Beauty and The Beast – Enchanted Castles VS Haunted Castles

BBLast Sunday I spent a fine afternoon at the movies with my wife. We took in the charming, live action film Beauty and the Beast which is based off of  Disney’s 1991 animated film of the same name.  I was delighted to hear Emma Watson sing and I enjoyed her performance as Belle, a.k.a Beauty. I got into the love story and the whole “beauty is within” message.  I was pleased with the fanciful display of CGI. Ohh it was all so precious! And through it all I kept asking myself “Can I consider this  a haunted house film?”  At one point myself replied, “What? ‘and they lived happily ever after’ Disney film = a haunted house story? Are you nuts?”  Later on, “myself” gave in a little. He said “Okay, some of these scenes revolving around the Beast’s Castle are a bit scary. But still – no. No Haunted Castle for you!”  Finally when cups, dishes, clocks and candelabras came to life, “myself” met “I” half way and said “Maybe. Maybe this is a Haunted House film and maybe it isn’t.”

Allow me to argue on behalf of “I” , The Beast’s castle is huge and creepy with foreboding towers and sharp pinnacles.  It has cavernous passageways and a dark dungeon.  The grounds surrounding the castle are quite terrifying.  It is hidden away in a cursed section of a forest where it is always winter. Dangerous wolves roam about on these trails.  Defiled BBCastleGroundsgrounds and the creatures that inhabit them often surround the haunted houses of lore (See my article: Ghostly Grounds: Explorations Outside of the Haunted Houses of Film and Literature).  When our heroine Belle enters the castle, she is greeted by moving candelabras, magical wardrobes, and self playing instruments – all of which can talk, sing and dance!  These objects warn Belle not to venture into the east wing of the castle (or is it the west wing?  I forget).  The Beast tends to spend most of his time in this wing, and it can be dangerous for Belle to rummage around in there!  Haunted wings, forbidden rooms and walled off passageways are staples of haunted house lore.

In the novel “Dracula”, the mysterious Count warns visitor Jonathan Harker  not to go roaming around the castle (See Dracula’s Castle .)  In the house that is the subject of the book. The Ghosts of Ravencrest, there is “a wing that is locked away – for there are strange things afoot in this side of the building.”  Finally, the villagers who enter this castle and witness these strange goings-ons declare the place to be haunted.  If you can’t trust a villager, who can you trust?

“I” has made some very good points. But alas, “myself” retracted his “maybe” and eventually “I” saw things from his point of view. All the beings inside my head have come to an agreement: The castle of the Beast is not haunted.  My colleague helped to properly explain the condition of the castle. He said, “It’s not haunted, it’s enchanted.”

Throughout these reviews and articles, I struggle to define the term “haunted house” (or haunted castle, haunted inn, haunted flat, you get the idea).  I have perhaps contradicted myself from time to time as I have written out various themes concerning what a haunted house is or isn’t.  This is all part of the learning process, and the goal of this blog is just that – to learn, to discover.  Therefore, perceptions can change along the way.

Let me continue by offering some definitions of the word “haunt.”  Borrowing from Merriam-Webster , haunted can mean  “to stay around or persist.” But it can also be defined as something that is “inhabited or frequented by ghosts” (via dictionary.com). A house with ghosts is haunted. However it does not have to have ghosts in order for it to be haunted. It can be haunted by tragedies or sins of the past, by curses that play out again and again, or by lingering sadness.  The Fall of the House of Usher and The House of Seven Gables are examples of such ghostless haunted house stories.

Now, let us see what the dictionaries have to say about the word “enchant”  From dictionary.com:

under a spell;bewitched;magical

or

utterly delighted or captivated; fascinated; charmed.

As per the context of this story, the first definition applies. The second definition is more appropriate for the castle that stands at Disney World.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Beauty and the Beast, a witch who is refused entry into a handsome Prince’s castle on account of her haggish appearance curses his household. The Prince is turned into a beast while his staff is transformed into objects (the candelabra, cups, etc.).  If the Prince can find a woman to love him despite his beastly appearance, the curse will be removed. The beast can become handsome again and the BBObjectsstaff can once again regain their humanity.  This is the story as per Disney writers.  I have never read the original book by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (and later abridged/rewritten by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont) But when I skim the synopsis per wikipedia, I see no reference to the bewitching of the staff.  Could it be that Disney created these household object characters in order to have a silly and cutesy cast of animated creatures; creatures which are prevalent in most Disney cartoon movies?  Perhaps, but at the same time, these things are downright uncanny and freaky – a nice touch for the lovers of the bizarre. I am a lover of the bizarre and I love this whole concept of living people becoming a part of the physical castle.  In many haunted house stories, the physical becomes the spiritual (In The Shining, The Inn itself manifests the ghosts).  Here the reverse is true.The fact that the servants transform into these objects shows that this curse not only plagues the people but it also infects the castle itself. Thus it can be said that the castle is enchanted.

As freaky as these object-things are, they are not ghosts. Nor are they objects possessed by ghosts or demons. They are regular people that have been bewitched and transformed.  In this story, the theme pertaining to visitations from the past does not exist.  The curse that subjects the household to take on these cruel forms is not a phenomenon that reoccurs from generation to generation (as with the curses of The Fall of the House of Usher and The House of Seven Gables). They are damned not to the past but to the awful present of never-changing appearances. For these reasons, The Beast’s castle is not haunted.  {By this criteria, I realize that the strange supernatural houses in many of H.P. Lovecraft’s tales would not be considered haunted. I had written that they were. (See H.P. Lovecraft Article 1 and and H.P. Lovecraft Article 2) Oh well!}

Beauty and The Beast is a dark tale. Perhaps I can make it even darker. I can recreate the tale so that the castle is both enchanted and haunted.  Again to quote my colleague, this would be an “enchaunted castle”

The beginning of the story will be the same: an old crone desires entry to the Prince’s castle in order to escape the cold and the rain. At first sight, she is the object of The Prince’s cruel scorn. His servents laugh at her as well, but not to the same extent as their Lord. Suddenly she becomes ill and The Prince laughs even more as she succumbs to tics. Right there in front of him and his staff, she dies. Her spirit rises from her body. It is a beautiful spirit and The Prince and his servents turn away in shame, feeling unworthy to behold such beauty.

