A Review of the Dream House – A Psychological Thriller

dream_house_movie_poster_2011_1010713214Dream House. I watched it. And I am shaking my head.  The critical consensus on rottonentomatoes  for Director Jim Sheridan’s 2011 psychological thriller reads, “Dream House is punishingly slow, stuffy, and way too obvious to be scary.” Run time is 83 minutes according to IMDB.com, not a long film by any means, and yet Adam Woodward of the now defunct publication Little White Lies writes that this these not-so-many minutes of viewing time are not only “an utter waste of time” but also a “waste of talent” (quote also from rottentomatoes.com). Truly there is some recognizable talent involved in this film. It stars Daniel Craig,the modern day James Bond. It co stars Naomi Watts,  famous star of both film and television, and Rachel Weisz, who won an Academy Award for her role in The Constant Gardener. Let’s not forget the director. Mr. Sheridan directed such impressive films as My Left Foot and In The Name of the Father. So what in the heck is going on, I mean, at Metacritic.com it rates 35 out of 100. Geez, what a low score!

To repeat – “I am shaking my head.” And  I ask again “What the heck is going on?” I shake my head in disbelief and wonder about those critics because, well, I found the film to be rather enjoyable. It’s not the best thriller out there, nor does it make my top 20 list of favorite haunted house films. But come on, let’s give this flick a break here. It did its job. It thrilled me, it kept me in suspense, it unraveled mysteries that made me think, “Oh wow that was a cool setup!”. The actors performed their parts well. There was some decent direction. Perhaps the basic premise is a bit too familiar – an editor at a publishing house, Will Atenton (Daniel Craig) seeks to escape the busy city life of (New York?) by quitting his job and moving into a “The Dream House” in a quaint town in New England with his charming family to write a book. Libby the wife (Rachel Weisz) is beautiful and their two young daughters are quite the charm. Yes there is a suspicious neighbor across the street (Naomi Watts), and the house has a terrible history. A family was murdered there. We’ve seen this situation before many times, but the story moved in a direction that held my attention.There are secret rooms harboring clues from the past, there appears to be prowlers lurking around the premises, and poor Will can’t escape the scandalous glares from police and other townsfolk. More tropes. But there are surprises. Perhaps the critics don’t like the fact that the film goes from light to dark, only to end on a light note. Once the plot darkens, shouldn’t it stay dark? I guess so. But oh well. In the end it makes sense.

Dream House inspired me to think about one of my favorite subjects – haunted houses. Therefore I have to respect the film for that. These inspirations, I can’t reveal them without revealing major spoilers. And I will do that in the section below. But you have been warned. However you can skip the next section and read the final paragraph of this article, which is spoiler-free!

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When I first subscribed to Netflix, I placed Dream House on “My List,” saving it to watch later. There it stayed, a small picture of the theatrical release poster at the top of my home screen, waiting patiently, hauntingly so. Two little girls; their green patterned dresses blending in with the background wallpaper of the same color and design. Each time I logged in, the girls were there and mostly I ignored them. That doesn’t mean I was oblivious to their calling. For years, through that image, they sang out to me on each of my visits to the Netflix home page. “Come look at us, Danny! We’re waiting for you. Come! Come!” Danny; the most informal version of my name, almost sounds like “Daddy”. But it is really their Daddy that they are calling out to. “Come home Daddy!”  Are these ghostly girls calling out to their father from the grave? In a nutshell, yes. But I am Danny, not their daddy. Close enough though, don’t you think?

For maybe ten years Dream House waited for me. Never to be rotated, never to be removed from Netflix’s menu of films. Perhaps there is no demand for this film on other pay platforms, so its roots burrow deep into this site. Like that one ugly, abandoned house in an otherwise charmed setting of picturesque homes, it remains and isn’t going anywhere. So finally, after failing to find a certain film on another platform that struck my mood at the time, I settled for Netflix and in doing so, I settled once again. Let’s get this over with. To “My List” I went. Into “The Dream House” I did go. 

There were ghosts inside The Dream House; ghosts of Will Atenton’s family. They were waiting for him to come home. And come home he does in the very beginning of the film. Home from “that other place” (You mean the office in the city, where he quit his job? I “sort of” mean that, but things aren’t always what they seem.)  They welcome him warmly. For you see, Will has fond memories of them despite…well, never mind “despite” for now.  Memories can be ghosts, you see. And memories can be forgotten. But they don’t always stay forgotten. Something can trigger them, causing them to flourish again. A house can perform such a triggering, for it harbors these memories, the good as well as the bad. But these are good memories, good ghosts. And they shield poor Will’s mind from the bad ones.

It’s only inside this house that Will sees his family. For that’s where his memories lie. There these memories are embedded into the haunting that will inflict Will. Therefore it’s a haunted house. See how that works out? Never mind that the family that he interacts with might not exist outside of Will’s awareness, or that, perhaps, they only exist on account of his head injury.  That doesn’t strip them of their rightful definition. They are ghosts.

Will is the victim of false impressions brought on by both a head injury and psychological trauma. He thinks that he is abandoning a career at a publishing company to write a book in the company of his family at their Dream House. The dream is threatened when he discovers that some time ago in the same house, a man by the name of Peter Ward murdered his family. Peter was sent to a mental institution and later released. It appears that his killer is back in the neighborhood and stalking them, even trespassing on their premises. As it turns out, Will is Peter Ward. “Will Atenton” never existed; it was an alias Peter created as a defense mechanism so that his conscience will no longer have to suffer the pain of identifying with a killer. In reality, he left the institution (not the publishing house) to return to the abandoned house where he and his family once lived. He thinks his house has remained in its pristine, lived-in state. He thinks his family is still alive. In this situation, ghosts, which are normally thought of as frightful and fanciful entities, protect him for the true horror – reality.

Even though the truth is eventually revealed, things are still not as they seem. Remember what I wrote at the beginning of the article, about how the tone shifts from light to dark then back to light again?  Within this shift comes another revelation. Perhaps this shift betrays the horror of the film, but it is what it is. Also, are these ghosts really restricted to Will/Peter’s unreliable perception? Maybe and maybe not. There is a certain scene where, well, never mind. If you want to watch this movie then I will leave it up to you to look for it.

NO MORE SPOILERS /YOU CAN READ ON IN AN UNSPOILED KIND OF WAY

All in all, I thought this was a slightly above average haunted house film. I’ve seen plenty worse. So I don’t get all the negativity. Oh well. I recommend it. But if you do watch it only to discover that you agree with the preponderance of the critics, don’t sue me. Understood? Great! Bye now. 

Swell by Jill Eisenstadt- Half of a Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Review of Girl on the Third Floor

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Here I go, jumping right in, attempting  to write an interesting article on Travis Steven’s buzzing indie haunted house film Girl on the Third  Floor. Usually when I set out to write these reviews/pieces , I try to follow some kind of theme. An angle if you will; an underlying concept that connects all the various parts of the piece together. Ah but maybe I shall forgo such an endeavor at this time. There is nothing worse than trying such a thing and failing, falling flat on your ass and dropping your prized piece, smashing and destroying all those fragile  connections that you had thought were so tightly screwed together (Okay there are worse things, COVID-19, Justin Bieber, Reality TV, Cockroaches on the toilet paper roll, and on and on). So for this article I won’t attempt such a thing, unlike the film that is up for review, which does try unsuccessfully to tie together a bunch of loose concepts. Film reviewer Oscar Goff of Bostonhassle.com notes that “Stevens throws a lot of ideas at the wall, and while not all of them stick, the cumulative effect is dizzying and effective”This is so true. Many of the ideas don’t stick (hence its inability to tie together loose concepts) However, this doesn’t make it a bad film, noting Goff’s comment about the”cumulative effect” being “dizzying and effective.”

