Honoring Black History Month: Coming Soon: Reviews of Four Haunted House Novels Written By Black Women

This February, I will be honoring black history month  here at this blog. I will be reviewing four haunted house novels written by black women. I could use the phrase  “African  American” women, but that technically would not be correct, because one of the authors is a British  woman of African  descent. This begs the question: is black history month primarily concerned with the history of people of color as it plays out on the American stage? I don’t know the answer.

I am a Caucasian; a white guy. As such it’s not my place to define what black history  month is or isn’t. Likewise, I most certainly cannot claim a shared heritage and realistically  identify  with the struggles my black brothers and sisters have endured or the triumphs they have celebrated. Therefore, unlike previous reviews and articles that were grouped into a theme (i.e. Christmas  Haunted  Houses, Haunted Apartments), I do not begin with a central concept. I am not seeking to extract characteristics  that define what a haunted house is from the black perspective. Rather, these  four works stand alone. Perhaps when all is said and done, when I  have completed the readings and written the reviews, I might  have more to say about any possible interrelated themes. But I  don’t want to get ahead of myself, nor do I wish to engage in any inappropriate analysis for the sake of some sort of self-congratulatory intellectualism.  I hope I will not do that anyway.

I guess the question is: Can we learn about authentic black history from mostly fictional novels that delve into the paranormal?  I believe we can.

Of the four works, three are fictional stories and one is a factual account. The non-fiction book deals with popular “ghost tour” houses in the American south. This book uncovers a lot of African-American history and sets the record straight about the tourist-magnet fabrications that come at the expense of the “real” ghosts that haunt these places. One of the fictional novels is set in “current” times (post Y2K) but segments of the story go back to the 1920s. Another fictional novel takes place in the years following the American Civil War, although much of the story occurs during the times of slavery. Both books show how history has affected and shaped the lives of the central characters. Though the histories are fictional, they are based on real-life historical circumstances. And, of course, both stories feature haunted houses. The fourth book, also fictional, has very little in the way of history. This book presents quite the quagmire when trying to assign a definition to it. It’s about a haunted house, but it isn’t. It’s about the politics of identity, but it isn’t. It’s…ah, just wait for the review.

I guess I could be more straightforward and just mention ahead of time the titles of the books and their respective authors, but I want there to be some kind of suspense. So..just wait. You will know soon.

Anyway, I hope this will go well, and I hope you will find this subject matter enlightening and educational

See you soon!

Review of Ghosts of Manor House

ManorHouseIf you have been a regular reader of my reviews, it should be no secret that I crave certain things from the haunted houses of literature. I have a criteria by which I base my story preferences. That being said, there are many decent  haunted house stories that fail to abide by this criteria.  I may enjoy these stories, but chances are, for me to knight a book with greatness, it has to live up to my standards.  Mind you, these standards are subjective. But hey, much of this entire blog is devoted to my points of view – so let me continue on subjecting you to my subjective opinions!

In my article Social Theory and the Haunted House, I have delineated between two types of haunted houses. They are either:

A)    A place for a bunch of ghosts to hang out.

Or

B) A place that is greater than the sum of its ghosts

I prefer B) I want the houses to do more than just serve as a backdrop for exhibitionistic ghosts.  I want the house to be as much of a contributor to a haunting as the spirits that occupy it.  A good haunted house has consciousness. Maybe the house itself is a spirit. Or maybe it is alive.  The house should be able to exert its will on its inhabitants, with or without ghosts. The house should have a rich history; it should have stories from the past that speak to its present nature.  A good haunted house has a memory. Moreover, I love a house that exerts the power of symbolism. It should stand not only as a structure of brick or stone, but as a representation of an enduing entity. A kingdom perhaps, or a lineage or family. Maybe it stands for existence itself; for endurance incarnate.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you: Manor House. This house meets most of my criteria. Its ghosts respect and honor their home. So let’s give it up for Ghosts of Manor House, an excellent novel by Matt Powers.

Here are some words from the author himself:

When writing a book, people tell you to develop your characters and soon they write themselves. This became true for me, but the characters that spoke to me the most were Manor House and its partner, Mr. Travels. These two entities drew me into their world. The others are satellites, flies caught in the web of old spirits. Like the characters in this story, Manor House drew me in and captured me.

