The Woman in Black – Modern Gothic at its Best!

My claim to expertise has been compromised!   

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How dare I claim to be an expert on haunted house literature when I have only just recently read The Woman in Black by Susan Hill!  I am sooo late to the game – very late! I apologize for my tardiness.

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This is a major faux pas, since what we have here is a modern “classic”, in every sense of the word.   The Woman in Black is a novella of high quality. It serves as the definitive model for the various adaptions that premiered across various mediums including two films (Made for British TV movie of 1989  and Made for the Big Screen in 2012) and one TheWomanInBlackplay (In London 1987 ). It relays a standard and reminds of the “shoulds” of a ghost story; it should be descriptive, mysterious, suspenseful, and of course scary.  In addition – Susan writes with a nineteenth century style, giving the story a welcoming Gothic flavor . All of this is a testament to its greatness; a greatness that I should not have ignored for so long.

The story is simple. Who needs a lot of complexity when “simple” gets the job done, right? Anyway, retired lawyer Arthur Kipps refuses to join with his wife and stepchildren in the frivolity of telling ghost stories, for he takes the matter seriously. His real experience with ghosts rivals all of their silly yarns. His true tale is disturbing and deadly; his family wouldn’t understand.

As a young London lawyer, Arthur is sent to the remote coastal village of Crythin Gifford to attend to the affairs of the late Mrs. Alice Drablow. He must attend her funeral and then retrieve all of the significant legal documents that are scattered about at her former place of residence – Eel Marsh House (gotta love that name!) At her funeral, he sees a mysterious, sickly woman dressed in black. When Arthur mentions her to another funeral attendee, the other freaks out and won’t admit to seeing her. Likewise, no one in the village wants to discuss the late Mrs. Drablow. They want nothing to do with her house, which exists a few miles outside the village. It is surrounded my marshes. It is impossible to get there at high tide. Arthur heeds not the warnings of the people, for he has a job to do. He stays all alone at Eel Marsh House. In the end he will experience something so horrific that he will not be able to share the story with his stepchildren many years later.

As I read this novella and prepared for this review, I could not help but notice parallels between several aspects of this story and certain themes that I have written about here at this blog. First, it pays homage to the “Christmas Ghost Story”, a topic I have written about extensively (For starters, there’s this:  Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses ). The ghost story sessions mentioned at the beginning of this novella occur on Christmas Eve. One of Arthur’s stepchildren correctly points out that such a pastime is part of the English Christmas tradition; at least it was in the days of yore. I am reminded a bit about the Christmas haunted house story by the name of Smee. (See  Review of Smee – A Christmas Ghost Story by A.M. Burrage. To date, this post receives the most traffic). Like Arthur Kipps, the narrator of the ghost story in Smee is reluctant to take part in certain holiday festivities on account of a past terrifying experience. In Smee, the activity that frightens him is a hide-and-seek type game. In The Woman in Black, it is the telling of the ghost story that is unsettling. In both cases, readers learn of the backstory that causes these protagonists to fret on Christmas Eve. In both scenarios, its is this backstory that will turn into the main story.

TheWomanInBlack2Second, the haunted house of this novella is surrounded by terrain that is descriptively creepy. Ghostly grounds are a nice compliment to the haunted house that stands on its domain. I wrote about this here: Ghostly Grounds: Explorations Outside of the Haunted Houses of Film and Literature. While eerie events take place inside the house (inside the locked nursery!), most of the terror takes place outside the walls of Eel Marsh House. There is a nearby cemetery where Arthur once again sees the woman in black. Even more creepier are the marshes. Only by a Causeway can a traveler make safe passage to the house. However, the frequent sea frets often obscure the safe passages. It is here out on these foggy marshes that Arthur hears what I deem to be the most terrifying element of the story. In a good ghost story, things that are not seen are more frightening then then the stuff spoiled by sight. Had I read The Woman in Black before writing the “Ghostly Grounds…” article, I certainly would have made reference to Susan Hill’s story.

Finally, Susan Hill strives for the style of the traditional English ghost story. In my opinion she succeeds at this feat. I have written about the traditional English ghost story, in articles such as J.S. LeFanu and Haunted Houses and Everything I Know About Haunted Houses I Learned from British Literature . First of all, though published in 1983, the book is written in the Gothic style that permeates these ghostly tales of yore. For instance, The Woman in Black is told in the first person and is a story within a story, which was a common plot device back then. The sentences are long and they often give way to passive voice. Susan Hill will write “my spirits rose” instead of “I began to feel better” or “you look unwell” instead of “you look sick.” Furthermore, the story is saturated with descriptions, often about the sky, the grounds and the weather.

What does this style do for the story? A lot! In establishes tone and wraps readers in a certain kind of chilling mood; a mood that modern ghost stories just aren’t able to invoke. And yet, with all its mimicry of the old style, there is something “modern” hidden within that I cannot explain. Somehow this work stands apart from Hill’s literary predecessors. Perhaps it’s the absence of archaic terminology that I often stumble upon when reading the ghosts stories of yesteryears. Maybe she benefits by learning from the old stories in a way that the authors of the traditional stories could not since they were but fledglings of their time. I’m just guessing here. But this “something” that I’m so desperately trying to convey testifies to the overall mystery that surrounds this novel. Heck, even the time period of the story is somewhat enigmatic. Like most gothic tales, this is a period piece. But Hill never explicitly states the year. Cars appear in the book, but so do traps and horses. A man on the train “takes out his watch”, he doesn’t look at his wrist. Telephones are mentioned, but so is the telegraph. Often communication is left to old fashion letters and telegrams.

I have heard good things about the 2012 film version of the book starring Daniel Radcliffe – Good ol’ Harry Potter! I am looking forward to seeing and reviewing that film. But the book is a tough act to follow, so we’ll just have to see. But I’m optimistic.  I’m sure I will enjoy it, but probably not as much as the novella.

