Ghostbusters 1984, 2016, and 2021

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I fully admit my bias here: I love the 1984 Ghostbusters. Anytime it’s on the big screen, I go and see it again. You can’t sway me. I don’t care how the special effects hold up. It was fantastic seeing it on the big screen as a middle schooler, comedy and spookiness coming together as a total treat.

Bill Murray is 100% a womanizing smarty pants in the 1984 film, and it doesn’t bother me. That’s the character he played in several movies of the time. Would it fly now? No. What’s considered comedy has changed since that time, but it works for the time this movie hit the box offices.

I wasn’t particularly jazzed about the 2016 Ghostbusters with an all-female cast when I first heard about it. I love the original Ghostbusters crew. I didn’t want to see Ghostbusters with different actors, male or female. I think that’s important enough to reiterate: I don’t care who they were putting in the cast; if it wasn’t the original gang, then it wasn’t going to float my boat.

The 2016 movie is ok. I don’t think it’s bad, but I wasn’t terribly excited to watch it again for class. One thing they tried to do with 2016 is keep the story as a comedy. It’s supposed to be funny, and there are some laughs to be had as they bust the ghosts running rampant in New York. The comedy just isn’t quite as tight as the 1984 film, and the feeling of a team just wasn’t there for me.

I’m going to go a step further and bring the 2021 Ghostbusters into this. There are way too many emotions lurking around the 2021 film. Instead of holding to the comedic code, we’re supposed to rally around Spengler’s bitter daughter who is certain her dad abandoned her for no reason. Gross.

My Ghostbusters don’t have teary-eyed feelings! My Ghostbusters have laughs and a cool theme song!

The Exorcist (Book) vs The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Film)

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The Exorcist as a movie was one of those films my parents didn’t want me to watch. There were never restrictions on what I could read, so that was always my loophole. Besides, my imagination is usually much scarier than what’s on the screen.

The book scared me as a kid. The idea that imaginary friends, like Captain Howdy in the book, could really be demons ready to vacation in my skin was frightening.

As an adult and a parent, I read it differently. It reads more like ignored child of busy starlet entertains herself by opening herself to demons. I can’t imagine knowing my child was playing with an Ouija board alone and was talking to someone through it; I would freak out with sage and salt and holy water and Florida water.

Early in the book, Regan tries to show her mother how she talks to Captain Howdy through the board, and then they both just walk away. Superstitious me was screaming, “NO!!!! You have to close the connection! You have to end the session! Great googly moogly, this is how you get demons!” Of course, Regan becomes possessed and the story focuses on ridding her of evil.

The biggest differences for me when looking at The Exorcist as compared to the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose are the family dynamic and the priests. In Emily Rose, the family is close knit and religious. In The Exorcist, the family is a little more loosey-goosey with mom chasing her career; they are worldly, not sheltered, and not overly religious.

In Emily Rose, it is Emily herself that chooses to depart this world, to give herself over to God as a lesson to the world and a final gesture of her faith. In The Exorcist, it’s those involved in the exorcism that take death to rid Regan of evil.

Which story works better for me as a scary tale? I’m surprised to admit that right now, it’s Emily Rose, the movie with a studious good girl from a solid family. Reading The Exorcist in the context of a parent, it’s more like single parenting career-focused moms are half-assed parents that might as well have the devil for a babysitter. Yes, The Exorcist has the good against evil theme present in Emily Rose, but to me it feels a little like a lecture: stop hosting dinner parties, Chris, and focus on your daughter and maybe then she won’t pee on the rug.

The Shining and “Twenty-Five Cent Words”

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Phrases.com shows the definition of “twenty-five cent words” as “an uncommon word, often used in place of a more common one with the intent to appear sophisticated.” Something that stands out to me in my re-read of The Shining by Stephen King is the use of many fancy-shmancy words.

 

Perhaps ol’ Steve wanted this work to be considered a more literary read than horror. Perhaps the editor put those words in place of some better-known words that had been repeated. Either way, there are words in The Shining that I think I understand in context but don’t recognize easily. I’ll share some of the words that caused me pause.

 

Malefic. Color me a dork, but I gather from the name of the Disney villain Maleficent that this means something especially bad. A Google search tells me it means “causing or capable of causing harm or destruction, especially by supernatural means.”

