Haunted by a TV Movie

I don’t believe in ghosts. I’ve never witnessed anything paranormal in my life, bar the weird noises my cats make at night. Yet still, I lie there in bed some nights, covers pulled tight, imagining all manner of nasty things. Not necessarily things that can hurt me, but things I wouldn’t want to see. Visuals that would scar me forever.

That has never happened, thankfully, and I eventually go to sleep and then wake up for work, and life goes on. But it has happened in fiction, in ways that terrify me in otherwise banal films, books and video games.

I scare easily. I’ve stopped watching films because of jumps-scares, and the night was a little too dark. I got about five minutes into Silent Hill 2 before switching it off (it was too full of dread, and unbearably sad). I have enormous respect for the creators and artists of these works, who can affect us in awful ways. I think one of the reasons I’m always drawn to horror is because it does affect me. If it’s meant to be scary, it will probably make me cower. And I may not make it all the way through.

One of my favorite scary movies is The Haunted. Not the 1999 version with Liam Neeson, but a more obscure 1991 made-for-TV film that I caught by accident late one night as a teenager. It’s based on a true ghost story; a family in Pennsylvania that claimed to have been haunted by a demon. I will never claim it’s an amazing film, and the special effects are cheap and not-entirely convincing, but somehow the filmmakers managed to create images that have stuck with me for decades.

If you like haunted house stories, you’ll find nothing in the film that surprises you, apart from a scene where the father of the family is sexually assaulted by the entity. The acting is fine, but nothing to write home about. The ending, from what I remember, feels unsatisfactory, and it relies on genre clichés a little too much. But the ghost/demon itself is what gets into your mind.

We see it quite early in the film, when the mother (and main character) is doing laundry. The soundtrack changes and a bass rumble fills the speakers. The atmosphere has changed, so we know something ominous is about to happen. Strange occurrences have already unnerved us. We’re ghost story aficionados, ready for the next level. She looks up, and stares at a black shape floating through her living room. There’s no form to it, nothing that looks remotely human or recognizable. It sounds like squealing pigs as it drifts along, and we know it is pure malevolence.

Maybe people who’ve actually seen ghosts will correct me, but The Haunted frightens me because it looks like how I imagine a haunting to be. The rest of the film is well-made, but nothing special. It accomplishes what it sets out to do, and does it pretty well. However, I keep coming back to that ghostly, demonic shape. I’ve seen more terrifying films, for sure, and better stories about haunted houses. But I love how the entity in this film is presented. I love the lack of comprehension we get when we witness it floating through the house, its lack of humanity and even shape meaning there will be no easy reckoning. Other ghosts have stories, tragic pasts, human frailties. This is simply an amorphous thing—it exists only to scare, and make us think of the other. It’s the kind of thing I dread seeing at night. Even though I know I probably never will, I can still imagine it happening, just like I can imagine every creak and bang after midnight is actually done with malicious, otherworldly intent.

I don’t know how much thought went into the film, or if anyone else was affected by it like I was at sixteen. I’ve had a love of weirdness in fiction as far as I can remember, and there are better examples of it out there in books (such as House of Leaves, or the awful “funhole” in Kathe Koja’s The Cipher.) But I think it’s important to remember that some of the most effective horror out there works because it defies our understanding. Even before Lovecraft, we enjoyed exploring worlds and situations that made no sense, that defied all laws of physics, and that left us reeling with their lack of explanations.

And sometimes cheaply-made TV movies can be surprisingly effective in creating images that delight, surprise and scare.

Book Review: Covenant

The roots of the horror genre are tangled around humanity’s fear of death and the abominations that transcend it. Vampires, zombies, and demons all fit this description, but the earliest, and possibly the most widespread in human culture, are the ghosts of the unquiet dead. While many authors turn their imaginations toward new ways to terrify, ghost stories have scared us for centuries untold. Allan Leverone has delivered a solid example of such a tale.

The book is a quick read, thanks to the author’s skill in building tension and keeping the story well-balanced between Lindie and the Padgett brothers. Part I sets the tone by introducing the villain and his campaign of cruelty and depraved acts of murder. However, these first few chapters don’t reflect the tone of the rest of the book.