Let’s begin with what is effective about the film. And to do that, I will begin with the beginning. A very impressive beginning it is!. I’m not talking  about the first few minutes either. I’m referring to the first few seconds of the film. The story had not yet begun and yet my eyes were glued to the television, taking in the opening montage of still shots that served as the background for the opening credits. Various images on parade capturing the smallest details of the interior environment of the haunted house, magnifying them so that we the viewers understand how the parts of the whole that make for bad feng shui. A dizzying wallpaper design of rose vines. A round ceiling light fixture with three protruding screws that resemble beady eyes. An aerial shot of drawer left partially open. A dead bee lying near dusty wall baseboards. Unwholesome closeups of cracks in the corners. A nail out of place. I’m betting most viewers fail to take these shots in. You shouldn’t neglect them. They foreshadow the brilliance that will shine throughout the film. They point to the film’s best friends – the camera, the cinematographer  and the editor. The talented crew and their expertise with the tools of their trade keep this film afloat. Now, what about the story? Well, it’s okay. Is there any interesting symbolism in this flick? Sigh. I guess so. But this is where I get lost. This I find underwhelming.

Former professional wrestler CM Punk stars as Don Koch, a former lawyer who has a shady past. He has cheated his clients out of money. He has cheated on his wife with other women. What a low life cheat all the way around! And he’s an alcoholic. Bad, bad Don! But all that is over now. He’s trying to turn over a new leaf. He takes it upon himself to renovate their newly acquired house. His wife Liz is so proud of her hubbie. She remains in Chicago and leaves him alone in the new house in the far away suburbs to work, work, work at rebuilding their new home. They have frequent video chats, where she regularly unleashes her boundless sympathy for her overworked hubbie. Does he need any help? Does he know what he’s doing? Is he sure that he can do without a professional?  It’s so much, dear Don!

Don really doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s constantly puncturing holes into the siding. He has only a few tools and he makes a lot of mistakes. It doesn’t help him any that the house itself is determined to fuck with him. Pipes ooze with muddied liquid. Blood spills out of electrical sockets.  Semen sprays from the shower head. If all this isn’t bad enough, the ceiling comes crashing down, revealing a hidden attic with walls covered with a child’s drawings. Oh, and how can I forget, marbles are always materializing out of nowhere. They roll across the floor on some predetermined path. Down the stairs, around the corner, and the camera follows these marbles curiously, demonstrating another fabulous feat in the art of creepy cinematography. They always lead to something pretty darn scary – maybe it’s a misbehaving room, maybe it’s to a dead body.

A local bartender warns Don that the house he bought used to be a brothel in the olden days. A sex worker was killed there. “No straight man” has been able to survive in that house. A female pastor from the church across the street also warns Don. She is a bourbon chugging, potty-mouthed pastor – whatta woman! She tells Don to leave the house. He doesn’t listen.

Don is up to his old tricks. He is drinking. He has sexual intercourse with a young, blonde neighbor. Bad, Bad Don! This young woman, Sarah Yates, turns out to be the ghost of the sex worker who died here years ago. She was testing Don. He failed and now she is out to get him! She haunts him. She does some very mean and deadly things.

Eventually Liz will show up. By the time she does Don is already possessed by the house. She will witness a ghostly recreation of a sex act that took place in the house years ago before the eyes of ogling perverts. She will triumph over the hostile supernatural forces. She will bond with the Protestant female pastor. Yay and stuff!

So what the heck is going on here, besides the typical supernatural shenanigans a haunted house loves to dish out? 

Perhaps my “theme of the themeless” description is inaccurate in that, there is an underlying theme, but it is so painfully obvious that a viewer like myself is left thinking “but there must be something more to this!”  That theme = male douchebags that mistreat women are bad and will suffer. Women will have their revenge. You go girl! This is the simple theme as per a consensus of many reviewers. Still, there are so many things begging for more explanation. The house appears to be alive, and this is one of my favorite themes in haunted house fiction. It screams or whines at times when Don is whacking away at the walls. Sometimes it even giggles. Eventually, Don will find a giant beating heart in the wall, or is it a bulging blood vessel? Whichever, but how does all this tie in with the gender dynamics and toxic masculinity theme in the film?  Perhaps there is another way of examining the theme of the house as a living entity that will answer this question.

When preparing for this article, I found bits and pieces of an interesting theory put forth by some reviewer, and for the life of me, I can’t relocate that review. In my initial sighting I  came across only a couple of sentences so I did not have much to go on in my vain attempt to search for it again. I wish I could provide proper sources but I can’t. Anyway the theory stated that the house was Don. He was, in fact, renovating himself. Rebuilding his life. Or at least making a half-ass attempt to do so. Flushing out the GirlOnTheThirdFloor3toxicity within himself. Putting up solid walls that are barriers to temptation. But there are so many toxins that he can’t handle it.  To improve yourself, you have to face all the putrid things that make you a rotten person. All that blood, shit and semen (symbolic of his uncontrollable sexual urges).Don can’t handle it. So the house is symbolic of his own body. When he digs into too deeply, it cries and gets upset. 

So all that is going on while at the same time, the house is its own independent identity, with its own history of mistreating women. 

Now does all this make sense? Somewhat. To tell you the truth I would care more about all this retribution stuff if Liz was more of a central character. For two thirds of the film, we see here only on Facetime, and she is portrayed, IMHO, as a doting wife, boring as hell, vanilla all the way, perfectly made and bred for the suburbs. Suddenly at the film’s end, viewers see her outside of screen on Don’s phone. She is strong, she is a survivor, she is a victor! And I can care less about her so she is no heroine of mine. 

Furthermore, there are other things going on in this film that cry out for explanation. In addition to the ghost of Sarah, there is this deformed Nymph that appears now and then. Who is she? And what about those marbles? When Liz is exposed to the a Shining-style recreation of the sex act, she also notes a little girl up in the attic that controls the flow of the marbles. Who the hell is she? Is she the feminine spirit of this living house? Oh I don’t know. I guess it’s just an idea that may or may not stick, right Oscar Goff? 

Overall, it’s a suspenseful film with brilliant camera work. Mood and style triumph, and that’s good. Better than jump scares and high octane sound effects. As far as the story and the messaging, well, there is much left to be desired there. But I recommend this film solely on the overall flair.

Other Things to Note

Svengoolie

Ya know where I  first heard of this film? Well let me first ask this, which TV show often exposes me to classic haunted house films? If you said “Svengoolie”, you’d be right. However, The Girl on the Third  Floor has many, many years to go before it can be labeled  a classic. Svengoolie did not show this film. I saw this film on Netflix. But CM Punk made an appearance  on the show. See, Sven likes wrestling, so he brought on Mr. Punk , and Mr. Punk then told us viewers about  this film.

Isn’t this interesting?

We are Still Here

Did you know that the director  of this film, one Travis Stevens, was the key producer dude for the film We Are Still  Here? This is a 2015 indie haunted  house film and I reviewed it. You can read it here. I thought the film was so-so, and I  ended up giving director Ted Geoghegan some advice. What kind of dilettante was I, since I know nothing about the ins and outs of film-making. Oh well, I forgive myself. 

Girl on the Third Floor is Stevens  directorial debut. Despite  some criticism I say to Travis “good job”

A Real Haunted House

The unrenovated  house in the film is really haunted. Supposedly. According to CheatSheet.com this house in Frankfort  Illinois is the home of spirits of two young girls. One is the ghost  of Sadie, a 12 – year – old girl who worked as a maid in this house. She was murdered in 1901. The other is the spirit  of Sarah, who died of an illness in the house back in 1909. Disturbances such as disembodied footsteps and phantom handprints  have been reported there.