This paragraph is taken from the beginning of the book in a section called Note From the Author. And I have to say, these two “characters” spoke to me too.  I got to know Manor House in its many carnations. From a courthouse in its early years to a bed and breakfast in a more modern age.  From a revered building where harsh judgments were cast upon doomed  detainees to an inviting retreat center that loves its guests so much that it just doesn’t want to let them go!  While a regular old, aging  house collects dust, Manor’s House gathers up ghosts.  I just love Power’s description of a  “web of old spirits.”  It suits Manor House to a tee!  And now, from a tee to a tree!  The tree is Mr. Travels. Its sinewy branches cast shadows across the grounds of Manor House.  It too has seen its share of history.  Many people perished on its low hanging branches. The stuff of legend has given it a most unique origin. It is connected to Manor House in a most mysterious way. Perhaps it serves as the pulse of the house?  It wouldn’t be surprising. While the author was giving me a tour of the house via the story, I could swear I felt the house’s heart beat. Was this in the basement? I can’t recall.  Maybe its best that I don’t remember.

The bulk of the story takes place in the mid 1970s and revolves around Edmund and his family. The family has suffered through a tragedy, so Edmund arranges for a getaway to help ease their suffering souls. He reserves Manor House for his wife Mary and his children. It comes equipped with a full staff; a butler, a maid and a gardener.  Now get this – in chapter entitled “One Week Later -Escape from Manor House”, Edmund is fleeing the house while some of the staff are trying to convince him to return.  In the following chapter, “Welcome Back to Manor House,”  Edmund is alone, getting set up in his new place that is Manor House. He is supposed to meet his family there and….where are they? THAT is the question that pulls readers to the end of the book.  Yes readers, Ghosts of Manor House is a suspenseful novel.   To keep the suspense alive, Powers’ reveals just enough information – here and there, chapter by chapter. It’s all about healthy, measured spoonfuls of clues. Never too much – there are no mass information dumps. You will not get literary indigestion.

At 133 pages, Ghosts of Manor House is what I would consider a short novel. It is short, but it is complete. Within this novel of limited length, there is a tome of possibility. I’m looking for sequels and prequels. Of course that is up to the author.  Or maybe it isn’t! Maybe it’s Manor House itself that is in control. Matt Powers brought it to life and maybe the house will exert its living influence back on the author and entangle him in its “web of spirits,”  forcing him to write his way out!  With no sadistic intentions, I hope this happens.

Visit Matt’s Blog at https://www.ghostsofmanorhouse.com/  or just click on the picture below an teleport yourself over there!

ManorHouse2a

Review of “Nyctophobia” – A Novel of Summer Sunshine and Foreboding Darkness.

 

TheElementals   Prelude to the Review

Hello there readers! Let me begin by bombarding you with some song lyrics.  And here they are –

“Maybe your mind is playing tricks. You sense and suddenly eyes fix.

On dancing shadows from behind”

“I have a constant fear that something’s always near”

Fear of the Dark, Fear of the Dark!”

Aw heck, I’ll go even further. Here are all the lyrics, appearing ever so nicely in this music-accompanied video –

Thank you Iron Maiden for letting us know what it’s like to fear the dark.   Might there be a word out there that defines such a fear?

There are several, according to Wikipedia. There’s “scotophobi”, and “lygophobia” but the most prominent name for this fear is “nyctophobia.”

Also from Wikpedia, nyctophobia …

“…is triggered by the brain’s disfigured perception of what would, or could happen when in a dark environment”

 Nyctophobia is also the name of a book written by Christopher Fowler. Does this book describe a character with a brain that produces a “disfigured perception of what would, or could happen when in a dark environment?” It sure does.  Read on to learn more!


The Meat and Guts of the Review


I am posting this review on July 13, 2017 so a “Happy Summer!” is on order. There are several horror writers/lovers out there that think very little of summer.  They prefer Halloween to the 4th of July and autumn leaves to sandy beaches.  I am not one of those authors. Whereas I do love Halloween and autumns, I also love me some good ol’ summertime!

Remember, one does not have to take a vacation from horror in the summer. There are summer horror books for your reading pleasure. Jaws  is perhaps the most famous book of summer scares. (selling more than 20 million copies) But are there summer books about haunted houses? Yes there are. A couple of summers ago, I reviewed one such book – The Elementals by Michael McDowell.  In the novel, there exists a haunted house off of the Gulf of Mexico on the Alabama panhandle that is surrounded by ocean waves and sandy dunes. Well I found another summer haunted house story for ya! There is not much in the way of oceans in Nyctophobia. Instead it offers us a semi-arid region of mountains and cliffs with lots of sunshine.

