Stories For Ghosts

Horror for the Discerning Fan

Category: ghost stories (page 1 of 2)

My Favorite Beautiful Horror Films – Part 2

As a horror fan, I live and die for visually striking, beautiful horror films. It doesn’t matter what subgenre of horror it is or how gory it is—I love beautiful horror. The more provocative, the better. I can’t look away from a film like Suspiria or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I wouldn’t even if I could because I love the delicious contrast between watching something scary when it’s in a bold, ornate, artistic cinematic language.

Many horror films don’t bother with a strong, unifying visual concepts, so I find it refreshing when a film achieves a distinct cinematic style and tone. It’s even better when that distinct cinematic style transforms the horrors on screen into something gorgeous and compelling.

A beautiful horror film is special. A keen grasp of color and form and composition add layers of understanding to the story. An inspired eye deepens my apprehension, heightens my terror, and distills my horrific realizations into an unforgettable viewing experience. A beautiful horror film makes me wish I’d taken more film classes in college.A beautiful horror film scratches its way into my brain where it makes a permanent home.

A little while ago, I shared a list of my favorite beautiful horror films. The list included classic horror films with almost universally praised aesthetics, like The Shining or Let the Right One In. Lately, I’ve decided the time has come to publish an additional list including more of those visually magnificent films I love so much.

For this list, I’ve put together an eclectic group of beautiful horror films ranging from a noir-inspired B-movie to a French horror classic to last year’s prettiest and most disappointing movie. Here they are, in chronological order, resplendent and unsettling.

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November 2017 Horror – Serial Killers, Revenge Plots, and Office Mayhem

Halloween has come and gone, leaving horror movies in its wake like so many crumpled candy wrappers on my coffee table. Just as we kind of ignore Thanksgiving and skip from Halloween to Christmas, November’s horror release calendar makes me long for December when The Shape of Water will grace theaters.

And yet, even though it’s a slow time of year for horror movies, all is not lost. Yes, there are some real stinkers on November’s slate, but look at the bright side! I’ve found a few promising movies here, like My Friend Dahmer, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and Mayhem, all of which have toured the festivals and gained critical acclaim as examples of innovative and striking horror filmmaking. Sometimes it’s the most unassuming horror movies that make the biggest impact, right?

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12 of My Fave Modern Horror Novels For Spooky Reading

One of my personal favorite parts about Halloween is that my friends and family really like to get into the spooky spirit. I am always in a spooky mood, and it brings my cold black heart joy to see my loved ones come visit me over here on the dark side. They ask me for recommendations for movies, TV shows, and books, the latter of which I absolutely love to give since I am a huge lit nerd.

I’ve done this before in my Classic Spooky Read post from last Halloween. If you are interested in picking up am iconic horror masterpiece like Frankenstein, or Dracula, or The Haunting of Hill House, now is the perfect time! But if you want something newer, a little fresher and more contemporary, then you should check out my list of 12 modern horror novel favorites.

Enjoy!

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13 of the Creepiest, Most Disturbing Lore Episodes

Today is Friday the 13th, which makes it a perfect release date for Amazon’s new series, Lore. This new anthology series is directly inspired by Lore, an awesome and exquisitely researched podcast started by novelist Aaron Mahnke.

And I could not be more excited. Lore is one of my favorite podcasts.

As a podcast, Lore retells old legends, myths, and real-life ghost stories from America and Europe, but these aren’t your average campfire takes. Mahnke is a wonderful storyteller who carefully researches and questions the stories he tells, all of which weaves a stunning picture of human nature. You may have heard stories of the Moth Man or the Jersey Devil or Elizabeth Bathory, but never like this. And Amazon’s new series continues this tradition by adapting Mahnke’s podcast episodes for the small screen.

In honor of the new series, I wanted to share my 13 favorite Lore episodes with you. It was no small task to narrow down the 70 (and counting!) episodes to 13, so I had to make some hard choices. I hope you enjoy them!

