Review of Five Nights in a Haunted Cabin – 6th and Final Post in my Haunted Cabin Series

FiveNightsCabinThe cabin season is about to come to a close, at least here on this blog. Sorry, but it has to be this way. After all, one cannot be forever “cabinated.”  Unless, perhaps, that “one” happens to be a ghost that haunts the cabin.  But even in that case, I think the ghost will eventually evaporate, dissipate, and therefore, no longer “cabinate.”  But what of a cabin beset with residuals hauntings; echoes of the past in motion, or “repeated playbacks of auditory, visual, olfactory, and other sensory phenomena that are attributed to a traumatic event…” (from http://parapedia.wikia.com/wiki/Residual_Haunting)

Do such hauntings endure forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and…

Authors Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross claim to have witnessed several residual hauntings while staying at a cabin located in Gold Country in California. They document this experience in their book Five Nights in a Haunted Cabin . It is a short but highly fascinating read.

Unlike all the other stories that make up my haunted cabin series, this account is real. It is a real cabin, in a real place, visited by two very real people. At least I hope Thorne and Cross are real. I have reviewed several of their books,  I have heard real voices when I tuned into their Internet radio show Haunted Nights Live and I have had real exchanges with them on Facebook. It would be a shame if, after all that, they turned out to be bots! But I’m betting this is not the case.  And I believe that their experiences inside that cabin are real…allowing for subjective interpretation.

Thorne and Cross have collaborated on many novels. They write as a team, and as far as I can tell, they are what the kids call BFFs. They are like brother and sister.  While their acquaintanceship began virtually, they first met in person at this cabin that is the subject of this book. Knowing that the cabin had a reputation for being haunted, Thorne and Cross decided that it would be a great place for two authors of the paranormal to finally meet. After securing permission from the cabin’s owner to stay for several nights and conduct an investigation, these two went forth with their plan. Stayed five nights they did!  And things got creepy , creepy, creepy.

thronecross

Now, I bet you’re wondering – what makes this particular telling creepy? Let me answer this by stating what this story is not, especially when compared to the other tales of haunted cabins that I have reviewed. Spirits of natives are not descending upon the cabin (Rough Draft – Oops, I forgot to put the part about “Native American spirits” in the review), there is no witch in the woods (Maynard’s House and Revisiting Maynard’s House), Thorne and Cross are not succumbing to demonic possession (The Evil Dead), the cabin is free of scurrying, severed hands (The Evil Dead 2), and finally, there is no underground organization manufacturing zombies (Cabin in the Woods.)

What Five Nights in a Haunted Cabin offers is far more subtle and therefore, possibly, creepier.  It’s a “things that go bump in the night” type of scary.  It has cuckoo clocks that cry out at strange times, scratching noises on walls and doors. Then there is an unnerving silence, as if the wind is afraid to breath.  There are other disturbances as well; doors opening and closing, objects are found in certain places when the authors are sure they set them down some place else.

These incidences that take place in the cabin can be explained in two different ways: 1) The cabin is really haunted. 2) There is a logical explanation to all these occurrences. Being the “septic” that I am (That’s “skeptic” in Archie Bunker language), I tend to go with option #2.  But even if there is no haunting, the accounts documented in this book continue to be creepy because they realistically mimic “the stuff” of a haunting.  Because these disturbances are subtle, they are believable and therefore – creepy, creepy, creepy!  And perhaps this cabin is haunted! Don’t let my “septicism” ruin you, embrace the haunting if you must.

In my article Beyond the House: An Examination of Hauntings Within Alternate Structures – Part 1 – Cabins , I say this about haunted cabins:

Maybe it’s not the cabin that is haunted. Maybe it’s the surrounding environment that reeks of terror

HOWEVER

They (the cabins) are susceptible to the surrounding elements and therefore very permeable to the stuff of the supernatural

In sum, the haunting begins outside and then makes its way into the cabin. But that’s NOT what happens in Thorne and Cross’s book. Instead the inverse is true: the haunting begins in the cabin and then goes on to infect the surrounding environment, as testified by the birds. What birds? Exactly!  The tree-filled perimeter is absence of bird-song.  The environment is too disturbing for these feathered creatures! Thorne and Cross did their research and discovered that murders and suicides occurred inside the cabin many years ago. Perhaps the emotional trauma of these events remains (a residual!), discouraging even birds from coming to close to the cabin.  Hmm, maybe there really is a haunting going on!  (Or maybe birds are just sometimes absent or silent.)

There is something that I wish the book had touched upon. Thorne is meeting Cross for the very first time. I would have liked to learn about their first impressions of each other. It would have been interesting to read about how they warmed up to one another. Was there a single moment that broke the ice? Was there a relationship-defining event? Somewhere in Facebook land, I learned that Tamara shaved Alistair’s back hair during this stay. That should have been in the book!  That must have been a truly “haunting” experience for Tamara!  But seriously, I do think a dual story about two people meeting for the first time in the midst of a haunting would have gone a long way.  And it would have fit in so well with the format of the book.  Thorne writes a paragraph, and then Cross follows with his paragraph or two, commenting on what Thorne had just written.  It’s like listening to two people at a campfire taking turns telling a story while helping each other with the telling along the way. It definitely made for some cozy reading.  It would have been even cozier had they shared more details of their meeting.

All in all, this is a good book. I say buy it. Read it.

