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.


(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….



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!


The House Sitter – The Story of a Man Who Haunts Houses

HouseSitterCoverForHHGroupHello readers!

Are any of you in need of a house sitter? If so, I happen to know just the guy.  His name is Brad Johnson. He is an author.  He likes to be left alone in a roomy house for long periods of time.  Burglars beware, for he will rarely leave the premises. He will look after your possessions. Even though he confines himself to the house, he won’t get bored – don’t worry about that!  He will use his solitary time wisely. He will do a lot of thinking and self-reflecting. He’ll do a great deal of writing.  And that’s about it!

Oh, there is one more thing he might do. He might haunt your house. But you’re ghost lovers, so this should be an extra bonus for you!  See, Brad gets his inspiration from certain household objects that strike his fancy. If he likes what he sees in your antique clock, he might write a ghost story about it. After this, maybe the clock will stop and restart at seemingly random times. Maybe, when the lighting is right, the reflective glare on the glass panel will morph into a specter. Whatever happens, you can count on this: your clock will never be the same again!  Neither will your house.  After returning home, there might be bats in the pantry, footsteps in the attic, howling inside the chimney flue; the possibilities are endless!

Click on the picture above and take your first step into Brad Johnson’s world. Then, if you dare, take the next steps and order yourselves a copy of “The House Sitter: The Brad Johnson Haunting Series Book 1.”  Consider this book as his resume. Read about his previous job as a house sitter. Discover how he haunted a house by turning a laundry chute into a maze of monsters.  Learn how he brought “life” to a corpse that was stashed away on an attic balcony.  Read how he fixed it so that a music box would summons spirits.  All this he did with the almighty pen!

Or did he? Brad Johnson’s stories are filled with metaphors for his life’s struggles.  Is it possible that his overstressed mind caused him to take these vivid story themes far too literally? The neighbor seemed to think that there was something very strange going on in the house. Something unbelievable, yet real.

Now, how about you? Maybe you don’t believe in this house haunting hokum.  Still, you might be wondering what the hell is going on in Brad Johnson’s mind.  Read the book and HOuseSitterUSediscover for yourself what kind of demons lurk in his psyche. And then you can decide if he is truly able to expunge these demons from his brain and onto the canvas that is the house. No matter the outcome, one thing is for sure – this guy can never be accused of being a ho-hum kind of homemaker!

Review of Burnt Offerings – The Novel

burntofferingsHappy New Year! Gone are our outmoded ways. Fresh on the scene are new beginnings! It’s all part of the cycle of life, with death being an integral part of this eternal succession. How timely it is that I get to review Robert Marasco’s Burnt Offerings  – a book about a timeworn yet rejuvenating house that feeds off of the life force of its human occupants.

Approximately two months ago, I reviewed the corresponding movie.  I praised the film then and I continue to like it. But I like the book even more. It’s a darn good novel. I think I can go so far as to say I love it! It’s unique and intriguing with page turning suspense. And yet, I do believe it’s a relatively obscure piece of work.


Remember, I said “relatively.” I’m sure many of you know about this book. But I’m willing to bet there are many other lovers of haunted house fiction that have never heard of this story. This is ironic, because the book is as monumental to this genre as The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.  It has been said to be a major influence to Stephen King’s The Shining.

The latest edition of “Burnt Offerings” includes a foreword by horror author Stephen Graham Jones.  In the intro, he praises the book as a masterpiece. Also, he offers an interesting contrast between two types of haunted houses. How could I not appreciate such juxtaposition after I myself wrote a piece delineating two haunted house themes; the house as a stage for ghosts to perform vs. the house as an entity in and of itself.   Jones’s comparison is simpler and perhaps more interesting. He states that there are those haunted houses in literature that want you to stay away (i.e. the Amityville Horror house). Then there are those houses that want you inside their walls so that they might possess you, swallow you, kill you. Burnt Offerings is a chilling tale of the latter kind of house.