Part II takes us to modern times. Justine and Lindie Cooper move to New Hampshire, buy their first house, and begin fixing it up. During their remodeling work, Justin Cooper dies in a suspicious accident, and Lindie is the prime suspect. She knows she’s innocent, but a local detective won’t give up until all his avenues of inquiry are exhausted. She also notices oddities in her house. Now convinced the place is haunted, she hires Verna Watson, a local medium for help.

Lindie Cooper is easy to empathize with as she struggles to grieve her husband while trying to discover the cause of his death. She has no friends, save for her new boss, and the questions surrounding Justin’s death has everyone whispering. But the town has secrets of its own. When the drug-running Padgett brothers run afoul of the local police, the lines between crimes of the past, murder, and supernatural activity get crossed.

While the plot was predictable, I was surprised by the characters. Lindie’s story examines not only her grief but also her struggle to overcome ostracism and find a friend amidst so many unfriendly faces. Even the detective breaks out of his hard-boiled shell to confront possibilities he never expected.

Overall, Covenant is an entertaining novel that fans of ghost stories and paranormal activity will enjoy. It’s not breaking any new ground, but it is a skillfully written, page-turner of a ghost story with great characters, a terrifying villain, and a satisfying ending.


Publisher’s Synopsis:

When Justin and Lindie Cooper move into their dream home, a rambling, oddly-shaped “Handyman’s Special” in Covenant, New Hampshire, they are completely unaware of their house’s violent and tragic history.

Within a week, Justin Cooper is dead under suspicious circumstances, and Lindie must deal not just with her grief, but with a police investigator—and a town—convinced she is trying to get away with murder.

But that’s not her biggest problem. Because evil resides in her home, an entity that is more than a century old.

And it’s angry, relentless and determined to eliminate Lindie Cooper next.

The Haunted House: A Short Story

Frederick stood 50 feet from the entrance of the haunted house while his teammates pleaded with him to go inside.  He rattled off a bunch of statistics of mechanical failings in these kinds of pop-up carnivals while they rolled their eyes.

“Just 3 years ago in Iowa, the roof came loose and injured 5 people.  A 12 year old girl lost her arm.”

They laughed.  “Freddy, if you’re scared, just say so.  You don’t have to make up injury statistics.”

Frederick was scared, but he didn’t want to admit it.  It was just last week that he had made the varsity football team as a sophomore; he would be the starting running back and safety on a team that had made the state championship the last two seasons.  He couldn’t very well have his new teammates see him jump at the sight of a dirty bedsheet on a stick emerging from the darkness.

Eventually he realized he wouldn’t be able to talk his way out of it.  He looked at Chet – the starting quarterback – in the eye and gave a slight nod.

“Alright!  Freddy’s in.  Quick, let’s go in before he remembers about the guy who was paralyzed by a prop gone wild in Arkansas.”  They laughed.

Frederick took one last look around the carnival yard.  It would be moving on the next day, so it was pretty empty.  He thought maybe he would see someone in dire need of help somewhere and could heroically rush off to help them.  “Sorry guys.  Can’t go in there; my fellow man needs me.”  But there were no damsels or lads in distress, so Frederick turned towards the haunted house and shuffled up the steps.

The opening featured a cartoonishly large mouth with vampire teeth, lips curled back in a grotesque laugh.  The eyes above were red and wild.  Frederick gave a short laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.

His laugh brought the attention of the door attendant.  He was an old man, sitting on a stool so tall his legs didn’t quite reach the floor.  His body was hunched over, as if his necklace weighed 500 pounds.  His terrible comb-over was covered with a ratty top hat.

“You find this funny?  Perhaps you won’t be laughing when you exit.  If you exit.”  His laugh was harsh and uncomfortable.  Frederick gave the man a quick, sidelong glance before hesitantly pushing his way through the black curtain that marked the entrance.  The man’s laugh seemed to get louder as he stepped through, as if it were echoing off every wall.

The entrance was a dark, narrow hallway.  The walls were tight; Frederick barely had enough room to pass through with his broad shoulders.  On the few occasions where he made contact, they gently swayed, as if they were nothing more than cardboard.  He attempted to look more closely at them, but he couldn’t make out much in the dark.

Frederick looked down and realized that he couldn’t see past his knees.  “Smoke machine must be working overtime,” he said nervously.  He looked for his teammates and saw they were already 20 feet ahead of him.  He sped up his step to catch up with them.  Once he was back in their presence, he began to calm down, and the laugh of the old man finally seemed to dissipate, swept away with the smoke.

