Review of Rough Draft – First of the Haunted Cabin Series

Rough DraftSometimes Facebook ads really do work. Every once in a while (sometimes its more like twice or thrice in a while),  a post will appear in the Facebook newsfeeds; not a friend’s post, not a post from a liked paged or a group to which one belongs, but from a seemingly foreign source.  In small letters under the post’s heading, the word “sponsored” appears.  This is how I discovered Michael Robertson Jr.’s 2014 novel Rough Draft. Had it not been for the cool looking picture of a log cabin against a gray sky and murky background, I might have passed it on by. The picture caught my attention because, see, I already had this month’s theme in mind – haunted cabins – when this ad appeared in my newsfeeds. So I clicked on the post, and I believe it led me to it’s Amazon page, where I discovered….Yes! This IS a book about a haunted cabin, just what the doctor ordered! (Does anyone still you that expression? Well I did just now, and I am someone!)

Thankfully, this was not some “rough draft” that an author was furtively trying sell as a finished work. (In these days of Amazon scams, you just never know). I confess I don’t like the title. But it does make sense in the context of the story. I do, however, like the taglines that describe the skin of the story:

Three strangers. An abandoned cabin in the woods. And a chilling one hundred year-old mystery that doesn’t want to be solved.

A mysterious blackmailer forces three authors to meet at cabin and write a “rough draft” for a prospective horror novel about the cabin, the surrounding woods and a nearby town. They HAVE to complete this assignment – in one weekend – or face the consequences.

And so, the authors travel across the country and arrive at…gee, I forgot the state, Colorado perhaps? Anyway, two meet at the airport and ride together, where they then have to journey across dangerous terrain to find this isolated cabin in the snowy mountains. They pass over a flimsy bridge, hoping the car can make the crossing. Once they arrive at the cabin they find the third author waiting for them. Now they are three – Robert, a good-looking, smart-alecky kind of guy, Vic, a woman who fools her fans into thinking she is a male, and Finn, a geeky Zombie apocalypse story writer. What happens next? Lots of stuff. Some good stuff. Some disappointing stuff.

The overall atmosphere of the story is delightfully chilling. The build-up to the mystery is done very well. Some scary shit goes down. As it turns out, the authors don’t need to develop a fictitious account of a haunting; the place is already haunted. During the night, their cars are stolen or damaged. They are truly abandoned. But who could have done such a thing, there is absolutely no one around…not another living soul for miles and miles . Things begin to go bump in the night. Hell, the whole cabin shakes at one point. Could this have anything to do with the strange story that they had heard before making their way into the mountains? (One hundred years ago, all the residents of the nearby and former coalmining town. At one point Robert leaves the cabin to go exploring, only to discover mysterious figures weaving in and out of a trail of trees. He then makes a startling discovery in a nearby cave!

 

Kudos to atmosphere and tension-building drama, the laying out of the mystery, the casual influx of ghostly happenings. But alas, the mystery doesn’t go to a place worthy of the compelling setup. In sum, it falls into a “good guys vs. bad guys” trapping that, IMHO, is a quite lame. Also, there is this other flaw; or maybe its “three flaws”. At least two. Two very noticeable and damning flaws. I refer to the characters, especially Robert and Vic.  Robert is shallow and somewhat smug and yet he is presented as this likable hero. Likewise, “Vic” is an annoying “damsel-in-distress.” At one point, Robert and Finn are very careful not to accuse her of being over-emotional so as not to come off as sexist. The way I read this, it’s really the author, Michael Robertson Jr, that fears that he has written his character much too stereotypically (and he has,) so he adds this part only as if to say, “See, I am wary of stereotypes. I don’t do them.” Oh but he has.

So, what happens to these three characters? Do they become friends? Lovers? Enemies? Dead? That is for you the prospective reader to learn. I cringed at the outcome but who knows, maybe you will find the resolution quite enjoyable.

In sum, good start, great tension-building, atmospherically frightening. But it digresses into the land of the banal, dragging along some very weak  characters.

 


** Haunted Cabin Analysis Time ! Woo hoo! Haunted Cabin Analysis Time ! Woo Hoo!**


 

In the article Beyond the House – An Examination of Hauntings within Alternate Structures, I discuss various themes that may or may not occur in haunted cabin stories.

I name the first theme “Outposts on the Edge of the Unknown.” By this I mean that the haunted cabins of stories are surrounded by all kinds of spookiness. Sooner or later, that spookiness will find its way to the cabin. This theme certainly plays out in Rough Draft. Quite often the haunting begins outside. Arrows are found pierced into the front door, as if a phantom archer was taking aim at the cabin.  There are spirits in the surrounding environment and at one point in the story….ah nevermind, I don’t want to give anything away

The second theme I call “Isolation”. Simply stated, cabin horror stories frequently feature dwellers that are trapped in their location with little to no communication with the civilized world. In Rough Draft, their cars are damaged or stolen. Their generator often fails to work. They have laptops that are connected to a private network – the network that is set up by the mastermind of their unfortunate situation. They do not have general Internet access. The third theme, “Micro-Haunting,” states that the haunting is symbolically simple and that haunted cabin stories usually only feature a few characters. This is certainly true in Rough Draft. The fourth and final theme, “Solitary Confinement”, does not apply since this theme pertains to the solitary cabin dweller.