An aged brother and sister by the sir name of Allardyce have a summerhouse to BurntOfferingsAgainrent. Ben and Marian Rolfe, along with their little boy and elderly aunt, lease the house from these strange siblings. The deal seems too good to be true. The house has more rooms than they can count. There is a swimming pool and beach beside a lake. But they didn’t know about the “extra charges” – their hidden essence pays for these hidden fees! However, they did know about what they presumed to be the one and only catch – the elderly Allardyce mother would remain in the house throughout the Rolfe’s stay. Oh but she would be no trouble at all! She would recluse herself to an attic bedroom in a wing of the house. The Rolfes might never even see her! All they had to do was leave a tray of food outside her closed bedroom door three times a day. They accept these terms and their chilling and suspenseful tale begins. What does this elderly mother look like? The renters never see her. But in the end, Marian Rolfe will “experience” her. Or perhaps the whole Rolfe family will share this experience. I guess this depends on the reader’s interpretation concerning the nature of the old mother.

The movie and book differ only somewhat. They have slightly different endings; two distinct paths, both equally compelling and enigmatic. However the final resolution remains the same; both paths find their way to the same place.

I highly recommend both the book and the film. Nevertheless, the book is better. It just might be my favorite piece of haunted house literature. Maybe. It’s difficult to single out the “best from the rest,” but it is certainly one of the leaders of the pack!


Social Theory and The Haunted House

HauntedHouseSociologyOnce upon a time, I graduated college with a degree in sociology. But they weren’t hiring at the sociology factory, so I decided to write about Haunted Houses instead. But this is okay, because a haunted house writer earns about as a much a manufacturer of social thought  – zilch!   But hey – at least I found a similarity between the two “fields” – gotta give me credit for that!  And I have more of that “credit” coming, because I have discovered ways that I can draw on my knowledge of sociology to help me in my study of haunted house films and literature.  It would be selfish to keep this enlightening information to myself, so I am going to share it with you. Get ready while I reconstruct social theory so that it applies to the organization of the haunted house!


When it comes to haunted house lore, I have always been interested in the houses that serve a higher purpose than to act as a meeting place for a collection of ghosts. I like it when the house itself has a conscious.  This occurs when somewhere within the walls there exists a force with a will of its own.  The source of this “will” is often vague and mysterious, which leaves readers and viewers to attribute this will to the house itself.  I also like it when, for one reason or another, the house is imbued with the ability to act as conductor of supernatural energy.  Under these circumstances, a house can create the ghosts, or at least hold the ghosts at bay due to its magnetic properties.   Or how about a house with a personality?  A house that’s mean; vindictive – a house that wants to kill you!

There are other haunted house stories that focus mostly on the ghosts that haunt the house. The house is but their stage; a platform that enables these specters to show off their ghostly antics.  This “stage” can provide the prefect atmosphere for their performance if the lighting is gloomy enough, if the props and furnishings give the surroundings the right touch of “haunt”.  But in the end, all this is background for the ghostly performers. If the house is to be a character, it is a supporting character at best; supporting the shining stars of ethereal light.

Now, doesn’t this comparison remind you the various theories regarding the structure of society? You are saying “no.” Oh.  Well then, maybe I should explain this matter a little bit better.

DurkheimEmile Durkheim is considered to be the “father of sociology”. His contributions to this field are huge.  He developed the concept of “social facts”.   Simplistically speaking, these are forces within a society with a scope that is beyond that of the individual.   These social facts, according to Durkheim, are the best predictors and/or facilitators  of other social facts, or social phenomena.   The rituals of a family (i.e. prayers/no prayers at the dinner table) influence the children’s religiosity or lack thereof.   Poverty might be an indicator of crime.  You get the idea.

What’s relevant here is that the role of the individual is downplayed. This is not to say that Durkheim thought of people as mindless automatons enslaved to tradition. He acknowledged that people influence culture and society with their beliefs and behaviors, but when this happens, something else is happening as well.  Here’s a quote from The Internet Encyclopedia on Philosophy  that better illustrates these ideas:

Chief among his claims is that society is a sui generis reality, or a reality unique to itself and irreducible to its composing parts. It is created when individual consciences interact and fuse together to create a synthetic reality that is completely new and greater than the sum of its parts. This reality can only be understood in sociological terms, and cannot be reduced to biological or psychological explanations

Thus, according to Durkheim, society  is an entity in and of itself.

