time, their call takes them across the ocean. They pack their bags and leave their New England home, bound for “Old” England, where they are to investigate a phenomenon that has been described as “London’s Amityville.” The Hodgson household consists of a single mother, her four children, and one or two unwanted presences. Will the Warrens be able to rid their home of these unwanted guests? And, more specifically, will they be able to help Janet Hodgson – the young girl who frequently becomes possessed by this evil? Go see The Conjuring 2 and these questions will be answered. Until then, read the rest of this article for informative tidbits and opinions.

Oh good, you listened to me and continued reading. Let’s begin with some background information. For those new to The Conjuring series, the reoccurring characters of Ed and Lorraine Warren are based on a real married couple that investigated paranormal phenomenon back in the 1970’s and 80’s. According to wikipedia, the Warrens claimed to have investigated over 10,000 cases of “actual” or “potential” of supernatural activity. Does this mean that we should settle in for 10,000 movies? Probably not – that’s overkill. But the Warren case files have spawned several movies, including both Conjuring movies. The first film is based on the 1971 Perron Family case – ghosts and or/demons haunt the Rhode Island home of this poor family (click here to read my review of The Conjuring). This second film is based on the Enfield Poltergeist case, which documents moving furniture, overturned chairs and levitating children. The film shows all this and so much more. Other films loosely related to the Warrens are AnnabelleThe Haunting in Connecticut, and The Amityville Horror. While there are no references to the Warrens in The Haunting in Connecticut and Amityville Horror, The Conjuring 2 opens with Ed and Lorraine investigating the Amityville House after The Lutz’s have fled. In order to determine if there is an evil presence associated with the house, Lorraine uses her skills as a medium to experience the horrific murders that claimed the lives of The Defeos –the family that lived in the house before The Lutz’s. From the killer’s perspective, she comes to understand what happened that fateful evening while uncovering a clue she does not yet understand, for it is a clue that is linked to things that would occur later in the Hodgson house. This opening sequence is brutal, chilling and captivating all at the same time.

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So, what did I think of the rest of the movie? Before I get into that, let me be honest about the-conjuring-2certain biases on my part. First, I prefer the ghosts and demons of films and literature to be somewhat elusive; their origins speculative, their nature not limited to the narrow parameters of “good” and “evil”. The spirits of The Conjuring films are evil demons as defined by the Bible. Adhering to tradition of well-known demon lore, we assume they will take possession of someone, mostly likely a young woman. We suppose that the possessed victim will at some point rant in a guttural, inhuman voice. We expect the demons to get a little testy when confronted with a crucifix – the symbol of “goodness.” All of these assumptions, suppositions, and expectations come true. Second, I favor unhurried and carefully crafted atmospheres of disturbances to the flashy and loud jump scares. Creepy over shocking, I say! The Conjuring 2 has a lot of jump scares for sure, more than its predecessor. For these reasons, it is doubtful that any films of The Conjuring series will make it to the top of my preferences list.

All this being said, The Conjuring 2 is a decent film with plenty of scares for everyone. While the film relies heavily on “jump scares”, they are done effectively and creatively. A person or object is on one side of the room and then suddenly, there s/he/it is right before the camera and this “jump” is unexpected. The ghosts and demons in this film manifest in scary forms. If you are the type of person that wants to see the phantoms that are doing the haunting, you will not be disappointed. And overall, the acting is good, the characters are sympathetic, and there are some touching moments outside of the realms of the scare factor.

I’ll let you be the judge as to what’s “true” about this film. In my opinion, it is fiction based on fabrications of truth. Ah but who am I? Maybe the events portrayed in this film are very real for some of you. If so, great – all the more reason to be scared. And isn’t that why we see horror movies in the first place – to be scared?

 


 

Thank you for reading this article.  If you enjoy my writing, please consider buying my latest book The House Sitter.  A writer/house sitter haunts a house with his stories. They haunt him back in return. Click on picture to see the book on Amazon

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