 


 

And with that, here ends my series about haunted cabins. I hope you have enjoyed it. Too-da-loo! (for now)

Review of Cabin in the Woods – 5th Post in my Haunted Cabin Series

Cabin-in-the-Woods-images

Hello Readers! Ready to get “cabinated” once again? But of course you are! After all, you have arrived at this post on your own accord!  Today for your reading pleasure, I have my review of Cabin in the Woods, a horror-spoof by writer turned director Drew Goddard. Goddard was a staff writer for numerous television shows including Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias, Angel and Lost. And….I have not seen a whole episode of any of these shows. Not even “Buffy,” although I have seen parts of one or two episodes. Hmm, maybe I can turn to the film “Cloverfield” to understand Goddard’s  pre-Cabin in the Woods influences.  He did write that script as well. But…nope! Didn’t see that film either.  Alas, I can only base my opinion of this guy’s work on this film alone.  But he’ll be happy to know that I enjoyed his film thoroughly.  As director and co-writer (written with Joss Whedon), Goddard shines brilliantly.

So, how should I categorize this “haunted cabin” story? Answer: I cannot.

How best should I analyze this film according to the various themes that I have extracted from a collection of haunted cabin stories (See my original article: Beyond the House – An Examination of Hauntings Within Alternate Structures – Part 1 – Cabins.)  Answer: Not very well.

In both of the two preceding questions, I lump Cabin in the Woods into a category I call “Haunted Cabins.” Is this a “Haunted Cabin” film?  Answer: Probably not.

Cabin in the Woods is a film that regurgitates common themes and tropes in order to mock basic horror formulas. And it does so in such an effective, creative and hilarious way. Whereas some of the themes from my article bear out in this film, they do so ever so consciously with tongue-in-cheek purpose.  Five teens spend a horrifying weekend at a cabin in the woods, so the “isolation” theme from my article qualifies. How about my “Outposts on the Edge of The Unknown” theme?  Does the cabin in this story serve its occupants as a temporary and fragile refuge against all the horror that exists in the woods, only to give in to the encroaching terror by the film’s end? Not really.  For the cabin and its surrounding woods, and the tunneling road that leads to its domain; all of this is, in effect, is a controlled environment; a laboratory that manufactures all things “fear.” Evil Dead, meet The Hunger Games!

The college-aged kids out there in that cabin are being watched and manipulated by an underground organization. By “underground”, I mean “secretive, etc.” Also I mean under the ground, under the grass and soil, underneath the grounds where the horror plays out. In this hidden den beneath the earth, there are men in suits and ties and women in business dress. There are computers and giant viewing screens. And there is a menagerie of creatures familiar to horror films – Ghosts, scary clowns, flying abominations,  Cabin in the woods collection of spookswerewolves, zombies, vampires, etc. When the kids find a book and read a passage that will raise the dead; the men and women of this organization open a hatch that releases zombies into the woodsy environment, although they could have chosen any of the ghoulish, walking tropes. But the zombies matched the predicament the kids put themselves in. It’s sort of a “choose your own adventure” scenario, although the kids don’t realize that they are part of a twisted game. They are the sacrificial lambs! (Watch the film for an understanding of how this plays out.)

Throughout the movie, the people of this organization watch these kids from concealed video cameras and listen to their conversations via hidden microphones. They inject gases into their environment which, when ingested, alter their behavior. They pump in pheromones that turn some of these kids into sex-crazed maniacs (Hey! Many horror films have sex-crazed kids!) They release “mind-numbing” gases causing the kids to make dumb decisions, such as splitting up when things are getting very nasty. (Hey! Kids in horror films are always getting separated!)

See what’s happening here? This organization is creating a horror movie by trotting out the tropes. They even destroy the mountain-road tunnel that leads outside the parameters of the controlled environment; thereby ensuring that one of my discovered themes plays out – the “isolation theme” (Thank you Goddard et. al for helping me save face!)

All in all, this is a highly creative platform for spoofing horror films. And five years ago, I didn’t think so. Back then when I first saw this film, I thought “I get it, but ‘meh!’”  I guess I didn’t get it after all. I knew it was a spoof film, but I thought it over-complicated and not funny.  I’m glad I often revisit films before writing up reviews. Had I not watched it again, this review would be entirely different. It’s not supposed to be “laugh- out-loud” hilarious, although I did just that during one scene. It’s tongue-in-cheek humor.

Now is this a haunted house (cabin) film? For certain, it does not meet my first standard – “house as an entity” – as specified in my article Social Theory and Haunted Houses.  What about my second standard – “House as a neutral platform that enables ghosts to show off their antics.” If I had to pick from the two, it would be this second criterion.  But it’s not a platform for ghosts. Instead it’s an arena for the “puppeteers” that control the environment, which includes not only the cabin but the woods and roads as well.  The puppeteers are the Roman nobel class and the kids are the gladiators. They are the “folks from the Capitol” and the kids are the contestants of The Hunger Games. With such examples, I bet you’re having a difficult time comparing this movie to a haunted house film! I hear ya. Oh well. It does, however, fit well in my series about cabins. At least “sort of” well?

Anyway, I have one more cabin piece for ya! Stay tuned for an account where real authors spend time in a “real” haunted cabin. Until next time stay “cabinated!”


 

* images from rashmanly.com , 2014afo.wordpress.com, and alchetron.com

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Evil Dead 2 – Dead By Dawn – 4th Post in my Haunted Cabin Series

evil-dead_-2Let’s begin with a spoiler!