Stay tuned for the next haunted cabin feature. I know which films and books I will be reviewing but I haven’t decided on the order yet, so sorry, I can’t say that the next post will be a review of Blah Blah Blah. But the educated horror fan should be able to guess at the movies I have coming down the pike. Either way, you won’t be disappointed!

A Review of Julia – by Peter Straub

“Julia Dream. Dreamboat Queen. Queen of all my dreams.” – Pink Floyd

 

 

I love “Julia Dream”, a song by Pink Floyd. I don’t, however, love Julia , a novel by Peter Straub. I mean – I like the novel. A little. Somewhat like. I guess.   Okay, okay – I’ll stop dripping out these qualifying phrases and get to the heart of the matter.

Here’s the synopsis – A woman (Julia) fleeing a troubled past finds herself living in a haunted house. She struggles to make sense of her new surroundings. Who is that young mysterious blonde girl that she keeps encountering in the nearby neighborhood? And why does Julia sometimes hear the sounds of someone rummaging around her house while she sleeps at night.

As per the synopsis on Amazon:

Julia’s first purchase upon leaving her husband is a large, old-fashioned house in Kensington, where she plans to live by herself well away from her soon-to-be ex and the home where their young daughter died.

Does the mysterious girl have something to do with her daughter’s death? Is Julia being haunted by ghosts?

Many of the haunted house novels and movies that I have absorbed follow a formula similar to this. Authors Darcy Coates and Blair Shaw, for instance, have published several stories about women who suddenly find themselves living alone in a haunted house. Often they are burdened with the baggage of tragedies past, and this only makes their haunting encounters all the more unbearable. Or maybe, these encounters are one and the same with what has haunted them in the past; maybe these are old phantoms disguised as something new. Jeffery Konvitz abides by this formula in his novel The Sentinel The story within the film Sensoria follows this pattern as well.  Yet Julia, published in 1975, predates all of these. Is it then a first of its kind? Probably not.  Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House has a somewhat similar synopsis. The protagonist is not alone in the haunted house, but she does arrive with plenty of emotional baggage, so much so that she becomes an unreliable narrator.  Her sense of reality is in question, and therefore so are her perceptions. This is the same situation readers face with confronting Straub’s central protagonist. Are Julia’s experiences real or are they hallucinations; byproducts of her troubled mind? Thus, the influences of Shirley Jackson are easily recognizable.

 

I have no objection to an adherence of a formula, so long as it’s not a strict adherence. Julia_PeterStraub_156There needs to be ingredients of originality in the brew somewhere. Julia is not without originality. My criticism with the story has to do with its telling. At times, the events of the tale are ambiguous and vague. I found myself confused; is this event that Straub is describing real, or is it a dream. Or, is it just a section that’s poetically licensed to do whatever the hell it wants to do? I know what you’re thinking  “Well this kind of writing is to be expected in a mysterious novel that features an unreliable narrator.” To a degree I agree (hey that rhymed!). But as my great grandmother would say, “enough is enough of anything.”  When a situation is written so vaguely that comprehension is lost and the flow of the story suffers, then Houston, we have a problem.  Sometimes I wasn’t sure as to which character was  thinking/dreaming up a specific surreal situation.

It is well known that the supernatural is a staple of Peter Straub’s works. He is considered one of the masters of his genre and I in no way wish to challenge this mastery. However I learned from Wikipedia  that Julia is Peter Straub’s third novel, but it’s also his first attempt  at writing about ghosts and the supernatural. Bryant Burnette who writes for the blog Truth Inside the Lie has read Straub’s first two novels, and wasn’t all that impressed with them. He saw a marked improvement in Julia, at least in terms of character development. At the same time, he too finds his vagueness daunting.  He says:

.. failing that understanding, our lack of understanding is a part of the narrative.  Straub isn’t 100% successful at this 100% of the time — he occasionally falls back on the old trope of having a character be vague when it makes much more sense for them to be explicit — but he gets it right way more than he gets it wrong.

I would say he gets a right more than half the time.

 Having not read his first two novels, I can only compare Julia with the one other novel of Straub’s that I have read. A fitting comparison it is, because they are similar in certain ways. But the later novel, Novel # 5, (reminds me of this song, replace “novel” with “mambo”) is superior. I am referring to Ghost Story.

Both Julia and Ghost Story convey the idea of a vengeful, female spirit. Julia is a relatively short novel whereas Ghost Story is a gigantic, ambitious work. To me, Julia is the “practice novel;” an exercise Straub must perform while on the way toward the masterpiece that is Ghost Story. Straub learns from his early works. The fruits of his creative and mechanical maturity bear out symbolically, from the ghost of a young girl (in Julia) to the ghost of a fully grown woman (In Ghost Story). This time, Straub’s vagueness add to the overall eeriness of the story.

I am no expert of the works of Peter Straub. He is a favorite of many, including Stephen King. In both of the works that I have read I see talent. But Ghost Story is where his talent is fully realized.  In Julia, this talent – it’s there, but  it is still struggling to come to fruition. Therefore, alas, I can only give it a half-hearted recommendation.  But at least I put my whole heart into explaining why I  “sort of liked” and did not “love” this book, as I promised I would do way back at the end of the first paragraph. Remember? But of course you do! You rock, but not was well as Pink Floyd.

