ghosts and hauntings

Mount Misery Road, Huntington, New York

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Long Island is way too far off for this legend to be listed as a Haunted Western New York entry.

[That may seem obvious, but I, and many other New Yorkers, know that a lot of people who aren’t from the state split New York into New York City and Not-New-York-City with very little understanding of the geography of a fairly large state. Long Island and Buffalo are pretty much at opposite ends.]

However I do still favor New York ghost stories, especially during a month filled with them.

According to legend the road is not called Mount Misery because of the stories associated with it-it was just not a nice area to live in and extremely hard to farm. However the name is probably not aiding the road in shaking any ghost stories that have been started through the years [have you noticed that a cemetery is much more likely to be haunted than the OB ward of a hospital, even though if we’re honest with ourselves, they both most likely see a fair amount of death?]

However the name came into being, there are suggestions that the area has had a haunted reputation for almost as long as the area has been settled-though it is worth noting that just because the stories claim connection to the 1700s doesn’t necessarily mean that the legend itself dates to the same era. Regardless, the legend claims that there was an asylum built along the road in the 1700s and a female patient was killed [the dates for the hospital are shaky, and increase the potential for the eras to have been added at a much more modern point-some reports place the hospital at a much later 1840]. She eventually became the first ‘woman in white’ ghost seen along the road, and her story may have slowly merged with more modern stories who claim a phantom hitch-hiker in the same region.

The Lady in White is not the only type of ghost claimed to be haunting the road. There are stories of lights, suicides, ghost vehicles, and ghosts that will interfere with vehicles to ‘stop’ accidents (even if the road is already clear). There are echoes and implications of wider regional legends such as the presence of the ghost of a woman murdered and dumped along the road; this is a legend that exists throughout the Long Island region as a whole, as well as potentially linked into wider Mid Atlantic and New England lore.

Regionally, there are some potentially troubling ghosts that are supposed to be haunting the region. Like several other areas settled by Western Europeans (especially the British and Dutch) both Mount Misery and Sweet Hollow Roads have their own black dogs/black shuck style ghosts. Reflecting the dullahan and its American cousin the Headless Horseman, there is a man supposedly wandering the area with a basket of severed heads. Finally, a cop will sometimes pull you over or appear a the scene of minor accidents and break downs. There have been reports that he is missing the back of his head.

Mount Misery and Sweet Hollow Road

Mount Misery

Connecticut Phantom Crash, 1997

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I have spent a fairly long time on a fairly ancient laptop, as far as laptops go- the machine I had been running was over a decade old. It finally died outright, for all intents, this weekend and I bought a tablet/2-in-1. The machine itself works much, much better so hopefully I will be able to blog more consistently now (and I do mean actually be able-it was taking me close to half an hour to write three or four paragraphs). I am trying to figure out the battery patterns on this machine, though. I’ve never seen a computer that decides when or if it’s going to charge and I don’t know if it’s a battery issue or if this is deliberate.

 

I will admit that this is a very vague story, but one that I really wish was better developed online (even if it were to be truly folkloric).

The development of new technology will eventually become reflected in the folklore of the era. So we start  with phantom armies, and move into phantom carriages, trains, cars. Therefore it’s really only natural and probably a matter of waiting for the development of ghost planes and phantom crashes.

One of these crashes is claimed to have taken place in Westbrook, Connecticut in 1997. There were witnesses to the crash-though the reports were admittedly odd. Eyewitness claims stated that there were no waves kicked up from the plane, let alone wreckage. However rescue crews were sent out and nothing was ever found of the supposedly downed plane.

The crash report is vague and sounds suspiciously like at best a misidentification and at worst an outright fabrication. However this is not the only case like this on the books in the United States. Reports of phantom plane crashes in various forms ranging from distress calls and sounds to full visual sightings may date as far back as 1955-and may become more common as aircraft and air travel become that much more ingrained in culture.

List of phantom crashes

The Death of Addie Grey

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The Death of Addie Grey

Accessed as an Ebook

Amy Cross

237 pages

$0.99 at time of writing

 

I am always a little skeptical (okay, critical) going into a piece knowing that it depends on children to push the plot forward. Done well, children in horror can be terrifying. Done poorly, the results are a little hysterical and eye rolling.