The spirit says to the Prince.

“The soul is where true beauty exists. It will take you many painful centuries to learn this. For I curse this kingdom!”

From that moment, the Prince is trapped in his own body, which suddenly becomes deformed and hideous. But he is damned to remain in this body until he finds a woman to love him for what he possesses on the inside.  Throughout the years, his body decays and rots until he resembles a zombie. Alas, he cannot die.

The staff, being a lesser evil than the prince, is struck dead. However, their souls will be bound to the castle. They will haunt it until The Prince finds love and is freed from his despicable body.

For centuries, this zombified Prince will roam about the castle. The bitter spirits will  BBCastle haunt him from time to time, blaming him for their fate. After many many years, he will finally find love. Her kiss will be the kiss of death. When her lips press against his, he will die but his soul will be free. The spirits of the castle with join their lord in this freedom.

So – how does that story sound?  What’s that? You think it is better to stick with the original? Fine!  No “enchaunted castle” for anyone! Go on loving those enchanted castles for what they are and continue admiring those haunted castles for what they have to offer.

 

 

 

 

Review of House

house3I was there.  Back in 1986, I saw the movie House at the Norridge Theater in Norridge, Il. Norridge Theater is nearly ten years gone.  But this film lives on…barely.  It’s been on and off of youtube. It might be hiding in the back of the $1.99 shelf at the DVD store. I saw it again Friday night via Shudder. But I was there for its incarnation!  At fifteen years of age, I watched this wacky film on the big screen. I freaked at the corny, carnivalesque demons. I laughed at the oddball humor.   I walked out of the theater thinking, “Wow man, that was cool!”  And I wasn’t even stoned! Thirty one years later, I find myself watching it a second time.  My how time flies…and excitement fades.

IMDB categorizes the film under the genres of comedy, horror, and fantasy.  To me, however, it seems genre-confused.  I will explain more about this genre identification crisis later. But for now, here is the plot in a nutshell. Author Roger Cobb has been having a rough life as of late. His publisher has been pushing him for new material, but he’s been having a tough time writing ever since his young son went missing.  This tragedy leads to the dissolution of his marriage.  When his old aunt passes away, hey takes over her large, gothic-style house. His aunt was his sole guardian when he was young, so this is also the house he grew up in. It’s also the house that claimed his son. Apparently he had lived there with his wife and son for a time being. In any case, the House is haunted. Obviously.  That is why I’m reviewing the movie!

This film smacks of the 1980s.  It’s colorful, simplistic, goes for appearance over depth,  house–it’s  a glam punk of a movie. As mentioned, the things that haunt this place look creepy, insane and ridiculous.  They looked as if they are mummy wrapped in Hefty bags.  But perhaps this is part of the humor; the style!  George Wendt, A.K.A, Norm from “Cheers” stars as the funny guy neighbor who likes to drink beer while Alan Autry A.K.A. Captain V.L. Bubba Skinner of “In the Heat of the Night” stars as a serious cop that comes to the house to investigate some shenanigans. It’s nice to see two beloved television actors reprise their characters in this film (not quite though, as In the Heat of the Night TV show came later. Ahhh but they are so similar).

This film is an exercise in genre experimentation, whether it is conscious of such an experiment of not.  Throw in some camp, stir in in some Gothic horror, toss in the absurd, add a bunch of comedy, mix it up with some psychology and put it all together, make a movie and let us hope it all fits together in the end.  And the result is….it doesn’t fit so perfectly. It’s like a puzzle where the connecting ends of the pieces just won’t go into the given slots. But if you push real hard (GRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!), it can sort of fit.

Take for instance, the war scenes. (What? War scenes? How does that fit into this plot as you have so described it?)  Roger decides to write about his experiences in the Vietnam War. As he writes, we the viewers “see” his experience.  These battle scenes; I’m not sure what Director Steve Miner had in mind. I sure hope it wasn’t intended as a mimicry of Platoon, because the soldiers don’t resemble the well rounded warriors of Oliver Stone’s epic film. Instead they are like the soon-to-be-slaughtered teenagers of any slasher film.  They are mannequins in soldiers’ uniforms.

I guess my tastes have changed since 1986.  I had forgotten most of the finer plot points.A year later I saw Evil Dead 2 in the theater. In my opinion, Evil Dead 2 does a better job with its stylized camp while remaining true to the horror genre. In the end, House is an entertaining film. But that’s about all it is. It’s sort of like the crap rock I used to listen to in the 1980s; (Quiet Riot, Motley Crue, etc.) before discovering good rock (The Who, Led Zeppelin).  The crap is enjoyable but not worthy of a spot in the hall of greatness.  So it is with House.  Shudder also has House 2. I’ve never seen the sequel.  Should I watch it?  I just don’t know.

Dracula’s Castle

draculabandn2I am a sucker for those hard cover, classic-bound books that are published by Barnes & Noble. I have several, and last autumn I purchased another – Dracula and Other Horror Classics by Bram Stoker. For the first time, this sucker (me!) finally read about the most noteworthy “sucker” of all (bloodsucker that is!)  – Dracula, the most famous of all vampires.  I enjoyed the novel considerably, especially the first four chapters. I relished them in the same way a vampire relishes blood! For it is in these chapters that the reader is lured into the vampiric crypt of Dracula’s Castle. I went down into this crypt ever so willingly!  But first things first.  Vicariously, I began my trip to this malevolent fortress.  Through the wooded Carpathian Mountains I rode with Protagonist Jonathan Harker via horse and carriage. I took in the chilling surroundings; the high mountains, the dark trails, and the glowing lights.  I listened to the howling of the wolves. Finally, there it was – The Castle of Dracula, off in the distance, challenging the heavens with its height.  Soon I would be inside its domain! I couldn’t wait.  I went inside and the excursion was only beginning!