The Old Dark House – William Castle and Hammer Film Productions version of an old James Whale Classic

 

It’s zany. It’s stupid. It’s bizarre. It’s both fun and funny. It’s nonsensical. It’s goofy! It’s dimwitted. It’s entertaining. It’s silly. It’s not boring. It’s a WTF kind of movie.

Were there enough keywords to trap you search engine surfers inside of William Castle and Hammer Film Productions’ 1963 version of The Old Dark House?  I hope so. And as long as you’re here, look at the trailer.

 

 

This film is quite different from the 1932 original film by James Whale, although both are billed as dark comedies. Hammer Film Productions are known for their remakes of the classic Universal Pictures monster/horror films. They took Dracula and the Frankenstein monster and put them up on screen in color for the very first time. Their remakes were more graphic and sexy. Supposedly, Hammer’s Dracula was the first time the legendary monster had fangs, inserted into the mouth of Sir Christopher Lee himself!

Sometimes these Hammer remakes worked well, other times they did not. Take the The Old Dark House for instance. Whale gave us a creepy, atmospheric movie about..uh..well, about an old, dark house. In this black and white film, shadows danced, candles flickered, people screamed, and eccentric characters behaved quite eccentric-like. It is a bizarre film. Now, remove all that fancy cinematography, add a bunch of color, but keep a houseful of eccentrics. Not the same characters, but different ones, new weirdos for a new age. Does it work? Well the film never breaks down or catches on fire or anything like that. It’s just weird in a different kind of way. The original film is like “Oh wow man, this shit is so weird and stuff! Give me another hit!” The remake is like, “Okay. This is, like, weird..and stuff. But I guess I’ll keep watching. It’s something different than anything else that’s on TV right now.”

On TV – that’s right, I saw the 1963 version of The Old Dark House on television last Saturday night on a program that I have referenced many times here at this blog – Svengoolie! With interesting trivia and fitting jokes along with a musical parody, horror host Svengoolie makes the viewing fun!

The story is as follows. Remember that older chap on the Newhart show named George Utley? If you are under the age of forty, chances are you are saying “no.” Well back in OldDarkHouseCastle21963, he was a younger chap, the young Tom Poston and he is the star of this film. He plays a car salesman by the name of Tom Penderel who is tasked with the job of delivering a car to a client who resides nightly, not daily, but nightly, at The Old Dark House. He performs his task and discovers he had no way to get home. Then a storm comes and this forces him to spend the night at this house…with several strange people!

Meet the Femm family. There are Uncle Femmes and Auntie Femmes, Cousin Femmes and Father Femmes and daughter Femmes and twin brother Femmes. It’s a wonder that the  Violent Femmes failed to make an appearance.  Any diddly doodles, it turns out that the whole family is cursed to spend every night at this old,dark house or they will lose their rights to their inheritance. The dead benefactor, some long since dead Femm guy,  had a stipulation in his will that each possible inheritor would forfeit his/her inheritance if they did not return to the house before midnight each and every night. Finally, someone gets sick of this arrangement and plans a night of murder and mayhem. Murder all those other people so that, when all is said and done, only one person will be left alive – the murderer, and since that last person will then be the sole inheritor, know more of that “return to the house” long before midnight business! And wouldn’t you know it, this all plays out on the same night that the innocent Tom  gets stranded at this house? As Led Zeppelin said, Poor Tom.  

What ensues in a good ol’ fashion game of Clue. Is the killer that weird uncle that keeps zoo animals locked away in case another biblical flood occurs? It the killer that weird old mother that knits knits knits in pursuit of a finished product that can be measured in miles? Who knows. But murder is afoot. A person will be found with long needles rammed through the neck, and the laughs keep on coming!

Let’s see, what to the professional reviewers think of this flick. Oh no, on imdb it averages 5.4 out of 10 stars. While there are no critical ratings at rottentomatoes.com the average  audience reviews comes in at a mere 17%. On the other hand, the original flick stands at 7.1 out of 10 stars at imdb and comes in at a 100% rating among critics on rottentomatoes, with an audience favorability rating of 72%)

Let’s forgive this remake though, shall we? It means no harm. It’s trying its best to have fun. And it is fun. Stupid, but fun. It’s not a great movie. It’s not even a good movie. It’s not really a haunted house film either but I am featuring it here at this blog to compare it with the original, which I have reviewed here. While the original really doesn’t have the ghostly elements of a haunted house movie either, it has the mood and atmosphere and is both dark and spooky while absurdly funny. 

Oh just go ahead and give it a looksie and don’t take it seriously. Who knows, you might have fun with it.

 

 

(A) Stir of Echoes – Book and Movie Comparison

StirOfEchoesBoyHappyNewYear
My first blog post of the new year! 2020! Woo Hoo and stuff! Time to look forward! Time to reflect on the past. But when doing the latter, be careful not to get overwhelmed in those “Stir of Echoes’!  Or is it “A Stir of Echoes”? That depends on whether we are referring to the book (A Stir of Echoes) or the movie (Stir of Echoes). In this case both will suffice, for I’ll be discussing both the film and the novel!

So, whatdidja’ think about my intro and how I segued from New Years thoughts to a creepy tale of the paranormal? Pretty nifty, huh? You are saying “no.”  Oh. Well sorry. I just had to fit in some kind of “Hey it’s a new year” subject here at this blog. It’s obligatory. Everyone’s doing it! But since I don’t have any thoughts on 2019 vs. 2020, resolutions, and all those hyped-up concepts, I  thought I would simply begin the first post of the year doing what I do best – writing about scary stories. They were there in 2019, more will come in 2020. More still will come in the new decade and so many came out in all those decades of the past.

Right now, I want to go back a couple decades, back to that old century we left behind in 2000-2001. Not that far back into it. Not yet. For now, let’s go to the tail end of those 1900 years – the Prince year of 1999.

Back in 1999, four guys went to the movies. We saw The Blair Witch Project. Afterwards we went to a bar where we graded the film over beers. I gave it an A, John gave it a B, Greg a C, and Arvin gave it a D. Quite the spread!  Left with much to be desired but still in the mood for a horror movie, Arvin suggested we regroup and see some Kevin Bacon horror me. (Really? Thought me. Kevin Bacon, that pretty boy?! In a horror flick? (I had forgotten he had already starred in Friday the 13th way back when)). Anyway, we went for it (Greg stayed home), and to my surprise I enjoyed it. It was a chilling ghost story packed with mystery and suspense, taking place in my favorite city, Sweet Home, Chicago! I loved seeing familiar sites up there on the big screen. 

“Did I pick good, Cheely?” Arvin asked, “Now wasn’t that better than that Blair  Witch Project?”

Now I don’t know about that, Arv! They were two different  movies, apples and oranges my friend. But you made your point; Stir of Echoes is a decent  flick.

Many years later, I discovered this cool author dude named Richard Matheson when I read and wrote about his work Hell House. Who knew that this guy was a beloved Sci-Fi and horror writer that gave us many books that were turned into movies? Such  films include I am Legend, What Dreams May Come, The Legend of Hell House (Book =Hell House, no “The Legend”), The Incredible Shrinking Man (Book = The Shrinking  Man, no “Incredible”), and yes, “Stir of Echoes” (Book = A Stir of Echoes, this time the author’s  title has more words than the film title. Well, just one more word  = the letter “A”.)  

Again I ask, “Who knew?” 

Hypothetical Reader:  Uh, Mr. Blogger Man, a lot of people  knew this.

Me:  Okay, but did these people “in the know” also realize  that Matheson was a prolific writer for the original Twilight  Zone series?

Hypothetical Reader:  Yeah, they did.