 

Review of The Witches of Ravencrest (The Ravencrest Saga Book 2)

WitchesRavencrestOnce upon a time, I absorbed the “Ghosts of Ravencrest.” Then I needed a break. I had to let these ghosts settle into my consciousness and give them time to digest into my subconscious before moving on. And move on I did,  carrying these ghosts with me, for they were stored in my memory banks. But alas, many of these banks were locked; their contents – irretrievable?  I had hoped not, for any understanding of the book that is under review depended on unobstructed access to these ghosts. Were “The Witches of Ravencrest” able to set them free?   Short answer – yes!

For those have absolutely no clue about what I was babbling about in the preceding paragraph, I refer you to this review: The Ghosts of Ravencrest  The Ghosts of Ravencrest is the first book in the Ravencrest saga. The subject of this review is The Witches of Ravencrest, the second book of the series. I finished the first book back in February. When I started the second book in the late summer, I was a bit worried. It had been a while since I visited with the occupants of Ravencrest Manor – the haunted house of the Ravencrest series. These occupants are members of the Manning household; would I remember them?

As far as family goes, the task was easy. The only living family members are Eric Manning and his two children. Check, check, annnnnd check!  But this household includes more than just this trio of living relations – so much more.  First there is the household staff. There is Belinda Moorland, the governess for the Manning children and the aspiring love interest of Eric Manning. Since she is the central protagonist, I had an easy time recalling her as well. Being the newest member of the household, it is through her eyes that readers of the first book come to meet the rest of the staff; a collection of  odd individuals whose idiosyncrasies  range from the charmingly eccentric to the dangerously disturbed.  Then there are those other “entities” that lurk about in the house; abhorrent creatures living in the walls and mysterious spirits that haunt an entire wing of the mansion. Going on memory, it seemed that each household member, living or dead, had a role to play in this somewhat complicated  and continuously unfolding plot. Oh Lordy! How was I ever going to reacquaint myself with all these characters and remap this plot?  Turns out, the task was not that difficult.

With familiar ease, I rediscovered Grant Phister the butler and his husband Riley the gardener. Grant is the eyes and ears of Ravencrest and he seems to be the one tasked with managing the overall affairs of the household. This is no easy feat since part of his job, unofficial though it may be, is to keep the supernatural carnage at a minimum. His ease of character and witty humor make him memorable.   Officially, the untrustworthy Cordelia Heller is the household manager. She is bound to the estate by matters of wills and legality.  It took me very little time to refamiliarize myself with her wicked ways.  For she is an ancient witch that has worn different clothing’s of flesh over her many years. She has it in for Belinda, who is learning, little by little, that she has her own magical abilities that, when fully realized, may rival the skills of Cordelia.  But for now, Cordelia’s power is great! In The Ghosts of Ravencrest, she transformed a man into a crawling abomination that lives inside the walls. This thing, known as The Harlequin, is back in this second novel. He passed out of my conscience for a time, but he crawled back into my brain with the same ease for which he crawls about in the ventilation system.  Cordelia is in charge of the maids who she regularly disciplines down in the dungeon, thereby adding some BDSM flavor to this novel. Ah yes, how could I have forgotten the spicy Dominique, the Latina maid whose obsession with Jesus Christ is taken to an erotic level! Oh and I had forgotten all about Walter Hardwicke, the chauffer, always doing the bidding of Cordelia.  He is also a serial killer. Once reintroduced, I “remembered him fondly” (not really, I just wanted to use that phrase!)

Of all the ghosts that haunt Ravencrest, the three nuns stand out the most. I never forgot them and they are back again, gliding in unison in the haunted wing, forcing anyone they encounter to “Eat, eat, eat!” the cursed persimmons that they have in their possession.  But perhaps of more prominence are the ghosts of Mannings long since dead. To what extent these men and women haunted Ravencrest in the first book I could not remember. But they shine with meaning and revelation in The Witches of Ravencrest.

 The first book introduces us to all these characters and lets us readers know that GhostsRavencrestRavencrest is haunted not only with spirits but also by a strange history of familial drama wrapped in murder and treachery. This second book goes beyond the supernatural manifestations and explores the agents of such phenomena; the summoners of spirits, the casters of spells. In short, we move on from “The Ghosts of Ravencrest” to “The Witches of Ravencrest”.  In the first book we learn what we are dealing with. In the second book, we learn more about the whys and wherefores of the “whats”. We learn of the complex roles of the characters and begin to understand how they fit into the larger story.

For better or worse, The Ravencrest Saga has the makings of a literary soap opera. There is love and eroticism, murder and betrayal, a subplot here, a trail of story over there, here a conflict, there a conflict, everywhere a con-flict – Eric Manning had a house – E-I-E-I-GHOST! Some may not like this style, especially those horror fans that are not into romance sagas. While I am not a follower of such a genre, I did enjoy this book. What I missed, however, were the trips back in time that were prevalent in the first book. There are places in The Ghosts of Ravencrest where the story creeps back to the distant past. The writing style of these sections reflects the style of the period. We go back a century or two and learn about the Manning family of yore. We see how ghosts and witches were a part of the makeup of the family even back then. In The Witches Of Ravencrest, while the ghosts of the old times visit the present, we as readers are rarely allowed back into the past. I miss the old world of the story. Oh well, time marches forward I guess.

So to wrap it all up, The Ravencrest Saga offers interesting characters and a compelling story. It mixes erotica with the gothic. Sometimes this mixture works well. At other times it…I don’t know, it just “works” these other times, minus any supporting adjective. The soap opera style can be daunting, especially if one is not attuned to this style of storytelling, but in the end it pays off with its creativity of content.

 

 

 

 

Tag – You’re IT – My Next Haunted House Movie Review.