 

Childhood Memories That Would Not Fade On Account of “The House That Would Not Die”

HOuseThatWouldntDie

When I was a little boy back in the mid-seventies, many things scared me; loud noises, spiders, deep water, some creepy guy that attended one of my older sister’s parties. But apparently, ghosts and haunted houses didn’t make the scare factor – at least not the ones that appeared on TV. As a “young man” in my single digit years, I remember watching haunted house movies with my sister (the hostess of the party with the creepy guy) on television and loving them. She introduced me to some memorable movies. Well, mostly memorable.  Somewhat memorable?  I’ll explain this ambivalence.

Years and years went by and certain scenes from two of these movies stayed with me. The larger plots were forgotten; the titles and other identifying specs remained unknown.  I described what I had remembered about these films to my sister but my descriptions did not help to jog her memory. (This same sister attended a Led Zeppelin concert and to this day cannot recall anything from the set list, so my attempts to mine her memory banks were doomed before the mining had started).  Unaided, all alone (poor, poor me), I set out to relocate these haunted houses and rediscover the chilling haunts that lurked within them. All I had to go on were the images and impressions of a seven-year old. Were they reliable? Let us see!

Images and Impressions from Mystery Haunted House Film #1

  • There was a loud “BANG BANG BANG!” coming from behind a wall.
  • Somewhere near the end of a film, I remembered one of the male characters saying something to the effect of “I’m going to see what that is”, only to be thwarted by another man who kept saying “Don’t go in there…don’t!”

For years I had wondered what was behind “that one wall”. Did the characters ever discover what lurked behind it?  I now believe that the movie in question is The Haunting.  The BANG BANG BANG occurs throughout the film from behind several of the house’s walls; it is not delegated to one specific barrier to some unknown location.  As for the two men arguing – this occurs but it is a minor exchange. My memory had blown the conflict out of proportion.

My first adult experience of The Haunting occurred in the mid-nineties. (I saw it again in 2015 and reviewed it then.) Finally I had found the “BANG BANG BANG” film. The mystery had gone unsolved for twenty years!  It would take another twenty years to solve Mystery #2 . Finally, in the early part of the summer of 2017 (just a few weeks ago!), I saw Mystery Haunted House Film #2

Images and Impressions from Mystery Haunted House Film #2

  • I remembered that there were four characters; but I only recalled the appearances of two – a young woman with long hair brown hair and a young man with a black mustache.
  • The young woman kept shaking and acting freaky. My sister explained, “There’s a ghost inside her!” Later in the film, the young man with the mostache would suddenly get violent. Whenever this happened, my sister would say, “Now there’s a ghost inside him!”

 

What film could this be? I had searched though lists of haunted house films of the 1960s and early 70s, breezed through many a synopsis and looked over movie stills. Finally I came upon something that seemed to capture the images from my memory. Wouldn’t you know it – the film is free on youtube!  After watching the film I decided with 88 percent certainty that this was the “There’s a ghost inside her/him” movie.  It’s called The House that Would Not Die.

Once again, my memory proved inaccurate. There are indeed four main characters in this film with one being a young woman with long hair and another being a young man with a mustache. However it isn’t the young man that has an aggression problem.  In addition to the two youngsters, there are two older characters, played by Richard Egan  and Barbara Stanwyck. It is Egan’s character “Pat McDougal” that turns violent whenever a ghost enters his body.

So, after all these years of yearning for clarification, is the film so remarkable as to be well worth the wait? No not really. It’s your average made-for-TV movie. That’s right my friends, this movie first premiered on ABC on Oct 27, 1970 – just in time for Halloween. It’s not a bad film. It is what it is, and what it is is (no I will not delete the repeated word!) a typical “woman inherits a haunted house” story.  Ruth Bennett (Barbara Stanwyck) is the inheritor, and she and her young niece Sara Dunning (the long haired woman played by Kitty Winn) move in to the huge house. Right away, Ruth hits it off with Professor Pat Mcdougal, who is constantly shadowed by his bright pupil Stan Whitman (the young dude with the mustache, who is played by Michael Anderson Jr.)  The film rushes to unite all these characters so that – yay! – it now has a cast to haunt. As previously noted, spirits frequently possess poor Sara and poor Pat, forcing them to adopt the personalities of their possessors. This is why Pat becomes violent at times. It’s not his fault, so let’s not judge him too harshly. The spirits have been hanging around the house since the days of The American Revolution. This is why the film is titled The House That Wouldn’t Die.

This film will not sway those that are indifferent to this genre.  But I submit that fans of old-skool haunted house flicks might feel at home in this film. However, I hesitate to call it a “classic” because that would but it on par with legendary haunted house films such as The Legend of Hell House and, yes, The Haunting (Gotta love those BANG BANG BANGs!). The House That Would Not Die just doesn’t hold its shingles when compared to these other films.  But it’s entertaining in a dramatic kind of way. The ghost story is somewhat chilling. And the acting is above average. Of course, Stanwyck is always great, which brings me to my last and final misconception.  I had told someone that Stanwyck’s final film was William Castle’s The Night Walker – 1964. I was half-right. The Night Walker was Stanwyck’s final film on the big screen. She made several made-for-TV movies throughout the 70s, including The House That Wouldn’t Die.