This piece you are reading is not a review of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”  Instead, the focus will be on Dracula’s Castle as it exists in both fact and fiction.  I will examine the characterisics of this castle along with the themes that arise from its stories. In the end we will be left with a setting that is saturated with delicious gothic gloom!

(So then, why not just write a review of the novel, or even the Dracula movie, and in that review, describe this “gloom”?) 

Good question.  The answer is: I am not sure if Dracula’s Castle qualifies as a haunted house. (All the reviews are of haunted house stories, afterall.) There are no ghosts in this tale. Likewise, there is nothing supernatural about this castle aside from the creatures that dwell within. Remove these creatures and the castle is just another fortress of stone and relics. For the most part, the history of the Castle (in the fictional story) is hidden from us. We can only guess at any ghastly misfortunes that might have played out inside this domain over its many years of existence. If the “spirits” or “disembodied emotions of past dramas” still cling to the castle, they do so only vaguely at best; there are no details that describe such “spirits,” certainly not enough for one to say that the castle is haunted by them.

And yet, Dracula’s Castle cries out for special recognition. It stands among its peers (i.e. other famous haunted houses and castles) proudly, and in some cases towers over them. Its influence on the haunted house genre is great. Likewise, it has made a huge impact on popular culture.  There are many haunted attractions worldwide that have borrowed its title.

(Here for instance. https://www.queensland.com/en-us/attraction/draculas-haunted-house

And here http://www.darkinthepark.com/Niagara/niagara4.htm)

It has spawned many movies, television stories and novels , not to mention video games. Castles in Eastern Europe are in competition as to which one can rightfully claim to be the “real” Castle of Dracula. They are open to tours and on some occasions, they welcome overnight guests.

Now that I have established the literary and cultural relevance of Dracula’s castle, let’s begin our examination of its finest, most ghoulish elements. We’ll start where the preceding paragraph ends – with the real Dracula and his castle (or castles.)  The vampiric count of Stoker’s novel is based on Vlad Tepes, a fifteenth century voivode (or ruler) of impaleWallachia, an historical region in what is now Romania. He was also known as Vlad III, Vlad Dracula, The second son of Vlad Dracul (or Draculesti). However, his most famous and notorious alias is Vlad the Impaler. According to wikipedia:

“Vlad the Impaler is said to have killed from 40,000 to 100,000 European citizens, (political rivals, criminals, anyone he thought to me “useless to humanity”) , mainly by impaling…… Impaled up to 100,000 Turks.”

According to Sparknotes.com, Stoker discovered Vlad while studying Romanian history.  He chose to name his villain after him, and even suggested (in the novel) that Count Dracula is a descendant of Vlad.

Vlad’s reigns of terror occurred in the late Middle Ages, but even these “late” medieval rulers had their castles.  Vlad resided in Poenari Castle in the region of Wallachia. draculascastle.com claims this to be the “real” Castle Dracula, since it was the domain of the real historical ruler.  However, Stoker did not have this castle in mind when he wrote his novel.  Sources contend that it was Bran Castle , also in Romania, that captured his attention and inspired his vision for the fictional castle.

From the Washington Post:

“Images of Bran Castle supposedly reached Bram Stoker, the 19th-century Irish author of “Dracula,” who drew inspiration for his famous work from travelogues and sketches by British diplomats and adventurers in what was then Wallachia (modern-day Romania).”

Today, Bran-Castle is a tourist attraction. Recently, arranged by AirBnB , Bran-Castle opened its doors to guests for an overnight getaway. This was not an average bed and breakfast affair. Guests were treated to a carriage ride, dinner, and nice snug sleeping arrangements – inside coffins!

Watch the promotional video:

Take a virtual tour of the castle here:

http://bran-castle.com/

Pictures outside and inside the castle.  Pictures are from  dailymail.co.uk :


So far, I have presented an historical context for Dracula’s Castle and have offered pictures, along with links to videos and websites. Let us hang on to this knowledge and retain these images in our minds as we reexamine the castle through a prism of Gothic horror. By the light of his vivid imagination, let’s unlock the palace doors and tour “Stoker’s castle.” Let’s navigate through a darkness that’s irresistible to fans of horror fiction.

Bram Stoker did not invent the gothic haunted castle. He followed in the footsteps of many of the greats. (Like Horace Walpole, for instance, author of 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, which is said to be the first Gothic novel). But he was a great asset to his genre. As sparksnotes points out, his work “spawned countless imitators, and scores of horror films owe a debt to the simple but powerful repetition of Stoker’s “doors, doors, doors everywhere.”

When reading the “doors, doors, doors everywhere” phase in full context, the effect is incredible.

“The castle is on the very edge of a terrible precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything! As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green tree tops, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm. Here and there are silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests. But I am not in heart to describe beauty, for when I had seen the view I explored further; doors, doors, doors everywhere, and all locked and bolted. In no place save from the windows in the castle walls is there an available exit. The castle is a veritable prison, and I am a prisoner!”

Stoker effectively instills a scene that is both picturesque and horrific. He lends to us a feeling for what it might be like to be locked inside such a towering structure; to be above such a beautiful yet isolating landscape.

Some time ago, I wrote an article called Ghostly Grounds: Explorations Outside of the Haunted Houses of Film and Literature. In the article, I explain how the external environment of haunted houses is significant to the stories within this genre. It gives the reader a sense of place, sets the mood, and can even reveal key plot points. Stoker is quite generous when it comes to describing such an environment. From the cultural accounts within this foreign region to detailed descriptions of the darkened landscape, Stoker transports his readers into a chilling world, all while preluding to a terror that will unfold at the Castle.

We first learn of Count Dracula and his gloomy castle from the journal of Jonathan Harker. He is a lawyer from London and he makes his way to Transylvania in order to do buisness with The Count. While London in a triving urban center, Transylvania is a region insulated from modernization; it is a land of superstitious mountain people.  On the road toward the castle, he hears the warnings of these people as they cry out in their language, “Satan! Hell! Witches! Vampries! Werewolves!”  He heeds not their warnings and goes deep into the wooded Carpathian Mountains.  His coach driver seems uncanny and mysterious.