ITLogoDoneDoneI lied. IT is not a haunted house movie. Rather, IT is a horror movie that has a haunted house. There is a difference.  What’s “haunted” in IT is the town of Derry.  What haunts it?  IT haunts it!  (I’m not going to go into an Abbott and Costello routine). IT lives inside the complex sewage system underneath the town.  IT ascends via the drains, sewers  and other surface pathways. What is IT? That remains to be seen, but IT often appears as a clown that goes by the name Pennywise.  Pennywise is a bad, bad clown. He frightens the children! Not only does he frighten them, but he also pulls them down into the sewers and kills them. IT also appears as the object of nightmares, which varies from kid to kid.  Little Stanley sees an abstract face painting come to life. Eddie is chased by a leper. Mike sees burnt and rotting arms. These “hauntings” occur throughout the town in various places; in basements and bathrooms, in alleyways, out in the barrens.  Oh, and inside Derry’s “haunted house.”

In small town Americana legend, there is always a house that kids think to be haunted – one that’s abandoned and rundown.  Heck, even Andy Griffith’s town of Mayberry has such a house. As it turns out, its only spirits were the one’s brewed by Otis’s bootlegging. Well unfortunately for Derry, its old and abandoned house has much worse things than a red-nosed, happy-go-lucky drunk. The Derry house has a red-nosed, homicidal clown. And many other things!

IT has a strong presence inside the house. This is because of the well in the basement that drops down into the sewer system. Thus, the house serves as sort of a gateway to hell; a portal to where all things terrible lie.  Have we seen this theme played out before anywhere on this blog.  Yes we have!  How about here:

HP Lovecraft – Houses as Portals to Alternate Dimensions:

And here:

The Sentinel

and there are others, on and off this blog. This is a popular theme in haunted house lore. Storywriters love to hide portals to dark dimensions inside houses.

In your average haunted house movie, the house is the primary haunt. Most of the events of the film take place inside its walls. This is not the case in IT.  I would guess the house in IT occupies less than 10% of the total screen time. Now what of the book? Does this house serve the same function in the book? Gosh I don’t know!

I read IT almost 20 years ago. I wasn’t an avid reader in those days. I liked horror but only as much as the next guy. What did I like and do back then? I don’t remember! Anyway I had only read maybe one Steven King novel, one novella, and one short story, and all those  I had read 15 years before then.  I wanted to know more about “Da King” , so I went right for one of his most lengthy works. I don’t remember how long it took to read but read, read, and read  I did until I was alllllll done!  Good boy! I loved the book and to this day I consider it one of my favorites. Maybe top-ten worthy, if not it would definitely be in the teens of my preferential list. However, I can’t remember every little detail. Oh hell, I’ll come clean – I can’t remember many medium-sized details.  The haunted house, for instance. I remember it being in the book. I remember that there was an abandoned, run down house but I can’t remember how much or how little importance it was to the story. And as much as I love the book, I’m not about to reread it.  I’m getting old  and I don’t know if I even have the strength to hold that tome in my hands!

Before I go further, I guess I better do some “reviewing”. After all, I am including this article in my review section, am I not?  So…let me get the “review” over with.

IT is great! Best horror movie I’ve seen on the big screen in a long time. It’s been a long time since there was a film based on a book from horror master Stephen King that didn’t suck, and I’m including King-based television movies and series as well. It’s scary through and through! It doesn’t try to rival the book or “be” the book; it doesn’t try to cram 1090 pages of story into two hours of film. It knows its medium’s restraints.  The child actors are remarkable and there performances are memorable. Did I mention that IT is a great film?

There, the review is done. Now back to the haunted house! A group of friends known collectively as The Losers’ Club brave the house in an attempt to stop the deadly IT once and for all. And for us haunted house lovers, its so much fun when they do!  The objects of their fears come after them!  They separate. Doors lock. Mysterious doors suddenly appear! Horror is everywhere! What are those things underneath all those sheets?  Watch out behind you! What’s that?  Fun! Fun! Fun! Fun!

Okay so IT isn’t a haunted house movie per se. The sphere that receives the haunting is the town of Derry, which of course includes the house. Later it will be the sewage system that is the primary epicenter of haunt (wait and see, kiddos!) . But golly gee willikers, the haunted house scenes in this film are fabulous! It is fun to watch and apparently it is fun to recreate  because this film has spawned haunted attractions that mimick this movie’s house. Take a look!

 

As interesting as this attraction appears, it is not on my bucket list. If I just happened to be in Hollywood and happened to be on the street of this attraction then maybe I would enter. But I’m willing to bet that whatever scare experience it has to offer, it will not match the thrill I had sitting in the theater and touring the on-screen house through the eyes of the camera. What a thrill that was! It will thrill you too! See IT!

Review of V/H/S

VHSShould this be the review where I delve into the found footage phenomena and provide insightful analysis on its effectiveness at establishing horror? Uh..nah!  Maybe instead, I can go into what works and what doesn’t work when using the found footage style of filmmaking to make a haunted house film?  Nah to that as well.  Truth be told, I am no expert on these things. Moreover, a lot that depends on personal preference.  Quite often it boils down to a) You like found-footage films. b) you do not like found footage films.

For me it’s hit or miss. V/H/S, the film under review, is a found footage film.  For the most part, it is a miss.

Since some of you might be unfamiliar with the found footage subgenre, an explanation is in order. I was about to do some explaining but then I thought, “to hell with that”, why not find a description and then quote it? I think, therefore I do.  So here is a definition/description from Wikipedia:

Found footage is a subgenre in films in which all or a substantial part of a fictional film is presented as if it were discovered film or video recordings. The events on screen are typically seen through the camera of one or more of the characters involved, often accompanied by their real-time off-camera commentary. For added realism, the cinematography may be done by the actors themselves as they perform, and shaky camera work and naturalistic acting are routinely employed. The footage may be presented as if it were “raw” and complete, or as if it had been edited into a narrative by those who “found” it.

The most common use of the technique is in horror films (e.g., Cannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, [REC], Cloverfield), where the footage is purported to be the only surviving record of the events, with the participants now missing or dead.

