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.

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.

31 Days of Horror Day 16: The Conjuring

Conjuring - Poster

I almost gave up on this movie within the first 10 minutes.  You remember those 10 minutes, don’t you?  It was the Warrens recapping a case they had involving a possessed doll.  The people were able to tell it was possessed even though it totally looked like a normal doll.  Not even a little bit evil.  The keen eye on these people, man.

"Everything's cool, man. I'm not evil."
“Everything’s cool, man. Totally not evil.”

I get it, James Wan.  Dolls and old people scare you.  They scare you a lot.  However, putting a creepy looking doll on screen and having its head move a little bit isn’t overly impressive.  There’s no trick to doing something like that.  No originality.  At this point, I’ve gotten so sick of creepy dolls that I don’t even get scared by them anymore.  Same goes for clowns.  It’s all overblown.  If you want to try to scare me, put some effort into it.

Getting warmer.
Getting warmer…

After that first 10 minutes they settled into the main story, and I really liked it.  A few of the good scares were ruined for me (stupid trailers), but there were still a handful of other moments that made me jump.  And not the kind of jump where I was mad at myself for falling for a cheap gag, either: real, legitimate jumps that made me gives James Wan an imaginary fist-bump (but not literally, of course.  That would be crazy.  I’m not crazy.  You’re the one that’s crazy).  This is a well done movie with a lot to love about it.

Including the hair. Look at the hair. LOOK AT IT!
Including the hair. Look at the hair. LOOK AT IT!

There are still some flaws throughout the movie (including some scary old people that Wan threw in there “just because”), but it’s pretty creepy throughout.  It’s another cold, rainy day outside.  Open the windows, make yourself some hot cider, wrap a blanket around yourself and throw this on.

Added note: I thought this was much better than Insidious.  It’s not even close, really.

Inside Shadows

Short synopsis (from the film’s website):
When a young couple move into a converted shop, they are filled with excitement and ideas as to how they will make the house their own.  But it would appear the property is still clinging to its past, and unbeknown to them they are living inside its shadows.

My thoughts:
Having recently watched The Orphanage (again), The Awakening, and The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh, it seems clear that I’m a sucker for a slow-developing ghost story.  This really isn’t a surprise, but it’s something that is reinforced with each movie I watch.

Inside Shadows fits comfortably into that genre.  Calling it a slow-developing ghost story is a completely accurate description.  It may even be even slower moving than the aforementioned films, which is really saying something, seeing as how none of those movies move at a breakneck pace.  It’s very good once it gets moving, but it takes a little while to get to that point.  It would be extremely easy to lose focus before the good stuff kicks in.  The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh was slow, but it had a sense of tension that started early and kept up throughout the entire film.  There was none of that here.  This was more like Entrance: a slow-building movie that doesn’t really even try to build tension until late.

Once it gets going, it’s pretty good.  And there are a handful of moments that hint at the upcoming insanity.  They do a pretty good job at teasing it.  But, like I said, it would be pretty easy to lose interest before it gets to that point, especially if you’re not in the right mood for this type of movie.  It’s less a “slow burn” and more “lighting fireworks with punk sticks”.

Even when the craziness started, I had a couple issues with it.  They felt the need to give a big musical blast every time the ghost appeared for an instant.  It was somewhat reminiscent of the musical goosing we got when Michael Myers showed up in Halloween, but this less subtle.  It was extremely distracting, and completely unnecessary.  Seeing a shadowy figure appear in the background is startling by itself; there’s no need to throw it in our face.

I also had a pretty major problem with the decision-making of some of the characters late in the film.  For spoiler reasons, I can’t really get into the specifics.  Suffice it to say that a couple characters had some highly dubious logic late in this film.  It almost ruined the movie for me.

It was well-acted, which was a definite plus.  With so few actors involved, one weak link could ruin the whole movie.  But the two leads (Chris Silver [who also directed this] & Sofia Haden) were terrific, as was Niamh Mulcahy.  They are all extremely likable, which really helped.  Even in the slow moments they kept me engaged, and kept me wondering what would happen next.  I was rooting for all of them to make it through unscathed, and that’s important for a slow-developing movie to have.

Overall, I would say that I enjoyed this movie, but I didn’t love it like I hoped I would.  Superficially, it suffers from the same problems that plague a lot of low-budget movies: mainly, poor lighting and inconsistent sound (although I will say that the sound was better here than a lot of low-budget movies I’ve seen).  I’ve never had a problem getting past those things as long as the story is good, but, if you have a problem with those things, you should probably stay away.

But, if you like a good ghost story, it’s definitely worth giving a shot.  It was pretty well-acted, and had a pretty cool style to it.  Pick a quiet night, shut off all the lights, and dive in.

Rating: 3/5