Well, I didn’t  know any of this until about eight years ago, approximately  twelve years after I saw the movie. But it wasn’t until a few months ago that I finally read  A Stir of Echoes. Very good book.  And, to make sure that I still enjoyed the film, I watched  it again a few nights ago. Did I still like it? I did.

Now, is the book different from the movie? Yes, in significant ways. David Koepp, writer/director of Stir of Echoes does things differently. Can a Hollywood  writer (Koepp) known for writing major action and superhero movies (Jurassic  Park, Indiana Jones and The Kingdom  of the Crystal Skull, Mission Impossible , Spiderman ) be on par with telling the same yet different story as the great Matheson? For the most part, with a couple of exceptions, the answer is “yes”

Let’s explore the plot and some key similarities/differences between the film and the book.


 

In both mediums, the generic story is as follows:

After a family man, (both a husband and father) undergoes hypnosis, he awakens with psychic sensitivities. He will use this special “sight” to explore unsolved mysteries that take place in his neighborhood. Warning: the consequences in meddling in these areas can be deadly! 

 

So far, so good. Now I shall present two expansions of this synopsis. One for the book and one for the movie. Here I go, wish me luck! 

Book Synopsis

This is a tale of a man , Tom Wallace, who is hypnotized by his brother-in-law. After hypnosis, he gains psychic abilities. He can read the minds of others, he can forecast future events. He can sense danger abroad. He can communicate with the dead, as evidenced by his confrontations with the spirit of a woman that is apparently haunting his house. 

The story takes place in the suburbs, where families go about their lives. With his newfound abilities, drawn shades become transparent – in a metaphoric sense (He’s not a Peeping Tom!) He can “see” into the private lives of his neighbors. What dark secrets to they harbor?  What past tragedies have defined their modus operandi? Answers come slowly inside little peeks, like that of a person looking into a small hole in a fence, it’s aperture limiting the view of the large scene that is being acted out. It is a voyeuristic talent that he never asked for or wanted.

In the process, readers are treated to various stories concerning different families in the neighborhood. The book also examines the struggles that come when he is suddenly  “gifted” with psychic abilities and the strain that this exclusive knowledge has upon his marriage and his job. Anne, his wife, is troubled by her husband’s strange and sudden ability to “know things”.  His son Richard, approximately three or four years of age, will be dragged unwittingly into this dangerous game of crime-solving. Does he possess a special sight as well? 

Movie Synopsis

Tom Witzky is hypnotized by his sister-in-law. After hypnosis, he gains psychic abilities. These talents are forced into use by the ghost of a dead teenage girl. He comes to realize that she haunts his house, where he lives with his wife Maggie and his son Jake, who is approximately six years old. Jake has been communicating with the ghost girl since before the events that take place in the movie. Only after Tom is hypnotized does he have  after encounters with the ghost girl. Nearly all of Tom’s episodic moments of clairvoyance point to the mystery surrounding the girl’s death. Throughout the movie, he follows these clues until he discovers a startling secret that involves some of his neighbors.

Right from the get-go, viewers know that they are watching a ghost story movie. Most of the events of the movie are tied to this ghost story. His marriage becomes strained as he and his son Jake, both now possessing psychic abilities,  form a bond to the exclusion of Maggie. This bonding has to do with the mystery surrounding the ghost girl.

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Notice a difference between these two descriptions? The second one has more emphasis on the ghost story, doesn’t it? But there are other differences as well. These differences might make more sense with more details. But I tried to juxtapose them in such a way so as to not give away too many spoilers. Going forward, I will not be so concerned with spoiling the plot. I will provide specific details that point out the major differences. So if you don’t want to have the plot spoiled, read no further!!!

Oh No! Spoilers Below! Oh No! Spoilers Below! Oh No! Spoilers Below! Oh No! Spoilers Below!

There are several subplots occurring in this story. In the end, it is the story that surrounds the ghostly elements of the plot that ties most of the various subplots together, both in the film and the novel. The book doesn’t let on that this is happening until the very end. However, the book does cover a broader spectrum of events concerning what Tom sees with his special powers – not everything that enters his special sphere of awareness has to do with the ghost story. 

Let’s go over some “for instances.” While at work, Tom suddenly has a premonition that something has happened to his wife. He rushes home and discovers that his wife had an accident and hurt her head. This event occurs in the book but is absent from the movie and it has nothing to do with the ghost story. Other examples include Tom’s ability to know the gender of his pregnant wife’s unborn baby (in the book and not the movie. Remember – the book was published in 1958 – they did not have the medical technology that they have today to ascertain the gender of a pregnant woman’s unborn baby.). Both the film and the novel cover the moment when Tom suddenly knows that his wife’s father?/mother?/grandmother? (I forget which) has passed on before the fateful phone call came. But the book covers this event in much more detail.

The best example of a difference between being part of the ghost plot/not being part of the ghost plot has to do with The Babysitter.

The Babysitter From Hell

In the book, the Tom and Anne go out to dinner, I believe, (they could have been at a movie, a concert, but this is irrelevant), leaving little Richard with a babysitter. While at the evening event, Tom is struck with the notion that Richard is in grave danger! They rush home just in time to thwart an attempted kidnapping on the part of the babysitter. This has nothing to do with the ghost story.

In the movie, Tom and Maggie are to attend a sporting event with their neighbors. Alas, the babysitter cancels. But little Jake mysteriously suggests that his mother should call a sitter named Debbie Kozac. Maggie checks around and finds that the teenaged Debbie comes highly recommended. As it turns out, the teenage ghost girl told Jake to mention Debbie to her mother.

Tom and Maggie attempt to attend the event. Before entering into the stadium. Tom suddenly realizes that Jake is being kidnapped. He rushes back to the house, but Jake and the babysitter are no longer there. Intuitively, he knows to check at the nearby train station. Once there, he discovers Debbie holding Jake. Ah, but she is not trying to flee with him aboard some train! It turns out that Debbie was only bringing the boy to his mother who works at the station. She wants Jake to tell the mother about a conversation he was having  that she overheard. Jake claimed to be talking to Samantha Kozac, Debbie’s somewhat mentally challenged older sister who had disappeared without a trace. The official story was that Samantha had run away but Debbie and her mother don’t believe that. This kidnapping-by-the- babysitter plot ties in very much to the ghost story.

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So, what’s the deal with Samantha Kozac? We’ll get to that, but let’s back up a bit and explore differences in terms of setting and characters before we get to the “biggie”!

The Neighborhood

 

In the book, the story takes place in the suburbs of…is it California? I forget, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s a generic suburban setting with lawns,houses on either side and across the street, with “the plant” nearby where Tom and his buddy across the street carpool together to work. Middle class all the way.

In the movie, the story takes place in a Chicago neighborhood. It is a white man’s blue collar neighborhood  all the way. Neighbors have beer parties and barbecues on the street, they talk of sports and men to their manly things (fathers are proud of their football playing sons). They talk with neighborhood accents. 

(Note: It was cool seeing scenes from neighborhoods such as Logan Square, Lincoln Park. But, uh, production guys? These ain’t blue collar hoods. These are gentrified yuppie havens. No middle-aged white men with thick gray mustaches acting all machismo. For that you go to the South Side. But hey, doesn’t affect the story, I know.  I’m just saying..)

Who are the People in Your Neighborhood? 

 

The bookStirofEchoesBookOlderLet’s see, nextdoor to that Wallace’s there is a couple, forgot their names, but the woman is very flirtatious and often her nasty thoughts are broadcasted onto Tom Wallace’s most receptive mind.

