Movie Review: The HOUSE THAT WOULD NOT DIE

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house that would not die, theAaron Spelling Productions / ABC
1970
NR

A few years back, I bought one of these 20 Horror Movies for $5 packs from Wal-Mart. Among the list of titles included was this old gem, The House That Would Not Die.

Originally broadcast as an ABC Movie Of The Week in 1970, The House That Would Not Die is one of those made for TV horror movies that really are a different beast all together. I have a soft spot for these kind of horror movies, as it is a bit of a challenge to produce an effectively made horror flick within the confines of the acceptable broadcast television rules. Meaning, drafting something with talent rather than relying on cheep shock value. Some rather good Gothic ghost stories have come from these Movie Of The Week formats. So, how does The House That Would Not Die fare?

The story revolves around a house (duh) that was built during the Revolutionary War in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that is said to be haunted by the spirits of the original inhabitants. The house is inherited by one Ruth Bennett, who moves in with her niece Sara. The aforementioned spirits don’t take too kindly to this invasion of their personal space, and so the wackiness does ensue, thus leading to the two living beings and a local professor to delves into the history behind the house and deal with the scandal that lead to the haunting. Oh, and Sara and the professor get possessed by the spirits as well at one point.

The House That Wouldn’t Die, despite the cheeseball title, is actually a pretty decent old fashioned ghost story that works more on the atmospheric level than the visceral scare level. I’m not saying The House That Wouldn’t Die is a great movie. It’s really just okay, having that early 1970s broadcast television quality to it. No effects beyond superimposing film image for that “ghost possession” look, the film quality grainy, and the acting reminding me of an episode of Little House On The Prairie. It’s worth a rental, at the very least.

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Movie Review: Edgar Allan Poe’s The LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER

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eap the lighthouse keeperThunderhead Entertainment
2017
NR

A young man awakens alone on a remote beach, marooned there by a violent storm. Above the rocky crags, a lighthouse stands like a sentinel. The man seeks the help of Walsh, the enigmatic lighthouse keeper. Walsh insists they are the sole inhabitants of the peninsula. But the man is haunted by fleeting glimpses of a beautiful young woman, and plagued by visions of hideous phantoms reaching out from the depths. As this horror tale races toward a mind bending finale, the man must confront the grotesque denizens of the night, or heed the lighthouse keeper’s cryptic warning to “Always keep a light burning.”

In the pantheon of Edgar Allan Poe stories, The Light-House is a rather controversial one, mainly because it’s been disputed as a genuine Edgar Allan Poe story. It being an unfinished fragment (two pages) that was written in the final months of his life, “The Light-House” has the same themes that Poe was famous for, but it’s been pointed out that the writing style wasn’t consistent with his previous work.

So, logically, this was used as the basis for a full-length feature movie. It happens all the time, really. The question remains, though: Can it be pulled off?

Kind of. Sorta.

The movie starts off with a young man washing up on the shore of an island after a storm, unable to remember his name or where he came from. After seeing a lady run off into a nearby cave, he gets knocked out from a fall and wakes up in the bed of the lighthouse on top of the cliff on the beach. This remote lighthouse is curated by a cantankerous old salty man who’se none too happy to have surprise visitors, and tell the young man that the only ferry off of the island arrives in two weeks. While he waits, the young man helps out with the general upkeep and maintenance of the lighthouse, as he also puzzles out the mysterious past of the old man. Soon, though, he runs into the lady he first saw on the beach (despite the old man claims to him being the only one dwelling on the rock) and soon they hit up a bit of a romance. The young man is smitten, and vows to take this lovely young lady with him when the ferry comes. But then zombie ghosts of dead sailors start appearing at night coming after them, and before you can say “overACTING!”, the dark secret past of the old man is reveled, along with his ties to the young man, with the zombie ghosts overtaking the lighthouse and the young man managing to escape in a rowboat, only to be caught up in a twist ending. The end.

On the one hand, The Lighthouse Keeper works on a certain level as a slow-burning, Gothic style tale, full of atmosphere textured with heavy dollops of dread and madness-inducing claustrophobia. Think of it as an ultra-low budget The Others-style ghost story.

