The Fog

Midnight til one belongs to the dead.Not John Carpenter’s best film (that would probably be The Thing), or my favorite of his (which is Prince of Darkness), but it’s the one that’s got a ghost story in it, so I’m including this one in my blogs for the Halloween season.

We start right off with the story, as told to us and a group of children gathered on a beach by an elderly man (John Houseman, who won’t be seen again after this introduction). As the hour of midnight approaches, he says that they have time for just one more tale.

It’s April 20, 1980; the 21st–which is about 5 minutes off–will be the 100th anniversary of the wreck of the Elizabeth Dane. The clipper ship lost its way in a sudden and unnaturally thick fog off nearby Spivey Point, when the crew spotted a light shining through the fog. The ship sailed toward it, perhaps mistaking it for the Point’s lighthouse, but the light was actually that of a bonfire–much like the one they’re all seated around. The Elizabeth Dane foundered on the sharp coastal rocks and sank. The old man makes much of the crew’s drowning, how their lungs filled with salt water and their eyes remained open as they sunk into the depths of the bay. After the ship had gone down with all aboard, the remarkably thick fog disappeared as quickly as it had come.

He concludes:

“But it is told by the fishermen, and their fathers and grandfathers, that when the fog returns to Antonio Bay, the men at the bottom of the sea, out in the water by Spivey Point, will rise up and search for the campfire that led them to their dark and icy death.”

Telling ghost stories around the campfire

Goodnight, kids! Sleep well.

Nothing horrible happens to the group on the beach, but all over the town of Antonio Bay, strange things begin to happen after midnight.
Continue reading “The Fog”

The Quiet Ones

The Professor and his team So you think I got an evil mind?
Well, I’ll tell you, honey–
I don’t know why.
And I don’t know why…

anymore.

Most Americans are probably more familiar with Quiet Riot’s cover of “Cum On Feel The Noize” in the 1980s, but it was originally a big hit in the UK for a band called Slade in the early ’70s. You’ll hear a lot of that song in The Quiet Ones, a Hammer revival film set in 1974; it’s just the kind of music you want to use to keep a suicidally depressed girl with a poltergeist from getting any sleep.

Now, why would anybody want to do that?

It’s a psychological experiment. Oxford professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris, the luckless Lane Pryce on Mad Men) explains it during a lecture just before he hires a cameraman to document his work.

“What if you could prove that the supernatural was merely a manifestation of what already exists in the mind, the subconscious?” The professor doesn’t believe in ghosts or demons, but that the negative energy of a disturbed mind can create the type of physical phenomena that looks like a haunting or possession. He thinks that he’s near to finding a cure for it; if he can externalize the phenomena, it can be removed like a tumor. “We cure one patient, we cure all mankind.”

The patient he has in mind is a young woman named Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke). Orphaned at an early age, with no memory of her past, Jane has grown up in a series of foster homes but she’s never stayed anywhere for very long. Sooner or later, “things started to happen”–poltergeist activity that made it impossible for her foster family to keep her. After she was hospitalized for a suicide attempt, Jane came voluntarily into Coupland’s care. He’s currently keeping her in a house in town, under the observation of three student assistants. No, make that two assistants. One quits, angry and appalled at what he calls Coupland’s “unethical” practices before he storms off.

Continue reading “The Quiet Ones”

Dark Shadows: The Ghost Watcher

I’ve been left hanging about the fate of Quentin and Barnabas Collins after the fiery conclusion of The Rage Beneath. Unable to obtain the next episode in this particular audio series, or even to confirm what the next title is, I ended up purchasing a couple of other Dark Shadows dramatic readings, based on how interesting their descriptions sounded.

The Ghost Watcher, has the following description on its back cover:

As Maggie Evans leaves the Windcliff Institute, she begins to build a new life for herself away from the Collins family.The Ghost Watcher But when an enigmatic stranger arrives in town, searching for phantoms, Maggie finds herself plunged into a world of intrigue and danger.

