Review of House

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of The Haunted Castle (1921)

hauntedcastleThere’s an old saying that goes something like, “No expectations, no disappointments.”  There is great wisdom in this adage. It offers its adherents healthy attitudes toward the unknown. It can even bring forth pleasant surprises.  It is beautiful.

Yeah, but I didn’t follow the advice of this adage. I had all these expectations for The Haunted Castle by F.W. Murnau, even though I knew very little about the film. What I did know was that it was a silent film, and it was really, really old! (1921).  Based on some of the silent horror films I have seen, I was expecting to see ghostly images in the form of dancing white sheets. I was preparing for special effects so rudimentary as to be almost magical; things appearing and disappearing (dissolves), choppy animation (stop motion), and more. I wanted to see a distressed person making his/her way through corridors at a comedic speed.  I was expecting various haunted house props; skeletons, knight’s armors, bats.

Haunted Castle has none of these things.

What I wanted was some of this: (see video.)

This is Le Manoir de Diable (The Devil’s Castle) by Georges Melies. (1896). It is said to be the very first horror film. Melies is most known for the film,  Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip to the Moon).  “Le Manoir de Diable” has the skeleton, bats, and the “now you see me/now you don’t” effects.

Perhaps I wanted something like this: (see video)

This is The House of Ghosts  by Segundo De Chomon. (Even though the video names this “The Haunted House,” imdb as it as “The House of Ghosts. I trust imdb) It has the sheeted ghosts. It uses stop-motion animation to present the illusion that objects are moving by themselves. It also has a scray looking, witch-like woman.

These two films are shorts: one is a little over three minutes and the other is just past the six minute mark. They were made, I believe, mostly to experiment with visual effects and film making in general. After all, film was a new art during their time of conception. Imagine what it would be if there was a silent haunted house film of feature length that incorporated the style of these two films and added a full story plot! Well I have to keep on imagining because Haunted Castle is not this kind of film.

The movie takes place in a castle, but it’s not haunted.  Several men gather at the palace for a getaway; a ducking hunting excursion. One of the guests is the Count Oetsch. He is suspected of murdering his brother, so the other guests shun him. It doesn’t help any that he looks and acts kind of creepy.  Soon to arrive is Baroness Safferstat, the widow of the murdered man. She has a new husband. In short, this film is a murder mystery. Except for one or two scenes, there is not much horror going on here.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I should judge a movie for what it is and not for what I incorrectly assumed it should be, right? I hear ya. Still, I’m not a big fan of this film. There is too much dialogue; too many intertitles. While I understand that these intertiles are necessary in the silent era, I prefer a film that uses them sparingly and instead focuses on movements and actions.  Many of the scenes are simply… well, “boring” for a lack of a better word. There are long scenes of men at tables drinking and playing cards. There are facial shots that go on too long. Too often we are forced to watch the baroness’s morose and motionless face as seconds go by, more seconds, and….still more seconds.

Please don’t think I am picking on silent movies. Three pre-talkie films have made my Top 50 horror movie list.  They are:

I find the imagery and style of these three films preferable to the look and feel of “The Haunted Castle”.  But “The Haunted Castle” isn’t all blah and boredom. In fact, there is an interesting twist at the movie’s end.  Still, it’s not one of my favorites. But I’m sure there are many of you who will find this film delightful.

Dracula’s Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Washington Post:

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

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

Watch the promotional video:

Take a virtual tour of the castle here:

http://bran-castle.com/

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sparknotes sums up this transition very well:

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

From Harker’s own words:

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

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

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

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

From Harker’s journal:

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

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

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

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


How about the Movie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

draculabandn

 

 

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

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

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

Review of The House By the Cemetery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 The Haunted Doll’s House

dollhouse Ready for a bonus Christmas Ghost story review?

Toward the end of my article Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses, I wrote a preview concerning up and coming reviews of Christmas related haunted house stories. I was to review A Strange Christmas Game by J.H. Riddell and Smee by A.M. Burrage. I have fulfilled those commitments. But the Christmas/holiday season continues to roll along, so I said to myself, “By golly, I have time for one more!” I then discovered how much I enjoy talking to myself, so I continued on with the conversation I was having with yours truly, and I said, “I would be remiss if I do not at least touch on the work of M.R James, after all his name is synonymous with The Christmas Ghost story.”

Unfortunately, this touch amounts to a small nudge, because I am not actually reviewing his writing. Rather, I am reviewing a short film that is based on one of his stories. The film is The Haunted Doll’s House by Stephen Gray, and an interesting film it is!