Images and Impressions – these are some of the ghosts that have haunted me throughout the years. And I welcome them, even when they materialize in ways that challenge my memory. If nothing else, I appreciate the scenes from “The House That Would Not Die that have stayed with me since I was a child. For that to have happened, the filmmakers had to have done something right. And they did. They made a fair/good movie.  That’s not too shabby!

Watch the Movie – Free on Youtube (While it lasts)

Review of Ghosthouse

GhostHouseIf only filmmakers possessed the gift of hindsight at the very beginning of a film project! (Question – Wouldn’t that be “foresight” then? Answer – Oh yeah!)  Had Umberto Lenzi, director of the film Ghosthouse – the subject of this review, been able to see the final product before the filming (before the writing as well), he would have known what works and what doesn’t. There are some well-crafted scenes in this film; they are genuinely frightful. But alas, most of the scenes in this movie are cringe worthy. In sum, the “stuff of ghosts” is good; the “stuff of people” is bad.  If only this “imbalance of stuff” could have been realized at the very beginning. They could have scrapped all the “people talk to people” plot elements and relied heavily on the basics of “people encounter ghosts.” But isn’t this always the case – ghosts rule and people suck?  You are saying “no.”  Okay I hear ya! Great characters and excellent dialogue go a long way. But some films just aren’t destined for Oscar worthy dialogue and acting. When this is the case (and here is where the foresight comes in handy!) it’s better to hone in on other aspects of the film.  This “ghosts over people” strategy would have at least made for an average haunted house film. “Average” isn’t great but it is better than “below average.”   Alas, Ghosthouse is below average.

The story beings with a house and the horrific murders that took place on the premises. See, there’s this little girl and her clown doll (already we know this pairing can only lead to trouble!). Like all normal little girls, she has a mommy and a daddy. But parents of little girls who play with clown dolls are not destined to have long lives. The parents die, and we’re not quite sure what happened to the girl and the doll. Not until later. Fastforward twenty years or so, the house is abandoned.  But don’t worry, it will be acquire some occupants; a few squatters and a bunch of trespassers. Take for instance this guy Paul. He is a CB fanatic and he picks up some disturbing voices over his radio. He and his girlfriend trace the signal to the abandoned house, where some squatter has set up his own CB station. He squats in the house with his girlfriend and younger sister.  Now we have five youth, all potential victims for some deadly ghostly shenanigans! You know the drill.

The sounds and screams that come over the CB – chilling. The carnivalesque music and the mechanical clown laughter that occurs whenever something frightening us about to happen – creepy! The crazy old man with his pitchfork weapon – disturbing! The ghostly scenes with the little girl and her creepy clown doll – awesome!  Oh but the acting is so Ghosthouse2bad, and the dialogue is terrible, and the motivators that move the characters to do what they do are pathetic and all this makes a mess out of the overall story.  Why oh why can’t these kids stay around the house, where all things are scary, and just accept their fate and die?  No they have to leave the house, get in involved in lame-ass plots in places far away from the frights of the film, only to return, then separate, them come together, then separate again, over and over when all we want is for these annoying characters to perish in a most haunted way!

Sometimes it’s better to “Go for the Ghosts” and forget all this “Power to the People” jazz. Such a time should have been 1988 – the year this film debuted in Italy. Oh well, what’s done is done. It’s all in hindsight now.

Review of “The Haunting of..” series by Blair Shaw

BlairShawBooks

There are houses. There are hauntings.  There are hauntings that take place in houses. A fitting book title for this kind of thing might be The Haunting of ( *insert name of house here*). There are several (tens? Hundreds? ) novels that make use of this title template. That’s understandable. After all, it is practical. It communicates to prospective readers what they need to know.  In a nutshell it states – “if you’re looking for a haunted house novel, you have come to the right place”.

I’ve explored several books that make use of the “The Haunting of ..” template right here in this blog. The most noteworthy, in my opinion, is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Read and reviewed here!) I’ve also explored several titles from Darcy Coates (The Haunting of Ashburn House , The Haunting of Blackwood House, The Haunting of Gillespie House)  For my next “The Haunting of…” excursion, I turn to Blair Shaw.  When I began reading her works, she had three published novellas. They are are The Haunting of Hainesbury House, The Haunting of Ingleton House,   and The Haunting of Bramley House, all of which can be found at Blair Shaw’s Amazon Page.

I am including all three in this one review.  Why not give each book its own review?  Two reasons #1) They are very short reads. #2) They all follow the same formula.

Here is the formula.  The book(s) begin(s) in England in the distant past inside a house that is named after its owners. Cruelty and murder have claimed the lives of some of the inhabitants. Fastfoward  a hundred years or so. A woman is leaving her home in the United States,  fleeing a sad past and facing a new adventure on the otherside of the Atlanic.  Sometimes she has offspring to care for, other times no.  She moves into a large manor in England, the same manor where the deadly tragedy took place. Of course, the place is haunted by the spirit/s of those that perished in the tragedy.  Their disturbances are rather bothersome and in some cases deadly. Luckily, there is a way to rid the house of these spirits. In each case, (in each book), the American Woman figures out what needs to be done. She fixes it so that the spirits can pass on to their eternal home. Then she (and sometimes her offspring) lives happily ever after. The end.