The entrance hallway turned to the right and widened, revealing many alcoves lining the walls, filled with the most frightening costumes Wal-Mart had to offer for less than $30.  A rubber witch mask and flowing black bedsheet shot out, while a cackling laugh playing over the speakers.  Frederick startled, but not enough for anyone to notice.  “I can do this,” he thought.

The laughter of the others made it easier to deal with.  He found it difficult to be scared while the rest of the guys were poking fun at every scare.  Watching them laugh and pretend to punch the masked killers in bathrobes put Frederick at ease.  One subject in particular drew a lot of laughs: a two-foot doll with long dark hair covering her face and bright red paint splattering her white dress.  A metal arm was attached to the back of her neck, cocking her head ever-so-slightly from side to side.  But it was turning a bit too hard and the head had popped off.  The hair had also uncovered her face, revealing the surprisingly uncreepy face of a mid-80s Cabbage Patch Doll.  Frederick was starting to feel pretty good, so he stopped for a few moments to inspect the doll.

He dwelled on it for longer than he meant to, and when he looked up he found himself alone.  Someone must have turned up the smoke machine, because it was now up to his chest.  “Hello?”  There wasn’t even an echo.  “You guys there?”  He heard laughing up ahead but he was determined not to run.  He was having a good time; the last thing he wanted was for panic and fear to come creeping back.

He walked to the end of the hallway and stopped, listening.  He heard laughter, but it seemed further away.  He was getting ready to jog up to the next turn, but something to his left caught his eye.  It was the same doll he saw earlier, right down to the blood splatter pattern.  Frederick laughed.  “Must have found a deal.”  He briefly laughed at himself for being scared to enter such a cheaply thrown together haunted house. He was about to turn when he saw movement from behind the doll.  A figure dressed head-to-toe in black emerged from the wall holding a long, curved blade.  Frederick was able to get out one strangled yelp before he felt the blade enter his throat.  The figure dragged Frederick’s kicking body through a gap in the wall.

Frederick’s teammates waited outside the haunted house.  “You think he’s still in there?  Probably got scared by a rubber cockroach or something.  YO FREDDY!  YOU COMING?  I’m going back in.”
Chet’s phone buzzed.

– not feeling well. left thru front door. c u tmrw

“Freddy,” Chet reported to the group, pointing at his phone.  “Must have got spooked.  Already took off.”

As they walked away, they heard the old man say, “Have a pleasant evening.”  His laugh echoed into the night.

Rorschach: Movie Review

rorschach-poster

Hey guys, BadAssGeek here. All movie lovers know what it feels like when you discover a movie that surprises you. You go into it with little-to-no expectations and find yourself blown away. When that movie is over you find yourself excited and can’t wait to tell everyone you know about it, but it’s 2 a.m. and you have to wait. If you’re like me you pace the kitchen replaying all the best scenes in your mind and counting the hours until you can spread the word. For me that movie is Rorschach, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Full disclosure: I can be kind of a dick. It’s true; just ask anyone who knows me. The director of this film, C.A. Smith and I follow each other on twitter and I kept seeing mentions about this film but never bothered to watch it. I heard it was found footage and also heard that it was free to view online (you can view on many sites, the best probably being the director’s YouTube page) and I began to mentally roll my eyes. I was convinced it would be some buddies that grabbed a camera and went out in the backyard to have some fun then called it a movie. I was so wrong , and I owe the director, the actors, the crew and everyone else a big apology.

In this day and age of spoiler-filled trailers and overhyped marketing campaigns, it is hard to go into a movie blind but that is just what I did with Rorschach. I literally knew nothing about this film and boy did it leave me all kinds of giddy. The film is a classic haunted house tale told with assured direction and strong performances and it delivers a level of satisfaction not found in many movies made with much larger budgets.

As I have stated, this movie is found footage. There are basically two camps when it comes to found footage: those who still enjoy it and those who feel it is played out and should just disappear. I feel that found footage, when done right, adds a whole other level of creepy to horror films. There is something about the immediacy and the boots-on-the-ground feeling that pushes all the right buttons for me. Well, Rorschach is found footage done right.