As they make their assent, they travel through tunnels of trees. The wind is wild and tree branches are “smashing together.” Harker is quite unnerved.  He hears the howling of wolves. There are mysterious blue flames here and there among the trees.

Finally they arrive in the courtyard of the castle. Harker has some telling notes in his journal:

“In the courtyard of a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the moonlit sky.”

“I stood close to a great door, old and studded with large iron nails and set in a projecting doorway of massive stone.”

“A key was turned with the loud grating noise of long disuse, and the door swung back”

The Count greets Harker politely. He is carrying and antique lamp from the days of yore. Its flickering flame casts scary shadows on the wall. The Count carries Harker’s bags, and they travel up a flight of winding stairs; a trope for many haunted house stories yet to come. In these stories, characters are climbing to unknown heights all while tension is escalating. The same thing is occurring here.

They travel through many stone passages. The echoes of their feet fill the halls. Adding to this sound are the songs of the wolves that creep in from the outside.

Soon they arrive in a set of rooms that are, perhaps, almost comfortable for Harker. There is a warm fireplace, a table with food and Brandy. There is a library with books on all subjects; history, geography, politics, political economy, law, botany. The curtains and upholstery are centuries old.

In short, The Count makes Harker feel welcome. He is a well-read man of great knowledge. The two have interesting conversations. But soon a sense of unease will take Harker over. Fright is not far around the corner. The Count’s startling eccentricities are beginning to show.  He is absent during the daytime, never to be found. One evening, he has some rather bizarre things to say about the castle.

“Let me advise you, my dear friend – nay, let me warn you with all seriousness that should you leave these rooms you will not by any chance go to sleep in any other part of the castle. It is old, and has many memories, and there are bad dreams for those who sleep unwisely.”

Here are some of the vague references to the history of the castle that I had alluded to earlier in the essay; to the “spirits” of dramas past. But these aren’t ghosts that the count is warning Harker about. There are others living with the Count in the castle; other vampires.

In the daytime, Harker wanders the corridors and finds many locked doors. The main doors to get outside are locked as well. He is trapped in this dreadful castle. Once a man who was comforted by The Count’s hospitality, Harker is now fretful, afraid of his own shadow.

Sparknotes sums up this transition very well:

The tone of Harker’s journal changes with amazing rapidity as his stay in Castle Dracula progresses. In the course of a single chapter, Harker feels stripped of the robes of honored houseguest and considers himself bound like a prisoner. Here, Stoker demonstrates his mastery of the conventions of the Gothic novel: evoking the ruined castle, the beautiful but overpowering landscape, and the mounting sense of dread.

From Harker’s own words:

“I am beginning to feel this nocturnal existence tell on me. It is destroying my nerve. I start at my own shadow, and am full of all sorts of horrible imaginings. God knows that there is ground for any terrible fear in this accursed place!”

Harker thinks he has found relief when he stumbles upon a somewhat enchanting room. He discovers it via a secret passage that leads to a staircase that takes him to a lower floor.  Hidden passages – another staple of gothic and haunted house lore. If the story is suspensful, the reader anxiously awaits to discover where it leads and what it reveals.  Stoker writes with suspense, very effectively so.

The room he finds relaxes him. It smacks of a woman’s touch. There he falls into a trance-like sleep. He awakens to the sight of three young and very pale women that seem to materialize right out of the moonlight. They descend on him, and Harker experiences this attack as if he were in a dream. He thinks he sees The Count behind them commanding them to retreat. The next thing he remembers is waking in his own guest bed back in the wing he had left.

Harker wanders again and discovers a stone passageway that leads to a circular stairway. Down, down down he goes – to the crypts!

From Harker’s journal:

“At the bottom there was a dark, tunnel-like passage, through which came a deathly, sickly odor, the odor of old earth newly turned…….as I pulled open a heavy door which stood ajar, I found myself in an old, ruined chapel, which had evidentally been used as a graveyard.”

There he finds fifty gray boxes – coffins! In one coffin lays the count, immobile, eyes wide open.

What becomes of Jonathan Harker? Does he escape the castle?  Read the novel and find out.  Read as Jonathan looks out the window and watches The Count descend the outer walls of the castle as if he were some kind of reptile. Read as Jonathan, from the same window, sees the pale women out in the forest below hunting for blood.

Only the first part of the novel is centers around Dracula’s Castle. But it is by far my favorite section of the story. How can a Haunted House guy like me not relish such chapters?


How about the Movie?

There are crypts below the castle. Smoke rises from the earthen ground. Rodents hide behind coffins, of which there are several. A rat crawls inside one and hides amongst the bones. Three ladies creep out of three of the coffins. They walk slowly toward their master – Count Dracula.  draculamovie4

This scene occurs early on in the 1931 Dracula  film, before the protagonist enters the castle. Grisly foreshadowing at its finest! The scene lets the viewers know that Count Dracula’s (played be Bela Legosi) visitor, Redfield, is about to walk into a snare.

The movie and the book differ on many points. I prefer the book. In both platforms, my favorite chapters/scenes center on Dracula’s Castle. So let us now examine the Castle through the eyes of the camera.

It is a foggy coach ride toward the castle. Eventually, Renfield arrives at the castle and stands before its giant door. It opens on its own accord with an unnerving creak.

The room he enters is humongous. It is old, dark and gray. The ceiling is propped with pillars. There are stone chards on the floor. And there are spider webs. They freely blanket every platform in sight. There are bats fluttering about outside of the windows.

Renfield notices a wide, L-shaped staircase. He watches as Dracula descends the staircase. He is holding a large candle. It is the only light in this dismal place. He welcomes Renfield draculamovie and instructs his guest to follow him – back up the stairs. Wolves are howling in the background and Dracula comments “what beautiful music they make!”

There is a wall of cobwebs crossing the stairway. Whereas Dracula is able to pass through without destroying it, Renfield must slash it apart with his cane. A huge spider runs for cover.

Dracula leads Renfield to a dining room. There is a candelabra, a knight’s armor and a fireplace. In the background, a door is opening and closing with a moaning creak.  Dracula excuses himself and makes for the door. It opens on its own accord.

