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!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Ju-On: The Curse 2

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

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

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

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

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

 

Review of Smee (A Christmas Ghost Story By A.M. Burrage)

smeeGoosebumps! (Uh…what?)  You heard me. Goosebumps!  (I don’t get it). These little shits crawled all over my skin as I read this delightful tale. And when I listened to an audio arrangement of the story, with creepy sound effects and all, these bumps honked like a mudda’ goose!

The story I am referring to is “Smee” by A.M Burrage, which was originally published as part of a collection in the book Someone in the Room, 1931.

(To  read it online. Check out  http://www.scaryforkids.com/smee/ )

(To listen to the story, check out this narration from David Lewis Richardson

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muJyiMMAfTk )

(Was it really so scary that if caused goosebumps?) Well, it was scary. Scarier than some, less scary than others. (Was it, I don’t know, touching?) Well, people touched a ghost now and then, it that’s what you mean. (What I mean is, “What’s with the goosebumps?!”).  The overall concept of this story gave them to me!  Twelve friends playing a hide-and-seek type game inside a huge, dark house, and then suddenly – there is this mysterious thirteenth player that hides with them!  This description alone should be enough to tickle a whole assortment of inner senses.  But then there’s more.  To complete the story is to witness multiple rounds of this game; numerous chilling adventures to court your most precious fancies.

The story takes place on Christmas Eve.  It is a story within a story.  Tony Jackson is forced to explain to his friends why he wishes not to partake in their post-dinner, hide-and-seek game. To explain his hesitancy, he relays a story of a Christmas Eve past, where, after dining, he and eleven friends play a game called “Smee!,” which is similar to hide-and-seek.  The name is based on the phonetic similarities to the phrase “It’s me!” One person per game bares the title “Smee.” No one knows the identity of “Smee” except for the one that chooses the card that assigns that person the title.   “Smee” then hides and the others seek. When a seeker encounters another player, s/he calls out “Smee?” If the other player replies with “Smee!”, the seeker moves on.  When the real “Smee” is found, s/he is silent when asked about his/her identity. The finder then joins Smee in hiding and waits. Soon, all the players except for one will be hiding with Smee.  The last player to find “Smee” (and the rest of the party) is the loser.

Poor Jackson had a frightening experience playing that game on that particular Christmas Eve.  It just so happened that a ghost had joined in the game!

At the beginning of every game, the one who is “Smee” leaves the group to hide. Now, wouldn’t the players see the one who leaves? If they were not witnesses to “Smee’s” departure, wouldn’t they still be able to deduce the identity of the absent player by process of elimination? In order for this game to work, the house had to be pretty damn dark so that no one can see each other!  And so it is in this tale. Also, the house has to be big. Once again, the house in the story meets the requirements.  There are many hiding places in the numerous rooms and corridors. The host warns that, due to certain constructional patterns, some of the areas in the house can lead to danger if one is not careful, especially when roaming around in the dark. Now, isn’t this just the perfect setting and situation to add such haunting delights?

Let me refer back to the article I wrote several days ago, Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses. In the article, while borrowing from other sources, I describe the setting of a Christmas Haunted House.  I rephrase a section of Keith Lee Moris’s article:

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

Then I go on to say (in my words):

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.

In other words, A Christmas ghost story with a haunted house usually begins in a warm house where a festive party is taking place. This party distracts the characters from the darkest elements of winter – in the beginning. But as the story unfolds, the harshness of the season creeps inside (symbolically), often in the form of a ghost.

Stories of ghosts invading Christmas celebrations are perhaps reflective of our ancient ancestors’ struggle against the forces of nature at winter solstice.

In my article, I argue:

 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. 

“Smee” certainly deals with the “dangers of darkness” theme.  Here we have a group of  smee-coverfriends celebrating Christmas – a holiday known for its colorful lights. They have already dined and are feeling quite cheerful. They then test their fragile bubble of festivity by eliminating the light. They find themselves in darkness, which is always present underneath the light. And with the darkness comes frightening entities.