Across the street there is Frank and Elizabeth Wanamaker. Frank is Tom’s buddy. But Frank is quite the asshole, and he is always cheating on his wife and putting her down. Somewhere on the other side of the Wallace’s are his landlord and landlady, Harry and Mildred Santas. See, the Wallace’s are only renting the house they live in.  They are an older and quite private couple. Harry is a bit cantankerous. Before renting the house to the Wallace’s, they allowed Mildred’s sister Helen Driscoll to live there. But one day she just ran away, leaving a note announcing her departure, and they had never heard from her since. 

The movie – Tom’s buddy is Frank McCarthy who lives down the street with his wife Sheila and their teenage college-bound son Adam. Frank is played by Kevin Dunn in the movie, and Kevin truly is a Chicago guy! Adam is a budding football star.

Tom leases his house from Harry Damon, who I believe lives across the street. Sporting a gray mustache, he has a son named Kurt who is Adam’s age. Kurt and Adam are buddies.

The Hypnotist

 

The book – It is Anne’s brother that hypnotizes Tom. He is a licensed hypnotherapist.

The movie – It is Maggie’s sister that hypnotizes Tom. She is a pot-smoking, new age flake.

The Creepy Boy – Tom’s Son

 

The book – Little Richard is perhaps 3-4 years old. It is hinted that he might be a “sensitive” like his father. At one point, the ghost communicates through his little voice. 

The Movie – No “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts,” about it, Jake,who is older than the Richard of the book, is one psychic little dude, more so than his father will ever be. The movie begins with him talking to a ghost, before we are even introduced to Tom. I think the movie was going for a “creepy kid” angle.

 

The Gun Shot

 

The book – Tom hears a gunshot before it happens. He rushes to the scene where the shooting is to take place. But alas, it has already happened. Elizabeth Wanamaker has shot her husband Frank and then has fainted. Frank survived the shooting and he doesn’t press charges against his wife. It was an “accident”. Turns out, Elizabeth has psychological issues.

The movie – Tom has a vision. He is standing in the house of his buddy Frank. Adam stands before him with a gun. An argument ensues. Is the kid going to shoot him? No. Instead he turns the gun on himself and pulls the trigger.

It turns out that Tom is seeing what Frank is about to see, looking through his eyes. Tom rushes to the house but he is too late, Adam has already pulled the trigger. Adam survives but he is in critical condition.

 

There’s a body in the house!

 

The book – Through a series of supernatural clues, Tom is convinced that Helen Driscoll, his landlady’s sister, had not run away and is in fact, sadly, dead. She is the ghost who is haunting their house. Perhaps Harry the landlord killed her. It turns out that Helen was promiscuous and had been shacking up with her sister’s husband. Maybe he killed her to keep the affair a secret (dead women tell no tales – or do they?). But he needed more evidence. Perhaps her body was hidden on the premises somewhere? In the movies, bodies are hidden in the lowest portion of the house, so he goes there, to the crawlspace. Finally while in the crawlspace, his psychic intuition kicks in and he knows where to dig. 

This is perhaps the most awkward and rushed part of the book. His psychic proclivities do not lead him to the cellar but rather his knowledge of horror stories in general does this. Anyway, they find the murdered body of poor Helen.

The movie – Tom is convinced that the ghost of the teenage girl that haunts his house is Samantha Kozac. He postulates that she did not run away but instead was murdered. However he is troubled by all these psychic messages and he asks his sister-in-law to undo whatever she did to him under hypnosis to open his brain to the supernatural StirofEchoesBodinBagworld. She tries, but turning hypnosis, the spirit invades his mind and orders Tom to “DIG!”

Tom goes home and digs up the back yard. Finding nothing, he digs around in the cellar. Eventually he stumbles upon a wall with loose bricks. He removes the bricks and finds a hidden, enclosed space. There in the space is the body of Samantha Kozac wrapped in plastic.

 

The Big Reveal 

 

The book – After finding the body, Elizabeth Wanamaker pays the Wallaces a visit. She points a gun at them. What’s going on?

It turns out that she killed Helen. Not only was Harry sleeping with her, but Frank had been visiting her bedroom as well and Elizabeth found out about it. Elizabeth had watched Harry leave the house of his sister-in-law, knowing why he was there. When he was sure that he was gone, she snuck into the house and killed Helen with a fireplace poker, then buried the body under the house. It was she who forged the note about her running away.

A struggle ensues, but the Wallaces aren’t harmed. Elizabeth is locked away in a psychiatric hospital. 

The movie – Tom reaches out to touch the corpse of Samantha. When he does so, he receives a vision of what happened to Samantha in the final moments of her life. He sees with her eyes.

Before the Witzky’s move in to the rented house, the place is vacant. The landlord’s son Kurt uses the house as a place to party with his buddy Adam. The two boys lure Samantha into the house and attempt to rape her. In the struggle, they accidentally kill her. They hide the body and go to their fathers’ for help. The fathers, Harry the landlord and Frank, Tom’s buddy, agree to conceal the crime. When Tom finds out their secret,Harry and Kurt try to kill him but Frank intervenes and saves him.

 

Which is better – the film or the book?

 

Both the film and the book are very good. Each tells a similar story and both are successful at doing so. But I guess in this case the old adage is correct – the book is better than the film.

The book tells a broader story, even though the film does quite well with a more narrow tale. However, there is one part of the movie that I have failed to mention that cheapens the film a bit. I’ll mention it now.

Maggie and Jake are walking in a cemetery and they stumble upon a cop who also happens to be gifted with  “special sight.” The cop and Jake immediately recognize this about each other. The cop is a large black man and this whole exchange reminded me of The Shining, with the little Danny Torrence talking to the Overlook Chef Dick Halloran. It was kind of a rip-off moment if you ask me.

A later scene where the cop talks to Maggie reveals that both her husband and son are figuratively walking through a dark tunnel. Tom has a flashlight with a small beam whereas Jake has a large beam. In other words, Jake can see into the paranormal world much better than his father. The reason for this whole scene was not to explain to Maggie what is going on, but to explain to us, the viewers, what is happening with this father/son “gift”. How in the hell does this cop know all this? He just does. A rather contrived way to explain the whys and wherefores if you ask me.

Otherwise, both the book and the film are very good. I recommend both.

 

 

Don’t “Overlook” the Film “Doctor Sleep” – The Overlook is Already Provided.

Ewan McGregor stars as Dan Torrance, a.k.a Doctor Sleep, which is also the title of the film that is up for review. “Doctor Sleep” is Dan’s nickname, given to him by patients at a hospice ward on account of the way he uses his psychic abilities to help dying patients “crossover” with peace and dignity. As much as he is loved at this ward, his talents are needed elsewhere. Dan Torrance will go on one hell of a psychic adventure.

In order to better understand what this is all about, a trip down memory lane is in order.

(Here be me pretending you don’t realize this a sequel to The Shining. Just go with it. Be all wowed and shit!)

The Book – The Shining

DoctorSleepOverlook1

Once upon a time there was a man named Stephen King. In 1977,  He went ahead and wrote a book that was called The Shining. This is my favorite book from this horror author icon and it helped to develop my love for haunted house stories. One of the main characters of the story is a little boy named Danny Torrance who possesses a sixth sense that is called “The Shining”. People who “shine” have the talent to read minds, see the future, talk with ghosts, and/or engage in many other psychic abilities, many of which plague the “shiner” with horrifying visions. Danny’s mean ol’ father, Jack,  brought little “Shining Danny” to The Overlook, a hotel in the mountains that also has “The Shining” (places can shine too). This hotel just loves to conjure ghosts from its past and replay the most bloody scenes that have ever happened on its premises. The Overlook uses little Danny as a battery in order to bring its own Shining abilities to full charge. A fully charged Overlook hotel drives Jack mad and turns him into a homicidal maniac. Jack tries to kill his family, even his dear little boy Danny.  In the end, Danny and his mother escape and The Overlook is blown to pieces. Jack perishes in the explosion.