Christmas festivities are usually not the subjects of M.R. James’s ghost stories. But, they were stories that to were read out loud on Christmas Eve. This is an old English tradition, and you can read about it here.

The Haunted Doll’s House has nothing to do with Christmas. Unless, one thinks of a doll house as a Christmas gift for a young girl, but this is a bit of a stretch. According to literature.wikia.com,  it was first published in 1923 for the magazine Empire review, it later became part of anthology titled “A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories”

Now fast forward ninety years to 2013, and we have Stephen Gray’s film version of the classic story. (I’m sure there were other incarnations somewhere in the ninety years, but oh well to them.)

According to www.thin-ghost.org,  this film was made with “no budget.”  It is minimalism at its finest!  There is live action along with some creepily effective animation.

All I’m going to say about this plot it this: a man purchases an antique dollhouse. The dollhouse is haunted. Want more details? Watch the film.

How does this film stack against James’s original story? I don’t know. I still haven’t read anything from M.R. James. That is my bad and I promise I will do so soon.

For now, enjoy the film. Watch it here:

http://www.thin-ghost.org/dollhouse


 

Betcha thought I forgot about the third Christmas promise I made! I didn’t.  In addition to promising Christmas Ghost story reviews, I said that I would write my own Christmas Ghost Story. And I have. But now I’m checking it twice. I want to make sure it’s both scary and nice!   It will be up soon!

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.

Review of The Haunting of Ashburn House

ashburn

The Haunting of Ashburn House is the third book I am reviewing from the talented Darcy Coates.  I am now officially up-to-date with the “Haunting of” series. (The other two, in   order of publication, are The Haunting of Gillespie House and  The Haunting of Blackwood House.) Perhaps I shouldn’t use the word “series.”  Each book is a stand-alone story. However, there is a formula that persists in all the stories – a young female protagonist either rents or takes ownership of multi-floor house that ends up being haunted. In each case, she is not only new to the house but also to the community at large. In each house, there are mysterious items that pique the curiosity of the new occupants’. These items are related to the haunting that is to take place.

To clarify, I am not using the term “formula” in a bad way. The scenarios are the same, but the specific plot points vary from book to book with different facts and outcomes.  They are not without twists.  The Haunting of Ashburn House in particular does have an interesting turn of events.

Here’s a short synopsis.  Adrienne has inherited an enormous and ancient manor from her Great Aunt Edith, who has recently passed away. Little does she know that she has also inherited several odd duties that are necessary if she is to live safely at Ashburn House What do I mean by “safely?” I mean – guarding against the paranormal dangers that will threaten her. Little my little, she comes to understand that the house is not normal. After experiencing a succession of terrifying happenings, she must make sense of the clues that surround her in order to stop the terror.  Some of these clues include messages that have been carved into walls and tables, an odd collection of candles, cautionary notes regarding the use of mirrors, old newspaper clippings of a tragedy that took place in the Ashburn House many years ago, and a mysterious grave on the property that has the most unusual inscription on the gravestone.

Coates excels at establishing mystery. The predicaments that Adrienne finds herself in captured my intrigue.  I kept turning the pages, all while encountering new clues and developments, which in turn caused me yet more page-turning anxiety. This built-in anticipation worked well at helping me to look past some occasional dull moments. There are several interactions between Adrienne and townsfolk, Adrienne and her cat, etc. that sort of halt the story rather than move it along.  There is unnecessary attention to certain details in several places; details that do not relate to the overall mysterious tone of the story.  Conversely, I would have liked there to have been more of a background story on Adrienne.  This would help readers to get better acquainted with the protagonist, thereby allowing for further empathy as she struggles through her terrifying situation.

But, as I have mentioned, there is much in this tale that holds the reader’s interest. Coates effectively casts her “foreshadows”; the dark mysteries that surround key items within and around the house. They lurk in between the lackluster elements of the plot and effectively beckon the reader to continue; to journey on until the mystery’s end.

Of the three books in “The Haunting of..” series, I like The Haunting of Gillespie House darcy-coates-300x206the best. It also happens to be the shortest of the tree.  Perhaps I prefer Coates as a novella writer?  I would need read more of her works to be sure, and read more I will. (She has several other books about ghosts and haunted houses.  Check out her websiteThe Haunting of Ashburn House comes next on my list, followed by The Haunting of Blackwood House. However, all three are decent reads and I recommend them all.