The majority of the book’s events play out in the summer months inside a house besides a cliff. The house seems to be a magnet for the light of the passing sun. Its large windows accept the sunshine willingly, which spreads out through the many rooms evenly and with precision. Officially it bares the title “Hyperion House” but it is nicknamed “The House of Light”.   It has…

Uninformed Critic: CUT!!!!!!!

Mr. Me – Yeah, what’s up? Why did you interrupt this review?

Uninformed Critic: This is supposed to be a book about the fear of darkness. You even brought in a heavy metal band for illustration. And here you are going on and on about summer, about sunshine, and blah blah blah!

Mr. Me – I’ll get to all the nyctophobia stuff, don’t you worry! I’m not going to leave you in the dark about these topics.  (See what I did there?  We were chatting about darkness and then I went and….)

Uninformed Critic:

Pow

 

Oww! My head. Somebody doesn’t take corny jokes too well! Sigh!

Anyway, in order to appease the fist-happy Uninformed Critic, I guess I should mention that there is this strange secluded section of Hyperion House that receives no light. It replicates the interior layout of the house, although it is much smaller than the main sections of the residence and it is sealed off from them. This section includes several rooms and an upstairs. It is not wired for electrical usage.  Locked doors prevent the light of the main house from creeping inside. Closed shutters keep the sunlight from shining in through the windows.

Doesn’t this setup seem quite strange? Callie thinks so. She is the newest occupant of Hyperion House. She is starting a new life; new country, new husband – and the new house comes equipped with servants who are quite familiar with the accommodations. The maid is reluctant to discuss the darkened section of the house. She has the keys to the locked doors but refuses to give them up. Her husband refuses to pay any mind to the situation.

Callie has had a troubled youth. Throughout all her troubles, she suffered from NYCTOPHOBIA US COVERNyctophobia – a fear of the dark. As an adult, she seems to have conquered the phobia.  But she really wants to go inside the dark, secluded section.  What’s in there? Will her childhood fears reemerge from the darkest corners of the house?

Such an interesting premise, wouldn’t you say, Uninformed Critic?

Uninformed Critic: yeah, yeah…grumble grumble grumble….

Ah but there are more interesting things afoot! Callie is an architect and she appreciates the genius behind the house’s construction.  It is revealed that the original owner was an architect and he strategically designed the house to allow for maximum influx of light. From its cliffside location to its architecture and design, he built the house in such a way as to be in tune with the astral bodies – the sun, the moon, and the stars.  He was a worshiper of the ancient gods of the sky.  Thus the house is appropriately named “Hyperion House.”  Hyperion is a god and according to Wikipedia:

With his sister, the Titaness Theia, Hyperion fathered Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon) and Eos (Dawn).[1]

Hmm…the father of the sun, moon and the morning – could his divine influence have something to do with the strange balance of light and darkness within Hyperion House? Could be! It certainly adds another dimension to the story.

The location of this house is another thing that I find interesting. Through the eyes and minds of authors and filmmakers, I have traveled to haunted houses all over the world. In the States alone, authors have taken me to houses in the canyons near Hollywood, houses on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, and to a variety of haunted domiciles in the New England area. I have traveled overseas and traversed through many of the haunted houses of The United Kingdom. Filmmakers have shown me haunted houses in Sweden, India and Japan. Finally, Fowler has taken me to a place I long to visit in real life – Spain. Location is an important part of this story.  Descriptions of the locale are well woven into the fabric of the story. From the locale we get “locals” – these folks dutifully contribute to the overall atmosphere of the story.   The sunbaked village lady that loves her cigarillos, the shy librarian of the makeshift library that develops a crush on Calle, these people have the kind of folksy charm that makes me think I’m a tourist rather than a reader.