 

Flambeaux. Flambe desserts are on fire when they arrive at the table, so maybe this is something on fire or lit. The “eaux” on the end helps me to know it is plural. Looking it up, the definition is “a large candlestick with several branches.”

 

Yaw. I know “maw” but I don’t think I know “yaw.” Similar maybe? The definition didn’t really help me: “a twisting or oscillation of a moving ship or aircraft around a vertical axis.” “Yaw” is used on page 584 of my copy in the description of an elevator’s entrance. I kind of think that really he meant “maw.” Will someone call Steve and ask if it’s a typo? Thanks.

 

Roque mallet. Maybe everyone else in the world knows what “roque” and “roque mallets” are, but I didn’t. If a roque mallet is going to be used as a weapon, I needed to know what it was and what it looked like to really embrace the scene in which it was used. “Roque” is apparently an American version of the game “croquet.” A roque mallet is wooden. I remember on my first read of this book, I assumed there was some metal involved in this implement, though I don’t recall why I thought that.

 

The biggest reason I’m calling out the twenty-five cent words is that they pull me out of the story. I, perhaps arrogantly, consider myself to be well read. It’s rare that I run across words in modern fiction that stop me.

 

The Shining was written, I assume, to entertain. When we write to entertain, I think we have an obligation to our readers not to dumb it down, but to make the writing approachable enough that we can create a mood that is understood.

 

Maybe it wasn’t written to entertain, and I need to suck it up that I didn’t know all the words. Perhaps it was intended to be a profound literary work, written in such a way as not to appeal to the masses.

Another day and time, we can get into why so many characters stutter in Stephen King’s books.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose: Awake at 3 AM?

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I originally saw The Exorcism of Emily Rose at a movie theater in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I recall it vividly because of how suggestible I apparently was.

 

In the film, clocks stop at 3 AM and strange events, allegedly demonic in origin, happen at this time. A priest in the movie explains that 3 AM is the Devil’s Hour, mocking the Holy Trinity. I’d never heard of this idea that a specific hour of the day was more evil than another.

 

The movie was based upon the true story of Anneliese Michel, a German woman who died after an exorcism in the 1970s. For me, seeing “based on a true story” usually amps up the thrills. This one was no different; The Exorcism of Emily Rose scared the bejesus out of me.

 

For a few months (yes, MONTHS) after watching the movie, I would wake out of a sound sleep at 3 AM. Prior to the movie, I didn’t wake at that hour, or any hour until my alarm went off. Night after night, I would wake at 3 AM and usually feel concerned that something nefarious was afoot.

 

One night, I realized I’d never had any concerns about waking in the night at any particular time prior to viewing this particular scary movie. I’d never had any reason to be scared when it was 3 AM. Thinking it through, I became aware that I’d taken this idea from a piece of entertainment and let it shake me up! I couldn’t believe how suggestible I was, how open to receive this movie tidbit as fact.

 

It was my own suggestibility that I considered when I watched The Exorcism of Emily Rose last week, and that awareness gave me a new slant on the suggestibility of the main character. Emily comes from a highly religious home and goes off to college. She goes to a dance and even canoodles a bit her boyfriend.

 

Imagine how seriously someone might believe they had sinned if they had come from such a devout household. How does she rationalize what she’s done? How does she come to terms with her choices when she feels such shame and guilt?

 

The only acceptable answer that her she and her loved ones could get onboard with: demonic influences. Emily wasn’t acting of her own freewill. She was possessed!

 

Could a person convince themselves that they are filled with demons? I don’t see why not. I, a typically way too logical adult, managed to be convinced for a short time that 3 AM was chock full of evil simply by watching a film. It seems reasonable that someone from a strict upbringing could convince themselves that the Devil made them dance and smooch.

 

I have no way of knowing if Anneliese, the woman that inspired the film, was impressionable enough to believe being possessed was the only explanation for her thoughts or behaviors. Maybe Anneliese had an untreated mental illness. Maybe Anneliese was living with the results of a traumatic brain injury. Or maybe, just maybe, she really was possessed by something otherworldly? You can text me your thoughts when you find yourself awake at 3 AM.

