Archive for Haunted house

Forbidden Tomes: THE WOMAN IN BLACK by SUSAN HILL

Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2016 by smuckyproductions

 

Around this time of year, everyone loves a good ghost story. Most of them are suitable for some momentary shivers, perhaps a glance over the shoulder, and a hearty (albeit nervous) laughter at the supernatural. But there are some ghost stories that leave a lingering chill. Their fears extend past the fun of fiction into something darker, more clinging. One such ghost story is Susan Hill’s classic, THE WOMAN IN BLACK.

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Many people have seen this story done on screen, either in 1989 or recently in 2012. The lucky ones have witnessed it on stage. For those who haven’t, the tale goes forward as such: an ambitious young solicitor travels to the distant, foggy climes of Eel Marsh House in order to sort the affairs of the recently deceased Alice Drablow. But something else lingers in Eel Marsh, and the neighboring town. When the young man sees a mysterious woman dressed in black standing in the local graveyard, and meets undue paranoia from the townspeople, he begins to unearth a horrible secret.

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Susan Hill sets herself up with delightful Gothic elements from the get-go. Recounted by the young man several decades later, the story feels like one told by a campfire, but his reluctance to tell it gives a feeling of unknown dread. The landscapes are wonderfully mist-shrouded and dreary, the house itself is gloomy as one could want, and the mystery surrounding it all has an air of danger: you don’t really want to know the truth. The image of the titular woman, wrapped in black and almost skeletal, is chilling. Then the real horror begins.

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Even in the films (preferring the 1989 version over the recent adaptation, though that one is decent too), the story conveys several layers of fear. There is the spooky apparition, the somber house; but then there is the terror of the townspeople, who refuse to discuss the woman in black. We get the sense that something awful lingers beneath the creepy trappings. Hill delivers on this, too. The revelation of the woman in black is the stuff of nightmares. It goes beyond a simple chilly encounter, branching into almost existential horror, because there is no escaping it.

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It’s difficult to discuss this darkness without ruining the surprise, so I’ll leave it at this: for those who like their horror with a dose of gravity, “The Woman in Black” is ideal. It will have you looking in the distance a bit too hard, searching for the form of a specter with a terrible prophecy.

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Forbidden Tomes: THE LITTLE STRANGER by SARAH WATERS

Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2015 by smuckyproductions

The haunted house plot has been done to death (no pun intended), in a variety of different mediums. And yet, we are drawn to it consistently, always trying to find a new way to spin the tropes. Many failed examples show how difficult a task this really is – but every once in a while, a rare work comes along and uses these tropes to their fullest potential. This is embodied to near-perfection in Sarah Water’s THE LITTLE STRANGER.

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Our cursed domicile comes in the guise of Hundreds Hall, a once-grand mansion that has fallen into decay following the strife of World War II. Waters chooses an idealistic doctor as her protagonist, entering the crumbling shadows of Hundreds at first on business, and soon becoming a friend to the surviving members of the Ayres family. But the Ayres are haunted by more than just dwindling inheritance. As madness and paranoia overtake the already-besieged family, the doctor attempts to keep intact what’s left of Hundred Halls, fighting against a force that wants nothing more than to see it fall.

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“The Little Stranger” sounds like a straight horror novel. It isn’t. Most of the story focuses on the historical drama of the Ayres family, tinged with classic Gothicism (a genre to which Waters pays terrific homage). But, when the ghostly events come up, they’re all the more powerful for the quiet drama that came before. Waters orchestrates the most intricate manifestations, with steadily increasing patterns and ingenious connections to the characters’ minds. Her beautiful Gothic setting of corpse-like Hundreds Hall cements the creepiness with a heavy sepulchral atmosphere. The mounting occurrences are made even scarier by the question of reality versus hallucination – we never truly know if Hundreds is full of ghosts or mere human insanity.

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Waters infuses her ghost story with a sense of decay and loss, which helps to bring it above the typical haunted-house standard – there is a real-world core to the uncanny events flitting on the surface. Hundreds Hall is haunted by ghosts as much as by the long death of a far-off era. Like the best of the genre, echoing especially Henry James, Waters evokes the psychological within the supernatural. It makes the apparitions all the more chilling when they have long-term mental effects on the characters. The psychology of the book gives it a tragic aspect as we watch the destruction of a family who, like the rest of us, is just trying to survive.

Like many Gothic stories, Waters’ tale is a bit bloated with detail and light on action – the reason why a good portion of horror fans have shunned it – but its story and psychological terror are so impactful that the padded scenes are worth sitting through. The novel drips mouldering atmosphere and chilly breath. It’s perfect for nights when the winter wind howls outside, whispering dark prophecies; and a reminder that even decay can come to life.

Film Review: CRIMSON PEAK

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2015 by smuckyproductions

One of the most anticipated genre releases of the year, CRIMSON PEAK is a gorgeous and impassioned return to form for Guillermo del Toro. This was at the top of my list ever since rumors and stills began leaking through the Internet catacombs. And I was not disappointed.

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The story is nothing terribly original – a young woman marries a mysterious man and follows him home to a decaying mansion, which is filled with ghosts and deadly ulterior motives – but del Toro plays it out sincerely and powerfully, making sure each emotional moment hits at the right time. He’s a terrific storyteller. And with such an amazing cast – Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, and Tom Hiddleston, to name a few – the story becomes vivid. But that’s not the best part. (What also might be said is, contrary to most Gothic stories, this one does not punish or weaken its women. The female characters are the strongest ones, which is refreshing and necessary.)