Nyctophobia is not your average haunted house story. It is not of the gothic type. It is refreshingly unique. If you’re the type of reader that is fond of plot twists, you’ll get them!  However, this brings to the one of the two things that weaken the structure of the story. I’m not sure if the final twist adequately addresses all the mysteries that this story conjures. Maybe it does and I just misunderstood.  But I can’t help but feel as though something is missing; something that would make the overall story a bit tighter. The second weakness has to do with Calle’s background. Her troubled life that precedes her marriage is revealed in little dribbles here and there throughout the book. Because of such dribbling, I am not left with a solid understanding of her past sufferings.  For instance, her trials with nyctophobia are barely dealt with at all!  They are mentioned, but without example, story, or experience.

Despite its shortcomings, Nyctophobia is a good read. Read it while enjoying the sunshine of summer and maybe you will relate to the sunlit house of this story. Or read it in a darkened room and connected with the sealed off chambers of Hyperion House.  Read about light, darkness and all those mysterious things that pass between them.

Postlude to the Review

I learned of this book from a posting in Goodreads.com. The post is called Best Haunted House Fiction that Isn’t ‘The Shining’.  It is a list of 100 + haunted house novels and the order is in constant flux as users continuously vote on the ranking. At the time of press, The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson) and Hell House (Richard Matheson) are, respectively, in the first and second position. (Have read and reviewed both here at this blog). Nycophobia currently sits at #36. I’d say that’s a fair assessment. I wouldn’t put “Nycophobia” in the top ten, but it does deserve some kind of list recognition. Have a look at the post. Do you agree with the items on the list?

Review of The Uninvited

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

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

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

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

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

TheUninvited2

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

Review of The Ghosts of Ravencrest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of Hauntings: Three Haunted House Novellas

hauntingsSomewhere out there in Facebook land, in one of the many groups to which I belong, I came across a post that was advertising a free book!  We indie authors are forced to give away books from time to time order to gain exposure. The title grabbed me right away: Hauntings: Three Haunted House Novellas.  Now how can a haunted house guy like me pass on this? I couldn’t.  So I downloaded it, read it, overall I liked it, and now I’m reviewing it.  Thus, the authors’ giveaway campaign has bared some fruit.  Not that my review equates to an orchard of apples or anything.  At least, put me down as one single peach!

As with other anthologies, there are some stories that I prefer over others. But I’m not going to delve into the nitty-gritties of my individual preferences. They are purely subjective and would negate from the fact that all these stories have their strengths. Like the three legs of a tripod, they have a solid-enough structure to support the novel as a whole.  And it doesn’t matter so much that these legs aren’t examples of the most innovative feats in engineering!  They are standard legs, standard stories – but they do their job.  Perhaps they can use a bit of polishing here and there (another round of editing). But as an indie author myself; I know how difficult editing can be (especially when you can’t afford a professional).

What I would like to do is: very briefly, I will summarize each story and then itemize the elements that stand out; the story components that have made a lasting impression on my memory.

First there is The Haunting of Monroe House by Olivia Harlowe.  A pregnant couple rents a house in the country. Is it haunted, or is there something about Sam’s pregnancy that is making everything so – strange? Here are the things that stand out – the peacocks, that scary closet, those wall-scratching noises, the farmer and his wife; an interesting couple indeed; characters well written.

Second there is The Haunting of Briarwood Lodge by Violet Archer. Colin inherits a lodge house that is the taboo of the town. No one will go near it. Except a young woman named Juno.  Together, Colin and Juno explore the strange happenings that are going on at Briarwood Lodge.  Here are the things that stand out – The attic window,  the corridors, that circle of chairs, the poltergeist-style activity. Oh, and how the house can, at will, lock its inhabitants inside!

Third, there is The Haunting of Briarwood Lodge by Mason Graves. Tom and Rebecca move into a new home. Tom is spooked by the stories surrounding the history of the house. Rebecca dismisses them as myths.  Who is correct?  Here are the things that stand out – Tom’s journey into the crawlspace, the mystery surrounding the original owners of the house, and the weird old lady that stalks the house.

All in all, this is a fun read.  Perhaps there will be more haunted house tales to come from this trio?   There is a website that hints at this, although it is a bit empty at the moment.

http://hauntedhousenovels.com/

Also, Violet Archer has many creepy short stories (each several paragraphs long) at her blog

https://violetarcher.com/blog/

Enjoy!