Stir of Echoes: thoughts on the movie

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“I never wanted to be famous,” Tom tells his wife Maggie in the beginning of the film Stir of Echoes. “I just never expected to be so ordinary.”

 

After being hypnotized by Maggie’s sister, Tom is gifted with a psychic connection to Samantha, the ghost of a neighborhood girl gone missing. His son also has a connection to Samantha and converses with her throughout the movie.

 

Initially his gift and his visions distress Tom. As the story unfolds, Tom gets more obsessed with what happened to Samantha. He receives a message to dig for her.

 

When his wife finds Tom in their backyard digging, Maggie wants him to stop.

 

Tom is angry and begins shouting at her, “This is the most important thing that’s ever happened to me. This is the most important thing I have ever done in my life.”

 

This sense of purpose is what moves Tom forward. If a different man, a more accomplished man, has become a “receiver” of ghost noise, I’m not sure they would have tuned in and followed the leads. Furthermore, if we consider that a person with less physical strength than Tom had been the receiver of the ghost messages, they might not have been able to do the digging and demolition that went into following through with the discovery of Samantha’s corpse.

 

Tom is the perfect receiver, the perfect candidate, to take on this mission. It made me wonder if Samantha, our ghost girl, had tried to reach out to anyone else prior to Tom. Tom’s son Jake communicates with Samantha, but not about finding her killers or her body. Did Samantha try to find other adults that could act upon the visions she showed?

 

Alternatively, maybe she didn’t try to connect with other adults. Perhaps Samantha was waiting patiently to give her messages to Tom, knowing he was strong and yearning to be extraordinary. Was Samantha waiting for a bump on the head, a burning fever, or some other pivotal moment where his guard was down enough to tap into his mind?

 

As the film wraps, we have a moment of Jake’s perception, and he is privy to all kinds of psychic noise. It’s unclear whether Jake is only hearing ghosts or if he hears the living as well. In either case, it’s crystal clear that Jakes’s gifts stay with him.

 

What was not made as clear to me while viewing the film was whether Tom’s ghost communication skills would continue. We see Samantha put on her coat and walk away, presumably to the afterlife, but maybe just to a more interesting house to haunt. Samantha’s murderers are identified, and her body found. Will Tom encounter other ghosts in need of a resolution in the future, especially since his son is also open to receive spirit messages?

 

I would like to believe now that Tom believes in ghosts, he will be more open and sensitive to spirits going forward. I want him to see ghost birds when he’s working on phone lines. I want him to be a warmer, more compassionate human because he understands even an ordinary life is still a life, a finite and lovely opportunity.

 

 

 

The Amityville Horror: Green Goo and Marching Bands

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     I am deliberately not researching the stories behind The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson. I am not going to research the DeFeo murders or the credibility of George and Kathy Lutz. I am sorely tempted to do some digging because the numerous financial concerns of George Lutz could certainly justify the creation of some elaborate haunted house story in order to skip town and maybe make some money off the tale.

The experiences of the Lutz family take place over 28 days before they evacuated their haunted house. By comparison, Ellen Mercado and her family from the book Grave’s End stayed in a haunted house for years before a cleansing stopped the chaos.

The family experienced flies, temperature anomalies, windows and doors opening on their own, green goo appearing out of nowhere, and even the sound of a marching band creating a ruckus. Daughter Missy apparently befriends a giant pig that talks to her, and her father even sees hoof prints outside the window.

As a reader, I’m left with questions after reading Anson’s book. Did the Lutz family experience all these extreme and unusual happenings because of the DeFeo murders? Were the DeFeo murders caused by similar strange happenings and the Lutz family just came in where the weirdness left off? Has the house and location always been haunted or was it only haunted because of the murders?

There was an envelope of cash that disappeared in the story. Do ghosts and ghoulies typically take large sums of money? Where did it go? Are we to think that the envelope evaporated into some other dimension or that it was hidden away somewhere on the property?

It’s mentioned in the book that when George and Kathy initially visit the home, the blinds of the neighboring houses are closed in the direction of this house. I didn’t think that was unusual. If I had known the DeFeo family and I had to continue living in my own home after the murders, I’d want to close the blinds, too. I think it’s natural to want to turn away from any memory of the horrors that happened on Ocean Avenue. Out of sight, out of mind.