What is the Ghost Watcher’s secret, and what is the true cost of his gift to the people of Collinsport?

Dramatic readings, unlike audio dramas, are voiced only by one or two actors rather than a full cast. In this case, Kathryn Leigh Scott tells the tale through her character’s voice, assisted by Alec Newman as Nathan Hawkins, the Ghost Watcher. The Collins family are peripheral figures: Barnabas makes a brief appearance, Roger sort of floats around in the background, and Carolyn shows up a couple of times to converse with Maggie–but this isn’t their story.  This one is Maggie’s own.

Continue reading “Dark Shadows: The Ghost Watcher”

Dark Shadows: The Rage Beneath

This audio drama begins with Maggie Evans speaking, “I remember when it all started. Quentin Collins… came home, and brought the darkness with him.”

Her voice is interspersed with those of other characters–Quentin’s, Angelique’s–but the focus of the story’s introduction remains with Maggie as she summarizes the events of  previous audio-plays in the Legend Reborn series, alluding to the “The Lost,” “Charlotte Howells,” and “the Professor and his army” (which settles my question of when the Christmas Presence occurs).

“But the day I’ll always remember,” Maggie concludes, “is the day the Collins family perished.”

She isn’t referring to the Collinses who disappeared mysteriously before this series began, but to those two who are still around: Quentin and Barnabas.

The Rage Beneath Continue reading “Dark Shadows: The Rage Beneath”

DVD Review: The Changeling

Ghostly wheelchairI remember seeing commercials when this movie came out in 1980. The featured image was of an empty wheelchair chasing someone down through a house, which my friends and I thought very funny and not at all scary.

This is a pity, since The Changeling is for the most part an effective, classic ghost story with a touch of post-Watergate conspiracy thrown in.

The movie starts with a happy family. A husband and wife (George C. Scott and Jean Marsh, who once played that less-happy couple, Edward Fairfax Rochester and Bertha Mason) and their little girl are pushing a paneled station wagon up a snowy country road in upstate New York.  In spite of the car’s breakdown in the middle of nowhere, everyone is laughing and joking.

When they reach a turn-off with one of those large wooden signs indicating the entrance to a State Park, the husband crosses the road to a phone booth on the other side to call for assistance. The wife and daughter engage in a playful snowball fight between the car and the sign.

Another car comes up the snow-covered road in one direction. A big truck appears in the other. The second car skids, and the truck swerves to avoid it–and crashes into the station wagon, propelling it into the sign.

The husband in the phone booth can only look on, horrified and helpless as the people most dear to him are killed.

Just over a year later, the man, whose name is John Russell, packs up everything in the apartment where he and his family used to live, and moves to Seattle. There, he tells his welcoming friends how long it took before he could believe that his wife and child were gone, and then he couldn’t stop saying “They’re gone” for several months more. It’s a heartbreaking but entirely convincing portrayal of overwhelming grief after a tragedy. The conversation also establishes that Russell is a well-known composer and an alumnus of the Seattle university where he’s accepted a position to teach advanced music theory.

His friends invite him to stay with them for as long as he likes, but Russell looks at their daughters, the elder of whom resembles his own recently deceased little girl, and gracefully declines. He says that he’d like to rent or buy a house for himself where he can work on his music. They suggest that he contact a friend of theirs at the local historical society.

Russell does so, and a woman from the historical society named Claire Norman (Trish van der Vere, who was married to Scott in real life) shows him a beautiful but neglected late-Victorian home called the Chessman House. No one has lived there in 12 years, but Claire thinks that it’s just the place for John Russell; there’s a music room with a piano.

Chessman HouseAs John removes the dust sheet over the piano to examine it, he asks, “What are the terms?”

The terms must’ve been be agreeable, since we cut from this question to a cleaning lady polishing the dining-room table, a handyman putting books on the study shelves, and John Russell playing his new piano.