While Addie Grey has a few eye rolling moments (I’m not a fan of over the top parents in horror-this led to an, uh, interesting thread on my Facebook wall about why parents in horror insist on referring to themselves in the third person), the book is actually pretty solid. Falling somewhere between true haunting and true possession horror, with something of a time travel (but not quite) thrown in, the story line manages to cover a lot of traditional ground with enough new ideas to keep the plot from seeming stale. However, if you’re looking for a ‘true’ bump in the night haunting novel or a ‘true’ demonic or possessed child plot, this is probably not the book for you.

The plot does have a few bumpy places-like I said, the characterization of the parents manages to come across as a little wooden (the mother cares just a little too much and the father cares just a touch too little). There’s a little too much resistance in the plot to the reality of their situation (which, admittedly, would probably slightly less interesting as a book if they were a little more willing to involve outside aid). And there’s a comment about how the reality of the thing hits home due to a change in vocabulary-but I’m not sure the entity that’s involved would be someone that would use that language either (there’s an issue with age, but I’m not sure the spirit involved would be of that age either).

Addie Grey is a child who, after a long period spent in a coma, comes back to consciousness…different. After a series of escalating events her parents are forced to accept that the spirit inhabiting her body may not be the child that they knew prior to her accident. When her mother finally accepts that her child is no longer her own-both she and Addie are forced to confront a series of challenges potentially larger than what they ever would have thought possible. By the end of the ordeal, her mother is convinced that everything has returned to normal-but the suggestion is made that the door has not been shut all the way.

The thing is, the novel is -good-. Not awesome, not amazing, not top of the pile for quality. But it is easy to read, the plot moves well, most of the characterization is solid. There’s a few plot twists that aren’t overused and even the ‘monsters’ such as they are are generally sympathetic (as in, you can understand why this is taking place on an emotional level). You can certainly read a lot worse in this genre. But it’s sort of the horror version of a beach read-this isn’t going to be a classic in genre but if you just want entertainment, you’ll find it.

The Blue Lady [Moss Beach California]

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Creepies of the 80s and 90s were children when Unsolved Mysteries was on air in the States-and that show helped launched many of us into full on love of the weird, odd, and scary. That theme song still makes the hair on my arms stand up.

One of my favorite aspects of that show was the ghost and haunting segments-I really didn’t care about the disappearances or unsolved crimes. Aliens really didn’t do much for me either, and I remember a segment about people who could turn street lights on and off as being a little bit baffling (as in, it’s something I probably will never be able to do but at the same time, it’s not anything I found (or find) terribly impressive either).

However a lot of those ghost stories have lingered for me. The show was my first introduction to the Blue Lady. I have never found this story creepy or scary at all; if anything I have always found the story a little bit sad. Who is she waiting for? Does she know he’s not coming?

The story is a little vague and for that I apologize. At a restaurant known as the Distillery in Moss Beach, California, a woman in a dated blue dress can be seen at the bar. She looks like she’s waiting for someone. Legend says, including the Distillery’s own website, that she was in a relationship with the piano player. The Lady may or may not have been married already; regardless of the state of her romantic life she and the player were assaulted on the beach below the bar some time during Prohibition. She was killed while he was not, and she may still be at the bar, waiting for him to return. The haunting has a lot of the ‘traditional’ aspects of American hauntings-moving items, cold spots, locked doors, as well as full sightings of the infamous woman in blue at the bar.

[It is worth noting that like the Grand Island haunting in Buffalo, a lot of the haunting is played up for the sake of publicity. In the case of the Distillery, the show Ghost Hunters found that many of these events are created. Whether or not the push of the legend pre-dates these effects is unknown.]

The Unborn [2009]

Either The Unborn is a remake of a movie I’ve already seen, I’ve actually seen this already at some point, or this movie is just so driven by tropes that I might as well have already seen it. I honestly can’t tell.

In some cases, movies that run off of nothing but tropes can still be entertaining. They really have to subvert tropes to hit the ‘good’ level, but if you’ve been following along with this blog for any amount of time, I’m much more interested in entertainment value than structural quality. Because a movie can be perfect in construction and be a terrible bore; my favorite movies are the ones that I can pull the technical quality, sociological strength, and entertainment out of the piece. However, that being said, you can still have a movie that is enjoyable and a valid use of ‘self care’ destressing time and not be that awesome of a film otherwise.