Renfield is alone now. What is to become of him?  See the movie and find out.


 

draculabandn

 

 

Dracula’s Castle – an icon of horror, one of the most frightful fortresses of lore. Although, due to some minor technicalities, this castle might be cheated out of the title “Haunted,” it is nevertheless one of the most terrifying castles of literature and cinema. Borrowing from the most brutal tales of times past, Stoker created Dracula, the world’s most famous vampire.  Since every great villain needs a lair, he gave him a castle which he took from the pages of history. He reassembled it inside his novel and filled it with bats, coffins, and other creepy things.

Both in fact and fiction, the “Castle of Dracula” is legendary. It has earned its respect. So I came to the conclusion that I needed to pay homage to it somewhere inside this blog.

The scope of its influence extends outside the pages of literature and beyond the frames of film. A mere review of the book or movie would not suffice. Therefore I gave it its own theme; its own article. I hope I have done it justice.

Review of The House By the Cemetery

housecemetaryItalian Horror. How I want to get to know thee!  I have heard some great things about you. You have style, so I’m told.

To be honest,  we have gotten together a couple of times.  Our first date was Suspiria by Dario Argento. Aside from a few minor issues, I thought it was a good film. And I witnessed that “style” that I was told to look for. All in all, it was a good first date.  Our second meeting was Demons by Lamberto Bava but produced by Argento. This date wasn’t as good. Yeah the style was there, but there was a lot missing.

Let’s talk about our most recent date; The House by the Cemetery by Lucia Fulci.  It went horribly, didn’t it?  And I so wanted for us to have a good date.  It didn’t have to be a great date, just good.  But it wasn’t.

I really did want this to like this film. I was hopeful for about 10 minutes.  But on the eleventh minute – down, down down goes the film.

Here’s a quick summation of the plot. Dr. Normal Boyle moves his family into a house in New England. There he will continue the research of his colleague who had committed suicide.  Turns out, this colleague was researching a notorious killer referred to as Dr. Freudstein.  And yes, Dr. Freudstein will do some killing in this film. Meanwhile, the ghost of a little girl appears to little Bobby, Boyle’s son, warning him to stay away from this house.

So what’s wrong with the film?   These things.

  • The language dubbing is terrible. I would rather there have been English subtitles while the characters spoke Italian.  The voices sound canned and unnatural
  • While this house is by a cemetery, the cemetery has very little to do with the plot.
  • The character actors – the characters they play come off as a bit strange.  The thing is, I never knew if they were supposed to be weird in order to arouse suspicion of if they just ended up being odd due to bad acting/overacting. The latter turns out to be the case.
  • There are more plot holes in this film than there are pot holes on Chicago streets.
  • There are all kinds of hints at secrets to come. But these secrets don’t materialize. Maybe the writer, Elisa Briganti, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0108978/?ref_=tt_ov_wr just forgot that she put these “hints” in there!
  • Poor story continiuity in terms of the most elemental aspects of realism.   The boy is trapped in the basement with the killer, door is locked. He screams, cries, and the killer almost gets him. The next scene he is in his bed upstairs, slightly sad, a little scared. Just a bad day. Meanwhile the killer remains in the basement.
  • This is a terrible incoherent film through and through.

 

There is a lot of gore in this film. This neither thrills me nor upsets me. It is just there. house-by-the-cemetery-2

Is there anything good about this film? Sure!  The atmospherics are damn good!  The house looks scary on the inside and out.  Establishing shots of the house are excellent. In fact, there is a lot of decent camera work and photography direction. There is a scene of a little girl looking out the house window. The camera zooms and we the viewers realize that we are looking at a painting of the house. They pull off these effects very well.

In sum – good filming in and otherwise bad film. But guess what? I’m still going to court Italian Horror. Maybe I’ll stick with Dario Argento for now. Sadly, I don’t think he has made any haunted house movies (but I could be wrong).  But I’ll just appreciate him for the general thrills and scares.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beginning the new year – entering a blackout!

newyearblackout

“It’s finally here! The New Year! Drink and cheer!”

“Really? Gee that’s great! Then what happened?”

“Uh…..heh heh…..I dunno.”

To quote U2, “All is quiet on New Year’s Day.  The world is void, it’s underway.” I hear ya, Bono. If memory serves me correctly, I usually feel this way until May.  Ah but memory is such an unreliable tool when if comes to such matters.  See, when Dec 31 approaches, I look back upon the year that is soon to be tossed away into the historical archives.  Such a piss-poor archivist I am, because I usually can’t remember what the hell happened in the months of January – April!  There are some exceptions. In the middle of February there’s Valentine’s Day, and I can usually recall what my wife and I did to celebrate. Then in March there is my birthday, and I remember that celebration as well. As for the rest of those days, those weekends, those months…. I draw a blank.  Hence the term “the blackout!”

The summer and autumn months are easier for me to remember. Maybe it’s because summer and autumn are my favorite seasons.  Winter and spring just don’t do it for me.  Come January 1, my only resolution is to get through my least preferred seasons and arrive at May’s end to welcome in the warmer weather.  Oh come on and admit it; at least agree that January is a dull month!  After crossing the threshold of midnight on New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day, accompanied by all the bells and buzzes, we stumble into the days of blahhhh!

It all makes sense though.  Think about it.  Come January, everyone’s tired, broke, and emotionally spent.  For me, “holiday” season begins with Halloween. (Halloween is a holiday. Yes it is!)  This year, I was very active in celebrating the season of ghosts and hobgoblins!  I redesigned my blog and promoted Halloween specials.  I watched many horror movies and read several scary books.  I went to haunted houses and parties.  November was the time to prepare for Thanksgiving.  After that, Christmas (or “The holidays”) season came along. Funny  how Xmas seeps into almost every nook and cranny of our lives.  Decorating takes several days.  Time to go shopping. Look at all the crowds!  Argh! I thought I was done shopping; I forgot Uncle Ernie!  Back out there! Wrapping gifts.  Work holiday events to attend.  Celebrate Xmas Eve.  Celebrate Xmas Day. Relax, but not for too long – New Years’ Eve is coming!