Well, old piano. One of the keys sticks. But when he’s called away for a few minutes to deal with some business involving the house’s restoration to a habitable condition, the key depresses by itself, and an ominous, vibrating tone emanates from the piano.

Continue reading “DVD Review: The Changeling”

Kolchak: Firefall

I’ve always been fond of this episode, in spite of its flaws. It shows a certain originality in merging the phenomena of spontaneous human combustion with the ages-old myths and legends of the double spirit, fetch, or doppelganger; the only similar supernatural story I’ve seen occurred in the Dark Shadows Phoenix plotline. I  mentioned this episode when I reviewed that and wondered if both might’ve been written by the same person (they weren’t).

Crossing the hearseIt’s a bad idea to cut off a hearse en route to a funeral. That’s the lesson famed Chicago Symphony conductor Ryder Bond (Fred Beir) will learn after he does precisely this to avoid being late for a rehearsal at the very beginning of the episode. The spirit of the deceased man, a convicted arsonist and cheap hood with thwarted musical ambitions by the name of Frankie Markoff, decides that the life Bond is living is much better than the one he recently departed from in a hail of mob bullets. He sets about taking over Bond’s life.

Continue reading “Kolchak: Firefall”

DVD Review: Dragonwyck

Dragonwyck

When I was 15, I was hit by a car while crossing the street on my way home from school. I spent several weeks in a cast and weeks more recovering afterwards, and which gave me a lot of time to read. My mother gave me a large paper shopping bag filled with romance novels, bought for a dime a piece at a garage sale. I read them all during those months after the accident, and even at that young age formed a general impression of romantic fiction that hasn’t changed much since. Most of these novels can be placed in one of three categories:

  1. The ones that want to be Pride and Prejudice. Usually set in Regency England.
  2. The ones that want to be Gone With the Wind, especially the part where Rhett carried Scarlett up the stairs. Often set against the sweeping backdrop of some major historical event. Bodices will be ripped.
  3. The ones that want to be Jane Eyre. May or not be historical, featuring a naive young woman who comes to a big and gloomy old house owned by a brooding older man with dark secrets. If the book cover features a woman in a white dress running away from said house, then it’s very likely one of these.

Dragonwyck falls into this last category. I haven’t read it since I was a teenager, but the 1944 novel by Anya Seton was an enormous success when it was first published. The film version followed in 1946 and was also a big hit, starring Gene Tierney and Vincent Price.

Gene Tierney and Vincent PriceIt wasn’t the first time Tierney and Price had appeared in a major film together; she almost married him a couple of years earlier in the noir classic Laura but ended up with Dana Andrews instead. For the best really.

She should’ve avoided making the same mistake this time too. His character’s much worse in this film–it’s one of Price’s earliest villain roles and probably led to the shift from playing junior George-Sanders at Fox to becoming a horror icon at AIP.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Dragonwyck”

DVD Review: The Uninvited

I first saw this film in the early hours of a New Year’s day, when I was about 12. After spending the week after Christmas at my grandmother’s house, my family drove home on a snowy New Year’s Eve and got in in time to watch the usual Times Square midnight countdown on TV.

Mom and Dad went to bed right afterwards, but before my little sister and I could pack up the big Christmas box of Legos, the same TV station began to show a movie; its opening caught our attention.

We stayed up to watch the whole thing, and didn’t get much sleep afterwards.

The opening scene? A black and white shot of waves crashing on a ragged, rocky coastline, and Ray Milland’s voice saying:

“They call them the haunted shores, these stretches of Devonshire and Cornwall and Ireland which rear up against the westward ocean. Mists gather here, and sea fog, and eerie stories.  That’s not because there are most ghosts here than in other places, mind you–it’s just that people who live here are strangely aware of them. You see, day and night, year in, year out, they listen to the pound and stir of the waves. There’s life and death in that restless sound, and eternity too.  If you listen to it long enough, all your senses are sharpened. You come by strange instincts. You get to recognize the peculiar cold that’s the first warning, a cold which is no mere matter of degrees Fahrenheit, but a draining of warmth from the vital centers of the living.