While working out the framework for this review, I returned to Shaw’s Amazon Page and learned that she has since put out two more “The Haunting Of….” Books:  They are The Haunting of Addison House  (Date of publication March 31) and The Haunting of Morgan House (Date of publication April 16). She’s cranking these out faster than a ghost in a speed machine. However, I am not rushing to read these latest editions.  After reading the three, I’m in the mood for something; shall we say “meatier”?

These aren’t bad books.  I prefer something a little less formulaic, but nevertheless the stories are engaging.  Shaw is a good writer; she expresses herself clearly and concisely.  But I would equate these novellas to appetizers. These are stories to read in between books. They are like the “shorts” that used to premiere before the main movie back in the golden age of film. I make these comparisons not only because they are short reads. I use these analogies to equate the level of depth as well. These are simple reads. There aren’t any twists; nothing profound is going on here.  But not everything is designed to be a masterpiece.

I will say this – what I like best about her novellas is the beginnings, the prologues (although they aren’t labeled as such) that tell the historical backstory. Shaw has a talent for making me feel a home in a different time period.  They describe the feeling of the times well without resorting to archaic language. Perhaps I will make the time to read the rest her novellas – someday.  They did seem to get better with succession.  I just wish Shaw would write a longer, meatier book.  She has it her, I just know it!

Review of Haunted

HauntedThorns and Cross – sounds like I’m about to embark upon a seasonally appropriate Easter theme post, doesn’t it? Christ wearing the crown of thorns, Christ nailed to a cross, etc. etc. and etc.  All on account of a typo. Damn that “s” for being so close to the the “e” on the keyboard!  Let’s remove the “s” in “Thorns” and replace it with the correct “e” and we now have Thorne and Cross – two authors who often partner together to write Gothic ghost stories. I first discovered them when I read and reviewed one of their works: The Ghosts of Ravencrest.  I found the book very much to my liking.

Having familiarized myself with the pair, I decided to dissect the duo.  By this I mean that I wanted to read their “solo” novels.  I began with Haunted  by Tamara Throne.  Overall, I enjoyed it.  I will explain why but first let me establish the novel’s setting and describe the house that is at the center of the story.

 

David Masters, best selling author of paranormal books, moves to a Victorian mansion off the coasts of California known as Baudey House.  Yes, it is haunted. He knows it too. Or at least he expects it to be haunted; that what the rumors say anyway. As a paranormal kinda’ guy, it’s what he wants.  The house is part of an odd seaside community that is a mixture of cantankerous yokels and new age flakes. Nearby the house is a lighthouse haunted by a headless ghost. And there are plenty more where that (or in this case, “he”) came from! Inside the Baudey House there are spirits, some of which are visual echoes that can only be perceived by those that that have sixth sense. Others are more interactive – more deadly!  There are certain rooms where presences are so strongly felt that it is impossible to remain inside of them for any length of time.  Somewhere in the house there is a secret passage that leads to a dungeon. It is up to Masters to find it. Then there are ceramic, hand-made dolls hidden in various places throughout the house. How weird is that!

Did I mention the murders? At different times over the course of more than one hundred years, grizzly murders have occurred inside the house.  Bodies were found in various states of dismemberment. It is no wonder Baudey House became known as “Body House.”

Let me now describe the things I find most appealing about this book. The first has to do with the overall story.  Thorne serves up a “full meal of a plot” with several interesting angles, many well-rounded characters, numerous situations of captivating drama, and a compelling but chilling backstory. If I had to choose one word to summarize the story, that world would be “fulfilling.”

My second piece of praise is more specific. Of all the authors that have dealt with the subject of “cold spots”, I find Thorne’s descriptions to be the most visceral, which for me translates to “frightfully descriptive.”

Cold spots, according to the According to the Associations of the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena:

“… are small areas (usually a lot smaller than a room) that feel significantly colder than the surrounding area. They are considered by some to be a sign of a ghost in the area. Some cold spots are always felt in the same place while others seem to appear and disappear at different locations.”

Thorne’s accounts of cold spots are gripping, literally so; when her characters encounter them, they feel their chilling presences closing in on their bodies.  First, there’s the drop in temperature, then there’s the gripping sensation, next come paralysis and finally their bodies are vulnerable to possession!

Alas, the novel has its shortcomings. Quite often, without warning, the third person narrative slips into a first person perspective. This happens in the middle of paragraphs of all places!  Sometimes I found myself at the end of a sentence before realizing that I was reading the character’s thoughts.  Italics go a long way! Perhaps this is a formatting issue; maybe the italics disappeared when the original file was converted to an e-file. Even so, it would have been helpful if the phrases that represented thought had their own lines.

All in all, this a good book.  One Thorne down, once Cross to go! I’m not sure if Alistair Cross  has written a haunted house book. I might just have to bite the bullet and “read outside the house”.

Review of The Castle of Otranto

castleofotrantoI’m willing to bet that the following themes are all too familiar – Kingdom vs. Kingdom. A despotic Prince.   Underground passageways. A fleeing princess. Knights on the hunt. Dire prophesies.  A castle haunted with phantoms. Have I listed enough clichés?