Not all social philosophers thought like Durkheim. There are those that believed that society only comes into being on account of the competing interests of the multitudes of individuals. Society arises as a result of the need for people to get along, to establish rules and laws that allow people to maximize their self-interest without trampling on the rights of others.  From this point of view, society comes second and does not exist independently of the individuals.  This perspective is associated with Utilitarianism

JohnStuartMillHere is what Social Theorist John Stuart Mill has to say about this:

The laws of the phenomena of society are, and can be, nothing but the laws of the actions and passions of human beings united together in the social state. Men, however, in a state of society are still men; their actions and passions are obedient to the laws of individual human nature. Men are not, when brought together, converted into another kind of substance. (System of Logic – Book VI, chap. VII, sect. 1)

For Mill, Individual consciences do not, as Durkheim postulates, fuse together. By nature, individuals are individuals and nothing more.


Now, back to haunted houses, applying the theories of Durkheim. Sort of.  Any professional sociologists reading this are probably laughing their asses off at me for this sophomoric comparison. Ah but what the hell – here I go.  I like haunted houses that exist as an entity, that are greater than the sum of its ghosts.  Or maybe, the ghosts “fuse together to a create a (haunting) reality that is completely new.”  A house of this kind is not haunted because it has ghosts. Rather, this type of house is haunted because it harbors memories that can produce ghosts. It is haunted because it creates energy that leads to supernatural phenomena.  It his haunted because of its very nature.  It’s not a house haunted by ghosts – it’s a haunted house!  See the difference?

Stephen King’s “The Shining” is a prime example of such a house. Okay, it’s a hotel not a house, but the example is still a good one. The Overlook Hotel is haunted because is “shines.”   In the movie by Stanley Kubrick, Dick Hallorann explains to little Danny about “the shining; ” – an extra sensory perception that allows one to read minds, witness residual spirits, etc.  Houses too, he tells him, can have “the shining.”  According to the book, The Overlook Hotel has a goal: to utilize the psychic energy of Danny so that it may trap him and his family inside its conscious forever.  Throughout the book The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, there are hints that “Hill House” is sentient.  It attempts to possess one Eleanor Vance.   There are loud pounding noises and other haunting disturbances,  but these occurrences are not really attributed to ghosts. They are only attributed to the house itself.   Then there’s the house in Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco.  The huge but old and decrepit house in this story rejuvenates when it steals the life force of its occupants.

Okay, now what of the haunted houses of John Stuart Mill? Maybe the house in William Castle’s film Thirteen Ghosts qualifies. The ghosts have been captured and stored in this house. They didn’t even originate there. Sure they materialize now and then to scare the family that lives with them, but it isn’t the house that is causing the haunting. It’s the spirits.  Then there’s the film Paranormal Activity.  Their apartment is haunted by a demon.  This demon latches on to others and travels to their homes, at least according to the sequels. It is not housebound. In the film Evil Dead 2, demons haunt a cabin. They are there on account of a spell read from a book.  They sure have a fun time with the cabin.  Besides possessing the occupants, they inhabit the furniture as well.  They cause a mounted deer head to laugh.  The house (or cabin) is a giant toy box for the demons.  In all these cases, the primary units of the haunting are the ghosts and demons. The house is an afterthought.

Don’t get me wrong. These are good films.  Just because I like the “house as an entity” concept doesn’t mean that the “house as a background” theme lacks quality.  This is just a style preference.

Then there is the book Hell House by Richard Matheson and its corresponding film The Legend of Hell House.  They way I see it the house in this story utilizes both themes.  Hell House is said to store supernatural energy, acting as “a battery” if you will that can charge up some ghostly phenomena. At the same time, “surviving personalities” haunt the house and communicate extensively with some the house’s visitors.

There are other haunted houses that I’m not sure how to categorize. For example, there’s the Amityville House.  In the film Amityville Horror, there’s the line in the beginning of the film uttered by George Lutz about how “houses don’t have memories.”  Of course this is foreshadowing because horrific things had happened at the house and they will again.  However, even though the house is personified, it’s mostly demons that cause the terror. Then again, the house is said to have been built on cursed land.  Hmm…which is it?

Perhaps there are hybrid stories out there. If so, maybe there can be some kind of scale to measure how much a particular story is “haunted house” tale and how much of it is a tale of “ghosts/demons inside a house.”

For instance:

  • Hell House – 50% house, 50% ghosts
  • Amityville House = 70 % house, 30% ghosts/demons
  • Poltergeist = 80% ghosts, 20% house.
  • The Fall of the House of Usher = 100% house
  • Evil Dead = 100% demons.

