Archive for Poltergeist

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.

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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.