The Book – Doctor Sleep

DrSleepBook

 

Again upon a time, this man named Stephen King wrote a sequel to his groundbreaking novel The Shining. The time was 2013. The novel is called Doctor Sleep.  Danny Torrance is all grown up. He works as an orderly at a hospice center where he uses his “shining” abilities to help dying patients pass over peacefully to the other side. He meets a little girl named Abra who reaches out to him telepathically. She too has “The Shining” and she is in danger. Abra is being pursued by a deadly gang of psychic vampires known as The True Knot. These folks have been living an unnaturally long life by killing children who “shine” and feeding off of their essence, which leaves their victims’ bodies  in the form of steam. By inhaling this steam, they can cheat death.. The True Knot. seeks to have the feast of a lifetime on Abra, for she is the “shiniest” of all and her essence will sustain these vampires for who knows how long. Dan Torrance comes to her aid, and there is a showdown on the grounds where the Overlook once stood. Dan and Abra vs Rose the Hat, the leader of the True Knot,. Even though the building is gone, its “shine” of remains. Will the residual vitality of the spirit of The Overlook somehow lend its strength to Dan and Abra? Or will it work to their disadvantage?

Wait a minute!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Overlook is no more, and yet I am including Doctor Sleep in my reviews of haunted house films.  Oh why would I go and do such a thing? Because, silly, that brief synopsis outlined in the preceding paragraph describes the book, but  I am reviewing the movie. Things are different with each medium. Think of it this way – The book Doctor Sleep is the sequel to the book The Shining. On the flip-side, The movie Doctor Sleep is a sequel to the film (not the book.) The Shining. To keep with the continuity of mood, the film is shot in the style of Stanley Kubrick, the late famed director that directed the film The Shining and gave it is signature eerie style. So you could say that the film Doctor Sleep, directed by Michael Flanagan, is very .  “Kubric-esque”, and this style is very much welcomed in my opinion. In Kubrick’s film, The Overlook remains standing at the end of the film, unlike in King’s book.. Does this mean that this creepy mansion up there in the snowy mountains of Colorado will once again open its doors to movie viewers? 

(Hypothetical Reader: Oh please let it be so! Please? Pretty please? Please tell me I will get to visit The Overlook again! Please? Oh why won’t you just say “yes?”)

(Me: Okay! YES!)

(Hypothetical Reader: Yay!!!!!!!!!! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap!)

DoctorSleepOverlook2

I am very happy to report that the film Doctor Sleep not only includes a fully intact and supernaturally functional Overlook Hotel but that its inclusion comes naturally and serves as a climactic plot device. The title of the article probably already gave this away, but I’m glad you are still giddy with relief. The film begins at The Overlook and comes full circle to finish at the hotel. And I like the film all the more for its inclusion. For this I am so grateful.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do like the way King ended The Shining with the hotel going “Kaplooie!!!!!” due to Jack Torrance’s negligence at keeping checks on the boiler. This ending was foreshadowed in the beginning of the book when Jack is trained on the boiler upkeep and is told to watch out, for “it creeps”, meaning that pressure builds and therefore the settings must be adjusted daily. Likewise, Jack himself fails to keep checks on his own boiler, meaning his temper and sanity. He too “blows” at the end. Brilliant symbolism!

Here’s how I breakdown my preferences. I do like the book The Shining better than the film, but the film is great and it comes in at a close second. I love the film. However, I do like the film Doctor Sleep better than the book. Flanagan’s vision triumphs over King’s, even though it is King’s story. Sorry Stephen, that’s just the way the Overlook crumbles. And it’s not just the presence of The Overlook that makes the film superior to the book. Other factors contribute to its superiority as well. Let’s take a look at some of those factors in the next section.

Doctor Sleep – Book Versus Movie

For the record, I did read Doctor Sleep. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the finer details of the story. In preparation for this article, I made an attempt to refresh my memory by searching my Kindle library, hoping to find the book and do some on-the-spot skim reading. Alas, it was not in my Kindle library. I must have downloaded it from Barnes and Noble on my Nook, which I don’t have anymore. And there was no way I was going to purchase it again. I did like the book, but I didn’t love it, certainly not enough to buy it again.

One of the problems I had with the book has to do with the way King portrays the True Knot. They are senior citizens travelling around in Winnebegos, wearing polyester clothing and straw sun hats. When they extract the psychic steam from their victims, which is  used to prolong their already lengthy lives (like vampires, their true ages are much greater than what their appearances suggest), what they don’t absorb there on the spot they store in canisters. Old people with canisters of vapor – to me this seems like a play on oxygen tanks, a device that many of our elderly are forced to possess. No, I’m not taking offense to any unintentional mockery of the plight of the elderly, I just think the whole set up is hokey. They just don’t strike me as a fearsome bunch, even though they do the unmentionable, i.e. killing and feeding off children.

In the movie, most of the True Knot have younger bodies. They appear to be in their thirties, forties and fifties. This would make sense, wouldn’t it? If they enjoy their prolonged lives so much, wouldn’t it make sense to do so in younger bodies? I seem to remember, in King’s defense, that yes, they would love to have less aged bodies, but they were running low on “steam” and disease and aging are catching up to them, much to their dismay. But their style of dress, i.e. polyester, and the way they present themselves, like escapees from a retirement home, all this just made me chuckle. In the movie, they dress in leather, have tattoos, wear hippie-like clothing. They come off as more of a threat. Yeah, yeah, the whole “retirement community dress-style and culture” serve the book characters well by making them the least suspect in regards to reports of missing children, but this setup didn’t serve me well as a reader ready to be horrified by a band of ruthless monsters. The elderly Satan worshipers of Rosemary’s Baby they are not. That clan of seniors worked for me. These did not.

The True Knot of the film; they held my respect as fearsome folks. They did a good job of making me hate them for their selfish and murderous acts. They are bad, bad people – and when the “good guys” get the upper hand, finally, there is relief. I nearly applauded during a scene when Dan Torrance and his friend are able to kill some of them – and I was in the theater without a companion! 

The canisters of steam are included in the film. But for some reason, they seem less hokey.  I don’t know why I have such “a steam” issue; maybe I should practice more self love. (get it? “a steam” vs. “esteem”? You don’t get it. Fine! Moving on). I just can’t help but question “do we all release steam on death or only people who “shine?” If only people who shine release such steam, then is it this “steam” that gives them their psychic abilities? To me it’s sort of like the midi-clorians of Star Wars, Lucas’s poorly received concept of micro organisms that grant the powers of The Force to its host. But anyway, scenes where the gang of “True Knotters” hover over a dying victim and inhale the steam bring to mind a pack of dogs fighting over a corpse’s bones. These scenes epitomize quintessential horror quite well,  so I won’t belabor the point any longer.  

While I don’t remember all the details of the book’s final showdown, I do remember that it was a bit drawn out. While it was not quite as bad as the grueling car chase in King’s Dreamcatcher, it still was a “page turner” in a different kind of sense – I kept turning the pages hoping for it to end.

This was not so with the movie. Not at all! Enter The Overlook!

The Showdown. Look, it’s The Overlook!

DoctorSleepDanAndAbra

Dan Torrance and Abra lure that last remaining member of The True Knot, Rose the Hat, to The Overlook. It still stands but it is shut down permanently. Dan Torrance knows how dangerous this place is for people who shine. He doesn’t want to return but he must, in the hopes that the Hotel will put an end to Rose’s reign of terror even if he has to die in the process.