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How the Ouija Board Went from Family Pastime to Demonic Threat

For my childhood, “occult” games were a staple. During recess, we used origami fortune tellers and other strange little rituals to divine our futures. My friends and I loved to play light as a feather, stiff as a board at sleepovers and camp. And we played with Ouija boards, asking the spirits to tell us our futures and answer all the inane questions a preteen girl might ask. We had even learned how to make Ouija boards out of construction paper and markers, just in case an actual board wasn’t available.

Most of us didn’t believe that Ouija boards worked and certainly didn’t believe that a spirit could lash out from the board. We accused each other of manipulating the planchette. We also had great fun scaring each other with scary stories. It wasn’t real, but that didn’t stop us from always observing proper Ouija board etiquette. Never use the board alone. Delegate one person to ask questions so as not to confuse the spirit. Be polite. Always be sure to say hello and goodbye to properly “close” the board. And if shit gets weird, throw salt on the board (or rip it up, should you be using a paper board).

It was a fun trick to feel like we’d gotten deliciously close to something mysterious and supernatural, like telling ghost stories and shivering by the campfire. Nothing more.

Thus, I’m always surprised when I hear that someone is genuinely wary of Ouija boards. It doesn’t seem to make sense that otherwise rational people would vehemently insist that Ouija boards are evil and dangerous. “Why would you mess with that?” they ask? “You’re just asking for trouble.”

I always disagree, explaining that it’s just a game. A really good example of how the ideometer effect works. It’s just a silly, thrilling way to probe the darkness of our obscured subconscious but in a way that’s easy for children to grasp. If God wanted me to become possessed, I would insist, it would happen regardless of any Ouija board.

Still, the Ouija board’s drastic and unwieldy power looms large in the minds of many. It has a uniquely America history. It’s a mainstay of the American obsession with the occult. We love a spectacle, especially if it’s a little scary, bringing us close enough to see a faint glimmer of what we’ve long suspected to be true. A part of us wants to touch the other side and another part of us wants to be convinced that it’s just a game. But America also loves to shake its fingers at things it doesn’t understand, as many conservative Christians swear that Ouija boards should be avoided as un-Christian.

How did we get here? How did a game become regarded as a beacon for the demon world?

In case you didn’t know, a Ouija board is a wooden board inscribed with the alphabet, numbers, “Yes,” “No,” and “Goodbye.” It comes with a heart-shaped planchette that the spirits use to “communicate” by moving over the board and resting on letters and numbers. It’s a variation of the talking board and automatic writing, which have been used by human beings for centuries.

While talking boards and automatic writing are nothing new, the Ouija board is an American invention. The Ouija board rose in popularity due to the American Spiritualism movement, which exploded onto the scene in 1848. The meteoric rise of the Fox Sisters launched the movement as the first celebrity mediums. They claimed to have communicated with spirits through a series of knocks and rappings in their parents’ farmhouse. They took their unique talents on the road, touring America and Europe and holding impressive séances in front of paying audiences. Soon, Spiritualism had gripped the country. In an era where the average lifespan was less than 50 years (if you survived childhood, disease, childbirth, and war), the opportunity to commune with deceased loved ones was irresistible. People of all walks of life engaged in these practices and spent vast amounts of money. Even First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln held séances in the White House in an effort to contact her son, who had died at the age of eleven.

After the Civil War, during which mediums and spiritualists experienced a boom in business, mediums made an effort to streamline the séance. The ritual could drag on for hours and get boring as mediums deciphered the rappings and spirit writings. Talking boards were easier, less complicated, and they could be used by almost anyone.

America’s industrious businessmen saw an opportunity, recognizing that talking boards could be packaged and marketed in such a way that grieving Americans could cut out the middleman and literally circumvent mediums. In 1890, Charles Kennard, a Baltimore businessman, founded the Kennard Novelty Company and set about to become the exclusive mass-producer of talking boards for the American public. Armed with an eerie name and an aura of mystique, Kennard secured a patent from the US Patent Office for his Ouija boards. Legend has it that Kennard was able to “prove” the board worked by correctly answering personal questions about the patent officer working at the time, which scared the patent office and secured the patent. Whether or not you believe that story, the point is that Kennard was able to scare the hell out of the poor patent officer, paving the way for the Kennard Novelty Company to make a fortune selling Ouija boards.