All of these motifs are found in Horace Walpole’s novel “The Castle of Otranto”. But let’s give the guy a break. After all, he wrote this piece back in 1764.   Long before George R. R. Martin had his Game of Thrones, sooner than J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, previous to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, prior to Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolfo, Walpole wrote this fantasy novel about a time long ago (even in 1764 it was a period piece); a time of knights and kingdoms, princesses and perils, all wrapped up in a story that is sprinkled with ghosts and other supernatural phenomena. Mind you, he had his predecessors. Shakespeare was writing of kingdoms and ghosts in the 16th century and the stories of King Arthur and The Knights of the Roundtable date back to the 11th and 12th century. However, Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto is credited as the very first gothic novel.

What does it mean to be the first “gothic novel?” Well let us see what the with the fine men and women of Wikipedia have to say.

According to Wikipedia, this novel establishes:

“many of the plot devices and character-types that would become typical of the Gothic: secret passages, clanging trapdoors, pictures that begin to move, and doors that close by themselves.”

But what makes this novel standout among other fantasy and frightful novels of its time is its unique method of blending the fantastic with the mundane. Supposedly in the late 1700s, stories of the supernatural were considered “old school” (They probably had a different term for it, but you catch my drift).  Modern tales of romance and adventure were allegedly devoid of such supernatural themes and focused more on believable foes and realistic conflicts.  By mixing the two literary strands, Walpole establishes what has come to be a defining theme for Gothic literature – traces of the past making their way into the modern world. Looking at the gothic haunted house stories that come later, this theme bears out over and over –  curses born in the past that claim the lives of future generations, justice for sins committed long ago coming for the heirs of the original sinner; ghosts returning from the graves to haunt the living.

Wadpole, a British politician, was a fan of the ancient medieval period, so much so that he had a castle built to replicate a palace of yore. It’s called Strawberry Hill House and it still stand today, although it has gone through much renovation. In writing “The Castle of Otranto,” Wadpole tried to imitate the style of speech from the medieval era. In its initial publication, Wadpole included a preface that made is seem as if his tale was an ancient one, written in the sixteenth century.

Fascination for the ways of yore, nostalgia for periods of we never knew – this is at the heart of Gothic literature. What are ghosts but fanciful beings from times long gone!

So, how much of this novel is dedicated to ghosts and other things that go bump in the night? I’d say there is a smidgen of these elements. Maybe more.   Phantoms and other mysterious things pop in and out of this story. Lord Manfred, a ruthless tyrant, arranges a marriage between his son Conrad and the maiden Isabella in order to unite two kingdoms. However, before the marriage is to take place, a giant helmet falls from nowhere and crushes him. Paranormal event #1.   Lord Manfeld then takes it upon himself to have Isabella as his own. But not if she can help it. She flees through an underground passage. Lord Manfeld chases her while the painted image of his grandfather flees the portrait and interferes in the chase. Paranormal event #2.

More story follows, but I’m not going to go into much detail. There are battles. There is a love story, and there are more supernatural events; inhabitants of the castle see a giant foot that occupies an entire room, a specter in dark clothes kneels before an altar. Some of these occurrences are rather bizarre to say the least.

As to the claim that this tale deposits the supernatural into “realistic situations”, I don’t really see it. I’m not saying that this isn’t happening. It’s just that I am so far removed from the writing style of the eighteenth century and I’m a complete novice when it comes to the “ordinary, day to day life” of the royal classes of medieval society. Therefore, I’m not attuned to the supposed “realism” that is going on here. “Realism” to me is a Stephen King story, where there might be a guy in a baseball cap chomping down on a Mars candy bar at gas station and sipping his bottle of Dr. Pepper, all while speaking in local slang.   In Wadpole’s work, the characters speak in a theatrical style.  Formal, long-winded salutations seem to invade nearly every sentence of the dialogue.  The heroes and heroines always have the noblest of intentions.

I can’t say that this novel thrilled me to death. The story is fair. However, I did learn a lot from reading the book and doing research for this article. I have a better understanding of the foundations of gothic literature and I have learned a great deal about the evolution of literary styles. For this I am thankful. And onward I will go, digesting more works within the Gothic genre. Some I will like, others not so much. But I look forward to the rewarding experience. You too can have such an experience. Just pick up a book and read, read, read!

 

Review of The Uninvited

This movie came to me in a vision. There I was, entering a tomb that is guarded by possessed skeletons. I passed them by and went on. Soon I came upon an upright coffin. Somebody opened it from the inside! There before me was a coffin-bound ghoul. He spoke to me of horror! Then he told a corny joke and unseen people threw rubber chickens at him! All this occurred in my “tele” vision. (I told you it came to me in a “vision”)

For those who don’t know, I have just briefly described the opening for the horror movie show that airs on Saturday nights on MeTV . Famous horror-host Svengoolie helms the show (and the show is called “Svengoolie’ – imagine that!), and it is a blast! You can see one of these openings in the video below.