(Spoiler Police: ”How Dare you!”)

Remember that guy Ash, played by Bruce Campbell, the buddy of director Sam Raimi? I mentioned him a bit in my last review of The Evil Dead . He’s the main character and sole survivor of the first film. Or..is he a survivor ?

(Spoiler Police: “Hold on, big boy! You just stop right there. Leave it as the mystery that it is!”)

When viewers last saw Ash, it looked as if he was about to get swallowed by a demon. Check this out:

(Spoiler Police: “You’re going too far – posting that scene. No more now, ya hear me?)

Well guess what? Ash lives! He lives I tell you! He lives to be the central character of The Evil Dead 2 – Dead By Dawn (Henceforth referred to simply as Evil Dead 2)

(Spoiler Police: You..you..you’ve gone too far! I’m gonna get you for this! I’ll…..)

Excuse me readers, there’s come kind of bug in my ear and as crazy as it sounds, I think it’s talking to me or something. Let me get a Q-tip and swirl it around in the ol’canal….Ah! Much better! As I was saying, Ash lives and I is a spoiler! (Hmm..the ghost of that bug is trying to tell me something. I’ll ignore it).But I’m going to redeem myself by clearing up some confusion that is associated with The Evil Dead 2. I shall bring in someone who will answer this troublesome question, “Is Evil Dead 2 a sequel or a remake?”

Let me being with a little story that gets to the heart of this confusion. It’s a story about Andy, Joe, Al and Dan (That Dan is me!) One day in 1990 something, Andy and I were watching both of the Evil Dead movies. We did it in reverse; we began with part 2 then went on to part 1. Along comes Joe midway through the first Evil Dead movie. He boldly avers, “Evil Dead 2 picks up right where this movie leaves off.” Now Andy and I just sat through Evil Dead 2, Joe did not. Andy and I said to Joe, “No, you are wrong!” Toward the end on the movie, along comes Al, walking in just as the final scene is playing; the scene I posted above. He too declares, “Evil Dead 2 picks up right after this.” Joe jumps in, “That’s what I said, but these guys say ‘no’.” Al goes on, “Yup, in Evil Dead 2, they show Ash getting picked up by the demon and thrown into a tree.” Once again Andy and I said, “No you are wrong!”

Who was right? In a way, all of us were correct.

At DenofGeek.com  Bruce Campbell answers the question, “Is Evil Dead 2 a sequel or a remake?” He says:

It’s a “Requel”!

Told you I’d bring in someone to answer the question!

Sam Raimi’s original intent was to pick up right where The Evil Dead left off – after showing several minutes of footage from the original movie in order to recap the story. Oh but alas, they did not own the rights to their own film! So they couldn’t replay scenes from the original movie. So instead they started fresh. Ash (played by Bruce Campbell) takes his girlfriend to the cabin in the woods for a romantic getaway. While there, he stumbles upon the book of the dead and the tape recorder. He plays the tape, which features the professor’s voice reading the incantation that awakens the demons. The demons arrive and possess his girlfriend and eventually grab a hold of Ash and spin him around like he’s a windmill, and then smash him against a tree. He falls down the trunk into a large puddle of mud. This is how Joe and Al remembered the beginning of The Evil Dead 2. They had forgotten about the new setup up with the girlfriend.

See, Sam Raimi and the boys had to shop for new financers and distributors for the sequel (The former distributors retained the rights for The Evil Dead.) In between the two Evil Dead movies, Raimi worked on other projects with limited success. So they thought, “Why not go back to the movie that made us successful?” Once again American distributors turned them down. It was the Italian company Dino De Laurentiis Entertainment Group that would finance the film. This time they received three and a half to four million dollars. Whooopie! What could they do with all that money? They were able to hire professional actors for on thing. They were also able to shoot scenes in other geographical areas besides the cabin in the woods. This time around, there are scenes of the professor and his wife finding the book of the dead in a cave. There are scenes at a small airport. There’s a short intro at the beginning of the movie that explains the content of the book of the dead. There are even scenes with an army of knights on horses! Oh boy!

But don’t worry, most of the scenes still take place at the cabin. Money did not spoil the making of this film. It doesn’t lose the simple “charm” of the original. In fact, some say this “requel” is an improvement. I say it’s definitely funnier and campier. The effects are deliciously cheesy and the movie as a whole is pretty damn creepy. And it gets to the action quicker than the first film. And when its time for some serious acting and the going gets tough, the tough emerge – from the clique of professional actors? No! From the film crew of buddies. I refer to Ted Raimi, Sam’s brother. Playing the “Deadite” Henrietta, he had to be in a heavy bodysuit for three days! That’s dedication.

As for me, I go back and forth on which film I prefer. For years I thought The Evil Dead 2 was the champion of the two. But when I made my Top 50 Horror Films  The Evil Dead 1 came in ahead of The Evil Dead 2. How can that be? Right now I’m back to thinking the second is superior. Oh what a fickle guy I am!

In my review of The Evil Dead , I bring forth the issue of whether or not the movie can be considered a haunted house film. If The Evil Dead isn’t a haunted house (and I say it is), The Evil Dead 2 surely qualifies. It has self-playing pianos, a rocking chair that rocks on its own accord. Inanimate objects come to life. And there is a creepy zombie witch in the cellar. Oh boy is this place haunted!