One thing that stood out to me was how the Lutz family dog reacted to various areas of the house. That’s a takeaway for me: before I buy another house, I’ll walk my dogs around there first. I trust the reactions of ordinarily agreeable family pets. Fear or aggression towards the unseen is a huge warning flag to leave the area.

If the things that happened to the Lutz family are indeed true, they were brave to last there a month. I would like to think I would’ve picked up on the high weirdness before buying the property, but maybe I would’ve been distracted by the low price for a  huge home with a pool and a boathouse.

 

Thoughts on Grave’s End by Elaine Mercado

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I read Grave’s End perhaps ten years ago, picking up a copy from my local used bookstore’s paranormal section. I devoured the true story in a weekend, but then I forgot much of it.

Reading it again for a school assignment, I believe I forgot the content because Elaine Mercado makes the extraordinary completely ordinary. Elaine immerses the reader in the daily events of her family. The strange happenings take place while the family sleeps, does homework, and all manner of mundane tasks.

We aren’t swept away to an extravagant estate with a crumbling mansion. We meet a young family eager to trade their cold apartment for a house. They purchase the home largely because it’s the only one they can afford.

When mists, lights, and apparitions appear, the reader understands the unease Elaine and her children feel. More than the things that go bump in the night, Elaine helps us understand that they had to stay. Financially, it wasn’t feasible for them to move, and for much of the story, Elaine’s spouse is a non-believer.

Elaine shares how tired she is. The disturbances in the night ruin her sleep, but she has to carry on with work and life all the same. She works overnights for a while, sleeping during the day, and that choice resonated with me. Elaine is a working mother, and the spooky things are just part of their lives. She figures out ways to cope and carry on.

Grave’s End is largely a story about a family. They work, they have slumber parties, they have pets, and all the other ordinary trappings of a working-class family. It’s special how close the unexplainable experiences bring Elaine to her daughters, as none of them ran away from the unusual experiences in the home. They rallied around each other, making the best of things, and enjoying the periodic lulls in the activity in their homes.

The house is cleansed by a medium and a famous parapsychologist. The reader is treated to a pleasant ending where Elaine and her second husband largely live happily ever after.

There’s no sense of foreboding at the end, no ominous feeling that the weirdness isn’t over. Everything is tied up in a neat bow. Compared to the fiction books we’ve read about haunted houses, this non-fiction tale leaves us able to sleep soundly with all the lights off.

 

Point of View Is Everything in The Others

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     Anne, one of the children in The Others, sees ghosts…or does she? Point of view is everything in this ghostly film!

Anne tells her brother Nicholas that it is Victor that opens their bedroom curtains in the night over and over. Anne closes them, and moments later, they are closed again. Victor is to blame, Anne explains, and doesn’t Nicholas see Victor over there?

It’s not clear if Nicholas actually glimpses Victor or if poor Nicholas is just scared out of his wits by his sister’s stories. Anne claims to see ghosts throughout the film, but only at the end of the film does the audience learn that Anne is a ghost.

In fact (huge spoiler alert), Anne, Nicholas, and their mother Grace are all ghosts haunting that house. The hired help is also deceased, but continue to do yardwork even in the afterlife.
Victor is alive and the other members of his family are as well. Anne is not the girl seeing the ghost; she is the ghost seeing a living boy in the same house where she died.

Thinking back over the movie, Anne and Nicholas being ghost kids might have been hinted at in a Bible study scene. They talk about the “four Hells,” one of which is Children’s Limbo. In hindsight, perhaps they were in Children’s Limbo all along.

Having the ghosts as the main characters and experiencing things through their senses is what makes the movie special. If we’d seen it through the eyes of the living family inhabiting the house, it would have been just another haunted house tale.

Finding out that the mother smothered her children with a pillow and then shot herself, leaving them all trapped at this property, was an amazing twist. The clues and hints might have been there all along, but I didn’t guess that they were the ghosts. I was surprised, and it’s rare that a film twist catches me so off-guard.

Notice the Names in Nightmare House

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     Nightmare House by Douglas Clegg is a haunted house tale published in 2012. I learned from Amazon’s website that this book is one in a series that revolves around the house. The books can be read out of sequence.