The film Svengoolie aired last Saturday is called The Uninvited. It was the second time I have seen this classic 1944 haunted house film on his show.  I think I liked it better the second time. Here is the plot in brief –  a brother and sister purchase a house by the seaside. The twenty-year-old granddaughter of the seller objects to this transaction. As a former occupant of the house (although she was very young when she lived there), Stella still feels a connection to the place; a connection which she has trouble articulating. Her mother passed away near the house. There is a cliff nearby that drops into the sea.  Her mother committed suicide by jumping off this cliff.  Or was she thrown off? Was murder involved?  There was another woman that lived with them in the seaside home. She too died when Stella was young.  Stella insists on living in the house with the new occupants. She is convinced that a female spirit also resides in this house. This spirit, she insists, is trying to make contact with her. Is it her mother? Or is it the spirit of someone else, someone that wants to harm her.

Svengoolie had an interesting piece of trivia concerning this film. He said that this was the first film that took the concept of “the ghost” seriously. I’ll take his word for it. Offhand, I can’t think of an earlier film that put as much effort into telling a thoughtful ghost story.  For the first time, perhaps, the ghost that manifests on the screen looks “real”.  Of    TheUninvited3course, by today’s standards, the specter in The Uninvited might appear lame. But I liked it! It is a distinct change from the “dancing sheets” that substituted as the ghosts in earlier films. Most often, these “ghosts” were used for comedic effect.

In The Uninvited, the ghost appears as a glowing swirl that dances across the screen. Soon, it takes on the appearance of a female specter; transparent and blurred just enough to allow for an imperfection of form that creates the visual effect of a vaporous figure.  The ghostly sounds are quite eerie as well. There is the disembodied sobbing that is done with just the right amount of echo. There is haunting laughter that trails off to nowhere. Then there are other factors that make for a chilling, ghostly atmosphere.  Book pages turn on their own accord. Flowers die instantaneously. And special attention should be payed to Actress Gail Russell (playing the role of Stella) when she gives way to dramatic pauses that pull the viewers into the contemplative yet chilling scenes. Stella smells the fragrance of her mother. She becomes blissfully joyful. Then Stella becomes frightfully cold. She succumbs to trances.

TheUninvited2

All in all this is a decent haunted house film. It’s not the best but it holds its own. My only complaint has to do with the ways that the mystery unravels. Through dialogue, the cast discuss the clues they have found and verbally hypothesize their way to the truth. This is an instance where the phrase “show don’t tell” comes in handy. I would have preferred more showing and less telling.  Oh well, you can’t always get what you want, I guess.  Still, it’s a good film.  See it. And tune into “Svengoolie” on MeTV Thank you! Over and out!

Review of Haunter

Hey, have you ever seen the film “Haunter”?

(I think you mean “The Haunting”.  There’s the original 1963 film by Robert Wise and then there’s- )

No, I don’t mean “The Haunting”.  I mean “Haunter”

(Oh!!! You mean that 1995 film with Kate Beckinsale.)

NO!! That’s “Haunted!”  I’m referring to “HauntER!” “er!” “er!” er!” “er!”

(Hunter? )

Oh never mind!!

 

Truth be told, I had never heard of this film either (until I found it on Shudder.com a  Hauntercouple months ago) It premiered in 2013, but according to Wikipedia, this Canadian film had a limited release in U.S. theaters. Released on video in 2014, it only took in $129, 477.  Suffice it to say, it didn’t get much exposure. Equally disappointing are the lukewarm reviews.  Fifty-four percent of professional critics cited on Rottentomatoes  rated this film positively – a slim majority. But there are plenty of professional critics that panned the film.  Rex Reed of the New Yorks Observer writes that the film is “A dull, confusing movie for which nobody provided a script” Meanwhile, only forty-two percent of the non-professional critics (audience) view the film favorably.  IMDB gives this a rating of 5.9 stars out of 10.

All this is sad to me, because I think this is an underrated film that is too good to be hidden from the masses. It is NOT dull. In fact, it is quite the opposite; I was drawn in immediately. It only took a few scenes before I had dissolved into the mystery of the house that is at the heart of this story.  Is it a confusing movie?  Perhaps at times. It is  complex but in a captivating way. It is non-linear.  Characters weave in and out of various timelines. They tunnel into different dimensions; the dimension of the living and the dimension of the dead. There is a lot packed into this 97-minute film. There is layer upon layer of awesomeness. And yet, the film doesn’t feel rushed. Nor does the plot feel oppressive and burdensome.

It is difficult to explain the plot without giving away spoilers.  On all of the major review sites, a spoiler sticks out in the very first lines of the synopsis.  I understand the reasoning behind its inclusion: the heart of the story beats according to this revelation. But I swear, for the first 15-20 minutes of the film, the revelation is not immediately apparent. Having read the various synopses, I knew what this revelation was before beginning the film, and yet I let myself flow freely in the directions that the plot was taking me, so much so that I nearly forgot the surprise.

In some of my reviews, I do post spoilers. Normally I warn the reader about this.  Depending upon what I want to achieve with the article, I sometimes need to give things away. If I’m doing an analysis of major themes, for example, it is sometimes necessary to reveal key plot point and twists.  For The Haunter, I wish to give nothing away. I am even omitting things that major review sites list freely. I want this to be a surprise from start to finish. I want it to be like the roller coaster that it is; with exciting twists and turns.