The Evil Dead 2 succeeds in flair as well as fright; subtle creepiness with flamboyant funnies – often back to back! It’s quite the piece that can succeed on all these fronts.  There is the soft haunting melody on the piano (no one is at the keys!) to which an animated dead girl dances to, all while losing her head multiple times!  There is a creepy, squealing hand that scurries about the cabin like a giant spider! This scene is followed by a slow creaking rocking chair moving all by itself. The dead zombie girl can be likened to an animated doll; a doll similar to something that might appear in an opening sequence on American Horror Story. And the hand – that’s Ash’s hand! He loses it while fighting the evil. The audience hears a crunching sound when the hand is tortured.  Viewers hear Ash shout in pain and his howl sounds much like Moe from The Three Stooges.  The influence of The Three Stooges can be seen here – very much so.

While watching Bruce Campbell act his way through these scenes, I can only think, “If Evil Dead 2only Jim Carey could be as good!” As a man of physical comedy, I believe that Campbell can do a better Jim Carey than Jim himself! And how strange, while I compare him to Jim Carey or Moe Howard, he’s also been compared to Rambo, believe it or not. My brother-in-law once said, “What that guy in The Evil Dead 2 goes through makes Rambo’s experiences seem like nothing.” I don’t know that I’d go that far, but he sure goes through a lot of shit. He loses his girlfriend, loses his hand, gets tossed around like a tackle dummy. And that’s only the beginning of his torture!

Let us now refer back to my article Beyond the House – An Examination of Hauntings Within Alternate Structures – Part 1 – Cabins  

where I describe four themes that are often prevalent in haunted cabin stories. The fourth theme I describe as “Solitary Confinement.” By this I mean:

The cabin sometimes becomes the mirror-for-the-disturbed-mind for the sole cabin dweller. Quite often, this solitary character, when confined to a cabin and cut off from civilization, will develop a psychosis that is caused by a lack of human contact

For quite some time in this film, Ash is all alone. His sanity is tested. Whereas the book Maynard’s House is the best example of this theme playing out, it works here as well. At one point Ash looks into a mirror and tries to console himself. He’s checking on his sanity. What happens is both frightening and funny!

The first theme I bring up I call “Outposts at the Edge of the Unknown.” Cabins are the outposts and it’s actually the woods that are the greater threat. But sooner or later, the danger, the savagery of the woods – its makes its way to the cabin. In both movies, the haunt begins outside the cabin in woods. Evil arises in the woods and then comes to cabin. At one point in the film, Ash is describing what is happening to some newcomers that stumble into the cabin. “It lives in the woods,” he says. Later when a woman flees the cabin and her boyfriend wants to go after her, Ash says, “If she ran out in those woods you can forget it!” In other words, the woods are worse than cabin. At the very end – savagery comes to cabin. The trees attack! They move across the ground and surround the cabin.


 

This will wrap up my reviews of the Evil Dead movies. As previously mentioned, I will not be reviewing The Army of Darkness, Evil Dead 2013 or Ash Vs The Evil Dead. I do, however, have more haunted cabin stories in the pipeline And these stories, one film and one book, might not conform to the themes I have laid out.

How dare they go against me! How dare they!

 


Images courtesy of waxworksrecords.com, Thatwasabitmental.com and skullsproject.wordpress.com

 

The Evil Dead – Third Posting in My Haunted Cabin Series

For a long time, I’ve wanted to write an article on The Evil Dead movies. After all, they’ve been favorites of mine since high school. I’ve seen them several times over the years, including those days in October of 2016 that preceded the construction of my Top 50 horror film list.  Both The Evil Dead 1 and 2 made the top 10. Then I watched the movies again a few weeks ago in preparation for this article.

Whenever I had thought about penning this piece, the timing never seemed right. I always felt ill prepared, that even though I had seen these films several times, I was missing something. I needed to take the time to research the films and learn the story of their making. In addition, there was that nagging hesitancy brought on by the opinion that these films are “not truly haunted house films.” First of all, there is no “house”. Only a cabin. Second, there are no ghosts or other mysterious entities from the past that linger. Only some nasty, ageless demons. Thirdly, as a colleague of mine pointed out, “It’s not the house (cabin) that conjures the evil, it’s a book that does that.”

For those that don’t know, The Evil Dead is a low budget film about five teenagers that shack up in a cabin in the woods. On the premises they discover “the book of the dead”. “Bound in human flesh and inked in human blood,” the book of the dead is an ancient manuscript describing Sumerian burial practices and funerary incantations. A tape recorder accompanies this book. On a tape, the voice of a professor explains that he and his wife had taken refuge in the cabin to study their precious historical find! The professor recites passages that will summons demons. The teens play the tape, the foreboding incantation speaks to both the world and underworld, and the demons come. Not all at once mind you! They sneak up on the cabin dwelling teens and attack them one by one, possessing their bodies and claiming their souls! The demons tease their prey in Evil Deada similar way that a cat plays with his mouse before going in for the kill. This “play” contributes to an uncanny, chilling atmosphere that also is part camp and comedy. But don’t worry, eventually “all hell will break loose!” (See what I did there?)

To address my initial hesitancies about writing this piece, I took my time planning out this article, researching when necessary. I discovered that learning about the making of this film enhances the viewing experience. I will share with you my findings. In regards to the dilemma about whether or not The Evil Dead is appropriate for my blog, being that it may or may not be a haunted house film, I argue that this film is very much at home here. Your honor, I bring forth my testimony!