Fun House was the first horror movie I saw in the theater. I saw it was with my dad. In the film the characters are murdered, one by one.  Only one person, a girl, is left at the film’s end. After the movie, my  dad had told me that he knew she would live because someone has to survive to tell the story. He was correct. But with found-footage films, a sole survivor is no longer necessary. The camera is left behind to detail the events. If part of the story is “missing”, that supposedly only adds to the overall mystery.

Found-footage films are supposed to look “real”. That is, they are made with an intentional amateurish quality so that they appear to be made in real time and not according to a script.  Therefore when something horrific happens, the intended illusion is that it is happening “for real”.  I get all that. But to me, V/H/S is largely unwatchable. Too much shaking, too many haphazard shots, too much , too much too much. And besides, what’s with the letter –forward slash – letter –forward slash title. Can’t a simple “VHS” do? I guess not.

I am writing this review on account of the two haunted house films that appear in this anthology.   There are six films in all, with one being the film that ties the rest together.

The “tie-together” film is Tape 56/frame narrative. A group of petty thugs break into a house in an attempt to steal a VHS tape for which someone is willing to pay a lot of money. The man who lives there is a tape hoarder. But the intruders find him dead in his chair, in front of a TV, in a room with hundreds of tapes. The intruders started playing some tapes. The tapes they play make up the rest of the stories in this film. So what we have here is five found footage films inside one found footage film.  How….arty?  Mmmm…mmeh.

Anyway, let’s get to the relevant films. “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” directed by Joe Swanburg, is about a woman who lives in a haunted apartment. The whole story plays out on video chat. Emily occupies the big square of the chat and we see chat partner James in the smaller square.  James (along with us the viewers) bears witness to the haunting when he sees the video images of young ghostly girls creeping around behind Emily.  This is an okay film story wise. The typical annoyances that are built into  found footage films are kept to a minimal. Still, viewers have to put up with straying camera angles now and then. We have to watch the main chat screen succumb to the pixilation errors. I hate when this happens when I am on a video chat so I certainly don’t want to watch it happen in a film I am paying to watch.

10/31/98 is the better of the two haunted house films. Directed by a group collectively known as Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez & Chad Villella), the film is about a trio of young men who arrive at a huge, multi room/multi floor house for a Halloween party. All the rooms are lit up, but where are the guests? They decide to explore the confines. They make it to the topmost part of the house and they stumble on something very disturbing. After this they make a run for it. This is when the house itself freaks out.  Through the shaky, mobile camera, we see arms reaching out from the walls. We see dishes rise off the table. In every hall, every room, as they run, run  run, we see something creepy and unnatural. It’s almost like a Halloween haunted house attraction, only this place has some real magic going on.  I love it all– except for the shaky camera. If only for a camera that was held still and directed properly, then maybe I can better see those lovely haunting antics. But no, can’t have that. After all, this is a found-footage film.

My favorite of all the stories is not a haunted house film. It is Amateur Night, directed byVHS2 Bruckner. Three guys go bar hopping and bring home two women. One of them happens to be a succubus. Once they learn of her demonic tendencies, the rest of the night doesn’t go so well.  Loved the film but once again, the shaky camera ruins the whole thing.

Perhaps some people feel that the shaky camera work enhances the horrific realism. I am not one of those people. However, there are some found footage films that I really like. One film really pays off with this technique. While some don’t consider it a haunted house film, I do. If memory serves me correctly, the shakiness is kept to a minimum, if it’s even there at all. I’ve been meaning to review this film for some time. I will do so. Soon. And then and only then will its title be revealed.

 

Speed Dating With the Dead – A Review

Attention Everybody! God is temporarily breaking down the barrier between the living and the dead.  And that’s not all!  The Almighty is hosting the angelload of all social events – Speed Dating With the Dead!  I shall participate! Here I go…..

*** Sitting on a cloud. Waiting for my date to materialize. Waiting… Waiting…

DanMarylinCloudThere she is! Jack pot! It’s Marilyn Monroe!  I must be on cloud nine! Gee Marilyn, your halo is almost as golden as your hair!  My earthly beauty will never match your heavenly brilliance. Talk-talk-talk/Listen-listen-listen .  Uh oh., our time is almost up, the cloud is about to get me a new date. Hey Marylin I enjoyed our….

CloudLightningAni2

Lizzy Borden, uh…h-how interesting, you even have a “ghost axe”. Isn’t that, uh, something. S-shouldn’t you DanLizzyCloudbe part of the speed dating group that is being managed by, well, the people “downstairs”? You’re shaking your head “no”.  Hmm awkward chat/awkward chat/awkward chat.  Well gotta go, our time is up…

 

CloudLightningAni2

DanAmeliaCloudWow, Amelia Earhart! Nice to meet you! What’s that? You never died? You flew your plane into the clouds and broke through Heaven’s door, and you’ve been living among the angels ever since? Ha Ha Ha!  What a way to cheat death! Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me!



Yeah so,  regarding all those clouds and “dates”;  none of that has anything to do with Scott Nicholson’s book Speed Dating With the Dead. The novel has nothing to do with dating; speedy or slow, ethereal or substantive – none of that stuff.  It is, however, about a paranormal convention that convenes at a hotel that is supposedly a hot spot for ghostly activities. Turns out, this group of paranormal thrill seekers gets more than they bargained for.  They are expecting ghosts.  They will get demons instead.  The highly creative title comes from the observations of one of the ghost tour leaders, “Roach.” Roach suspects that the hotel is populated with entities that are far more dangerous than the residual spirit.  He is a trained demonologist and he frowns upon amateurs who trifle with paranormal sightings as if they were some kind of amusement park attractions. Thus, he terms this activity “Speed Dating With The Dead.”