And unfortunately, it’s that lack of a budget that works against it where it counts. It’s shot on video, which gives it a PBS show quality, and features effects right out of the Spirit Of Halloween stock. It’s not for lack of trying, but the zombie masks do take me out of the movie, there. The acting is…wooden. I don’t know if it was chosen deliberately for that Victorian overacting style for the period, or if they were just local theater production actors who’ve never acted in a movie before.

Overall, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Lighthouse Keeper isn’t really all that bad. If you can get past the cheep effects and the acting, the movie is a pretty good ghost story with a decent twist at the end. It’s worth a rental for a look-see.

Book Review: The OXFORD BOOK OF TWENTIETH CENTURY GHOST STORIES

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Book Review: The OXFORD BOOK OF TWENTIETH CENTURY GHOST STORIESMichael Cox (editor)
Oxford University Press
1996

“The ghosts of fiction were not killed off by the advent of the electric light, the invention of the telephone, the coming of the motor car, or even by the once unthinkable horrors of technological warfare. Instead they took over the trappings, landscapes, and cultural assumptions of the twentieth century for their ancient purposes.” Thus Michael Cox introduces The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century Ghost Stories, a unique collection of 33 of the best and most chilling ghost stories of our era. The first anthology to trace the evolution of the ghost story over the last one hundred years, this book demonstrates the variety and versatility of the genre and the different ways in which stories of the supernatural have adapted to twentieth-century venues and concerns. In these tales we encounter not only the returning dead, but also distinctly modern phantoms: a haunted typewriter, a ghost that travels by train, and an urban specter made of smoke and soot. There are child ghosts and haunted houses, playful spooks and deadly apparitions. The authors of these uncanny tales are as diverse as the kinds of stories they tell; there are ghost stories by such specialists as M.R. James and Algernon Blackwood and many by authors not commonly associated with the genre: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, Graham Greene, A.S. Byatt, and Angela Carter are only a few of the literary celebrities included in this collection. At a time when our era seems to grow increasingly rational and predictable, The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Ghost Stories reminds us of the joys of uncertainty and wonder. Distinctive and gripping, these stories will linger long in the memory.

I came across this copy of The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Ghost Stories at one of the local libraries in Omaha, back in 1999. This was back when I was actively embracing the Gothic subculture, and was searching for adequate literature to help develop my burgeoning pretentiousness. Also, I wanted something beyond just the usual staple of Anne Rice and…well, strictly vampire fiction in general. So, I picked up this collection, because it had the pedigree of being an official Oxford collection, and also ghost stories. I loves me some ghost stories. Ever since I was but a grade schooler, and found myself listening to them being told by a bonfire at a friend’s sleepover one October night. But, I digress.

Of the authors that populate this collection, the ones that I recognized right off the bat whilst scanning the Contents section were M. R. James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Algernon Blackwood, Graham Greene, and Robert Bloch. Of those five that I recognized, there were two that surprised me by being included, being Fitzgerald and Greene. But, hey, I guess that everyone has a ghost story or two in them. Otherwise, James, Blackwood and Bloch (which, when said that way, sounds like a law firm of some sort) are mainstays in the genre of supernatural fiction, and some of my favorites.

As far as how the other authors featured in this collection go, well…let’s go through them a bit, shall we?

“In The Dark” (E. Nesbit)
A young man suspects that his college chum might be losing his marbles after allegedly murdering a rather annoying schoolmate over holiday…

“Rooum” (Oliver Onions)
A railroad labor worker seems a bit extra jumpy, and fears some seemingly non-existent whispers and echoes…also, he seems a bit preoccupied with molecules and osmosis…

“The Shadowy Third” (Ellen Glasgow)
A nurse discovers she can see the ghost of the daughter of the sick lady she’s taking care of, and the reason behind all this might have something to do with the patient’s doctor husband…

“The Diary Of Mr. Poynter” (M. R. James)
An antique book collector finds an interesting pattern bit inside an old diary and uses that for the pattern of new curtains…turns out to be a bad idea, that…

“Mrs Porter and Miss Allen” (Hugh Walpole)
A recently widowed woman seems rather anxious about something…or someone…much to her young companion’s consternation…

