Posted in film, Halloween



Ghosts, aliens, psychopaths, and a few touches of comedy—what to watch on Halloween. Boo.

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Dir. James Whale (based on a novel by Mary Shelley)  I have only been able to watch this film twice.  What could be more terrifying than finding your creator has abandoned you? That every chance for friendship and companionship has been stripped away?  That you are too grotesque to be loved? And, that the one creature made especially for you cannot stand the sight of you?

Invaders from Mars (1953) Dir. William Cameron Menzies   The source of many childhood nightmares, this film taught me an important lesson: often the greatest dangers to our humanity and lives are hidden.  Oh, yes, and DON’T WALK ON SAND.

The Bad Seed (1956) Dir. Mervyn LeRoy (based on a play by Maxwell Anderson and novel by Wlliam March)  A devoted mother begins to suspect that her sweet, loving, angelic-looking daughter is a cold-blooded killer.   How can pure evil exist in such an exquisite skin?

“Side Show”  (1961)  Dir. Seymour Robbie   This was an episode in a  short-lived TV series entitled, Way Out, hosted by Roald Dahl.   Some of the episodes have been released on DVD, but, sadly, not this one about a man who becomes infatuated with a woman kept alive by electricity, “who was really very beautiful before she lost her head.”  What can I say? Love can be dangerous….

10 Rillington Place  (1971) Dir. Richard Fleischer  This fact-based film about the British serial killer, John Christie, kept me up for days.  Richard Attenborough is chillingly and deceptively meek as Christie, and John Hurt is sad and broken as Timothy Evans, the husband of one of Christie’s victims, who was falsely convicted and executed for his wife’s murder.  This film was terrifying on many levels, because Christie was able to lure some of his victims to his lair by promising them cures for various illnesses, or safe abortions.  How many of us, I wondered, if desperate enough, could become prey, too?  How many of us, if heartbroken and depleted enough, would confess to a crime we didn’t commit?

The Stepford Wives (1975) Dir. Bryan Forbes (based on a novel by Ira Levin)   Levin’s cautionary tale for feminists seems dated, but its fundamental awareness of the deep anger some men feel over a perceived loss of control, and their desire to get it back, remains relevant, and very scary.

The Vanishing (1988) Dir. by George Sluizer (based on a novella by Tim Krabbe)  A young man and woman, very much in love, are on trip.  She disappears, and years later he’s contacted by her abductor. The original version, in Dutch, violates both the young man’s and audience’s expectations with a truly horrific and unforgettable ending.

Topper  (1937)  Dir.  Norman Z. McLeod  Cary Grant Cary Grant Cary Grant….  Need I say more?

The Uninvited  (1944)  Dir.  Lewis Allen  A composer, a coastal house with a history, a beautiful girl, and “Stella by Starlight”   Sigh…

The Time of Their Lives  (1946)  Dir.  Charles Barton  Atypical Abbott and Costello comedy:  Lou Costello and Marjorie Reynolds are mistakenly branded as traitors during the Revolutionary War, and their spirits are bound to the estate where they were killed. Bud Abbott, a descendant of the man who cursed them, tries to help them. A perfect blend of laughs and chills.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir  (1947)  Dir.  Joseph L. Mankiewicz  An impossible romance between a widow and the ghost of a sea captain, set to a score by the brilliant Bernard Herrmann

The Innocents  (1961)  Dir.  Jack Clayton  Still the best adaptation of Henry James’s  The Turn of the Screw, with a screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote.

The Haunting  (1963)  Dir. Robert Wise  Adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s  The Haunting of Hill House.   Despite changes to the nature of Eleanor’s awakening sexuality, this film is very close in spirit to the book. The mirrors alone are terrifying.

The Shining  (1980)  Dir. Stanley Kubrick  Adaptation of Stephen King’s  The Shining. A visual treat—an isolated, haunted hotel in the dead of winter, blood pouring out of an elevator, Jack Nicholson going insane, and that hedge maze….

The Others  (2001)  Alejandro Amenábar  Toward the end of World War II,  a mother of two children waits in a mansion for her husband to return from battle and begins to sense the arrival of a spectral presence. Imaginative story, sensitively realized.

The Devil’s Backbone  (2001)  Guillermo del Toro  Near the end of the Spanish Civil War, a ghost appears to a boy in a orphanage and makes a dire prediction. Frightening and sad.

Posted in books, Halloween, writing

Halloween Reads


These books, their stories, their characters lingered…. Oh, how perfectly haunting!

The Portrait of Jennie (Robert Nathan) — While the film version of this novella about a struggling artist who finds his muse in a rapidly aging girl is lovely, melancholy, and romantic, it does not convey the foreboding of time out of joint that Nathan’s writing does.  Ray Bradbury said it best, “It touched and frightened me when I was twenty-four. Now, once more, it touches and frightens.”

The House Next Door (Anne Rivers Siddons) — One of the best evil house books I’ve ever read. This one packs a wallop as a new home claims owner after owner while the neighbors who witness their fates are brought to the brink of madness.  Read it for the horror, and come back to it for its deliciously biting sub-text.

The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters) — A doctor is called to treat a young maid in the decaying English estate where he lived as a child. Gradually, he comes to suspect a malevolent spirit of invading the structure and targeting its inhabitants. With obvious nods to Poe (“The Fall of the House of Usher”) and James (The Turn of the Screw), this post WWII tale will keep you riveted.  One note: much has been said and debated over the importance of a likable protagonist in fiction.  Waters’s main character, Dr. Faraday, is neither immediately nor consistently likable.  But, as a product of his upbringing, time, setting, situation, and flaws, he is, at all times, fascinating.

The Other (Tom Tryon) — Brilliant psychological horror about identical twins (you know I have a fondness for twin stories), with one exerting an increasingly dark and dangerous influence on the other.  Oh, my…this one was the cause of many sleepless nights, during the read and after. You may want to save it for the daylight hours….

Mickelsson’s Ghosts (John Gardner) — A dense and multi-layered tale about an alchoholic philosophy professor who buys a house with a history. Fair warning: if you’re looking for a fast read, skip this.  But if you want a novel you can dig into, Gardner’s book will reward you with intricate and complex characterizations, a wealth of images and symbols, significant allusions to Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra (you may want to read or re-read Zarathustra after you finish), local myths, and, yes, ghosts, too.   As close to a masterpiece as any book can come.