This visit to the Winchester Mystery House is the latest entry in Project: Haunted House, a series of posts where I visit purportedly “haunted” places and write about my experiences. Read more here!
The crazy, reclusive woman is a well-worn archetype in literature and film. Emotionally and psychologically unstable, she is damaged goods, unable to escape from a painful past. She is isolated from others. Those around her define her by sorrow, anger, and “insanity.” Her behavior is misinterpreted and her motivations are ignored. She might start off as a psychologically stable character, but cruel psychological manipulation breaks her down. Sometimes, she really is insane, but her mental illness is far more complex than portrayed and we’re never given her full story. These portrayals twist her into something both delicate and dangerous
You know this archetype. The most famous example is Bertha Rochester in Jane Eyre, but she shows up in different versions as the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, and Jennet Humfrye in The Woman in Black. She also appears in films like Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Gothika, and The Ring. Some of these works are my all-time favorites. I’ve always been intrigued by these characters, probably because I’ve always seen them as very misunderstood.
The Crazy Lady also shows up in tons of myths legends, and ghost stories. One of the most famous examples of a weird, reclusive, possibly bat-shit lady is Sarah Winchester, mistress of the infamous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California.
I’ve only hinted at it before, but you should know that I’m a Texas Girl, through and through. While I may not agree with everything my state has done, I love living here.
I’ve lived in Texas my whole life, having been born and raised in San Antonio before moving on to attend college in Austin and eventually settling in Houston. To me, “barbecue” means brisket and a “cookout” means the event where you eat barbecue. I say “y’all” and I don’t care if you think it’s cute or not. I’ll take Whataburger over any other fast food joint any day of the week. I think winter is two or three weeks in January where the temperature may dip below 40 degrees. There’s nothing I love more than a Texas thunderstorm. I love to go camping under the Texas night sky with plenty of food, beer, and ghost stories.
But of course you already know how much I love ghost stories. Especially Texas ghost stories.
We’ve still got a long way to go until the spooky, bloody, and glorious horror films that dominate the release schedule in the summer. January and February can be really uneven when it comes to horror movies, giving us movies that run the gamut from inspired and well-crafted to lazy and cliché. But March 2016 serves up some really interesting horror releases.
It’s Christmas Eve, a few hours before midnight. Presents are wrapped. Stockings are hung. If you went to a Christmas Eve party, you’re probably home by now. Any children in the house are tucked snuggly into bed. Before you go off to bed yourself, you and your family might enjoy the fire as it slowly goes out. You might reminisce about past Christmases or tell stories about the meaning of each ornament on the tree. Or you could tell each other ghost stories. Christmas ghost stories.
It’s not as weird as you might think and, in fact, Christmas ghost stories are a time-honored tradition that has been somewhat forgotten as of late. The tradition started in Britain and quickly spread to the U.S. Every Christmas Eve, whole families gathered around the fire and scared each other silly with ghost stories.
I didn’t think of December as a good month for horror movies, but I gotta say, December 2015 has changed my mind. There aren’t many December horror movies, since the release calendar this month is pretty much dominated by family-friendly holiday movies and Oscar-bait. However, the movies below all seem like solid efforts (at least based on their trailers) with dynamic concepts. It seems to more than make up for the scarce horror release calendar.
The genre of horror tends to go through phases where certain subgenres experiencing a sort of “renaissance”, where writers and filmmakers explore all limits of the subgenre, where audiences become temporarily obsessed with the subgenre. It’s happened with creature features, psychological horror, slasher films, haunted houses, demonic possession, and the hyper-realistic gore of the “torture porn” subgenre. I guess that, currently, supernatural “found-footage” horror is the big, mainstream deal, what with the Paranormal Activity series, the V/H/S/ series, and July’s upcoming The Gallows.
However, a wholly different type of horror is bubbling up from underneath. Movies and television are gradually starting to explore the intersection between the sinister and the fantastic, while books have long intertwined the two.
Almost anyone I’ve ever asked has fond memories of the classic children’s series Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. Even now as adults, most people I’ve talked to excitedly remember the vivid tales and the terrifying illustrations. Remember those?
Back in October, I wrote a blog post about Scary Stories. In that post, I reminisced about how much I loved those books—how they creeped me out, how I felt compelled to read them despite their scariness. Those books struck the perfect balance between whimsy, horror, and folklore, creating a darkly inviting world.
Sometimes I’d read the story with one hand covering the picture until I had worked up the nerve to look at! Even now, I feel like a little kid reading these, scaring myself silly.
IT’S LOOKING AT ME
I’ve always thought that these books held a power far strong than nostalgia alone. As this blog demonstrates, I’m fascinated by the way in which Scary Stories resonate with us and teach us about ourselves.
So imagine my utter joy and excitement when I heard that a team of filmmakers is producing a documentary about the history of this series! You read that right! Director and Producer Cody Meirick and his team are currently working to explore everything from the publication history of the Scary Stories, the legacy of the iconic illustrations, the importance the books lend to children’s literature, and efforts by some to restrict access to the books, among other subjects. The team has already begun production on the film, having already conducted a handful of interviews, with plans for many more.
I am here, reading with you. I am reading this over your shoulder. I make your home home,
I’m the Braille on your wallpaper that only your fingers can read—I tell you where you are.
Don’t turn to look at me. I am only tangible when you don’t look.
Home. There place where we belong. Where we put our things, our emotions, our past. More often than not, it is a dwelling of some sort—a room, an apartment, or a house. You know every room, every door, all the corners, the way the fourth step from the top creaks, and the way the sunlight enters the windows. You know it intimately. You will carry this knowledge with you forever.
I’ve always been fascinated by the interaction between a person and the building she inhabits. It is a relationship, and both person and dwelling provoke change in each other. I’ve written about it before on this blog, particularly to examine the ways in which purportedly haunted buildings physically interact with the people who move about inside.
Even after we have left, we carry the physical presence of home. It is part of us, and we have become a part of it. Home is a record of our lives. We dirty it. We wear it down. Sometimes we break it or fix it up. Home is the intersection of our past, present and future.
Which brings me to my new favorite book, White is for Witching.
The last installment of my Ho-Ho-Horror series! I’ve talked about Christmas-themed horror novels and movies, so here’s a list of Christmas specials from some of my favorite spooky shows. These are all available on Netflix or Amazon streaming.
Without further adieu…
1. The X-Files: How The Ghosts Stole Christmas, Season 6, Ep. 6
On christmas eve, Mulder and Scully find themselves in a haunted house with two ghosts who are determined to prove just how lonely yuletide can be. Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin star.
My personal favorite!