I’m not sure that this one hits that level though. I feel like there’s a lot of plot elements that get a little convoluted and a little overly complicated compared to the rest of the film (how the protagonist finds out the main push of the tension seems a little clunkier than is necessary) and there’s a few points that seem to be slightly out of place for the rest of the film-the ghost, such as it is, seems to be out of sync with the rest of the movie (the clothing especially seems out of place). While this actually is linked to the rest of the plot, the fact that the protagonist never stops and goes ‘hey, why does this ghost not fit in with 2009?’ when she seems to be capable of latching onto every other aspect of the haunting bothers me a little. I know that it’s getting a little compulsive with the details, but it did bother me.

There are a few other points that don’t sit well with me, for quasi-social politics reasons. There is a subplot involving mental illness that plays out in ways that my non-neurotypical self is not entirely thrilled with. While it makes sense for the plot, “I would rather believe my mother was haunted than accept her mental illness” feels a little hysterical and not exactly healthy to me*. I also have issues with pregnancy in horror-it’s a weird way of Othering a state that is deeply connected to women in a way that rarely occurs to men and fatherhood. There’s a weird usage of pregnancy and by extension women/femininity as a vessel, doorway, or other liminal state and strip the humanity out of the woman in question. You are nothing but a means to an end! And then the emphasis gets shifted away from the woman who is endangered, to the unborn child, thus further dehumanizing the character…it just gets very awkward very quickly and it’s very rarely done well.

Do I have to state outright that I feel like it’s not done well here?

I feel like maybe I’m coming down too hard on a film that may be best viewed as a soda and popcorn film. I feel like perhaps I am being slightly harder on this movie than I would otherwise be…because it’s a movie that straddles the possession/haunting line and I sort of wish it were a stronger piece than it is, because there’s so much that could have been done, but the production team went with an established set of tropes instead of pushing envelopes. Even just strengthening the effects would have made this a better film. If you’re the type of person who likes films that play with world folklore [even if in this case it’s just taking out the word ‘ghost’ and replacing it with the word ‘dybbuk’], really likes to watch as much ghost and haunting related horror as you can, or if it’s just a slow, stormy afternoon, then why not watch it? But I’m not recommending seeing this one on the strength of the piece alone.

* I actually am not a reviewer that requires every image to be ‘perfect’, as in, I don’t need every piece to feel like it’s handled in the most accepting, representative way possible. At the end of it, we’re talking about horror. But it is possible to fall too far to the other side where the handling of a image or trait such as gender, race, sexuality, mental health, etc falls into category of a secondary monster in and of itself, where the trait is almost as undesirable as whatever is driving the plot. In some cases that’s a valid angle to portray, especially when it is an active motivation on the part of a character or is pivotal to the actions taken in place driving the story line [Psycho wouldn’t be Psycho if we were taking a loving, open stance on mental health], but if it’s just an added layer of interaction and therefore crosses the line into stigma, I have issue with the usage. While it might have made a weaker image, the fact that the character here is quicker to accept ‘possession’ than to accept ‘depression’ is a major issue in terms of mental health stigmatization.

 

Pay the Ghost

I told you I was going to attempt to get back to reviews.

Can we just admit to ourselves up front that Nic Cage is going to mess up an Pagan-y theme he touches?  Because I feel like anytime I see his name in connection to a work involving folklore/mythology/Paganism that natural overacting he does gets worse and he ends up flailing around and basically making a mess of everything.

With that out of the way, I have to say this-I actually really liked this movie. I think that having suffered through Cage’s absolutely classically terrible Wicker Man remake, this movie would have had to try to be bad in comparison. In comparison to any other horror piece, I would probably be annoyed just for the sheer level of misinformation in this movie.

This isn’t Coven and its deliberate misuse of voodoo. This is, five minutes on Google and you’d be more accurate than this movie.

And yet…I like it anyway. I guess I automatically give points to any movie that can actually be bothered to learn how to pronounce samhain correctly. I think that this movie reminds me a lot of the ‘horror’ I wrote when I was a kid, when I sort of assumed I knew enough about what I was talking about to be capable of writing about it. (This is also based on a novella of the same name, so I’m not sure where the issue actually lies-if the movie went odd or the novel.

Cage plays a man named Mike, who works with American (and especially local) history. He takes his son, Charlie, to a Halloween carnival, where things go terribly wrong. Over the course of the next year, Mike begins to realize that his family’s pain is related to Halloween specifically-and a much older tragedy.