 

After that, the Kennard Novelty Company marketed the Ouija board as an otherworldly oracle, capable of allowing the user to divine the secrets of the spirit world. But they also marketed it as a wholesome family fun, because who wouldn’t want to have a delightful time together trying to summon Grandma? Notably, the Ouija board was most popular during hard times, when war, disease, and cultural upheaval dominated headlines. Historian Robert Murch explained, in an interview with Smithsonian Museum, that many people used the board to affirm their deepest wishes for an afterlife. “People want to believe,” he said. “The need to believe that something else is out there is powerful. [The Ouija board] is one of those things that allows them to express that belief.”

And so, the Ouija board became culturally ubiquitous. Writers boasted about using Ouija boards to “dictate” whole novels written by spirits. It was featured in episodes of I Love Lucy and Bewitched as well as in films like The Uninvited and 13 Ghosts. Norman Rockwell used it in one of his iconic pictures for the Saturday Evening Post. In 1967, the board outsold monopoly. While some sensational news stories linked the board to depraved murders and tales of insanity, the vast majority of people did not feel threatened by Ouija boards. At the very most, it was a tool. At the very least, it was a game.

Until The Exorcist came along.

In a pivotal scene in the film, Regan MacNeil shows her mother how she uses an Ouija board to communicate with a spirit named Captain Howdy. Things seem innocent at first, and while the film never explicitly links her use of the Ouija board to her demonic possession, the implications are clear that a demon took advantage of the board to lie to Regan, gain her trust, and ultimately possess her.

Audiences flipped. Not only was the movie terrifying as a whole, but the Ouija board scene proved especially controversial. Religious groups were quick to denounce Ouija boards as a dangerous tool of the devil. (Interestingly, the Catholic Church supported the film and provided consulting behind the scenes.)

“It’s kind of like Psycho,” explained Murch. “No one was afraid of showers until that scene… It’s a clear line.”

After The Exorcist, Ouija boards were transformed from a radio for the dead to a portal through which Satan could drag children into torment and damnation. Numerous religious authorities and publications warned against using Ouija boards (along with fortune telling and horoscopes), claiming that Ouija boards were an affront to God. Religious leaders like Billy Graham warned that Ouija boards would not only lead the faithful away from God but into entanglements with Satan.  Pat Roberts said that “Demons can control a Ouija board, and you begin to deal with the occult, that’s who you’re dealing with. You’re not dealing with Jesus, you’re not dealing with God, you’re dealing with demonic.”

While it’s weird to me that Pat Roberts gets his knowledge of demonic possession from horror movies, it’s not surprising. After The Exorcist, horror writers and directors everywhere started using the Ouija board as a convenient plot device. It became a nationally recognized symbol for a reckless tool that even the best mediums could not control. Movies like the Witchboard series, The Craft, What Lies Beneath, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the Paranormal Activity series, The Conjuring 2, and the Ouija series all feature Ouija boards, adding to the status of the board as a dangerous device vulnerable to demonic interference.

ouija

Presently, the Ouija board is used more for the thrill of the unknown than for spiritual purposes. It is still very popular, experiencing a bump in sales from the release of Ouija. And the board still has its detractors, with numerous religious groups speaking out against it. In 2001, a New Mexico church burned Ouija boards alongside Harry Potter books.

Real or not, Ouija boards are here to stay. Personally, I think the enduring draw of the Ouija board is significant and natural. The board is some of the most concrete evidence we have showing how we create our own scary stories. We invent the monsters. We summon the ghosts. We find our fears spelled out underneath the planchette’s window. We have become so distanced from death that we fear it now, and Ouija boards reflect that. This game, this spooky little ritual, allows us to find answers hidden deep within our psyches. Even if you have never used a Ouija board, your conception of the board says a lot about you without you having to ever ask the board a question.

Just because we don’t like the answers doesn’t mean we should stop asking questions.