While I love the concept of a house acting as “the-haunter-in-chief”, possessing some kind of supernatural power that conjures up ghosts, not all haunted houses have to be this way. In my article Applying Social Theory to Themes in Haunted House Stories, I argue that sometimes a house is merely a backdrop upon which ghosts perform their ethereal shenanigans. It is hauntingly neutral until the ghosts show up. The cabin in The Evil Dead surely qualifies as such a backdrop. True, the cabin does not harbor ghosts or serve as a magnet for entities from the past. Or does it? At the beginning of the movie, before any demonic incantations take place, a two-seat porch swing bangs against the cabin on its own accord. The trap door that leads to the cellar opens all by itself. This leads me to believe that the cabin is indeed haunted, not by ghosts of the past, but by traces of the last demonic episode that occurred on the premises before the events in the film, possibly with the professor and his wife. Their spiritual presence has remained in the cabin, but these demons need that incantation in order to make a more startling appearance.

Finally, Your Honor, even though it is a cabin that is central to this story and my Blog deals with haunted houses, I am currently running a special series about haunted cabins. You can read all the details at my article: Beyond the House: An Examination of Hauntings Within Alternate Structures. Part 1 – Cabins.

For this series, The Evil Dead series is not only welcome, but its omission would be blasphemy!

I rest my case, your Honor.

With all that out of the way, let’s proceed further into the inner workings of this great film.


When I was between the ages of 18-22, college age, I had friends that dreamed of being rock stars – making it “big” with the music of their own creation. I would have joined them in this dream, except for the fact I was a mediocre keyboard player at best with a poor sense of musical timing. But I had friends that were good guitar and bass players, drummers, etc. They would get together now and then with their instruments and see what they could accomplish. What I’m describing is nothing new. College age kids forming bands – I think it’s been done before.

EvilDeadBruceSamDoneThe creative team behind The Evil Dead were just a bunch of kids; friends who had cameras and costumes – friends that made films on the weekends in pursuit of a hobby. According to the documentary of The Evil Dead director Sam Raimi on The Incredibly Strange Film Show, – Raimi and starring actor Bruce Campbell were high school buddies from Michigan. Co-star Ellen Sandweiss was a friend of theirs from high school as well. Producers and assistants Rob Tabert, Josh Becker and David Goodman were part of this clique as well. Like the college age kids that join a band to rock, these guys banded together to make short films.

According to Evil Dead: The Untold Saga, Sam Raimi, using a student discount, would rent an auditorium at his college and charge students to watch the films. he made in high school. Eventually this gang of friends took a big step forward. They would drop out of school and devote all their time to making a feature length film. This film would be The Evil Dead.

Sam Raimi was not an aficionado of horror films. Comedy was more of his style. But according to consequenceofsound.net , they wanted to make a film to market to the audiences of drive-in theaters. Horror was a popular genre at the drive-ins of the 1970s and early 80s. Many times a drive-in would feature a triple feature of horror. Raimi noticed that many of these films were quite awful. He thought, “I can at least make a film that’s better than these!”

One of his complaints had to do with the uneven pace of these films. They began slowly, slowly and then something exciting would happen. Then it was back to the slow..slow and finally more good stuff He thought, “Why not eliminate make a film that has no slow parts.” And that’s what he did, effectively so. More on this later.

So, was it time to make Evil Dead? Close but not quite. First these kids needed some money. So they put together a short film that they would show to prospective investors. This short thirty-minute film, Within the Woods, was just a sample of something that would be much better, if only they had the proper financing. But it would give the potential investors a sense of the their style and story. This intro film has the same camera style as The Evil Dead (a great style it is!) and features a similar cabin in the woods/demons storyline.

Here is a copy of the film. It is poor in quality, but it provides an interesting glimpse into the evolution of the film’s story:

 

In the end they received three hundred thousand or more from local businessman. It was time to make a movie!

The film crew of college buddies, along with hired actors/actresses from local theater groups went out to a cabin in the woods of Tennessee to make the film. Amateurs with a low budget. Unprepared for nature’s harsh temperatures.

From ign.com:

“Yes, I was very young. There was no running water, and it was in the 20s and 30s — we didn’t have any winter wear. It was freezing. When you’re in that cold for 16 hours, you start to — I started to die. There was no food, and everything was covered in Karo syrup in that temperature. So I’d be running the camera, but my hands were covered in Karo syrup. You’d lean against something and get it all over your hands. The only water we had was in a hot water heater so you could make instant coffee. Boiling water over your hands from the tap; that’s how you’d wash them, to load the film into the camera” – Sam Raimi.

(By the way, the Karo syrup was used to imitate blood.)

The film ran weeks over schedule. The actors, having already committed their time, went home. It was up to these film buddies to finish the film. And so they did, using what Raimi termed as Fake Shemps.

According to wikipedia, a ‘Fake Shemp’ “ is someone who appears in a film as a replacement for another actor or person. Their appearance is disguised using methods such as heavy make-up”

Raimi based the term “Fake Shemp” on a Three Stooges dilemma. Shemp, one of the Stooges, passed away before four shorts were to be completed. So the editors spliced in images of Shemp, and had actors stand in for him at certain parts.