“The Nature of the Evidence” (May Sinclair)
A widower decides to remarry, but his dead wife doesn’t approve of his choice…

“Night-Fears” (L. P. Hartley)
A long-time night watchman encounters a mysterious stranger who strikes up a conversation about the watchman’s profession…it doesn’t end well…

“Bewitched” (Edith Wharton)
A reclusive farmer has been visiting his old (and very dead) flame, and his wife is a bit perturbed about it…

“A Short Trip Home” (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
A young man’s childhood friend (and major crush) comes back from college with a bit of a sinister hanger-on…

“Blind Man’s Bluff” (H. Russell Wakefield)
A night shift security guard isn’t going home tonight…or any other night, it seems…

“The Blackmailers” (Algernon Blackwood)
An insurance agent finds himself being blackmailed by someone who…well, just doesn’t seem all that enthusiastic about it…

“Yesterday Street” (Thomas Burke)
In a bit of a nostalgic mood, a man decides to visit the street in which he grew up, and finds himself engaged in a game of marbles with his childhood pals…

“Smoke Ghost” (Fritz Leiber Jun.)
An office manager has visions of a ghostly thing forming out of the smoke and soot of the industrialized city he dwells in…

“The Cheery Soul” (Elizabeth Bowen)
Having been invited to a large estate for Christmas, a young lady finds the sole inhabitant a bit off-putting…as well as those cryptic messages found in the kitchen…

“All But Empty” (Graham Greene)
A regular patron of a silent movie theater has an encounter with a rather peculiar attendee…

“Three Miles Up” (Elizabeth Jane Howard)
Two gents are taking a holiday on a boat, and happen upon a young lady who joins in their expedition…and then they get a bit lost…

“Close Behind Him” (John Wyndham)
After a robbery gone bad, a thief is pursued back to his home by the ghost of the guy he robbed…

“The Quincunx” (Walter de al Mare)
The nephew of a stingy (and recently declared living impaired) aunt inherits her house…and unwittingly becomes the new abode for her restless spirit…

“The Tower” (Marghanita Laski)
A lady goes sight-seeing alone at an ancient Italian tower, climbing steps in the dark…

“Poor Girl” (Elizabeth Taylor)
A governess has as a charge a young lad with a very old soul…

“I Kiss Your Shadow—” (Robert Bloch)
Shortly after an accident killed his fiance, the survivor soon learns that true love never really dies…like it or not…

“A Woman Seldom Found” (William Sansom)
A lonely man visiting Rome happens across an equally lonely woman while walking at night…wasn’t expecting that ending, there…

“The Portobello Road” (Muriel Spark)
A writer regales us with the details of her life, leading up to her murder five years prior…

“Ringing the Changes” (Robert Aickman)
A newly married couple arrive at their honeymoon destination, and learn the hard way to not go someplace on the off-season…

“On Terms” (Christine Brooke-Rose)
As far as I can tell, a ghost is having a fever dream-like breakdown in the process of his essence breaking down into nothing…surreal and seemingly constructed from run-on sentences and stream-of-consciousness…

“The Only Story” (William Trevor)
A man writes down the only story he’ll ever write, about the final moments of his life…

“The Loves of Lady Purple” (Angela Carter)
The centerpiece of an old man’s traveling marionette show has a sordid back-story…and a bit of a Pinocchio complex…

“Revenant as Typewriter” (Penelope Lively)
A college professor discovers to her annoyance that she’s not acting like herself…

“The Little Dirty Girl” (Joanna Russ)
A middle-aged woman inadvertently befriends a waifish 8-year-old girl, and discovers the power of existential projection…booga booga booga…

“Watching Me, Watching You” (Fay Weldon)
A ghost watches idly the passing of time between a divorced couple…also, the story’s title automatically makes the chorus of “Sweet Caroline” start playing in my head…

“The July Ghost” (A. S. Byatt)
A summer tenement befriends a young boy in the garden, a boy who’s quiet, not unpleasant, and also the spitting image of the flat owner’s dead son…

“The Highboy” (Alison Lurie)
Antique chest of drawers…not as innocent and unassuming as one would think they are…

“The Meeting House” (Jane Gardam)
A bunch of old-timey Quakers meet their new homeless neighbors, and wackiness ensues…