 

List of sources:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

 

 

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July 2017 Horror Movies: A Low-Key Month

While the dead of summer is when we expect many of the big action blockbusters, the same cannot be said of horror movies this year. July 2017 horror movies are a bit low key this month, though not without some interesting entries. There are three movies that showed at the Sundance Film Festival back in January. There’s one mainstream summer scary movie. And, as always, there are quite a few low-budget, low-profile horror flicks rounding out the July 2017 horror movies. It’s definitely a mixed bag, but with movies like Killing Ground and It Stains the Sands Red, there’s hope for horror this month, despite the appearance of Wish Upon.

If nothing else, it will be only a few short weeks until The Dark Tower, Annabelle: Creation, and Polaroid!

Enjoy.

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Horror Movies at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival

It’s time for the annual Cannes Film Festival! And that means there’s a whole new crop of Cannes horror films!

Cannes is one of the renowned and distinguished film festivals in the world, attracting talent and glitz from all over. The festival has proven itself to be an important predictor of award-winning and groundbreaking films. Among all those storied films, composed of equal parts Oscar-bait and innovative indies, are some of the best horror movies.

As I pointed out in last year’s post, films like It Follows, Green Room, Possession, and Evil Dead were all shown at Cannes. Cannes has always recognized good films, even if they do happen to be horror films.

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Call Your Mother, Then Watch These Horror Movies for Mother’s Day

One of the most popular horror movie trope is the Bad, Scary Mother. It’s not just horror movies that love to trot out a fearsome mother figure. Norma Bates wasn’t the first controlling, abusive mother to terrify her children, and she won’t be the last. Medea, Cinderella’s evil stepmother, Cersai Lannister—human culture and literature has countless examples of maternal figures that are selfish, manipulative, and downright evil. These figures are powerful because they fly in the face of our ideal image of what a mother should be.

And what should a mother be? This Mother’s Day, like all others, we will celebrate our mothers for their nurturing natures, for how loving and supportive and selfless and kind they’ve been to us. We will post cute vintage pictures of our mothers, young and bright-eyed, holding colorful little bundles of joy on their laps. We will send them flowers, buy them nice gifts, bring them chocolates, and wait on them hand and foot. They have given so much to us, we will say. They’ve sacrificed so much for us. They’ve been good mothers.

Does a bad mother fail to do all of that? Is that how easy it is to tell who is a good mommy and who is a bad mommy?

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March 2017 Horror Movies – Cannibals, Grief, and Workplace Violence

Here in Texas, March is a bit of a tumultuous month. The weather is crazy, with hot days and chilly nights, and crazy pollen causing allergies like you wouldn’t believe. And the event scheduled is packed—you’ve got the weeks-long Cook-off and Rodeo, along with St. Patrick’s Day and Spring Break.

So too, the horror release schedule for March 2017 is a roller-coaster of horror movies. There’s blood and ghosts and humor and social commentary and fascinating stories. We’ve got some big, splashy gore fests in The Belko Experiment and Life, along with the artsy cannibal flick Raw. Later in the month, we see some pensive and creepy offerings with Dig Two Graves and The Blackcoat’s Daughter. And don’t overlook indie films The Devil’s Candy and Here Alone, both of which might prove to be pleasant, bloody surprises.

Let’s see where March takes us!

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13 Highly Anticipated 2017 Horror Novels For Your Amazon Cart

As a self-proclaimed literature nerd with a demanding job, I am torn between my desire to be well-read and getting enough sleep. I wish I had more time to devote to reading, especially as it concerns horror novels and short stories. It’s an exciting genre, and if you can wade through the not-so-great books and find the provocative, imaginative, and truly disturbing reads, it’s a rewarding endeavor.

I am sick of not reading enough horror.

Consequently, I decided that one of my New Year’s Resolutions would be, you guessed it, to read more horror. And so I did a little research and compiled a list of 13 highly anticipated 2017 horror novels to share with you! The list includes some tried-and-true horror veterans, like Caitlin R. Kiernan and Josh Malerman, but it also includes some shiny new debuts.

So if you want to read more horror as well, or if you just want an interesting book to read, check out my list!

Enjoy!

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