I’ll close this review by starting a new subject, hopefully to be continued in the future I consider “Haunter” to be a post-modern film. It’s non-linear and it lacks a center, so to speak.  Some other haunted house stories that fall into this category are The House at the End of Time , a film and House of Leaves, a book.  So I ask, are there commonalities across all post-modern haunted house stories that are limited to its genre?  Are there certain themes that are begging to be discovered and analyzed?  I don’t know. This would be an interesting avenue to explore. And that’s what we do here at the Haunted House Poject – drive down avenues that behold such wonderful houses of haunts!

 

 

Review of The Ghosts of Ravencrest

ravencrestOn the very first page of this blog, I state that this haunted house project is a learning exercise that leads to an exploration of various genres of literature. Here in the intro I have written:

“From the stone castles of the old world to the suburban units of the new, a haunting we will go!   We will tread across various genres; unveiling the ghosts of Gothic novels, dissecting the creatures of Cosmic horror, and exorcising demons from modern film lore.”

By golly, I really mean what I say! I am exploring new things and I love it. For example, by studying a specific subgenre (i.e. classic haunted house stories), I have been turned on to Gothic literature in general.  As to the defining characteristics of Gothic literature, I am still learning. This is a topic for another article.  But even the layperson has a rudimentary understanding of some of the aspects of Gothic tales. Upon hearing the words “gothic literature,” people think of stone castles, dark romances, and wealthy heirs that are tied to their familial lineages.

Now, some might be tempted to restrict gothic tales to the 18th and 19th centuries; an era of rapid and sometimes unwelcome change (urbanization/ industrialization/modernization), for which Gothic novels had offered fanciful escape with their stories of the days or yore. (Okay NOW I’m treading too deep into the weeds. Come back!)  Thankfully, there are authors that keep this genre alive here in the 21st century. Authors such as, oh, I dunno, say…Tamara Thorne  and Alastair Cross.  They have successfully transposed the old world into the new – brick by brick, for the mansion that is at the center of their story has been relocated from old world Europe to the modern U.S.A. Included in this move are the ghosts that had been haunting the mansion. Over time, new ghosts moved in as well.  You can learn all about The Ghosts of Ravencrest  by reading their book.

Their book is filled with delicious gothic delights. As mentioned, it has the ghosts, but there is much more. There are witches and spells, misshapen creatures, and statues that come to life.  The Ravenscrest mansion has a wing that is locked away – for there are strange things afoot in this side of the building.  There is an interesting staff of characters; a charming and witty butler, and evil and jealous administrator, an innocent governess, who is the main protagonist of the story.  There are other intriguing staff members as well, and they all serve Eric Manning, widower and heir to a family business that has been operational for a couple of centuries.   In the middle of the book, the authors take us back in time to late 16th century Europe, where we meet Manning’s ancestors and learn of the origin of this terror that haunts Ravencrest.

“The Ghosts of Ravencrest” also has romance; a budding love story. Did I mention sex? It’s got that as well, in all its most erotic forms. Yes, it has BDSM.  For those that love that kind of thing, you will enjoy these parts of the story. For those that don’t, just put up with it, okay? It’s not a pervasive thing and there is so much more to the story, so please don’t let some hangup ruin this terrific piece work. As for me, I didn’t think the sex added anything to the story. But it didn’t steal from the story either, and that’s the important thing.

I say give it a try. You can sample it piece by piece if you like. It is broken up into eight novellas. All are available at Amazon for 99 cents a piece. As for me, I took the express lane to the end with no stops in between. In other words, you can purchase the whole collection as on book. But this will be “Book 1”.  The next book is “The Witches of Ravencrest.”.  Four novellas are already available for purchase, but I’m going to wait until all are available and then buy the whole collection.


I’d like to focus a little on the authors. Tamara Thorne has been writing best sellers since  thronecrossthe 1990s.  Alistair Cross came on the scene a little later.  Both are avid fans of ghost stories and gothic literature.  The two met one day and they decided to write as a team. I’ve always wondered how co-authoring worked!  Does one author write one chapter, and the other the next, continuing in this pattern until the book’s end?  The result of this method might be a “run-on” story; directionless, since each author grabs the helm at indiscriminate moments. Another method is for one author to do most of the work while the other adds a couple of ideas here and there, but they both end up getting co-author credit. But this doesn’t seem fair.

Thankfully, Thorne and Cross have found another way to work together.

During an interview, they explain their method. Via Skype, they write together in real time -electronic face to electronic face. They use Google Docs which allows them to write and edit the same document at the same time.   They spend several hours a day at this activity.

Thorne and Cross collaborate on other ventures as well. On Thursday evenings, they host an internet radio show, Haunted Nights Live.  On the show they read ghost stories and interview guest authors. Some of the guests include V.C. Andrews (Flowers in the Attic), Christopher Rice (son of Anne Rice), and Scott Nicholson (I have reviewed three of his books at this blog).

I’ve just discovered these two, and…I don’t know…they intrigue me. Maybe they have cast a spell on me or something. They would be the ones who could do it too, for they seem to live their daily lives in the macabre, constantly surrounded by a gothic vibe –  choose a phrase, you know what I mean. Together, they have gone on excursions of paranormal investigation. The collect little toy trolls. They love cats, a gothic animal if there ever was one. They are living their passions!

So, enjoy some of the forbidden fruits of their beloved labor. Visit their blogs. I have given you several links, and here is another. Listen to their show and buy, buy buy their books!