From the book:

The Roach nodded while ignoring her. Paranormal tourism had all the inherent risk factors of traditional outdoor adventuring, with the same fear and response and endorphin rush. The Roach frowned upon speed dating with the dead, but he figured he could best serve on the front lines where meta-physical bullets flew hot and fast

The two main characters are Digger Wilson and his teenager daughter Kendra. Digger is the head of Spirit Seekers International and he arranges the paranormal tours at White Horse Inn. He has a special interest in this hotel. It is rumored to house several apparitions, but he is mainly interested in making contact with one specific specter – the spirit of his late wife Beth. On her deathbed, she promised to reunite with him at The White Horse Inn, the same hotel where they had celebrated their second honeymoon.

There are so many characters in this novel. The perspective is constantly changing and this jumping back and forth between characters is kind of like speed dating.  This is one of Nicholson’s styles. I have read five of his books and in all of them the story unfolds within the viewpoints of several characters.  On the one hand, this method widens the story. Readers come to understand different story angles and they meet some very interesting fictional people. However, it can get tedious trying to keep track of who is who.

Nicholson can be considered a craftsman of the modern ghost story. As much as I like the gothic tradition, this is not Nicholson. He’s not about prolonged descriptive atmosphere and hidden symbolism. His scares march to a faster beat.  He’s more about scenarios such as – You’re locked in the basement – There is no light – Sparks ignite from a broken down furnace – There are demonic things in there with you – people are panicking.  Look for this and other similar scenarios in Speed Dating With the Dead, a book that has the flair of modern horror films. It is The Conjuring and/or Insidious put into words.

As for the “whys and wherefores;” I’m not sure they exist. What is the meaning of the story? I have no idea. There is some kind of revelation at the end that makes no sense to me.  Parts of the story seem missing. Maybe the demons ate them, I don’t know.  But it is a scary book. The situations these ghost hunters get into when they break off into small groups and tour the many rooms and floors – wow!  Things might not always hold up plotwise, but there are some scary things hiding in the dark corners of this story.

Sensoria – A Swedish Ghost Story

SensoriaMeet Caroline Menard. She is fleeing a sad life and is starting over. Her marriage was bad. Her child never made it out of her womb. She has just moved into an apartment complex where she struggles to make sense of her life and her new surroundings. Since moving into the new place, it seems that she is always sensing…something.  She hears things in her apartment. She calls out “hello!” No one ever responds. She appears rather uncomfortable when she makes her way to the attic storage or down to the basement laundry room. It’s as if something is always following her.

The other tenants are rather peculiar. They all assume she lives with a family and find it odd that she lives alone. But it seems that each tenant she meets lives alone as well. There’s the finicky older lady who is both noisy and awkward at the same time. There’s the creepy guy upstairs that stares at her. And there’s a blind gentleman, who appears to be the most normal. But something seems a little bit off with his character as well.

Perhaps Caroline isn’t alone. The viewers of the film observe things that she cannot see. From inside the bathroom mirror, after Caroline retreats further into the bathroom, we see a ghost pass by in the adjoining hallway. The door to the kitchen cupboard opens by itself and a dish flies out and shatters.  We see it happen. She only hears it. When she comes into the kitchen to find the broken dish, she assumes it has just fallen.  Throughout the film, we watch as this ghost sneaks little peeks at her here and there. It is stalking her and we want to warn her but we can’t.

Caroline meets a little girl named My in the hallway. She is perhaps the strangest of all the tenants. She won’t tell Caroline her apartment number. Caroline takes a liking to her and My keeps her company. But My is afraid of her grandmother. Who is this grandmother? Does she live in the same apartment complex? This is a mystery.

Sensoria is a Swedish film from Director Christian Hallman. According to imdb.com Hallman’s resume includes several documentaries and short films. Sensoria is his first feature length film. He is listed as the director and the writer. In an interview at rarehorror.com, Hallman cites Roman Polanski’s film The Tenant as a major influence. I cannot draw a comparison because I have yet to see the movie. I must correct that situation soon. What I can do is offer more comments on this film. And I will. Please proceed to the next paragraph.

I like the overall style of the film, which patiently creates a creepy ambiance. The camera is like an artful eye that allows viewers to see the surroundings from unique vantage points. Lanna Ohlsson , who plays Caroline, gives a subtle performance that pays off.

Oh but however, (there’s always a “however”) I have certain issues with the film’s, how should I say it, structure? Is that what I mean. Hmmm…. Hey, I know! I’ll let Caroline herself sum up what I am trying to say:

…. like a jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces don’t fit together, some are badly constructed, some are missing.

Caroline says this to her friend, referring to her own life. Ironically, it sums up the movie as well. The situation regarding the strange tenants is never adequately explained. The tenant’s bewilderment about Caroline’s lifestyle; the “Oh you are living alone. I just assumed that..(you’re living with someone)” statements they utter, I don’t understand  what their points. Towards the end of the film, there are scenes that I think are meant to be plot twists, but gosh darn it, they just don’t make sense to me.  The film teases viewers into thinking there is something more, something hidden underneath the surface plot.  But it is only a tease. Furthermore, there are a lot of slow scenes – Caroline walking down street – going to laundry room -sitting at table eating soup. Earlier I mentioned that I admired the film’s patience. But to a certain extent. The film is patient. I am not. Not all the time anyway. And I believe that many viewers will be impatient  during certain scenes.

But I can’t thrash this film either. So let me end on a more positive note by describing sensoria2some of the brilliant camera work. At one point we see a tire-swing slowly swaying in the wind. This is in the foreground while Caroline walks in background talking on phone.

There are exterior shots of the complex at night from behind thin, curving tree branches. This is the stuff of atmosphere; these are the works of art that hide within the film. They pass by subtly but their presence is meaningful.

In the end, I do recommend this film despite its many flaws. Atmosphere wins. If nothing else, just let the camera be the guide and appreciate what its eye is capturing.

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)

J.S. LeFanu and Haunted Houses

LeFanuBook

LeFanu! I love that name. One can have so much fun with it.  For instance:

LeFanuuuu, This is Gary Gnu (Guh-nuuuu)! How dooo you doooo? Excuse me, ah..ahh…achoooooo!