Written and directed with a competent and assured hand by the aforementioned C.A. Smith, Rorschach tells the tale of two paranormal investigators (played by Ross Compton and Ricky Lee Barnes) who are looking into the strange goings on at the home of single mom Jamy (Jamy Gillespie) and her young daughter Ashlynn (Ashlynn Allen). Simple enough right? We’ve seen this a million times. Well-developed characters and strong performances are what separates this movie from the pack.

In my opinion, actors in found footage movies don’t get enough credit.  While other actors get to perform their roles, found footage forces you have to act without performing. As anyone who has had someone point a camera at you and tell you to act natural knows, it is very hard to do. I sometimes forget how to walk. Every one of these actors nails it.

When they arrive at the house our investigators are told of strange noises and things moving by themselves or disappearing altogether. They are also told of strange horrid smells coming from nowhere and ghostly voices whispering from dark corners. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the plot because you should go in as blind as you can. I will say that this is a movie that gets under your skin and stays there. C.A. Smith knows how to build tension and dread with an expert touch most directors need many years to formulate. His timing and pacing is just about perfect. When you find yourself in a tense scene waiting to see if something is truly going to happen he makes you wait just long enough that you think, “okay, it’s not happening this time”. Then it does.

Let me tell you right now, this is not a jump scare movie. If you want jump scares there are a million tweener horror movies out there to scratch that itch.  Feel free to knock yourself out with one of those. This is my favorite kind of horror film; it is quiet and creepy and gives you a total sense of unease. I promise you by the time this movie is over you will be asking yourself if you left that bedroom light on or did it come on by itself. This is the kind of film that makes you jump after it is over, when the sound of the water heater knocking about makes you crap your pants.

Rorschach is also special by today’s horror standards in the way you actually care about these people. These actors never allow their roles to become caricatures. When Ricky and Ross investigate they keep trying to find ways to prove that there is really nothing going on; that Jamy and Ashlynn have just scared themselves into this haunted fantasy. As their explanations become more and more reaching you realize they are not being condescending; they are truly scared and trying to whistle past the graveyard. When it becomes obvious that something is wrong with this house they stay by Jamy and Ashlynn’s side because they are decent guys, even when it is painfully obvious they have no idea what to do.

Little Ashlynn is good in her role as well. Child actors can sometimes make or break a film like this but she gives her character a mix of innocence and world weariness no child should have.

As good as the guys and Ashlynn are, Jamy Gillespie is the glue that holds this whole thing together.  She is great. Never devolving into overacting or histrionics, she reacts how just about all of us probably would. At first she is frazzled but embarrassed to even be talking about it. Later that is replaced my weariness and anger, and finally just an overwhelming hopeless fear. You really feel for her, as you do for all of them.

The finale of Rorschach is understated and the film is made all the scarier because of it. If the director had tried to tack on some overly produced BIG SHOT at the end, I feel it would have lessened the impact. Instead we get a satisfying ending – rare in found footage – that is just as creepy and effective as the rest of the film. When Rorschach was over I felt like I had just been told a great ghost story while sitting round a campfire. I can’t think of a better compliment than that. To C.A. Smith I say this: I will never roll my eyes at you again.

You can watch Rorschach right here:

31 Days of Horror Day 22: The Amityville Horror

Amityville Horror - Poster

Original vs. Remake?
That’s a debate that rages throughout the horror community.  The general consensus is that the original is better.  I tend to fall on that side of things myself.  Even when I like a remake (which happens quite often), I still usually prefer the original.  I don’t have a long history with horror, so liking the original Nightmare on Elm Street over the remake has nothing to do with nostalgia, or any kind of “back in my day”  speeches.  To me – and most people – the original is just a better movie.  I can like both, but I have to pick a favorite, and the remake usually loses.

Amityville Horror - George in rain

But it doesn’t always lose.  This remake is far superior to the original.  The original just feels so slow and plodding, and never once really feels scary.  Maybe it was different when it was first released, but it did not age well.  It’s not a bad movie, but it’s pretty cheesy, and that’s hard to ignore.

"Call me cheesy, will ya?"
“Call me cheesy, will ya?”

The remake has some genuinely scary and unnerving moments, as well as Ryan Reynolds nailing the slow unraveling of George Lutz’s psyche.
I’m a big fan of this movie, and watch it every year around this time.  It’s not true in all cases, but, in this case, remake trumps original.