For The Evil Dead, it was up to the clique of buddies to fill in as Fake Shemps. There was Fake Shemp Bruce Campbell, Fake Shemp Rob Tabert, Fake Shemp Josh Beckert, Fake Shemp David Goodman (cue in that Romper Room lady – “I see Fake Shemp Billy and Fake Shemp Trudy…)

When the film was finally completed, United States distributors wanted nothing to do with it. According to the The Incredibly Strange Film Show documentary on Sam Raimi, they took the film to Europe where it was screened at the Cannes Film festival in France. After this, they found a British distributor – Palace Pictures. They distributed the film across Europe to frightened and amused audiences. Then with a recommendation from horror great Stephen King, the film found success in the United States and went on to become the gem that it is today.


I hope you enjoyed my summary of the making of The Evil Dead. I feel its inclusion  was necessary in order to fully understand and appreciate the overall style of the film –  even if you have not yet seen it!  It is amateurishly entertaining in the best way possible. It’s a simple story embellished with low budget effects backed up by the kind of energy that only young adults have – impassioned with a hobby, inspired by a dream, ready to take chances and make mistakes, unfettered by rules, all for the love of the project with nothing much to lose in the long run.

Some films just aren’t destined to have great characters and compelling dialogue. Whereas “Ash” played by Bruce Campbell would go down in horror film history as an iconic figure, in this original film, the exchanges between the characters, when they are not possessed by demons, are noticeably staged and forced. But these exchanges are kept to a minimum, which is smart and shows a keen display of foresight. Earlier in this review, I mention that Raimi wanted to minimize the slow scenes. He is true to his conviction.  This film doesn’t try to fake depth. It doesn’t needlessly create all kinds of non-horror drama for its characters. It’s filmed in its entirety in and around the cabin in the woods.

The Evil Dead is known for its signature point-of-view camera style. Audiences “see” with the eyes of the encroaching demons as the elevated camera zooms forward at bizarre angles, often accompanied by a growling kind of noise.

The clip below is worth a thousand words:

Often the camera is a voyeur, looking in the windows of the cabin from the outside and seeing one of the characters across the room. The camera also hides in some interesting places, like behind the clapper of the clock. I for one appreciate the time the camera devotes to capturing certain props such as the clock clapper, especially at the beginning of the film, letting the viewers know that what they see will be important later. This is true for a mirror, for certain weapons – for the book of the dead!

In my article An Examination of Hauntings Within Alternate Structures. Part 1 – Cabins I write about four themes that are often prevalent in stories about haunted cabins. Two of them play out in The Evil Dead. I write about isolation. Cabin dwellers are cut off from civilization. Technology breaks down. While there were no cell phones or Internet in the days of this movie (1981), Ash’s car fails to start at one point. Even after he gets it started, it really doesn’t matter because they soon discover that the bridge they drove in on has fallen apart. They are teens that are shit out of luck, trapped in a forest infested with demons. This brings me to my second point – a second theme. Cabins serve as outposts on dangerous terrain. They are the last refuge of “civilization” for miles and miles. Sooner or later, the savagery that exists in the woods will get to them.

Almost always, the demons in this film manifest out in the woods. Via the camera style as shown in the clip above, they encroach upon the cabin. Or they possess one of the Evil Dead Again characters that just so happens to be out in the woods. Unbeknownst to her, she takes the demon back to cabin as it hides inside her. One by one, the kids give into the savagery. One by one, their bodies “zombify” as they become hosts to the demons.

As for the special effects as they pertain to these “deadites” (humans that become zombified), whether it is the transformation process or the gory slicing and dicing of these creatures, they are quite, well, rudimentary. There is no modern day CGI and the film is better because of it. Somehow these “horror show” creatures that emerge are all the scarier in their primitive garb. At the end of the film there is an interesting scene involving claymation. Old in style but, I dunno, cool to me.

The Evil Dead is somewhat controversial, partially on account of the gore but mostly due to a scene where a tree rapes a woman. Raimi admits that, looking back, the scene was gratuitous. In The Evil Dead 2, there is a scene involving a woman and an animated tree, but the scene is less graphic and licentious.

Speaking of The Evil Dead 2, that will be the next review. At this time, I have no plans to write about the third film of the series – Army of Darkness, or the 2013 remake or the series Ash VS, The Evil Dead. These films I have only seen once and I have no opinion of their contents. In regards to Ash Vs. The Evil Dead, at the time of press, I have not yet seen a single episode. I know, I know – Bad me. But stay tuned for The Evil Dead 2. Same Cabin Time – Same Cabin channel – Thebooksofdaniel.com

Review of Rough Draft – First of the Haunted Cabin Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 


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


 

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

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

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

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

Bundle Up for “A Winter Haunting” – By Dan Simmons

A Winter Haunting 3

Have I got a haunted house book for you! It’s a very decent read,; a brilliant piece. And, it is seasonally appropriate. Published in 2002, it is called A Winter Haunting by author Dan Simmons. The action of the story begins at Halloween and ends post New Years Day. Yes I know, we already finished those holiday celebrations. To reengage in the them would require us to look back instead of moving forward. Well golly gee, isn’t that what hauntings are about, looking back?  Don’t you want to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with the slightly unbalanced professor Dale Stewart in a haunted farm house from his boyhood town?  But of course you do. Besides, it’s got the wintery stuff that targets us Midwesterners right now, including, but not limited to, snow, chilling breezes, and a house to escape the elements of the cold season (although this house must be shared with…certain things. Scary things).  Well, enough of all that, come along now.  Come on!