Come January, we need a break. And we get one.  There are no holidays in the forseeable future; at least none the require busying activities. I live in Chicago, and January is usually pretty darn cold.  It is the month that I am most likely to stay home on weekends and keep warm and save money. This continues into February. Although, day by day, it is getting brighter, January and February are dark months.  During this time, I don’t set resolutions. I don’t make a list of things I wish to accomplish in the New Year. Instead, I look back at what I was doing in November before the end-of-the-year holidays through everything off course.  What was I doing?  Is it worth revisiting? How can I get back on track?

question-markSo, welcome to the blackout.  Next December, I won’t remember much about the days that will have followed this article.  For these days aren’t so much about resolutions as they are for recuperation.  Resolutions you resolve to remember! Recuperations you tend to forget. Anyway, I was going to wrap things up with an awesome closing statement, but I forgot what I was going to say!  The blackout has begun!

 

 

 

 

 

FORAY at the HAUNTED HOUSE

This is a very good haunted house story. Therefore, I reblog. Please read and enjoy!

GrannyMoon's Morning Feast

FORAY at the HAUNTED HOUSE

33HAUNTED MAGICK

Everyone was terrified

As they turned as white as a Ghost!

A Spirit had been summoned who lived in the time of yesterday to come back from the Shadows into the light of today

We called out to the Spirit

Show yourself…

As a feeling of cold filled the room we saw the presence of a Woman
◼
The invited Guests arrived right on time to the Haunted House at the stroke of Midnight

As they well knew that any late arrivals would not be able to enter in for just as the clock finished its strokes the sound of locking bolts began to seal them into the Haunted House

A light night supper was served in the parlour with lots of fresh fruit ~ an assortment of cheeses ~ chilled shrimp ~ and of course 100 year…

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Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses

christmas-ghost-story-3December is no time to give up the ghost! Quite the contrary! Rather, it is time to embrace the Christmas “spirit.”  This would be not the spirit of peace and good will toward men (although that spirit is kind of sweet, you have to admit!). Instead, I’m referring to you average, run of the mill specter that haunts the Christmas ghost story. Yes there are such ghostly tales. Surely you’ve heard the Christmas song sung by Andy Williams, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?”  Well check out this verse:

There’ll be parties for hosting Marshmallows for toasting And caroling out in the snow There’ll be scary ghost stories And tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.

Yes, Christmas is the season for ghost stories. At least it was back in them olden days. Colin Fleming in his article Ghosts on the Nog  goes so far as to call such a tale “The classic English Christmas ghost story”. Perhaps the most famous of them all is Charles Dickens’ 1943 classic novella A Christmas Carol, with Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.

Well, now that I’ve established that the Christmas ghost not only exists but is also, in fact traditional, I’m going to go a step further. I’m going to make a case for the literary existence of “The Christmas Haunted House”.  I have not yet seen that term coined in any articles or literature, but I argue that certain traditions and ghost story telling rituals have given way to such a concept.  What is a Christmas haunted house?  I’ll try to answer that question. To do so, I must first delve into an historical analysis of ghosts, stories, Christmases and dark winters. So a delving I will go, laughing all the way, HA HA HA HA!

In the article Ghost Stories for Christmas at hypnogoira.com, Jim Moon reminds us of the various rituals that took place during the Germanic Yule and Roman Saturnalia festivals, and how some of the rituals of the ancient winter solstice later became associated with Christmas celebrations. There were fires and festivals to commemorate the shortest day of the year. Shortest day = darkest day.   Dark day? Hmm. Maybe “commemorate” is not the most appropriate word to use in this context.  Perhaps “offset” it a better choice. Yes.  The idea was to combat the darkness with lights. They would even go so far as to bring trees inside their homes and light them up. (Later to be known as the Christmas/Holiday Tree).  Although there is no evidence for the postulates put forth in the upcoming quote from the article, Moon presents the idea that winter stories of the supernatural originated during these ancient winter holidays.

Now it is assumed that during such ancient festivities, stories were told of gods and monsters which explained why the days would grow so dark, and our telling of ghost stories is an echo of these spiritual and religious recitations and rituals

Think about this. In the days before electricity, in the days of agrarian homesteads, resources aimed at warding off the cold and darkness were limited (at least when compared to today’s standards). Thus, “the dark” and “the cold” were pretty ominous things. Even during the festive solstice celebrations, the lingering darkness and the bitter cold continued exert their powers.  These forces surrounded their fragile, festival fires, where the celebrants sought warmth and light.

Soon the fires would be extinguished. But the darkness and the cold temperatures would remain. (These are my words. Remember them – for I will come back to them later when I discuss The Christmas Haunted House.)

 

Thus, it seems only natural that these environmental conditions would extract some scary stories from the imaginations of the people of that day. Hence we have the term “winter’s tale”.

Keith Lee Moris mentions Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” in his 2014 article from the Independent.  Written in 1611, one of Shakespeare’s characters says, “A sad tale’s best for winter. I have one / of sprites and goblins.” Also of note is the book Saducismus Triumphatus . Referring back to Moon’s article, this book, written in 1681,  argues that  witches and spirits do in fact exist. That’s nice and stuff, but the reason I bring it up has to do with a fitting quote from the book. The quote is also referenced in Moon’s article. “These are not winter’s tales!”

In defending the legitimacy of magical witchcraft, the author uses the term “winter’s tales” to differentiate between fiction and what he proposes to be fact ( the witches). Thus, “winter’s tales” are similar to “Old wives’s tales”, or stories made up to explain a certain set of phenomenon. So what we learn from these two sources is that by the 17th century, the idea of a “Winter’s Tale” was common parlance, and it can be defined as a made-up story about dark, dismal and horrific topics.