Oh shucks, I just discovered that his name is pronounced with the short “a”, which is the syllable that is stressed. How disappointing! But his ghost stories are not, which is the important thing.  Far from it! Some consider him to be the best of his craft; the master of the ghost story. His work certainly epitomizes the classic ghost story. By the way, “classic” is always the best!

I first encountered Joseph Thomas Sheridan LeFanu when I read The Mammoth Book of Haunted Houses Stories .  LeFanu’s tale “An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House” was just one of many stories that was necessary to plow through on the way to the book’s end. While I am proud of my review of the book as a whole, it didn’t do justice to the many authors and stories that made the anthology special.  I’m glad to finally have the opportunity to hone in on this great author and examine some of his delightful haunted house stories.

It was Anne Rice that first recommended J.S LeFanu to me. Well okay, not to me personally, but she dedicated a post to him on her Facebook page. His vampire story “Carmilla” influenced her works tremendously. After reading her post I went to Amazon and bought Best Ghost Stories of J.S. LeFanu . Fourteen chilling tales! I have yet to read them all, but for purposes of this article, I will examine three tales that deal with haunted houses. But first, let us go over some interesting information concerning the master.

LeFanu was an Irish novelist – born 1814. He is one of the main figures associated with LeFanu2Victorian ghost stories.  He influenced many authors of the supernatural, including M.R James, H.P. Lovecraft, and Anne Rice. His vampire story Carmilla predates Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” by twenty-six years. According to Dover Books, the publisher of Best Ghost Stories of J.S. LeFanu, he “achieved depths and dimensions of terror that still remain otherwise unexplored.”  His knack for setting up an atmosphere that all but welcomes a haunting explains his success.

From Wikipedia:

He specialized in tone and effect rather than “shock horror”, and liked to leave important details unexplained and mysterious. He avoided overt supernatural effects: in most of his major works, the supernatural is strongly implied but a “natural” explanation is also possible.

With that said, let’s explore some of LeFanu’s haunted houses. We’ll begin with story synopses and then we shall delve into deeper analysis that will uncover common themes.

 

(WARNING: Spoilers are lurking below!)

The Stories

Squire Toby’s Will

Two brothers quarrel over the hereditary rights to Gylingden Hall, the house that is at the center of this story. After Squire Toby Marston passes on, the favored son, Charles, takes possession of the house. Scroope Marston contests this and gives it his “legal all” but to no avail.  Inside the house in a secret compartment, Charles discovers documents that prove Scroope’s right to his share of the inheritance.  But Charles isn’t telling!

A stray bulldog comes wandering along and Charles takes a liking to him and takes him in, against Butler Cooper’s wishes. The dog is locked up at night, but somehow, it always finds its way to his master’s bedroom. It climbs upon Charles’s bed. There in the darkened bedroom, its face transforms into the face of his father. Toby Marston then warns his son, through the mouth of the mutt, to give Scroope was he is due.

Time passes and so does Scroope. Scroope is to be buried inside the family graveyard that is out beyond the garden of Gylingden Hall. While the ceremony is in progress, two men in black coats and hats are spotted exiting a stagecoach and entering house. Servants search for these two strangers so that they might inquire about their identities, but they are nowhere to me found.

After the arrival and disappearance of the two figures, the house is never the same. Servants hear whispering at the ends of corridors. Nurses witnesses strange figures passing by the room of Charles, who is now sick and confined to the bed. Poor Charles, his mind is going. He rambles on and on about lawyers, about bulldogs, about his deceased father Toby and his dead brother Scroope.  It does not seem that his remaining moments here on earth will go too well.

Ghost Stories of the Tiled House

Old Sally is the servant of young Lilias, and she just loves to share stories with her mistress. Likewise, Lilias enjoys hearing about the older woman’s experiences. So Sally tells her all that she knows about The Tiled House; a house that Lilias had been hearing vague but foreboding tales about ever since she was a young child.

One evening, Sally says, the servants and the family friend await the arrival of the master of the house, who is due in quite late. They hear the rustle of the stagecoach horses, the howl of the wind, and a knocking on the front door.  The butler springs to his feet and goes to let his master in.  He opens the door. No one is there. But he feels “something” brush past him. Intuitively the family friend, Clinton, solemnly states “The master has died”

Another tale of the Tiled House is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator. Another family lives at the house; it is another time. Occupants look out the window, only to see a set of hands clenching the windowsill.  There is knocking at the door and when the door is opened, the greeter again sees no one but feels a presence brush against him.  Now hands are seen in the middle of the night, penetrating the valences that surround the beds, reaching out toward the unsuspecting sleepers.

An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House

The story begins with the comments of a fictional editor, who is presenting this tale, presumably to some kind of made-up publication. He vouches for the characters of the witnesses that have told him the tales for which he is about to present.

It is a tale told from the perspective of yet another unnamed narrator. He has a large household consisting of a wife, three children, and many servants. They move into a large house and strange things begin to happen.

Quite frequently, the occupants awake in the middle of the night to find strangers prowling about their bedrooms. A tall man moves across the room stealthily. And old woman is seen searching for something. They think of these trespassers as ordinary prowlers. The servants examine the coal vaults, searching for a possible secret passage that might allow trespassers entry to the house. They find nothing.

Maids see a pair of human-shaped shadows move across the wall, passing and repassing.

Later, human bones are uncovered from the outside garden. Eventually the family moves out of the house. Their stay was never meant to be permanent. The mysteries of the house remain unsolved.