First a disclaimer. A Winter Haunting is the second book of a series. Technically, it’s full title is A Winter Haunting (Seasons of Horror Book 2). To date, the only other “seasons” based book by Simmons is Summer of Night (Seasons of Horror Book 1), published in 1991. Summer of Night has spawned several successive works. It is a story about the memorable summer of 1960 and the group of pre-adolescent boys (and one girl) that participated in it. Filled with the stuff of nostalgia, it successfully makes the reader yearn for those summer days of our youths. But that is not what makes the summer memorable; not for The Bike Patrol (the name of the club the boys of 1960 had formed) anyway. For those characters inside the book, it is a memorable summer because they were put in a situation where they had to spend a good deal of their time  combatting evil, supernatural forces.

Simmons follows Summer of Night with several books that contain some of these children characters as adults.  These include Fires of Eden and Children of the Night. As far as I know, these two books do not belong in the “Seasons of Horror” series. A Winter Haunting also deals with one of the Bike Patrol boys all grown up.  While I do think the book stands well on its own,  it’s probably wise to read Summer of Night first, if anything than to avoid a major spoiler that unfolds about “that summer.”

So, why am I reviewing A Winter’s Haunting before Summer of NightTwo reasons.

  1.  As previously mentioned, A Winter Haunting is seasonally appropriate at this time. For those of us who live in a wintery climate, we are more apt to relate to Dale’s walks across snowy fields when we ourselves are blanketed in a frosty climate. The holidays mentioned in this book are fresh in our memories.
  2. Technically, Summer of Night is not much of a haunted house novel. True, the school building is facilitator of the things that haunt the town of Elm Haven, so technically it is about a haunted structure (a certain part of it is any. Oh but I can’t tell you about it. Spoiler!)  But the book is more about the supernatural manifestations that spread throughout the town of Elm Haven.  The most frightening elements of the book occur in cemeteries, children’s bedrooms, nearby forests, and down country roads.

But since the school is a respected historical structure, and since some of the book’s supernatural activity does occur inside its walls, I will review the book. But I will do this at the beginning of summer 2018. Mark your calendars!

Back to A Winter Haunting, which is in some ways very different from its predecessor. Different in time, different in tone. Summer of Night, while horrific, contains elements of timeless joys and youthful freedom. It is a story of young boys. A Winter Haunting closes those chapters of our lives many years later. It is about settling rather than striving. It is about coming to terms with what you’ve become and living with the sins of the past. Professor Dale Stewart (a Bike Patrol member) in not happy with the way things in his adult life are going. He leaves his wife and children to start a relationship with one of his students. The student, in turn, leaves him. He attempts suicide. He turns a pistol on himself.  When he fails to kill himself, he seeks therapy.

Dale decides to rent a farm house in his childhood town of Elm Haven for a winter.  A Winter HauntingThere he will write a book about that memorable summer – the summer of 1960. He seems to want to revisit the past, perhaps to see how far back things had gone horribly wrong. Maybe the answers to his current problems are here in Elm Haven; here in the house. If the bullet had discharged from the gun he turned on himself, the wound he would have suffered would have been considered self-inflicted. In a way, what he experiences at the farmhouse is a self-inflicted haunting. If you dig for ghosts you just might find them. And Dale does.  The places in and around the farm house, the people he meets from his past, all of this is part of this self-inflicted haunting. Dale is romanticizing his past while at the same time – it scares the shit out of him.

It’s very difficult to describe this story without encountering spoilers.  There is some very interesting backstory surrounding this farm house, but I can’t get into that for fear of ruining parts of Summer of Night. It has an upstairs that is mostly sealed off from the rest of the house. Weird things occur beyond that plastic sealing! There is a basement with interesting books and devices.  There is something about one of these devices that comes as a shocker to Dale near the end of the story. Then there is the ghost that is most important to the story, but I cannot delve into it’s nature. This ghost is with Dale at the beginning, becomes more intertwined with his current state of affairs while he is at the house, and remains with him at the story’s end.

There is a lot of psychology at play in the book, although it is not always obvious. The overall scenario is a common one: a writer is alone with his or her thoughts trying to write a book, struggling with both fantasy and reality. We see this play out in The Shining.  This plays out in my book The Housesitter as well. But as the story unfolds, we the readers discover things that are uniquely Dan Simmons, such as his knowledge of ancient epics and religious myths.  This knowledge fits in remarkably well in what is otherwise a folksy down-to-earth tale.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It is one of the bests of its genre.  You may want to give Summer of Night a read first, which is, admittedly, a long book.  But is you choose to pass on Summer of Night (And I don’t recommend skipping this book), please read A Winter Haunting. The story can be well understood without reading any previous books. Whatever you do, don’t miss it!

 

 

Review of Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

Let's_Scare_Jessica_to_Death-1971-MSS-054

 

How does one watch John Hancock’s 1971 thriller Let’s Scare Jessica to Death? Let me detail the way!

Step 1) Go to Google and type into the Search Engine box “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death” and then hit Enter

Step 2) At the top of the next screen, click “videos” in the menu just below the search box

Step 3) Out of the 128,000 or so results that appear, find the option that comes from archive.org and click it.

Step 4) Now go back and put a line through steps 1 – 3 because you can skip those steps and go directly to archive.org and search for the title on the site ( Hey, I had to go through Steps 1-3 the first time, so you should too!)

Step 5) Click the movie’s “start” arrow, watch, and let the fears begin!