By the Victorian Era, The ancient Yule traditions had merged with the Christian holiday customs, and “winter’s tales” evolved into Christmas ghost stories. Whereas societies of the 19th century were in a better position than ancient pagan societies to alleviate some of the harshness of dark winters, Victorian winters were still problematic. Moris mentions in his article that winter was the season that claimed the most lives. Antibiotics were not yet available and winters were very deadly.  Counteracting this wintertime misfortune was the joyous celebrations of Christmas. Gifts, dinners, drinks, games and….ghost stories!

Returning to the Ghosts on the Nog article, Fleming implies that author M. R James is the christmas-ghost-story-6-m-r-jamesmaster of the Christmas Ghost story. His ghost stories were published in the early to mid 1900s.  Though the stories were not about Christmas, they were written to be read on Christmas Eve. In fact, James read these stories to his colleagues and favored students by candlelight on the eve of Christmas. He even went so far as to describe the proper Christmas Eve ghost story-telling environment.  Guests should be well fed, full of eggnog, perhaps a little drunk.  It will be cold outside, but it will be warm beside the fireplace. Participants should be releasing their inner child. They should be ready to have fun and dispense with disbelief. They should try to scare one another with their ghost stories.

Let’s throw another “James” into the Frey. A few months ago, I reviewed Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.  This is actually a story within a story. It begins in a setting similar to what M.R James described. (It’s tough “keeping up with the Jameses”) Friends are partying on Christmas Eve. They settle down, and one of the partiers begins the ghost story. The story is The “Turn of the Screw”.

Moris has an interesting observation in his article. He states:

“Winter’s ability to capture our imagination is at its strongest precisely when we are the farthest removed from its more harmful elements”

christmas-ghost-story4He goes on to cite examples, such as being “curled up” on a soft chair, besides a fire, all warm and cozy, while reading a ghost story. This protective environment is much like the setting of the Christmas Eve party that offers the activity of telling ghost stories. I’ll even go further and say this example applies to the pagan days or yore with their fireside tales.

BUT, (now this is a “big but” here) can you recall what I had asked for you to remember, further back in the article? In case you have forgotten, here it is again:

Soon the fires would be extinguished. But the darkness and the cold temperatures would remain.

I disagree slightly with Moris’s winter tale observation, and this disagreement is reflected in those sentences I had asked you to commit to memory. I might change Moris’s wording a bit. Here I go.

“Winter’s ability to capture our imagination is at its strongest precisely when we are the farthest slightly removed from its more harmful elements.”

I believe that winter’s effect on our imaginations is enhanced when its harmful elements are still near us. Imagine reading a scary book or hearing a ghost story while the dark night can be seen just outside the window, or the howling winds are to be heard underneath the crackle of the fire. Nature’s brutal elements are right there on the other side of the house’s walls. So close!  That, for me, makes for a creatively frightful situation. The recipients of the ghost story are safe – temporarily.  The fact that winter’s mighty roar is happening just outside adds to the “fun” tension. Perhaps the term “warmly vulnerable” is appropriate. The darkness and the cold temperatures are always there, just like they had remained with our pagan friends from a long time ago, with or without the fire.

One can expand on this situation and make it all the scarier. I shall be “the one” and expand I will! Let’s say, perhaps, that our frolicking friends are feeling “warmly vulnerable” during a ghost story session at a Christmas Eve gathering. Let’s remove the last visages of safety and allow winter’s symbolic doom to come inside. It’s warm. Festive. Have a drink. Merry Christmas! Fires. Games. Ghost stories. And then – real ghosts haunt the house. Frightful! This is what I would call A Christmas Haunted House.

Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Raven hints at this. Though not a Christmas tale, the events of the poem occur on a dreary December evening. The protagonist is safe inside his chamber, except…(he asks) “Who’s that knocking at my chamber door?”  Death is wanting in!

Before this season is over, I will be reviewing two Christmas ghost stories that may contain these house haunting story elements, both of which are listed in Fleming’s article. The first is J. H. Riddell’s story “A Strange Christmas Game” – 1863. From the article:

 “…we have that idea of play again, only now it is the ghosts who are trying their hands at sport. Cards, as it were. A brother and sister have recently taken possession of a house willed to them, and the demise of their benefactor plays out like some horrible, woebegone mummer’s act.”

The second is “Smee” by A.M. Burrage – 1931. Again, from the article:

At this party, we’re playing a form of hide-and-seek in which the seeker advances upon the hider and says, “It’s me,” which, uttered quickly and breathlessly enough, becomes smee. It’s Christmas Eve, this is a big old rambling house, but one tiny problem: there’s an extra player who does not number among the guests.

 

Finally, I will be offering a Christmas Eve ghost story of my own. I believe it meets my critera for a Chistmas Haunted House tale. It surely contains a threat from the outside that wants in. However, there will be a twist. I will post this story here at the blog

Well, Happy Holiday’s everyone. As you prepare your homes for Christmas, don’t forget to invite the ghosts inside. They are definitely part of the Christmas tradition, and your homes will be ever so delightfully haunted during this “most wonderful time of the year.”

 

 

 

October Reflections

It’s November, and time to remember.

It’s time to remember the days of early autumn and all the happenings of October.  These happenings pretty much left me exhausted by the first weekend of November.  On that weekend, I was too tired to do much of anything.  I slept, rested and reflected on an October well spent.

My “October” stretched beyond the numerical boundaries of 1-31.  A friend once told me that for him, the 1960’s began with the assassination of President John F Kennedy (November 22, 1963) and ended with the resignation of President Ricahrd M Nixon (August 8, 1974).  He defined the “60”s not by the decade but by the chain of social and cultural events that coincided in and around these years.  Likewise, My October is not restricted to the days that fall within the calendar month that begins with the letter “O.”  My October began in late September at an art house movie theater and ended in early November at an attic lounge of live entertainment.  These two “bookend” events, along with the many things that occurred in between, fit together in one common category – the commemoration of autumn.  Within this commemoration, I had my own personal harvest, not of farm produce but of the “crops” related to my craft; writings, books, a revamped blog.  I also took great pleasure in celebrating the month-long season of Halloween, while joyfully taking part in other several other autumn customs.  The best part was that I was able to celebrate autumn with my family, friends and loved ones.  And with you, the readers of this blog!  I love you all!