Review of 1408 (The Film)

1408-cover I wonder if Mike Enslin (Played by John Cusack) knows about “creeper weed.” He is the protagonist of Mikael Hafstrom’s film 1408 which is based on a short story by Stephen King.  In case he doesn’t know much about such things, I’ll explain it to him.  See Mr. Enslin, you know you’ve been smoking “creeper weed” if after you have taken a couple of hits, you feel nothing. So you take a few more puffs.  These extra inhalations allow you to, finally, feel something; not much, but oh well, the buzz it gives you will just have to do.  You go about your business. At some point during this business, you suddenly realize that you are stoned off of your ass!  The buzz has snuck up on ya! It “creeped” its way into your state of being, leaving you to wonder “When did all this happen?”  It’s a strong buzz too.  You’re not thinking straight. Everything is out of whack.  You’re afraid. (BTW, how do I know about “creeper weed”?  I heard it from a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy that read a book about it)

Mr. Enslin, are you all right? Oh dear. It seems that Mr. Enslin is a tad uncomfortable upon hearing of the effects of creeper weed.  But it’s worse than that Mr. Enslin, right?  You are terrified. It almost seems as if you have had a similar experience. Maybe not with drugs. Maybe with, I don’t know, a haunted hotel room that turned reality inside out and nearly drove you insane with fear?

See readers, Mike Enslin doesn’t believe in ghosts or any kind of paranormal phenomena. He is an author of haunted house books (Like yours truly!). He travels to supposedly haunted inns, uncovers the history as to why the place is haunted (past murders, death by illnesses, etc.) and writes about his experience in these hotels. But he never experiences anything out of the ordinary.  Until he stays in the Dolphin Hotel in New York City. Room 1408.  A fine suite it is; luxurious, two or three rooms. The hotel manager (Samuel L Jackson) had warned him that no guest has ever lasted more than an hour inside this room. Well, Enslin arrives in his room, several minutes go my and….nothing!  Same old, same old.  (Boring impotent weed.) Okay, so suddenly there are fancy chocolates on the bed and a couple of other complimentary items and décor that wasn’t there moments ago.  Or, maybe they were there and he just didn’t notice.  Nothing else to see – move on, move on!  So the clock radio alarm goes off.  The last guest must have set it to go off at this time.  Things are a little weird, but these happenings, whatever they are, are harmless.  Then ghosts appear and start jumping out of the windows. (Uh oh….!)  More stuff happens; stuff stranger than the previous occurrences. Then More! Still MORE!   Suddenly poor Mike doesn’t know what’s real and what isn’t.  And the room won’t let him leave!  Everything goes to hell and Mike comes to the realization that the evil of the room has slowly but surely “crept” up on him. A devastating evil it is. And it won’t let him go.

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The drug metaphors I have used to describe this film; excuse me if this puts you off, but I believe they effectively describe the feel of the movie. It has the flair of a psychedelic trip; albeit a trip or horrors – a very bad trip. But luckily for us the viewers, we are grounded in reality on the other side of the screen. Any “trippy” experience to be had is thankfully vicarious. But I’ll admit that I found myself a bit exhausted by the film’s end.

I really liked this movie. It is a tense film with psychological drama mixed in with the horror. John Cusack is excellent. And Samuel L Jackson, though his screen time is limited, brings a welcoming performance.  This movie is one of my favorites. See it!

Review of The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel

 

 

ThehauntingoflakeManorHotel-COVEROnce upon a time (more specifically, on several occasions back in the fourth and fifth grade), our teacher gave us creative writing assignments. The procedure was as follows: Mrs. Rickman would pass out copies of a drawing that had a written scenario underneath the panel. I remember a drawing of a bowl of soup that had letters rising from underneath the broth. There were question marks hovering over the bowl.

The written out scenario went something like this: “You go into a restaurant and order a bowl of alphabet soup. The waiter places the bowl before you. Suddenly, the letters in the soup form a message. What does the message say?” Our assignment was to answer such a question with a one page, handwritten story.  After all the stories were handed in, the teacher would read each of them out loud to the class. It was indeed a very rewarding experience. Among other things, we learned of the different directions to which one could lead a story.  We relished in each other’s creativity. At least I did. Some kids dreaded “Creative Writing Time.” Not me.  I loved the writing and the listening and I looked forward to hearing the stories written by my fellow peers.