Of course, these percentages are just made up math from my mind. But maybe,  just maybe, I have developed a quantitative way to analyze haunted house fiction.  Maybe my method will be developed further and be in literary textbooks!  Maybe this sociology major and haunted house connoisseur has finally found a way to use his training for betterment of humanity.

Maybe….I should come out of my cloud. Yeah I should do that.  Sorry!  And a special sorry to two guys, my old pals  Durkheim and Mill. I have summonsed your ghosts and thrown them into my haunted house analysis.  (I think they are pissed about this.)    By haunting the essay with their ghosts, was I invoking the ideas of Durkheim or Mill?  Maybe Mill, because the essay didn’t produce the ghosts; I went and stole them.  Or maybe it’s Durkheim;  because the subject of this essay is haunted houses. As such, the essay in and of itself is bound to conjure up some ghosts.  I’ll let the readers decide.

Review of The Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories

MAmmothThe “tome” that is the subject of this review should sit on the shelf above the fireplace. It should lure the eyes of visitors to its spine and provoke them to call out “What is that?” Then its owner can proudly say, “It’s an anthology of haunted house stories. It is The Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories.”

The best platform for this anthology is the old-fashioned hard cover book (if that option exists.) It is not a book that needs to be read cover to cover. But it should always be on display in the den or reading room, no Mammoth2more than a few steps away from the easy chair. That way, whoever just happens to be sitting there before the lit fireplace with a snifter of Brandy will have this anthology at his/her beck and call.

Grab the book and pick a story, any story that you think is to your liking. Then read and enjoy.

I did none of those things. I bought it through my Kindle app. I read it from beginning to end, forcing myself to complete the stories I didn’t enjoy. Our house is not set up with a “reading room” or den. Mostly I read this from my bed before going to sleep. We have no fireplace and we have no Brandy. But oh how I prefer my original albeit fictitious scenario!

Despite not having the proper environment for this anthology, I enjoyed it much. Okay, so I didn’t like every story. The components of any given anthology will not satisfy the reader 100% of the time. That’s just the way it goes.

Compiled by British author and anthologist Peter Haining (2 April 1940 – 19 November 2007), The Mammoth Book of Haunted Houses is a collection of short stories and novellas from primarily British authors, many of which stem from the gothic tradition. It includes stories by famous authors such as Bram Stoker, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, and Stephen King. Some of the stories are personal favorites of horror legends of film, such as Boris Karloff Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Clive Barker.

Haining himself claimed to have lived in a haunted house, so perhaps there was a certain level of personal significance attached to this project. He certainly had a fun and interesting way of introducing each story. Each tale begins with a page that is meant to resemble log entries in a real-estate transaction book, if such a thing exists. These intros look something like this:


Address: The country, city and sometimes neighborhood where the story takes place are mentioned here.

Property: Structural details are taken from the story and summarized here,

Viewing Date: Year the story was published

Agent: Biographical detail of the author. Sometimes this section contains other details such as a mentioning of famous people who admire the story.

The book is divided into seven sections – seven varying categories of haunted house tales.

Each section is comprised of stories that relate to the specified category. The seven categories are:

Haunted Places: Stories Of Fact And Fiction

Avenging Spirits: Tales Of Dangerous Elementals

Shadowy Corners: Accounts Of Restless Spirits

Phantom Lovers: Sex And The Supernatural

Little Terrors: Ghosts And Children

Psychic Phenomena: Signs From The Other Side

Houses Of Horror: Terror Visions Of The Stars

Finally, there is an appendix of full-length haunted house novels alphabetized by the authors’ last name. From Anson, Jay (The Amityville Horror) to Young, Francis Brett (Cold Harbour) with many greats in between, it provides a paragraph synopsis of each list entry.

All in all, there are forty-two stories in this anthology. (To see a complete list of all the stories, go here!)  I’ll briefly summarize three that I found to be quite enjoyable.