Though I went to the theater alone, I clapped when I watched Michael Flanagan recreations of the wide angle tracking shots of The Overlook’s neighboring lake and mountains. It was late afternoon on a weekday, and I was one of five people in the theater. But I didn’t care, I was excited. The same eerie music made me feel right at home as well. I was a happy man and I knew I was in for a treat.

When he’s finally standing outside the deadly hotel, Dan knows that he needs to “wake the place up”.  He does so with his very presence. He enters the foreboding building and he slowly strolls the halls and relives some of the less finer moments of his childhood.  The axe holes in the walls are still there, holes carved out by his mad father once upon a time. 

During one of his hall strolling scenes, darkened ceiling lamps crackle to life when Dan passes under them. The feeling I got watching this was that I was back inside Flanagan’s’ vision of Hill House from his Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House. Creepy, luring and patient. I loved that series and I was giddy with anticipation watching a similar vision come to light inside The Overlook. There are plenty of Easter eggs – references and recreations of The Shining’s ghosts and deadly scenes. Here in this deadly arena “a Shining” battle will take place as heroes and villains turn their powers against each other. 

 Bringing it All Home – finishing the film in the style of King’s “The Shining”

Doctor Sleep the film ends in a similar way as The Shining the book. The first thing Dan Torrance does upon revisiting The Overlook is to re-calibrate the boilers so that they will blow the whole place to smithereens. A place like The Overlook is simply too dangerous to be left standing.  

Like his father before him, Dan will suffer a similar fate. The hotel possesses him. He runs around with an axe and tries to kill Abra, the girl he sets out to save. Just as he’s about to slam the axe inside her head, he temporarily comes to his senses. A similar situation happens in the book The Shining but not the movie. In the book, Dan breaks free from his trance for just a few moments, enough time to warn his son Danny to run. And run Danny does.  Likewise in the film Doctor Sleep with the grown up Danny and young Abra. At the end of Doctor Sleep the film, the hotel will go up in flames, just as it does in The Shining novel. I thought the film’s ending was a fitting tribute to King’s resolution.


 

By the time you read this piece, movie theaters will probably no longer be showing Doctor Sleep. When I saw it, there were only a few theaters left in the Chicago area showing this film. After seeing it, I began writing this review, then all of a sudden Thanksgiving weekend through me off course. But here it is, finally, and you might have to wait to stream or rent it. Oh but see it you must, by whatever means. Don’t Overlook Doctor Sleep!

Review of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – The Film

ScaryThingsHouseHappy Mid-August to you all!

Sorry I haven’t been posting much lately.  Let’s see now, my last post, my review and analysis of Anne Rivers Siddons’ The House Next Door was published…wow…on July 2nd!  Has it really been that long? I guess it has. I blame my lack of blogging on the summer.  In addition to being an autumn kind of guy, with my love of autumnal colors, Halloween and haunted houses, I’m also a summer guy as well and I try to get in as many outdoor activities as I can in a short period of time.

Some summer rituals do involve The Great Indoors, though.  Such a ritual includes seeing a movie on a weekday during the daylight hours. Blame this on those summers of my high school years when going to matinees was a regular, cherished activity. Oh that precious nostalgia! To relive those days of my youth is to reengage in such rituals, and reengage I did. I went to see a seasonally appropriate film if there ever was one, for the days are getting colder, the nights longer, and fall is just around the corner. But for me at 2:35pm on August 14, 2019, autumn was already here, on the big screen, with its wonderful oranges and auburns, with its comfy wool sweaters and letterman jackets, with its Halloween celebrations, and most importantly, with its nightmarish monsters that prey on high school kids. This sneak preview of autumn even featured the small-town haunted house that stands behind the woods!  And this house is why this movie gets a review on my page. The movie is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Before getting into the guts of the story, let’s go back to that season shit again.  Aw come on, it’s appropriate and it helps establish the feel of the film.  The autumn theme whacks a bit of certainty into today’s Chicago season. Mid-August, soooo uncertain, the weather doesn’t know what to do – be hot? Be cold? At least with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, I’m not having the kind of anxiety that is similar to one waiting to depart on a trip – I’m already there! I’m in a small town on October 31st, and seasonal testaments abound! There is the field of fully-grown corn with its stalks turning a golden brown. There are fallen leaves and wind is tossing them around, there are Halloween decorations in the windows. Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed the insides of the houses were geared up in autumn colors as well. The wallpapers (this is a period piece, 1968 I believe, as a Nixon election victory was shown later in the film) conform to the hues of this magnificent season. Great job to the set designers.  The film Halloween (1978) is often cited as the epitomical autumn horror film, for it too took place in a small town with houses decorated for Halloween, with its streets filled with blowing leaves. But Christ, this is supposed to be a fictional town in Illinois (Haddonfield), and there are fucking palm trees everywhere. The leaves are so green, too green. Alas, Halloween was filmed in California, and this is the reason for all this out of place scenery.  In Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, everything is in the right place. School is in session; high school activities are taking place. So if for no other reason, I recommend seeing this film for its knack of instilling the spirit of autumn. Special effects aside, the landscape is beautiful.  Oh, and the film’s story isn’t too bad either.

The story? Oh yeah – that. Four teens decide to explore the haunted house at the edge of the woods on Halloween night. It once belonged to the very prominent Bellows family back in the 19th century – a family that built and ran a mill which in effect created the town with the jobs it brought to the area.  The family is long gone (later we will learn – most just disappeared from the face of the earth).  The daughter of the family, Sarah, is kept in lock and chain and hidden from the outside world, so the rumors go. The legends also have it that Sarah would tell scary stories to children who listened to her through the walls.  Upon hearing the stories, the children would vanish.  Ah those small-town folktales, pretty silly huh? Well poor Stella, Ramon, Auggie and Chuck get a large helping of this “silliness” and it ain’t too pretty.

While exploring, aspiring horror writer Stella finds a book of stories written by Sarah herself, penned in blood so it appears. She brings it home. Hey Stella!   That wasn’t such a good idea. Oh Stella!

By stealing the book, Stella has awakened the vengeful spirit of Sarah Bellows. And she is cranky, having been “dead asleep” for however many years. In both death and life, Sarah utilizes that unique skill she has – what she writes comes true. She writes about scary stories and legends. And, she will write about the teens that roamed about in her haunted house. Words appear on the pages in present time, and she casts the teens as the victims of such monstrous creatures. Could it be that Sarah had caused her family to disappear by writing them into these terrible tales of hers? Could be!

A team of creative individuals are at the helm of this film.  It is directed by André Øvredal, director of The Autopsy of Jane Doe. If you haven’t seen this film, treat yourself to it as soon as possible.  As for the film currently under review, it is based on a screenplay by none other then Guillermo del Toro (which is loosely based on the books by Alvin Schwartz, more on this later). G del T also helped to produced this film, so if you’re looking for his signature creepy monsters, you’re gonna get them! (although many are replicas of illustrations from the books. Replicated awesomely I might add!)

There are three collections of scary short stories books written by Alvin Schwartz. Published in 1981, 1984 and 1991, they are, respectively, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones.  These are children’s stories but apparently some didn’t think so. Too much graphic violence, the naysayers.  Here are some illustrations from the talented Stephen Gammell:

I consider myself blessed for not having read the books, for I am sure that I would have found the film unfavorable by comparison. But you see, the film is looooosely based on these stories. The books, from what I gather, have no ghostly author that pens stories that come true. That underlying arc from the film was a device used to reenact these stories on the big screen. See, some of the stories of the first book will be the stories that Sarah will bring to life in the film, such as The Big Toe, where a corpse comes looking for her missing toe, which is inside a pot of stew. Ewww! (“Stew and Ewwww”, they rhyme.) But from what I gather, even the details of these stories within are not exactly the same as they are in Schwartz’s books.