Thank you Nathan Hystad and all the authors that contributed to The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel for bringing me back to my grammar school creative writing exercise. No, I’m NOT saying that the writing in this book is juvenile.  Let me explain.  Hystad created something that triggered the creativity of others – similar to the way Mrs. Rickman gave her students the tools to expand our imaginations. For The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel, Hystad came up with a back-story and scenario. Then he invited thirteen authors to write stories based on his depiction. The results are interesting indeed.

The back-story is as follows: through unscrupulous means, the wealthy Charles Hamblin, owner of Lake Manor, acquired farms and properties from victims of a drought, to later sell for a profit. Meanwhile, most of the swindled suffered another tragedy – they were victims of a plague. Hundreds of bodies were dumped in the nearby lake.  The ghosts of the victims began to occupy Lake Manor and haunt Hamblin’s descendents.

Here is the current scenario, set in modern times – , Lake Manor is converted into a hotel. Rumor has it that it is haunted. Is it? If so, by what? By whom?  It was the job of the authors to answer such questions. Each author was assigned a room number and instructed to write a story based on the experiences of the guests that stayed in the assigned suite.  These authors then got busy haunting this hotel, leaving none of their characters/guests unscathed. All are haunted in one way or another.

Some authors focus on the lake and the woodsy trails that surround it. They write about TheHauntingofLakeManorHote;bannercreatures that come out of the waters and prey on their victims. They tell tales of ghosts that arise from the watery depths to lure guests into the deadly lake. They speak of strange things lurking along the trails.  Other authors focus in on the ghostly goings on within the walls of the Manor. They unleash bizarre beings of their mind’s creation and let them roam the corridors. They haunt rooms with ghostly children. They install secret panels and passageways for their characters to uncover and explore.

There are several reoccurring characters and themes throughout the book. Members of the hotel staff find themselves in multiple stories. There’s Lissette the desk clerk, Clay the bartender and Hank the bellhop. If I were you (“you” the reader or soon-to-be-reader of this book), I’d watch out for this trio. They can be…suspicious…at times. There are other crossovers as well.  There’s an offhand reference to a certain guest in one story. This guest ends up being a main character in another tale. So pay attention, readers! Oh, and watch out for the strange dishware you and the guests will encounter along the wooded trails throughout several stories – they are labeled with the names of different body parts.

All the stories are well written. As an added bonus, they smack of style; each one different, each one delightfully unique. There weren’t any bad stories. Some were better than others. One in particular was both intriguing and puzzling, so I read it twice. I’m still not sure I understood everything even after a second reading. But hot damn, I love this author’s style! (The story is Jumbled-up Jack by Christopher Bean). Alas, there were a couple of stories with non-endings. Seriously, it seemed as if some authors were nearing the climax but then decided to step out and have a smoke, only to forget to finish the story. But overall, this book is an enjoyable read and wonderful exercise in creative collaboration. “Creative Writing Time” lives on at it is beautiful, man!

 

Review of Sker House

SkerHouseWhat is an epic? When I think of “epics,” I think of kingdoms, knights and warriors. I think of castles and magical caves. I think of a fictional place from a long time ago in a place far away. I think of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. All that said; let me move on to the book under review. There’s something about C.M. Saunder’s novel Sker House  that has me classifying it as an epic and yet, it has none of the aforementioned items. I need some help. Let me consult the ever-reliable online dictionary of Merriam-Webster.

 

Yes!  The dictionary came through like a charm!  It gave me a definition I can use:

 

Extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size and scope.

The definition fits. Sker House is a rich tale goes beyond the ordinary.

It’s not that it’s a long book (amazon has it a 299 electronic pages). There’s just so much packed into this tale. And nothing is crammed in hastily. Saunders gives the characters the necessary space to grow. As he giveth unto the characters, so doth he giveth to the plot (how do you like my Shakespeare impression?), which thickens into a filling story capable of satisfying any reader’s hunger for intrigue. Take for instance, the house at the center of the story – Sker House, which is a seaside inn located in South Wales. The inn and its surrounding property are not content to toss a mere ghost or two at the reader. The book has multiple hauntings and ghosts, including the mysterious Maid of Sker and the creepy shadow people. Then there are the strange ghost lights from ships of another day. Readers will encounter hidden passages, secret gardens, mysterious scribblings, possessions of the body, and unexplainable power outages.