The Haunted and the Haunters          –         Edward Bulwer-Lytton

First is the first. That is, it’s the first story in this collection. Written in 1859 in the gothic tradition, it is a tale about a fellow who has a strong desire to spend a night in a haunted house. He gets his wish and experiences all sorts of phenomena. Walking footprints, furniture and doors moving and opening on their own accord, phantoms of light, dark shadowy substances that invoke a sense of dread, swarming ghostly larvae that the author describes as “…chasing each other, devouring each other” “shapes without symmetry” “movements without order.” The protagonist develops an interesting theory regarding the source of these manifestations.

Edward Bulwer lyttonHere are some interesting bits of trivia concerning that author. Edward Bulwer-Lytton sat in the British parliament and was the Secretary of State for the colonies. He coined the popular quip “The pen is mightier than the sword” and the famous opening line staple, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Watching Me, Watching You         –    Fay Weldon

I am not familiar with Fay Weldon. According to Wikipedia, she is an “English author, FayWeldonessayist and playwright, whose work has been associated with feminism.” Her work often “portrays contemporary women who find themselves trapped in oppressive situations caused by the patriarchal structure of British society.”

From what I gather, Waldon is not associated with the horror or paranormal genre. However, she has given the genre a rather unique and stylistic contribution with Watching Me, Watching You.

 The ghost of this story is not the traditional apparition. It may not even be literal. It is the ghost that haunts all houses. It is the ghost of sorrow, of longing, of regret. And yet, doors open, knickknacks fall from shelves, and presences are felt. The same ghost haunts two different women, one is the ex-wife of a struggling writer, and one is his current wife. The ghost leaps from one woman’s shoulder to the other. Later, the ghost is able to teleport from house to house. Sometimes it remains in a house but goes to sleep for long periods of time. Other times it causes disturbances, only to be expelled from the premises, thrown out of a window inside a sigh. Finally, the ghost learns to travel outside of time, only to reappear at different crossroads of their lives.

 Watching Me, Watching You is beautifully written. I recommend it highly.

 The Boogeyman       –     Stephen King

stephenkingFirst published in Cavalier magazine in 1973, it was later part of his King’s collection Nightshift. This is an excellent piece. Its allure is due to King’s greatest skill set – character development. The protagonist, Billings, consults with a psychiatrist and tells him the sad and rather strange tale of how all three of his children were murdered by the Boogeyman. Billings displays all the essentials of a multi-dimensional character. What makes this an even greater feat is that King accomplishes this in such a small amount of space. Billings comes alive with all the shortcomings that come with being a human – prejudices, psychoses, and ignorance. All this is subtly and effectively captured in his mannerisms and speech patterns. Hell, remove the boogeyman and leave this tale as a case study of Billings and it would still be a masterpiece.



The Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories deserves to be sold in a classic-bound edition. This edition should sit proudly on my shelf among my other hardcovers of classic design, including Dante’s Divine Comedy and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Complete Fiction. But I’m not even sure it exists in hardcover. Sadly the book is not on display in my living room. It hides within my e-reader like a shy ghost that’s too frightened to come out from behind the wall and haunt the house.   I have a feeling that the ghosts of these tales will haunt me unless and until I purchase a hard copy. I need to do this. Soon.

Review of 13 Ghosts

William Castle – what a fun guy, dontcha’ think? When I first reported on him, he was fixing it so that a skeleton would “emerge from the movie screen” and float over Ghost1  the heads of seated viewers. He called this the “Emergo” effect. The other night I decided to check in on Mr. Castle and see if he had done anything similar since then. Wouldn’t you know it? About a year after his emerging skeleton, he imbued movie goers with the ability to see ghosts. This effect he labelled “Illusion-O.”

The House on Haunted Hill is the second haunted house film that I reviewed. In that review, I describe how Castle, a great mastermind of publicity stunts , had distributed skeletons to movie houses that ran his film, instructing the theater operators to rig them up on downward angled wires so that they would Ghost2appear to float over the heads of movie goers during the pivotal scene where the skeletal remains of Vincent Price rise out of a vat of acid (allegedly!). Cool huh?   But his cool gimmicks did not stop there. They went on, film after film. When movie attendees went to the theater to see his 1960 film 13 Ghosts, they were given a “ghost viewer” which allowed them to see the same ghosts that the film’s main character saw when he put on specially designed glasses. In both Ghost3movies, the audience had a share of the scares that were inflicted upon the characters of the movie. With Castle, film became a platform for participatory art.