SPOILERS  SPOILERS  SPOILERS

 

This is my major issue with the film. There are two, actually. 1. There is no such thing as ‘the crone.’ “Crone” is a life phase, not a person. And in the feminine trinity it’s the dark moon, yes, but it’s not intended to carry a value judgment attached to it. But this is also Cage in a piece that drops the ball on Pagan theory. There’s a shock, right there. 2. The crone in question died under terrible circumstances, but it seems to not really matter to anyone? I understand that Mike is upset about Charlie, but the death in question seems to exist in the story line as an excuse. I would have preferred to see some level of compassion at play there-or at least, compassion that runs deep enough that I wouldn’t have potentially missed it if it’s there. Ghost-crone is insane, but this doesn’t just happen in a vacuum.

The Shining (1980)

I get sick every year, at the same points-in March, in September (though a different sort of sick…), sometimes in July, and December and early January. I avoided December, though I think through sheer stubbornness but January won’t be so lucky. But it’s been fairly low grade, even if lingering-at some point I would actually prefer that it get worse so it could get better. I have finally gotten ill enough to take time off.

I did have a realization, during my day off. I found a blog that centered around the question ‘what’s the worst winter you’ve ever had.’ Summer? I can give you a ranking of the worst summers I’ve had, depending on your criteria. Winters are long and not entirely emotionally comfortable for me (thanks SADD), or cold (thanks bad windows and spotty heat) but there’s not a lot I would rank as worst. There were a couple in college that weren’t awesome. Last month was a little odd. My grandmother died in January, when I was in high school. I mean, I guess the point is that summer is my terror season.

Maybe that’s why I gravitate towards snowy/winter horror so frequently, because winter for me is a gothic novel more than an exercise in turmoil. It’s weird reviewing The Shining (1980) with my current working relationship with King’s novel. It can sometimes be hard pulling apart the movie based on a well loved book, without accidentally holding to the standard of the book.

So for the strengths of the movie: Kubrick knows his visuals. There’s not much new ground to cover there, that hasn’t been covered already in 35 years. But it’s true, the use of color especially through the movie grounds the piece and lets it walk a really thin line between horror and dream scape. The movie moves slightly faster than the novel, if you’re not as into ‘head scapes and brooding’. That really is a strength, and it’s not to suggest that the film lacks depth-it just puts it in differing places. There are a few interactions that work better in the film-Jack’s relationship with Grady is less clunky in movie than in the novel. In terms of actual, direct terror-entertainment, the movie is actually scarier than the novel-though it functions more as a difference in subgenre than in writing ability on the part of either King or the movie crew [King wrote on the screenplay so I’m assuming he knew what he was doing-though I have also heard the stories about him walking away from it and hating the final film]. The film is much more ‘haunting with some psych horror aspects’ than the novel ever was-but that can be seen as either a weakness or a strength, depending on how loyal you need a movie based on a novel to be.

In terms of weaknesses? There are places where I wonder if the visuals override the plot a little too much. There have been discussions in pop culture and fan spaces about things like the layout of the hotel and its interplay with the plot. I’m all for cerebral and meta horror, but I’m not a person that needs to care about the shape of Ullman’s office. Honestly, while I like her more in the movie than the book, I still dislike Wendy-there seems to be little grounding her in the film (though in fairness my issue with the book is that she’s a little too grounded in herself). I don’t like the handling of Hallorann in the movie at all.

So which is the better piece?

I actually hate that question, as a reviewer and someone with a background in popular culture studies. There’s not a real reason to rank them-they’re two different entities.

Both the book and the movie have stood up against time. The book is still frequently found on must read lists (and it’s really an excellent book for actually psychological horror and going down the rabbit hole of self and addiction). The movie is still spawning visual puns and references-check out the carpeting in this season’s American Horror Story once or twice. When you can manage to get cosmetics named after phrases in your film, you know you hit a nerve.

Your personal ranking probably needs to be informed by your need for similarity to source material. I’m fine with a movie deviating from a book, if the changes make sense to the plot, or otherwise strengthen the piece. Not ever project is going to be Rosemary’s Baby, with almost word for word conversion. I think it’s sometimes a disservice to try to force a piece into being a ‘perfect’ adaptation of another work of fiction-at some point, you have to acknowledge the limitations of the medium (or just basic length, or other requirements. I mean, how many complaints have there been about the length of the Lord of the Rings trilogy?).

That’s a long winded way of saying: I’m okay with both, I like the book better, but it’s a personal preference-and due to plot points and details that were cut or handled differently from the novel. And it’s a pretty small margin as well.