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What comes as no great surprise, but is still an absolute joy, is the production and costume design. Every image of the film explodes with color and detail. It’s a deliriously beautiful homage to the master of Grand Guignol lighting Mario Bava – sickly greens, vibrant reds, and cloying blues are all used boldly and to great effect. The success of these visuals is a testament to how ingenious Bava was as a filmmaker, and to see him referenced is joyous. Roger Corman also comes to mind, of course, but del Toro’s haunted house is more surreal than that.

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I don’t want to spoil too much, but the design of the ghosts was also profoundly original – it continues on del Toro’s concept from “The Devil’s Backbone,” but as if that film dropped acid. They’re polarizing, I’m sure, but I found them both fascinating and strangely terrifying. It’s rare that showing the monster can in itself be scary – usually the golden rule is to keep them in the dark – but in this case, every time they came on screen, I was frightened.

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It’s important to address, however, that del Toro did not make a horror film. This is not meant to be scary or shocking. There is violence and terror, but the main emphasis is placed on the theme of love, and the romance between the characters. So, don’t expect a traditional horror film. Del Toro himself said: this is a Gothic Romance. And that genre has been neglected of late. I am thrilled to see storylines that echo Sheridan Le Fanu and Nathaniel Hawthorne play out on screen. Del Toro is a huge nerd, just like me, and it comes through that he’s done his research.

While “Crimson Peak” certainly isn’t for everyone, it is a dream come true for people who love a classic ghost story and appreciate the beauty of cinema. Del Toro crafted this film with immense love and passion, and that shows on every frame. He loves his monsters and in turn, so does the audience. Beautiful, chilling and exhilarating, “Crimson Peak” is a macabre delight.

Top 5 Haunted House Films

Posted in Best Of, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2013 by smuckyproductions

I have a special place in my heart for good haunted house movies. So, in honor of an age-old genre and in anticipation of my new book that uses many of its tropes, here’s a few of my favorites.

5. The Changeling (1980)

This film, extremely influential in the genre, creeped me out beyond words. While not the most well-crafted movie, the storyline is inventive and very chilling, with a great twist and heart-pounding climax. The mansion is perfect, full of hidden rooms and cobwebs. Certain scenes – those who have seen this movie will remember a rubber ball – are wonderfully spooky, and the seance sequence is one of my favorites of all time. A must-see, especially around Halloween.

4. The Woman in Black (1989)

This isn’t really a haunted house movie (the ghost can travel) and it isn’t even a movie, as it was produced for TV, but I forgive this discrepancies. I enjoyed the remake, actually, but the original is one of the only films to manifest its ghost in a truly creepy way – most movies, when they reveal their spirit, loose tension because it just doesn’t look right. The titular character is just terrifying. Again, the atmosphere provided by Eel Marsh House and the misty English countryside is spooky as hell. This movie proves that nothing can beat the British in the 80’s for sheer eeriness. Impossible to find, but worth the search.

3. The Others (2001)

While arguably not a horror film, this quiet tale is horrific enough to include here – at 13, this movie scared the crap out of me. The atmosphere and setting are all perfect, claustrophobic but also large enough to cause fear of the darker corners. Kidman is brilliant, and her character is wonderfully complex. The children’s performances are shockingly good, too. This movie is much more creepy than frightening, but I’ll be honest, the piano scene sends chills up my spine. The ending could have been cheesy, but it’s subtle and beautifully done. A fantastic movie in every sense, and the perfect ghost story for a cold night.

2. The Innocents (1961)

An obvious addition to the list. This film, with its chilling music (can’t go wrong when you have a little girl singing) and dark themes, is fantastic for any genre. Here is another film to make its physical ghosts terrifically scary – when the first apparition appears to the fabulous Deborah Karr in the window, it’s impossible not to be creeped out. The mansion is gorgeous, full of atmosphere. The ambiguous ending – was it real, or is she crazy?? – is ahead of its time, and brilliant. It’s a unique movie, so much so that I was a little put off at first, but when you learn to appreciate it, it will never let you forget it.

And, DRUMROLL PLEASE….

1. The Haunting (1963)

Four years after I saw it for the first time, this movie remains one of the scariest I’ve ever seen… and nothing happens. There are some strange noises, some creepy wallpaper patterns, and a hysterical leading woman (a brilliant performance by Julie Harris), but that’s it. It’s a brilliant piece of cinema. Not only does it raise interesting questions about the nature of ghosts, it also introduces some terrifying ones. Hill House is beautiful and frightening all at once. The cast is amazing. The script is genius. I could go on. Skip the awful remake and see this one – arguably the scariest ghost film of all time.

Honorable Mentions

– Poltergeist: My first real horror film. Would be on this list, but it’s just a little too much for my taste now.

– Full Circle: A great performance by Mia Farrow, wonderful score, cool story – worth a look.

– The Amityville Horror (1979): Rather terrible in some senses, but who can forget Jody? Great memories with this one.

– Dead of Night (1945): This isn’t a 100% haunted house film, but I love it too much to ignore it – one of the stories, after all, involves ghosts.

– The Entity: Very cheesy but very scary, it’s dated but I thoroughly enjoyed myself.