“Local people tell me they would’ve felt it, even outside that locked door. We didn’t. They can’t understand why we didn’t know what it meant when our dog wouldn’t go up those stairs. Animals see the blasted things, it appears.

“Well, my sister Pamela and I knew nothing about such matters. Not then, we didn’t…”

The Uninvited ghost It takes stronger wills or much more sleepy heads than two little girls possessed that night to turn the TV off after such a tantalizing beginning.

I’m glad I had the chance to see it then; it’s not a movie that’s been widely shown. Before it came out on DVD a couple of years ago, I don’t think I’d seen it more than twice in the 40 years since that initial viewing. Unlike a lot of spooky movies I enjoyed in childhood, this one lives up to my first impression. It’s still a great ghost story with a ghost that still looks very good.

Continue reading “DVD Review: The Uninvited”

DVD Review: The Signalman

On June 9, 1865, the boat train from Folkestone to London derailed. Among the passengers on that train were the famous novelist, Charles Dickens, accompanying his mistress, actress Ellen Ternan, and her mother. None of them were badly injured in the crash, but Dickens aided and helped tend to other injured passengers, some of whom died. The accident left him shaken and understandably reluctant to travel by train.

Smoke from the tunnel

This train crash and the Clayton Tunnel disaster of 1861 are attributed as the inspiration for Dickens’s ghost story, The Signal Man.

It’s surprising that the BBC’s Ghost Story for Christmas only used one of Dickens’s short stories, since he was the man who re-popularized the old Christmas ghosts tradition during the Victorian era. A Christmas Carol has been overdone to death in film and television, but Dickens did turn out other spooky pieces regularly at the holiday season–many of which are forgotten today.
Continue reading “DVD Review: The Signalman”

Dark Shadows: Ends of Old Plots

Alexandra Moltke has gone, but Victoria Winters hangs around for awhile in one form or another while her story and some other long-running plots are wound up.

Adam didn’t kill her when he stormed over to Collinwood after he saw that Eve was irretrievable lost, but instead kidnapped her from her bedroom to take her back to the lab. Since he also throttled Carolyn and knocked her down to the floor when she tried to defend her friend from him, I assume that romance is at an end.

The red-headed skeletonStrapping Vicky down on the gurney next to the skeleton wearing a red-headed wig that used to be his girlfriend, he zapped her a few times with the intent to torture her to death, but Barnabas put a stop to it in time by shooting Adam. They both know what killing Adam would mean for Barnabas, but Barnabas was willing to take the risk for Vicky’s sake.

Adam wasn’t killed either, but fled from the old house and sought refuge with Professor Stokes. In spite of everything he’s been up to lately, the professor tended to his gunshot wound and hid him in a back bedroom. That was about a month ago by the show’s air dates, and he hasn’t been seen since. Since Barnabas didn’t revert to vampirism, I assume Adam’s still alive.

Angelique also disappeared for a long period after Nicholas was summoned back to Hell by their satanic boss.

Jeff Clark, who had been arrested for the murder of Eve, was released once Roger Collins provided him with an alibi. (“It’s all right, officer. He was with me at the time, up at the cemetery digging up a 180-year-old grave. Why? Well, that’s a long story…” We don’t actually see Roger say this, but the idea of it made me laugh so hard I frightened the cats.)

Vicky married Jeff, but they only got as far as sipping champagne on their wedding night before the past overwhelmed him and he was drawn back into his previous existence, disappearing before her eyes in a very bad blue-screen effect.

For some time afterward, Vicky insisted that she could sense his presence around her, as if he were trying to contact her. Her friends of course thought this was only wishful thinking and delusion. Barnabas even proposed to her again on the expectation that they’d seen the last of Jeff/Peter… but then he popped in again that same night and Vicky went with her true love back into the past. Which upset Barnabas and Elizabeth Stoddard-Collins, who were there to witness this event.
Continue reading “Dark Shadows: Ends of Old Plots”