Random Musings 10-31-2010

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         Halloween will soon be with us, and on Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch and-

         Oh, sorry. I was channeling Linus for a moment there. This time around, some really good ghost story/suspense movies to enjoy on or around Halloween:

         The Innocents. 1961.  Based on “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James. Deborah Kerr stars as Miss Giddens, the newly-hired governess to two children- Miles and Flora- whom she comes to believe are under the influence of the spirits of two deceased household employees. Given carte blanche by the children’s uncle, who lives in the city, and wants nothing to do with raising them, Miss Giddens decides that drastic measures are required to save the children from the ghosts’ baleful influence.

         But what’s real and what’s the product of her imagination? The film lets you decide for yourself.

         Available on DVD.


         The Changeling. 1980. George C. Scott stars as John Russell, a music teacher who buys an old house shortly after the death of his wife and daughter. Turns out he’s not the only resident. The ghost of a child is also in residence, a ghost who leads Russell to discover the truth about a powerful senator (Melvin Douglas).

         One of the things that makes The Changeling such an effective film is that we don’t see the ghost except in two brief scenes, one of which is a flashback to the murder. But we’re very much aware of its presence. In one scene, Russell comes home after failing to turn up some lead or another, and all the doors in the house start slamming. In another, he returns one night from having thrown his daughter’s ball into the river. From the top of the darkened stairs comes a THUMP.

         And another. And another. And another. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. Until a wet ball stops at his feet.

         Near the end of the film, an (apparently) empty wheelchair chases a woman down a passage in the house. You don’t see the ghost in any of those scenes, and you don’t need to.

         Available on DVD.


         The Haunting. 1963. Based on book The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn star as four people who visit a “haunted” house to determine if it really is haunted. They get more than they bargained for.

         As with The Innocents, we’re left to wonder how much of the supernatural activities- especially those experienced by Nell (Harris)- actually happened.

         The Haunting was remade in 1999, and there were a number of changes. These changes, frankly, only reinforce that the 1963 version is better.

         Case in point: In one scene in the remake, Nell sees her sheet or bedspread form next to her into the image of a child who speaks to her. In the original, nobody ever saw anything. And since Nell was the narrator, the audience was left to wonder whether she imagined everything.

         One key scene in the original has Nell in the dark, telling Theo (Bloom) not to let go of her hand as a loud pounding echoes through the room. When the lights come on, Nell finds- to her horror- that Theo is still asleep in the other bed. “Whose hand was I holding?” she asks.

         Was Nell holding a ghost’s hand, or did she imagine it all? It’s open to interpretation.

         Available on DVD.


         The Uninvited. 1944. Based on the novel by Dorothy McCardle. Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey star as a brother and sister Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald who buy a seacoast home where Roderick, a composer, can work. The house is, of course, haunted. At the center of the supernatural activity is Stella Meredith (Gail Russell), granddaughter of the home’s previous owner, who was very reluctant to sell. Roderick is determined to find out just what happened all those years ago.

         The ghost is seen, briefly- and effectively, given the limitations of special effects of the time- but, again, much is left to the viewers’ imagination.

         Available on VHS. It should be released on DVD.


         The Others. 2000. Nicole Kidman stars as Grace Stewart, a woman living on the island of Jersey with her two photosensitive children while her husband (Christopher Eccleston) is off fighting in World War II. One day she wakes up to find the servants have all gone, three new servants have turned up at her door unannounced, and someone or something seems to be in the house. And it/they start treating the house as its/their own, something Grace will not abide.

         Available on DVD.


         Bubba Ho-Tep 2002. Based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale. Nursing home residents Elvis (yes, that Elvis) (Bruce Campbell) and John F. Kennedy (yes, that John F. Kennedy) (Ossie Davis) team up to fight an ancient Egyptian mummy who’s feeding on the souls of the home’s residents.

         Okay, it’s not a ghost story, but it’s still Halloween-appropriate. And it’s fun.

         Available on DVD.


         I could go on, but that should do it for now.


    Copyright 2010 Patrick Keating






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