Common themes

The Unknown

In this section, not only am I working with the premise cited in Wikipedia (specifically that the “supernatural” in Le Fanu’s stories “is strongly implied but a ‘natural’ explanation is also possible.”) but also with notions concerning the lore-like “origins” of these stories. To begin, the creepy things that lurk within these tales blend in well with the “stuff” of imagination; the byproducts of heightened sensitivities brought on by fear. The face-changing dog in Squire Toby’s Will is the stuff of nightmares that bleeds into Charles’s wakefulness as he lies in bed. The disembodied whispers are disturbances that test the already frazzled-nerves of the highly imaginative maids that are hyper-reactive to rumors of spirits and hauntings.  In Ghost Stories of the Tiled House, the strange noises heard upon “the phantom’s” arrival originate from the same place that gives us all those other unknown sounds that occur on a dark and scary night; that unknown location that is usually forgotten come morning time. The passing shadows behave as if they are but tricks of the flickering candlelight; the hands are perhaps made up of the same material that tends to pass out of existence after crossing the corners of our eyes.  The trespassing figures in An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House are like phantoms freed of the nightmare.

In all these stories, the supernatural occurs within the darkest corners of the natural, and this is what makes them truly scary. Never are the ghosts proven to exist; never is there collective agreement concerning what has supposedly occurred.

Another fascinating aspect of these tales is that they are not first-hand accounts. Squire Toby’s Will begins with a narrator that is intrigued by Gylingden Hall. He describes its dilapidated structure and the “ancient elms” that surround it.  He appears not to have witnessed the events of the story, yet he tells the tale. Ghost Stories of the Tiled House is a mixture of tales from an old maid (Sally) and then later by an unnamed narrator. The unnamed narrator confronts one of the occupants, Mr. Prosser, at the story’s end. In the events of the story Mr. Prosser is a young man. When confronted by the narrator, Mr. Prosser is quite old and minimizes the supernatural elements of which the narrator is inquiring.  While the events that unfold in An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House do so from the first person perspective of the man of the house, the story is presented to readers via an editor.

As second-hand accounts, these stories rise to the level of folklore, which has staying power. They pass from one person to another like the ghosts that haunt the houses of successive generations of estate owners. Mysterious in content, mysterious is origin. Such is the nature of the ghost.

Outside-In

In all three of these stories, there is this theme – something from the outside wants in. Squire Toby’s Will has two cloaked figures (which some in the story guess to be the father and son spirits of Toby and Scroope) entering the house and then disappearing, perhaps embedding themselves forever into the spiritual fabric of the house.   Ghost Stories of the Tiled House presents a scenario where a man, who is perhaps dead,  is making  noise outside the premises of his former home?  Is he returning from the dead? Then there are the hands hanging from the outside window ledges. In one case a pudgy finger pokes through a bolt hole on the window frame.  In An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House, the apparitions appear both inside and outside. But there is the lingering fear that these beings, whoever (or whatever) they are, have forced their way in from the outside.

After these mysterious phantoms gain entry, things go awry. Servants from Squire Toby’s Will hear voices. Cooper the Butler sees two shadows dancing in wall, resembling the two cloaked men who had entered the home on the day of funeral.  After the butler in the Ghost Stories of the Tiled House senses a presence brushing past him through the entryway, people begin to report some rather uncanny occurrences. There are strange noises. Indentations appear in the mattresses of beds without sleepers.  The same situation occurs years later in the same house; a man at the door experiences the sensation of something making its way inside.  After this, occupants no longer see hands outside the windows.  They see the hands on the inside! They find handprints inside pools of dust. They see hands coming at them while they sleep in their beds. The mysterious beings of An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House had already gotten into their home. The question was – how to get them out?

Something is outside. It makes its presence known. It wants in. It gets in. Now what? These are the situations that the unfortunate characters of LeFanu’s stories have to face.

Spine-Chilling Imagery

 LeFanu has a way with words. He finely crafts these mood-alterting scenarios; the tone effectively digresses from ordinary to frightful with just a few strokes of the pen.  It is the imagery that he invokes with this pen that transforms the piece. The things he describes rise up from within the words like the eyes of a gator emerging from the slough.  They take form and come at the reader in almost three-dimensional fashion.  Take for instance the shadow that merges with the wolf-head carving in Squire Toby’s Will. Out of this meeting the contorted face of Scroope comes into being and frightens poor old Cooper. In the Ghost Stories of the Tiled House, a poor maiden awakes to the sight of a strange man beside her bed.  His throat has been cut and blood drips onto the floor. But he is not suffering. He is laughing. The hands that will grip the outer sills seem to be reaching outside of the book and clenching the yet-to-be-turned pages. The strange woman that haunts the house in An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House is described as a squalid little old woman, covered with small pox and blind in one eye. The way Le Fanu describes her shuffling about and wandering the room – is he looking though the page and describing a woman that he sees in real time standing next to you – the reader?

Throughout these tales, there is yet more captivating imagery. Vanishing stagecoaches, passing shadows, figures ascending staircases, shining eyes, ruffling curtains, and on and on and on.  The things that come to be, they have a way of breaking the serenity. They creep up on their victims when they are at peace; sitting in a soft chair, lying in bed. They interrupt casual conversations. In this way, these image-evoking scenarios are similar to the “outside-in” theme.  Inside, the occupants are going about their normal, peaceful lives. Something wants in. Once in, life is no longer normal. Likewise, once the object of the imagery forms and invades a casual scenario, the situation turns dire.

Summing It Up

 

LeFanu3Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu – who are you?

He is THE master of the ghost story. He conjures up frights that take place within the scariest realms of our imagination and then forces us to confront our own understanding of reality. He constructs haunted houses but leaves the ghosts outside. But they always seem to creep on in. He gives the readers the opportunity to “see” the apparitions that exist in the minds of his characters.  He’s quite the ghostly dude.  If you haven’t read any of his works, I suggest you do so soon. Soon = immediately!  Get on it!