I have to wind down this review with my favorite subject – haunted houses. What is found inside the haunted house (Sarah’s book) serves as the catalyst for the scares in the movie, most of which occur outside the house – in a cornfield (that scarecrow is creepy, and yes, it will come to life and do some killing), in a bedroom (hiding under the bed won’t save you from the corpse woman that is looking for her toe!), in a high school bathroom (where every high school student has faced the horrors of self-insecurity by looking in the mirror. Hey Ruth, there’s something popping out of your pimple!), in the halls of a restricted area in a psychiatric facility (That big bloated “huggy monster” with that curving smile, man she looked weird), inside the jailhouse (through the fireplace comes the Jangly Man, piece by piece, down the chimney and into the fireplace).  But it is to the house our heroine and hero must return by the movie’s end in order to restore order. And the house does what a good haunted house always does: it recreates the tragic events that occurred over a hundred years ago and unveils a treachery kept secret up until now.

Is this a great horror movie? I don’t know about “great”.  Is it good? Most definitely. It’s entertaining, scary and looks damn good, and I’m not just writing about the stylized monsters. Guillermo del Toro is skilled at making things look good, and though he might not have been the one to make it all happen, his influence was definitely there.  The whole atmosphere shines of a storybook autumn and its small-town nostalgia.  It pleases the senses of sight. There are some jump scares but thankfully they are used sparingly.  It’s more effectively frightening to watch the monsters lumber along, taking their time, giving the audience a fair chance to embed them into their nightmares.  Yes, some of the monster travel at CGI speed, but I like the ones that didn’t better. Who needs speed when a confident monster knows that s/he will get you in the end!

Review of Ju-On: The Grudge

Hey all, Happy New Year! A very timely  wish if I do say so myself!

(Hypothetical Reader: Um, New Years Day was like, four weeks ago. We are too far into the year for that kind of greeting. You’re late, bro!)

Never too late to fulfill a resolution! Remember that time I reviewed the short two movies from Japanese  TV, Ju-On: The Curse and Ju-On: The Curse 2  and I promised to review the full-length  film that  continued the Ju-On series?  Lately, I’ve been getting several hits for those reviews at this blog. Since that is the case, I’m going to review the feature length film that arose from these “Curse” movies. So… resolution  fulfilled!

(Hypothetical Reader: Dude, that was two years ago when you wrote those reviews and made that pledge. How long does it take you to make good on your promises?)

It does take me a while , doesn’t  it? I hope you don’t hold a “Grudge” on me! (Get it? Ha Ha Ha!) But I’ll  tell ya, the kind of grudge  at work in the 2002 Japanese  film Ju-On the Grudge is not to be trifled with. It is scary  and deadly. It affects the innocent – people that had nothing to do with whatever offense it was that spawned such a grudge, those unfortunate ones that happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. That “wrong” place is a house in Nerima, Tokyo. grudgehouseThe “wrong” time is anytime after a certain murderous tragedy took place on the premise. See readers, this affliction that haunts and claims the victims  of this  movie is more of a “curse” than a “grudge”, although I’m told the English translation of “Ju-On” is “Curse/Grudge”. A “grudge” , as per the movie, is negative  energy  in action; or, in reaction. Let’s assume there are scientific laws governing a body of supernatural physics. There is a steady harmony of body and spirit, life and death. The living go about their business and the dead stay dead, their spirits at peace in whatever plane of afterlife existence there happens to be. A horrific tragedy perpetuated with evil intentions can upset this balance. Evil and horror beget  evil and horror. In the film, the negative energy is attached to a house, where a mother, her little boy, and the family cat had been savagely  murdered by a jealous husband/father. Those who enter the house are susceptible  to the negative  energy that exists in the wake  of this tragedy. It attaches  to them. Can they rid themselves  of this negative  energy  by leaving the house? Fat chance! “The Grudge” is part of them now  and it follows them wherever they go. Go to work and it will haunt the office.  Go to school and it will be there too. Go home? That home will now be haunted.

How do you know if you’ve been affected  by this grudge? Well, if suddenly, there just happens to be this strange, creepy little boy with bluish skin running in the halls of your home, then the grudge is imminent. This creepy boy might open his mouth in a circle  and release a disorientating  creaking sound. Or he might mew like a cat. You might also  encounter  a young, undead woman crawling down the stairs, bending her  limbs in unnatural ways. The boy would be Toshio, the  woman Kayako, the ones murdered  by their father/husband. The murdered cat  is there too, mewing  from Toshio’s  mouth, or from the phone. Be careful of the calls you accept. If these crawling, creeping undead things catch you, you are toast. Your body will become theirs and will disappear from mainstream  life. You will become such an abomination.

 

 

We the viewers of this film witness such an unfortunate  scenario play out near the film’s  beginning. A family owns/occupies the house that once belonged  to the murdered family. The aging mother-in-law is no longer mentally  fit to care for herself. She sits on the floor  and mostly does nothing but stare vacantly.. This is what “The Grudge” did to her. A woman from social services pays her a visit , checks on her well-bring. Where  is the old woman’s son and daughter-in-law? “The Grudge” has already claimed them. And the poor lady from social services, she will  be taking a ghost or two home with her.

Ju-On: The Grudge is divided into several segments. Each segment, each story, focuses on a different character; all are victims of “The Grudge”. Every story is named after the character that receives the focus. Ju-On: The Curse 1 & 2 follow the same format but mercifully, Ju-On: The Grudge presents these stories (mostly) in chronological order. “The Curse” movies don’t, and it’s a real pain in the you know what trying to figure out what’s going on. I do admit, however, that this out-of-sequence story telling adds an unsettling element to what are intentionally disturbing films, so in this way they provide a continuity of mood.

Is it necessary to watch Ju-On: The Curse 1 & 2 before watching Ju-On: The Grudge?  I say no.  Ju-On: The Grudge does a quick rehash of some of the events in the previous two films, enough to keep viewers up to speed. But the earlier films devote more detail to story of the tragedy that began this whole curse/grudge business. They are most certainly worth viewing, but Ju-On: The Grudge is the best of the three. It is the culmination of “The Curse” films. The effects are better, the undead things are creepier, and it just seems the most confident of the three. I believe “The Curse” movies were accidental hits for director/creator Takashi Shimizu. Because of this, perhaps he had more of a budget, studio cooperation, etc. when it came to making Ju-On: The Grudge.

Ju-On: The Grudge makes my list for top 50 horror movies of all time. I believe it’s either in the teens or the twenties, I’d have to recheck. Oh fine, I’ll check right now. I’ll find the link to the list and….here it is – Top 50 horror Films. Oh! I see now that I have it at #32.  Well, it makes the list and that’s what’s important.  It’s a great film and like other Japanese or Korean Horror films, it achieves scares in a way that Hollywood horror films grudgepicturestruggle with. This film (like several other Asian horror movies) has a built-in flair for all things creepy. Maybe it’s the detail devoted to the ghosts, or maybe it’s the wise abandonment of cliché plots and over-hyped character types. Perhaps it’s the balance of mood and in-your-face scares. Whatever it is, Ju-On: The Grudge works well.

 


 

Ta da! I have finished my review of Ju-On: The Grudge.  Did I do good?

(Hypothetical Reader: You do know there are more movies to the series, like Ju-On: The Grudge 2, and several others. Are you going to review them?)

Yes I know of these. I didn’t watch them, so probably no.

(Hypothetical Reader:  Also, there is the American version, also directed by Takashi Shimizu, simply called “The Grudge.” Shall we expect a compare and contrast article soon?)

Sigh! I didn’t see the American version. I should watch it and…will I write about it? Oh I don’t know! I really don’t. Oh please, for now, just let me be!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  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.