In step 5, I write of “fears.”  What fears are these? I will tell you! I am referring to paralyzing trepidation that will overtake your body when you realize that you are about to endure 89 minutes of a low-budget film from the early 1970s.  I point to those moments of bitter agony when you are first exposed to the actors’ awkward performances; moments that occur early on in the film, causing you to wonder “will this be worth it?” “Shall I abandon the ship now before I get in too deep?”  Beware of the the forced frivolity that occurs when the four main characters sit down to dinner – laughter that is supposed to be natural and lighthearted will become forced and mechanical, like the maddening giggles of an eerie doll.  By this time, your fears may be great, for you have been down this road several times before, trying to give an old, low-budget film a chance, being ever so noble, gambling a large chunk of your evening, only to endure much pain as the movie fails to improve.  Folks, I have good news for you. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death does get better.  The overall style and genuinely creepy scenes make-up for those common imperfections that are often found in low budget films.

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is one of those creepy films that has haunted me since my childhood. It refused to stay buried, and so I saw it again in my twenties. Now, in 2018, at the ripe young age of forty-six, it was time for me to face it again. (I write of a similar experience in my review entitled Memories That Would Not Fade on Account of the House That Would Not Die)

I had forgotten most of the plot; I only knew that it had something to do with a young lady that was recently released from a mental institution (hint: her name is Jessica) and a haunted house that was waiting to welcome her back to reality. Actually I wasn’t even sure if it was a haunted house. I had remembered her being “with friends” in some kind of scary environment by a lake. Were these friends trying to scare her to death, take advantage of her fragile emotional state for some kind of ill-gotten gain?  That would have explained the title, for sure. Anyway, I wasn’t sure. Oh but I had to be sure.  If this is indeed a haunted house film, then I needed to know those details so that I could do my duty and write up a review for this blog.   And that is what happened.  In the end I say that this film qualifies as a haunted house film.  And I am glad I watched it again.  This third time I enjoyed it, despite certain shortcomings. Hopefully I will remember the details of the story for a long time to come. I can understand why I didn’t remember the details from my first viewing experience. After all I was about, I don’t know, eleven years old?  But why couldn’t I remember any specifics the second time around? Maybe I was stoned. I don’t know.

The story as to do with madness, a country house, the undead, and hippies. Jessica has been released from the asylum in the care of her husband Duncan. They are to begin a new life in the country. Along with a hippie friend named  Woody, they move to a farm house, where they will work the land. The old men in the nearby town are creepy. (No they are  not creepy BECAUSE they are old men, I’m not ageist, they are just creepy in general).  The house they have purchased has a history. Owned by the Bishop family in the 1800s, young Abigail Bishop  drowned in the nearby lake shortly before her wedding day. Her body was never found!  At the farm house, there happens to be an old silver framed picture of the Bishop family; mother, father and daughter (Abigail). Portraits of people long since dead always have something to tell in haunted house movies!  And you know what else the farm house has? A hippie girl named Emily. She has been squatting there.  Duncan and Jessica invite her to stay, so now we have two couples and a total of four main characters. Meanwhile Jessica is hearing voices. She is seeing doors and rocking chairs move on their own accord. Is her madness returning or is this house really haunted?

The finer points of the plot surprised me upon this third viewing. First of all, I was wrong about Jessica living with “friends” after her release. Well yes, there is friend Hippie Woody and newfound friend Hippie Emily, but I hadn’t realized she was with a husband until the third viewing. Secondly, I was off base when I had assumed that the plot revolved around people close to Jessica trying to “scare her to death”. I won’t rule that out for you, my lovely potential viewers of this film, but there is more involved than that (if that is an issue at all).  How could I have forgotten that film involves the “undead”; also known as vampires! In fact, on Wikipedia, this film is compared to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s  1871 vampire novel Carmilla (I wrote about that novel at HorrorNovelReviews.com ) I see faint similarities but nothing more.

Throughout my synopsis, I often refer to the term “Hippie.” But it’s not just me, Wikipedia also uses the term to describe some of the film’s characters. Certainly this term dates the movie. You know what else dates this film? The background music. For me it is a good thing. There is the gentle music from an acoustic guitar mixed in with the sounds of nature. There is a piano to accompany the flowing waters. The film does have its moments of symphonic scares, but it’s nature’s noise and the simple sounds of the guitar and piano that stand out and do their job well at complementing this simple movie. For some, this guitar and piano might scream “Hippie Music!!”, but not me. It is simply appropriately atmospheric.

Over the years, the film has achieved cult status. Its mixed reviews are a testament to both its low-budget style (with amateur acting at times) and simple yet effective use of a creepy atmosphere in its storytelling. One can find the filming location in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.  There they can see the creepy cemetery, the stores on main street (where the creepy old men gathered) and the scary, gothic style farm house.   See for yourself!

 

Hmmm, what else can I say about this film? I know!  The hippie girl Emily, she is played by Mariclare Costello  who was once married to the late Allan Arbus. Arbus, of course, of course, played Psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Freedman on the TV show MASH.   1200

His famous line is “Ladies and Gentleman, take my advice. Pull Down you pants and slide on the ice.”  But to me, Mariclare Costello stands out on account of her resemblance to Jim Morrison’s girlfriend Pamela Courson. See the similarities yourself:

                               Oh come on, they look a little alike, don’t they?  Well I think so, at least a little bit. And give this movie a try. I’m not saying that it’s a cinematic masterpiece, but it is likeable. You should like it to. At least a little bit.

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 us 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 that have no clue 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!