 

 

 

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 Eerie

EerieSometime ago, I wrote a review of Robert Marasco’s Burnt Offerings. In the review I refer to book’s foreword, written by author Stephen Graham Jones. Jones’ delineates between two types of haunted houses. There are houses that want you to stay away (i.e. The Amityville Horror house, remember the famous “Get out!” line?) and there are houses that want to imprison you within their walls (i.e. the Burnt Offerings house – it feeds on the essence of its occupants.)  The house that is the subject of this review is definitely of the latter kind.  Its occupants become violently ill when they attempt to leave! There seems to be a powerful spirit at work here.  Its behavior is rather…’creepy’? Nah, that word better describes some hall-traipsing spirit inside a Gothic mansion. This novel is not the Gothic type; after all it takes place on a modern urban street. The spirit – if that’s what it is – has some rather uncanny needs and…I KNOW! Rather than call it “creepy,” its behavior can be summed up as “eerie.”  I am right, you know why? Because that is the title of the book that I am reviewing.  Eerie  by Blake and Jordon Crouch.

The coauthors are brothers with Blake being the more famous of the two. As far as I know, this is the only book that Blake has written with his brother but I could be wrong. I have read enough of Blake’s work to be familiar with his style, which I admire very much, and I’m glad that I can feature one of his books on this page. See, I would not assign Blake to the paranormal genre. Heck I wouldn’t even call him a horror writer. He’s more of the fantasy/thriller type that dabbles in several genres, including sci/fi and horror. Oh and mystery! So much mystery! But “Eerie” meets my criteria for a haunted house novel, although I’m not sure the brothers would consider the novel as such.  I certainly don’t believe that they set out to write a haunted house novel. Instead, I would guess that they created an “eerie” set of conditions that necessitated a house with unexplainable phenomenon.

The book opens with a tragedy. A father and his two children, a boy and a girl (Grant and Paige), are victims of a near fatal car accident. The father is incapacitated, leaving his children to face the cruelty of homelessness and then later the burdens that come with being wards of the state.  Fast-forward several years. The adult brother and sister are estranged.  Grant is a detective involved in missing persons’ cases. Several prominent men have disappeared. He follows the clues and they lead him to his Paige’s house. Before this, he didn’t know where his sister was living.  Their reunion is at first hostile as they rehash old tensions.  But they learn to make nice and they rediscover their brotherly and sisterly bonds. They will need these bonds and much more to fight against the strange forces that hold them hostage at Paige’s house.

Grant and Paige are refreshingly flawed characters. There are no heroes or distressed damsels. Both are likeable in their flaws. In sum they are great characters. Paige is a drug-addicted prostitute.  Grant is an alcoholic who has frequented prostitutes from time to time.  This “frequenting” causes him dissonance when he objects to his sister’s profession. As it turns out, all the men from Grant’s case file, the men that had gone missing, are clients of Paige. They had gone missing as soon as they left Paige’s upstairs bedroom.  Something in that room took over their minds. As if under a spell, they left the premises, not to return to their homes or jobs.  They went – somewhere.  This same presence traps Paige in her own home. It demands that she continue to bring men to her room. Grant too discovers that he is unable to leave.  Both succumb to severe nausea and vertigo when they stray a few feet from the front door. The further they stray from the door the worse the feel.

The book begins as a detective story and continues as such but it later invokes the paranormal and the strange in a way that is uncommon in crime novels. It’s quite the mixture of genres. One classification I might assign it is “Paranormal & Urban”, although Amazon doesn’t assign it as such. (Paranormal & Urban is a legit Amazon genre classification.)

I like Eerie a lot. But I have some reservations about the book. In order for me to explain what they are I first need to go into more detail about what I like about Blake Crouch’s stories in general.

Blake Crouch creates scenarios that are similar to Twilight Zone  plots. These scenarios unfurl in rather unique and well thought-out ways.  I would say that this unfurling EeriePinesprocess shows off Crouch’s greatest strength. Thus I knight him: “The Earl of The Unfurl.”  What unfolds in his novels is unpredictable and highly imaginative. The answers to the mysteries are elaborate and yet plausible within the context of the overall story. This is certainly true for his Wayward Pines saga, which was my introduction to the world of Blake Crouch. This three-book series begins with a federal agent that has a car accident and wakes up in a hospital in a strange town. He recovers fine but the townsfolk won’t let him leave this “gated” community; gated by a tall electric security fence. He fights his way to the other side of the fence, only to encounter a never-ending mountainous wilderness populated with strange creatures.  What the heck is going on? The luckiest guess might slacken the suspense a tiny bit but it will not eerieAbandonBetterunravel the entire mystery. (this is also a television series on Fox ) Likewise with his novel Abandon. In the novel, explorers set out to investigate the remains of an isolated gold-mining town that “disappeared” in the late 1800s. In this mountainous and blizzard-prone region, the people had seemingly vanished in thin air. Their possessions were left behind, uneaten meals were found on their tables, but no bodies or even bones were ever found.  How could this be? Is this the work of aliens? Spirits? Two stories unfold in this novel– one that takes place in present time with modern day explorers trying to figure out had happened and one that takes place in the far away past, just before the events that led to the disappearance.  By the books end, I was like “Aha! This is what happened! How clever!”  The Earl of The Unfurl had struck again!

I’ve established quite the criteria for ol’ Blake. Now here are the big questions – Does  “Eerie” hold up?  Does the collaborative effort of the two Crouch brothers earn them the title “The Earls of The Unfurl.”  The answers – Almost, but not quite.   The Crouches have certainly created an imaginative scenario – a force of some kind that prevents some people from leaving a house while sending others away as mindless zombies; that is quite the situation. But the “Unfurl” is a bit disappointing. To be fair, the guts of the mystery are rather unique. Maybe they’re too unique, I don’t know. I was looking for a different kind of explanation.  In order to understand what I mean you’ll have to read the book.

In the end what I’m saying is this: I didn’t like the final destination but I sure as hell enjoyed the trip. It was fun and exciting and I enjoyed the characters very much.  Also I enjoyed the afterword (I’m not sure they call it that, but it’s after the main story). Blake and Jordon have a written dialogue with each other. It’s as if they are interviewing each other, going over what they liked about the collaboration process, what changes they had made to the story.  They share with readers their bond as brothers and I appreciate this offering very much. Readers are left with a sense of warmth, which comes in handy on cold days.