Any good house haunting tale, especially one of epic proportions, is in need of a telling backstory. Saunders explores the history of Sker House from multiple avenues, including the firsthand tales from a strange old codger, the revealing dreams that manifest in the sleep of the protagonists, and the image provoking photo of doomed seamen.

A strong sense of place is important to epics. Although this is not a story from a time long ago in a place far away, the author does take a foreign setting (foreign to me here in the U.S.) and make it relatable. By and large, this is accomplished through the richness of the characters with all their prides, prejudices and patterns of speech specific to this locality. Saunders seems confident describing the mannerisms of his characters. The same is true concerning descriptions of the terrain and geography. He uses his knowledge of local history and legends, borrowing loosely from these stories. But in the end, his tale is his own.

SkerHouseOriginal

(Read about the original Maid of Sker and the real Sker House. Picture above is the original house, taken from this site)

 

Here’s a little more about these colorful characters. They include Dale and Lucy, two young and adventurous journalist-wannabes who stay at the nearly abandoned inn because they wish to learn more about the ghostly legends that are associated with Sker House in the hopes of publishing an article concerning such accounts. There is the landlord/proprietor of the Inn – Machen – a suspicious curmudgeon who is both goodhearted and endearing at the same time. Then there’s Old Rolly, Sker House’s only resident. He is a quiet and mysterious man who sits at bar of the inn day after day. Even background characters such as Ruth and Izzy, the mother and daughter maid team of Sker House, are well-rounded and personable.

The only failings that I came across have to do with some of the specifics within the wide breadth of material. At times I felt the author had too much on his plate and therefore neglected to fully explain certain happenings or resolve particular issues. I don’t want to identify these exact moments for fear of giving away too many spoilers. But if you read this book (and you should!) perhaps you will notice them as well. Despite this criticism, I admire the epic quality of this work – very much so. So a few details are sacrificed in the creation of the larger picture. The point is that the larger picture fairs well. Therefore, I strongly recommend this book

Review of The Time of Their Lives

AbbottAAAAAAA-BBAHHHHHHET!!!!       Costello      

 “Cut! Actors and Actresses, take five. Uh, Mr.   Blogman, may I have a word with you?”

Blogman Dan: Sure! What’s up?

Inner Critic: You really shouldn’t have Lou Costello shouting “Abbott.” It’s not appropriate for this film.

Blogman Dan: Aw gee, Mr. Inner Critic, but when I reviewed that other Abbott and Costello haunted house movie, Hold that Ghost, I began the post with Costello’s signature “AAAA-BBAHHHHET” and the post was a success.

Inner Critic: You were wrong about that too. In Hold that Ghost, the actors do not go by the names Abbott and Costello.  Abbott’s character is Chuck Murray and Costello plays the role of Ferdie Jones. So it would not have made any sense for Ferdie to be calling out a name that was not even in the movie.

Blogman Dan: Okay, so I made one boo boo!

Inner Critic: I’m afraid this time around, you made more than one. In The Time of Their Lives , Bud Abbott plays both Cuthbert Greenway and Dr. Ralph Greenway. Lou Costello plays Horatio Prim. Once again, Abbot and Costello go by different names. In fact in most of their films they go by the names the writers of  each respective film have given them.

Secondly, the two men are not partners in this film.

Blogman Dan: They’re not?

Inner Critic: No! They’re not even friends. So it would not make any sense to have Costello call out to him! The next time you begin a blog post, I suggest you….

Pow

 

Every once in a while, you have to punch that inner critic right in the nose! An annoying buttinski he can be!

Hi everyone, welcome to my review of The Time of Their Lives. This is a hilarious film that is also surprisingly creepy at the same time. And yes it’s true: Abbott and Costello are not partners.  It was far from their first film and far from their last. I guess somewhere in the middle the comedy duo just wanted to experiment with a different formula. And it worked! I loved their brilliant performances as stand-alones.  Sometimes they are in cahoots and sometimes they work together. But this “togetherness” is made difficult by the fact that Costello is a ghost and Abbott is not. Abbott cannot see Costello. And there was no cellular coverage for interdimensional communication (it was the 1940’s what to you expect?), so it is rather difficult for them to talk to one another.