There is very little mention of the weather in this story.  We truly don’t know if “the weather outside is frightful.”   However, during the game, one of the players mentions that she would rather play a quiet game beside the fire where it is warm. So to a small extent, cold temperatures contribute to the overall sense of gloom.

“Smee” offers the ultimate Christmas haunted house. It is dutifully dark and sprawling with passages. Complying with the archetypal Christmas ghost story irony, the frightful exploration of the house is all part of a jovial, holiday game.  “Oh what they find is frightful, but the story is so delightful.”  Yes it is! Turn on your Christmas/holiday lights, shut off all other lighting and listen to this story.  It will be fun!

Review of A Strange Christmas Game

strangechristmasgame2

Folks, we have approached a milestone.   This will be the first piece of ghostly literature for which I have listened to a narrator speak the story to me.  I followed along with the text on a website as an audio file played on.  The story is “A Strange Christmas Game” by J.H. Riddell, (a.k.a. Charlotte Riddell) 1863. You too can read and/or listen to this story.  Just click on the link below and listen and listen as famed author and storyteller Michael Whitehouse narrates the story narrates the story.

http://www.vaultofghastlytales.com/2015/12/a-strange-christmas-games-by-j-h-riddell.html

I found several versions of the telling on the internet, each varying in wording. I wasn’t sure which was the best, most true to the original source, etc. But in the end I paid it no mind and just settled on a version that is hosted by www.vaultofghastlytales.com

Followers of my blog, surely by now you have read my recent article Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses? Here is in excerpt from that article:

“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.

People of days past used to tell ghosts during the cold winter. Winter was perceived as dark, dreary and scary. At Christmas Eve gatherings, celebrants would eat, drink and be merry. They would play games. And… they would tell ghost stories. Ghost stories are fun when one is beside a warm fire and in the accompaniment of family and friends; feeling all warm and cozy, while the threat of winter rages outside their windows.  A story of a Christmas Haunted House takes advantage of the characters’ fragile coziness. They are feeling festive and carefree, just like the real life folks that gather around a fire to hill a grisly take. But the doom and gloom of winter invades their celebration in the form of ghosts. Their gathering is soon invaded my scary phantoms.

Does “A Strange Christmas Game” meet these criteria? I say – Mostly.

In the tale, brother and sister inherit a manor, Martingdale, which is supposedly haunted. strangechristmasgameMany years ago, original owner Jeremy Lester is playing cards with his friend on Christmas Eve. The clock strikes midnight, Lester’s guest leaves to go home. Out against the brutal elements of winter he wanders, but it is Jeremy that is never heard from again!

Has the winter doom invaded Lester’s home and whooshed him away?  Not exactly. When one reads further into the story, a different situation arises. But at this point, the story teases us with the “wintertime ghostly home-invader” scenario. However, it does address the Christmas ghost story theme of “game time gone ghostly.”

For sure, the dreariness of winter plays out symbolically within the story – within the house.  For instance, here is an excerpt from the book that points to this:

Altogether, Martingdale seemed dreary enough, and the ghost stories we had laughed at while sunshine flooded the rooms became less unreal when we had nothing but blazing fires and wax candles to dispel the gloom.

When summer ends and winter begins, brother and sister hear footsteps in the night, along with other strange noises. Is this the doings of the spirit of Jeremy Lester?  Read or listen to the story and find out for yourself. But one thing for certain – their home is haunted by ghosts that invade on Christmas Eve. However, the ghosts are not interrupting any Christmas festivities. Brother and Sister have been a wee bit too scared to be concentrating on Christmas.

Another thing to note; at the story’s climax, a snowstorm breaks out.  There hasn’t been such a storm for forty one years. –The last winter storm occurrs on the same night that Jeremy Lester disappears – on Christmas Eve.

This is a fun story. And it mostly meets my Christmas Haunted House criteria. Now, by all means, J. H. Riddell was under no obligation to adhere to the dictates of my half-baked analysis of Christmas haunted houses in literature. Afterall, I came up with them one hundred and fifty years or more after this story was published (with the help of others of course!)

I hope you give this tale a listen, a read, or both.  It’s a perfect story to ingest on a cold, winter’s evening.