Any goal worth achieving takes planning and preparation.  I made it a goal to have a productive and eventful fall, and I set this goal all the way back in June!  I came up with contests and offered one of my paperback books as a prize. I had new and exciting ideas about how to redesign my website.  I made charts and timelines.  I took pictures that would be used in the blog. I set sale dates for my books.  Things were going to happen. And of course, I would have fun! That was important.  (You can see a post about my October plans here: )

Beginning in August, I started to watch horror movies. These included movies that were new to me and movies that I had not seen in a long time. I did this in anticipation of a list I was going to compile – a list of my Top 50 Horror films.  I looked forward to sharing this list with everybody.

sept-24This brings me to Sept 24, 2016, a fine Saturday evening that began my “October.”  I had not yet seen the classic horror film “Phantasm.”  However, it was unavailable at all the sites where I rent movies (iTunes, Amazon, etc.)  This was because it was in the process of being digitally remastered for the first time.  The Music Box Theater in Chicago would be showing this remastered version. Not only had I not seen Phantasm, but I had never been to this famous art house theater. It was a win-win situation.  So on that Saturday, I arrived early.  I went to a bar that was a couple blocks away.  When it was time, I left the bar and walked down a dark street toward the theater while taking in some of “nature’s greenery” (ahhhh!).  I saw the film, it was good, and oh what a great night!

The following weekend (Sept 29, Sept 30, Oct 1, and Oct 2) was blog time.  I took off work that Thursday and Friday, allowing myself a 4-day weekend to upgrade and redesign my website. It was challenging but fun.  I even learned how to incorporate an image map into my blog. An image map allows you to map-out clickable areas on an image that will lead to links of your choosing.   You can see the results of my labors here (scroll to the image of the house and cemetery at the bottom of the page) and here .

In order to advertise my redesigned website, I featured a ghost hunting contest. I hid several cartoonish ghosts across my blog. Whoever was to find the most ghosts would win a copy of my book “The House Sitter” . Contestants would have to the end of the month to find these ghosts.

My nose wasn’t at the grindstone all weekend long, mind you. On Sunday Oct 2, my wife and I went to Sonny Acres Fall Festival.  There we bought our pumpkins, went through a haunted barn, took a haunted hayride, and had cider, doughnuts, and ears of corn.  Yummy!

As October kept rolling along, I listed my favorite horror films on my personal facebook page post by post. Meanwhile, I hosted another contest, one for of my Haunted House Facebook page. I would show a picture of a haunted house and the contestant was to name the movie that featured this house.  Like with the Ghost Hunt, the winner was to receive an autographed copy of my book “The House Sitter.”

The second weekend of October was mostly dedicated to “taking down the summer”.  I  like summer, but all things must come to an end. Away went the patio furniture, the outside summer lights, and other yard décor.  One of these years, I will have an assortment of autumn and Halloween yard decorations to replace those that get put away for the summer. Cornstalks, grave stones, zombies, oh my!  They were selling corn stalks at Sonny Acres.  But we didn’t buy any L.   But we put our pumpkins outside! That’s something!

oct-15On October 15 (Saturday), my wife and two of our friends went to a German bar/restaurant (Edelweiss) and watched The Cubs win a play-off game. I call this event OCubstoberfest!  I danced to the music performed by a live ompah band, drank Weiss beer, ate German food, and cheered on the Cubbies!

Sometime during the month, we bought Halloween toys for our nephews.  They live in Seattle and my wife was going to go visit them at the end of the month.  One such “toy” was a “Spooky House” book, with flaps that unveil ghosts, spiders and other creepy things!  I decided to read this book to my nephews – in a video – and upload it to my blog. I hoped the kids would like it.

The weekend of Oct 21, 22 and 23 was a biggie.  That Friday, my wife and I attended my niece’s wedding.  It was a lovely, autumnal, outdoor wedding.  Cider and kettle corn were some of the treats. There was squash soup as an appetizer. And a tasty meatloaf dinner. Of course, there were drinks and dancing!  All this at an enchanting bed and breakfast house in the southern suburbs of Chicago! There was even a bonfire.  No autumn is complete without a fire.

The day following the wedding wasn’t for rest.  No siree Bob! To the Haunted House at Saint Pascal’s we did go, and then it was off to a Halloween/Birthday/CubsEnterTheWorld Series party! The night was scary, the night was wild – the night was filled with victory!

oct-31 Then along came Halloween Weekend!  My wife was in Seattle. She sent me pictures of our little nephew enjoying the video of me reading The Spooky House Book. He loved it and I was so happy!  Saturday Night I watched Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein on Svengoolie.
On Halloween night, Monday, after dishing out candy to trick or treaters, I watched the movie that made it to the #1 spot on my Top 50 Horror Film list – “Halloween” by John Carpenter.

On the days following Halloween, I had my contest winners. I sent a book to a fan who won the haunted house contest. Then I met an old classmate after work. He was the winner of the Ghost Hunt contest. I gave him the book. It was a nice reunion. Then the Cubs went and won The World Series. Holy Cow!  The following evening I attended a performance at Mary’s Attic in Chicago.  “Skooby Don’t!”  My nephew had the role of Fred, the leader of the Skooby gang!.  A very interesting play it was.

So on the weekend that just passed (nov 5 and 6), I rested.  I believe I earned this rest.  I had planned for an active October and my wishes came true. True, autumn marches onto until the end of December, but my favorite part of the fall season has come to a close. It’s a short time and it comes and goes so quickly! Thus, planning is required in order get the most out of these fleeting days.  Many people pre-plan their summers, me included.  So why not pre-plan your autumn?  Autumn is just as good as summer, maybe even better!  Plan it and good things will happen. Plant it, grow it, harvest it, and then enjoy it as it comes to fruition.

And then there is the stuff that just happens. Not everything can be planned. Enjoy those unplanned moments as well. But sometimes you have to push the ball to get things rolling. And the rolling ball will tread across uncharted grounds.  But this is part of the fun. Just shout “Wheeeeee!!!!” as the rolling ball unearths wonderful surprises!