The movie begins during the Revolutionary War. Horatio Prim (Lou Costello) is a travelling tinker who has come to the estate of Tom Danbury to meet with his love Nora O’Leary, one of Danbury’s servants. He wishes to marry her. To win over Danbury’s approval for such a marriage, Horatio has a letter of recommendation from General George Washington. Ah but he runs into all sorts of hurdles. First, there’s Cuthbert Greenway (Bud Abbott), Danbury’s butler. He wants to be the one to marry Nora. So he ends up locking poor Horatio in a crate. Furthermore, Tom Danbury turns out to be a traitor in alliance with Benedict Arnold. He kidnaps Nora and hides Horatio’s letter in secret compartment within a clock. Later on, the Patriots arrive on horseback. They burn the house down. Horatio and Melody Allen, Danbury’s fiancé, are shot and killed. (Oh yeah, Horatio had escaped from the crate by then) THEY are accused of being traitors (they were not!).  Their bodies are discarded in a well and a curse is placed on them – as traitors, their souls are bound to the A and C Timewell and its surrounding land.

For a black and while comedy flick in 1946, it was surprising to see the bodies at the bottom of the well. Not quite a barrel of laughs, or in this case, a “well” of laughs. The scene was a bit disturbing.

Time passes. One hundred seventy odd years go by. A new house is on the property. It is built to resemble the original colonial house and includes much of the original furnishings. Somehow these pieces of furniture escape the fire. I forgot how.

Anyway, four people are spending a weekend in the home. One of the occupants is Dr. Ralph Greenway (Bud Abbott), a descendant of the mean old butler that locked poor Horatio in the case. Meanwhile, the ghosts of Horatio and Melody decide to haunt the house. Actually, they are searching the place for the long lost letter written by George Washington on behalf of Horatio. Perhaps it’s hidden inside one of the original furnishings (the clock!). This letter will prove the innocence of the ghosts, and they may then be free to leave the premises and rest in peace.

Now the house haunting begins! There are some “not so bad” special effects going on – pretty good for them there olden days! It was fun to see Horatio and his lady friend their semi-transparent states. It was even more fun to watch a car drive right through them. And I’ll never forget the “walking dress” that descended the staircase! Melody was wearing it but since she herself was invisible, the poor woman that saw this frightful scene was scared out of her wits!

The film does have a problem with continuity when dealing with the physical laws that govern how the ghosts can and cannot interact with physical objects. As mentioned before, a car passes through them. And yet, the ghosts are able to handle objects such as lighters, dresses, etc. They can sit their ghostly rumps down on tree branches. During their very first scene as ghosts, Horatio and Melody try to hug each other. They fail, for they pass right through each other! But later, Melody rests her arms on Horatio’s shoulders. Ah but this is a comedy, so I’ll let it go. Even the famous Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore movie “Ghost” had its inconsistencies. Patrick couldn’t reach out and open doors, couldn’t kiss Demi without possessing the body of Whoopie Goldberg (ewww!). But for some reason, he could sit in chairs and walk on the soles of his feet. I guess the physical laws that govern ghosts are just sooo complicated.

But you want to know what I like best about this film? I like that Costello gets revenge on Abbott. I’m not only referring to how he pranks the Dr. Ralph Greenway Abbot to get back at his ancestor Cuthbert Greenway Abbot. I’m taking in consideration the totality of Abbott and Costello’s antics across all their spooky films. In all these comedic horror movies, it’s usually Costello that is the butt of the supernatural and/or scary jokes. It’s Costello that freaks out over the moving candle in Hold that Ghost. It’s Costello that first encounters Dracula and Frankenstein in Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein. By the time Abbott gets around to seeing what in the heck is spooking his friend, the ghostly/monstrous shenanigans have stopped, leaving Abbot to chide his companion with an “Aww you’re imagining things!”

A and C time 2The tables have turned. Costello, as a ghost, pulls tricks on Abbott and nearly drives him out of his mind. He disturbs his sleep by playing the harpsichord. He lights his cigarette, but Abbott doesn’t see Costello- he only sees a lighter hovering in the air. He gives him a good kick in the ass over a chair! You go Costello!

Mind you, Costello gets into his own fixes as well. It just wouldn’t be an Abbott and Costello movie without hearing Lou trying to catch his breath while he is freaked out by something.

Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein is probably my favorite comedy horror film from this duo. The Time of Their Lives might be my second.  Regardless, I catch all their frightfully funny films whenever they are shown on Svengoolie on Saturday nights on MeTV.  I love my Svengoolie. And you should too!