The names in Nightmare House are what most stood out to me. Let’s start with the house and estate named Harrow. From Google’s dictionary, a quick search yielded the definition of “harrow:”

noun

an implement consisting of a heavy frame set with teeth or tines which is dragged over plowed land to break up clods, remove weeds, and cover seed.

verb

1.draw a harrow over (land).

“they ploughed and harrowed the heavy clay”

  1. cause distress to.

By name of the house alone, the reader can decide about the sturdy farming implications of the word…or they can notice the “cause distress to” nuances of a potentially harrowing tale ahead. Calling it Harrow was a stroke of genius on the author’s part.

Ethan Gravesend is the grandson the reader meets as he inherits Harrow. “Gravesend” = graves end. What a delightfully creepy surname! If one’s last name is Gravesend and one has inherited a property called Harrow, spooky shenanigans are bound to follow.

Police chief and supporting character Pocket is another powerful name choice. As a name, “Pocket” feels like tucked away secrets, events hidden carefully away and kept safe.

“He sacrificed his daughter’s happiness to it,” Pocket said to Ethan. Again, another brilliant word choice. “Sacrificed” as in gave up something of tremendous value, but also “sacrificed” as in giving a life to feed the evil.

     Nightmare House is a satisfyingly haunted read, but my takeaway that I can apply in my own writing is the power of deliberate word choices. By careful selection of names, the author reinforced the tone of his haunted tale.

Ghost Story is My Literary Lloyd Dobler

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Lloyd Dobler ruined me. He wasn’t always the best at speaking his feelings, but that evening, he made them so clear. Standing outside his beloved’s home, he held the boombox high and played her a love song.

Lloyd is a character in the movie Say Anything. If you aren’t familiar, you can check out a clip here: https://youtu.be/S5Y8tFQ01OY

Lloyd’s heart is on his sleeve and blasting out of his boombox. Every boyfriend I’ve ever had has been measured on my secret Lloyd Dobler scale. What is the likelihood that this boyfriend would stand outside and play me a love song, unashamed to woo me?

Ghost Story is the book equivalent of Lloyd Dobler for me. I’ve measured far too many books against Ghost Story and many, perhaps most, have failed miserably.

I first read Ghost Story in middle school, around 6th or 7th grade. I liked long books in the horror genre, like The Stand by Stephen King and Baal by Robert McCammon. I wanted a long and well-woven story as a reader, even at that age.

Ghost Story blew my mind. It might have been the first book I’d read that was a story about stories or many stories within one overarching plotline. Reading it again, it still blows my mind, maybe even more so now that I’m trying to write stories myself.

Not only was there a masterful blending of stories, but there are passages and phrases that are absolutely beautiful to me. It was my first time really considering that there could still be lovely prose in a story that was meant to have tension or scares.

In my copy of Ghost Story, this dialogue takes place on pages 376 and 377:

“We were in a sort of sexless, pre-Freudian paradise,” Ricky finally said. “In an enchantment. Sometimes we even danced with her, but even holding her, watching her move, we never thought about sex. Not consciously. Not to admit. Well, paradise died in October, 1929, shortly after the stock market and Stringer Dedham.”

            “Paradise died,” Sears echoed, “and we looked into the devil’s face.”

There is so much there to unpack! Memories of youth labeled as paradise read to me as idyllic, and I found myself immersed in a vision of what it must’ve been like and felt like to be dancing with Eva, spinning around, laughing and carefree. The turn of the scene with the phrase “paradise died” left me eager for what catastrophe must be next, artfully moving me from the dance floor into the “cyclone of hate” that unfolds on page 379.

Straub is a master of painting a mood for the reader and doing it quickly. On page 217, Don and Alma are staying at David’s vacation home.

Thus, there we are, mornings and afternoons in David’s house while the gray fog slides past the windows and the noise of waves slapping the beach far down suggests that any minute water will begin to come in through the bottom of the door.

For me, that short passage gives me the mood, dark and somber, as well as the distinct feeling that something bad or weird (or both) is about to happen.

Ghost Story is amazing. It is my literary Lloyd Dobler, a measure of a well done tale. Oh, you say you wrote a haunting novel? Well, how does it compare to Straub’s Ghost Story?