Before the film begins, William Castle appears on the screen. He is behind a desk in an office. A skeleton is taking dictation. He speaks to the audience and refers them to   Ghost4their ghost viewers. He explains that at certain times throughout the movie the screen will turn blue (remember, this is a black and white picture). When this happens, the audience is to hold the viewer in front of their face. Castle demonstrates with a ghost viewer of his own. The top of the viewer has a blue-tinted lens and the bottom part has a lens tinted in red.

Castle then says,

“If you believe in ghosts, you look through the red part of the viewer. If you do not believe in ghosts you look through the blue part.”

Ghost5                Ghost6           Ghost7

Obviously, the ghosts in the movie only appeared when one was looking through the red lens. Since the screen turned blue whenever the ghosts were featured, the ghosts became camouflaged when viewing the screen through the blue lens. Now, what happened when someone ignored the ghost viewer altogether and looked at the screen with his/her naked eyes? Did the ghosts appear? I have no idea. Being born in 1971 prevented me from witnessing this 1960 theatrical attraction. I can only assume that they did not. However, I can say that a ghost viewer is no longer required to see the ghosts of this film. They materialize in a fiery red tint. The screen Ghost8still turns blue as a caption appears at the bottom of the screen that reads “User Viewer.” But the naked eye is the only tool needed to see these creepy albeit cartoonish phantoms.

So, what’s this movie about anyway? The Zorba family is having trouble making ends meet. The repo people have come for their furniture. Poor Zorbas – forced to eat dinner on the floor!   Ghost9However their luck suddenly changes. (Or has it?) Patriarch Cyrus Zorba is informed that he has inherited a house (and a furnished house at that!) from his dearly departed uncle. So he moves in with his wife Hilda, his twenty-something daughter Maeda and prepubescent son Arthur. There is a caveat to this deal. The lawyer that handles the transaction warns the family that along with the house and furnishings, they have also inherited eleven ghosts. See, long before the formation of The Ghostbusters, there was good ol Uncle Zorba, who was able to capture ghosts Ghost10from around the world and then “store them” in the house. Uncle Zorba dies, presumably by foul play. His ghost remains behind, so in effect, the family has inherited twelve ghosts. Why then is this film called 13 Ghosts?   Because, legend has it that Uncle Zorba is going to seek revenge on the one who killed him. If he succeeds, this will raise the count to thirteen. Does this vengeful killing occur before the end of the movie? Watch it and find out!

Oh yeah, there is another “thing” of interest the family inherits. Well it’s not really a “thing” but a person (see how I put “thing” in quotes in the previous sentence? See?). They inherit a maid and low and behold, she is played by no other than Margaret Hamilton who is best known for playing the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. In fact, throughout the movie, little Arthur Zorba refers to her as a witch. Do you think the scriptwriters did this intentionally to pay homage to her famous role? Of course they did!

Let’s see, what else can I say about this movie? I will describe it this way – imagine if Rod Serling became the writer for Leave it to Beaver. 13 Ghosts might be an example of the end product. The father wears his Mr. Rogers sweater over his white Ghost11collared shirt. The mother has an overly rigid hairdo that is very fitting for the June Cleaver type. The little boy who, although he never says it, has “golly gee” written all over his young, curious face. While there is no older brother named Wally, there is the older sister named Maeda. She is prettier than Wally, so I like her better. As they go about behaving like the average 1960 television family, they are accosted by ghosts. A meat cleaver flies into the air and just misses Ward Cleaver Cyrus Zorba. The Beaver Arthur witnesses a ghostly lion-tamer lose his head inside a ghostly lion. Surprisingly, he’s not really freaked out by this. Rather, he seems in awe and he tells his mother. June Cleaver Hilda Zorba responds with a “that’s’ nice, dear” – Ghost12or..something along those lines. In her defense, when Beaver Arthur comes to her with this story, she is preoccupied with making dinner, or doing some kind of kitchen work – you know, the things the mothers of television did back in 1960.

Okay, I’m having too good of a time poking fun at this movie. But the truth is – I love this movie! I love the Zorba family and the haunted house they lived in. I love the cheesy ghosts. And Ghost13even though I did not get to use the “ghost viewer”, I love that whole concept.

And I love you, William Castle. R.I.P. I look forward to one day seeing all the clever antics you have going on up there in the heavens!