Overall, I found the entire collection to be a good selection. They didn’t all go for the same formula, as many tend to do. I think that, like with other collections I’ve read, the majority of authors I didn’t recognize helped to give me an idea of what kind of talent lies out there for me to check out some time in the future. So many stories, so little time. Otherwise, this was a good sampling of the kind of ghost stories that could be found within the various decade of the 20th Century, from a time when “fantastic fiction” was regulated to pulp publications, to when the style was beginning to gain some bit of legitimacy in literary circles. Also, they fire up the imagination, which is really the measure of a good ghost story. Definitely worth checking out.

Book Review: HEART SHAPED BOX

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heart shaped boxJoe Hill
Harper
2007

An aging death metal rock god, Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals…a used hangman’s noose…a snuff film.  But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as an item he learns is for sale on the Internet.  For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man’s suit, said to be haunted by the deceased’s restless spirit.  Judas has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts – of an abusive father, of lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed – so what’s one more?  But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, it’s the real thing.  And suddenly the suit’s previous owner is everywhere – behind the bedroom door…seated in Jude’s restored vintage Mustang…staring out from his widescreen TV – dangling a gleaming razor blade on a chain from one hand…

Heart Shaped Box was the first book that I read by the author Joe Hill, and was the one that had me hooked on his work within the first few chapters of reading this. It’s an American Gothic style horror story that relies on atmosphere and mystery, building up the story in a way that gives it a weight that’s rather palpable.

The story involves an aging death metal performer (who I, for some reason, always pictured as Nathan Explosion from Metalocolypse…only with a beard) named Judas (“Jude” for short) with some…personal issues, let’s just say, purchasing a bit of morbid memorabilia by way of an actual ghost that haunts a suit inside the titular heart-shaped box. Only, this ghost turns out to be real, and almost immediately starts haunting Jude and his girlfriend, messing with their heads, causing them to harm themselves unwittingly. To stop the madness, they set off to find out the mystery behind the creepy ghost that now constantly haunts them, which leads to a rather shocking conclusion that involves…well, it’ll make your skin crawl, trust me.

Had I not known this was Joe Hill’s first full novel, I would have sworn that this was the end result of decades of writing other novels, honing things to a sharp edge. Heart Shaped Box is a very engaging ghost story, in the tradition of M. R. James, or Peter Straub for a more modern comparison. I recommend picking this up (and all other Joe Hill novels, for that matter).

Book Review: LIMBO

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jan lara - limboJan Lara
Popular Library
1988

Maribeth has a secret. A secret she’d thought dead. And safely buried. A secret that twists and turns and writhes, never to find rest. Something quite contrary grows in her neighbor’s garden, something not quite good, yet not quite evil. Someone haunts and torments Maribeth’s young daughter, someone not quite living, yet not quite dead. Somehow a frightened young mother must find the strength to overcome a force of unearthly innocence and unholy cunning. A force compelled to destroy life in order to have it. A force not of this world nor of hell, but a place more damned than anyone could have ever imagined…

Another one of those mass market paperback novels that was on sale in some department store or Five-And-Dime where this was probably picked up at. I don’t remember where exactly; all I know is, I didn’t buy it personally—probably my mother, as she was big on those kind of cheep horror novels that were everywhere back then—and I kept seeing it lying around, so I finally just read it a few years ago in an afternoon. A few years later, I finally decide to scribble down a review of the thing. Yeah, it’s how I work.

Limbo tells the story of a young widow who had to move back to her home town after the tragic death of her husband, and start a new life with her young daughter. Only, soon after returning, she’s being sued by the town douche bag that I imagine looks like Bill Paxton’s character in True Lies. Oh, and also there’s the issue of the vengeful spirit of another young girl that has ties to the young woman’s past, wreaking all sorts of wackiness on the townsfolk.

Overall, Limbo was a pretty decent supernatural ghost story that was straight-forwardly written and managed to keep things interesting from start to finish. For another in a long line of paperback horror novels, Limbo was a pleasant surprise. It’s not going to unseat any of the masters any time soon, but it’s worth checking out if you run across it at a used book shop some time.