Friday, October 16, 2020

Scary Edition 2020

Originally, I had intended to title this post "Hello October," but we have officially passed the midpoint of the month. Halloween will be here in two weeks, followed by, well, everything else. That being said, I wanted to share how I've been spending the spookiest month of the year.

Firstly, I have been heavily brainstorming on Book Two and what needs to be fixed in the edits. I've also been making a list of all of my projects (too many to count) before they leak out of my brain forever.

In true October fashion, I have binged on Vincent Price movies and finished reading the latest vampire novel. For more ideas on October activities, keep reading.

Streaming Video or Rental

As I mentioned, I've been watching Vincent Price, the King of horror actors. I watched The Fall of the House of Usher, Tomb of Ligeia, Haunted Palace, and The Bat. The first two are based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe. If you have never taken the time to appreciate classic movies, the special effects of hand-rendered lightning and the magnified normal fire burning behind a mansion are absolutely spectacular. Did I mention "in color"?! My favorite so far was Tomb of Ligeia, and I wasn't sure if his ramble on the way to the tomb with Christopher was written by the screenwriter or literally in the literature. It was like Broadway acting. Haunted Palace takes the name of one of Poe's poems, and, although it references the poem with one quote near the beginning and the completion of that stanza at the end, that is as far as the "based on" goes with regard to Poe. The story is based on H. P. Lovecraft's story of Charles Dexter Ward, with Price playing Charles. It was fun to watch Price slip between the characters of Ward and his ancestor Curwen. The Bat is based on a tale by Mary Roberts Rinehart, and there are no supernatural elements to the plot. I hate to spoil it for you, but no hand-drawn lightning or fire at the end of that one, either. Try the others.

If ghost stories and creepy old mansions (sans Vincent Price) are more your thing, you have several options. The Haunting of Hill House by the late Shirley Jackson was deemed by some to be the best ghost story ever. I bought the original movie, The Haunting, in lovely black and white, on Vudu. You can also stream the more modern version, which stars Owen Wilson and Catherine Zeta-Jones, among others. That version is very loyal to the first version, but it's in color. :) Then, if you want more of a retelling, there's the series that is "based on" but not necessarily loyal to the book of the same name by the late Shirley Jackson. In true modern style, we are presented with a group of dysfunctional adults (ala Stephen King's IT) following the horrors of their childhood living in Hill House. There's more melodrama than horror, but there is still some nice creep factor here and there. The staging of Hill House is magnificent. This year, Netflix follows with The Haunting of Bly Manor, based on "the work of Henry James," author of The Turn of the Screw according to the credits. (Side note: I did not have the strongest education in classical literature, and I tend to get The Turn of the Screw and The Taming of the Shrew confused, as any normal person would, right?) I was skeptical, but I watched the first episode of Bly Manor (which, I'm intentionally ignoring, is similar to the name of a location in my book, but not exactly), and I was impressed. I don't want to give any spoilers, but LOOK BEHIND the characters in the house!!! That's straight-up Halloween.

Along a similar vein of inviting an odd mix of people to a haunted house is House on Haunted Hill (1959, same year that Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House was released), which I watched last year and which also stars Vincent Price. In 1963, The Haunting came out, based on Shirley Jackson's book, and ten years later came The Legend of Hell House, based on the book Hell House by Richard Matheson, author of other things you've probably heard of: I Am Legend, Somewhere in Time, A Stir of Echoes, What Dreams May Come, and many others, including episodes of Twilight Zone.

I also watched the series A Discovery of Witches, a series that I would describe as Twilight meets Outlander, which takes a more open-minded, politically correct view of witches. The short streaming video series covers the first book and is completely void of vampire yoga.

I could keep going, listing all of the favorites I've seen and some I plan to watch, but let's move on.


In books, as I mentioned, I just finished Laurell K Hamilton's Sucker Punch, an Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, book without any vampires. Still, I think most readers will be relieved at the end. I know I was. I started reading a book that I haven't read since second grade, Little Witch, by Anna Elizabeth Bennett, and realized some of the character similarities between her character and mine in Winterborn. Aside from a few very basic things, which are probably common tropes these days and which I won't mention so as not to provide any spoilers, the plot and personalities are completely different. Of course, Winterborn has flavors of other books, as well, including The Velveteen Rabbit. Again, completely different plot and not a retelling.

After reading this one, I may read The Doll in the Graveyard by Mary Downing Hahn. I really enjoyed her story Wait Til Helen Comes, and I love that she's writing this genre for middle grade. That's where my love of ghost stories started. Or maybe it was when I got a book of real ghost stories from our scholastic book order forms at school in the second grade. Anyway, I picked up TDITG at a flea market over the Labor Day weekend, along with a few others, including Through the Woods, a graphic book of short stories (not really a graphic novel) by Emily Carroll. I've read through most of the stories. Some of the drawings are extremely horrific.

I also got the omnibus edition of the first four Fear Street books and learned that there is a movie in the works. Back in the 90s, I read a lot of Fear Street books, which inspired me to write my first novel. Actually, that wasn't my first, but it was my first serious attempt to make stuff up. I think I tossed it after I spent too much time rereading it years later and laughing at my overly melodramatic writing.

Finally, aside from a couple of Nancy Drew graphic novels by Papercut, I have been reading, Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, but I won't admit how long it's been sitting on my desk next to the bed. I love the concept, but it's a massive book. House of Leaves is a horror novel told from the point of view of a young man who seems somewhat philosophical, apparently possessing an in-depth knowledge of literature while not being entirely grammatically correct, and, yet, is all too familiar with the more seedy aspects of city culture. The writing style is that snappy Good Will Hunting type of tale where they quickly ramble, but I look forward to the parts about the actual horror--a house that isn't the same on the inside and the people who became obsessed with it.


At last... games. Specifically, I'm a Big Fish Games enthusiast, and I'll let you know my favorites and why. After an introduction to Nintendo and shooting ducks, we bought our first computer. Then we learned about Doom, which used to scare the pants off of me. Then, after PlayStation came along, there was Twisted Metal, which was scary in the same sense that you wanted to survive. Also, there were scary characters like the creepy clown Sweet Tooth and the dark diesel truck Darkside.

My first Big Fish Game was in the Grim Tales series, and I loved how the original games had the classic horror elements with roses and skulls and knives. Every year, there are at least two series, Halloween Chronicles and Halloween Stories, released on the website, and you get to try something new. But if you want to know what is in the archives, here are some of my favorites, probably less scary than thrilling, but they evoke the appropriate mood.

Note: All of these games can be downloaded digitally on Big Fish (with exception of Midnight in Salem). You could also look at Steam or, in hard copy, through Amazon, Walmart, eBay, etc. There's nothing wrong with shopping around. :) Unfortunately, not everything was released in hard copy.

Haunted Hotel: Charles Dexter Ward

This is one of the original point-and-click hidden object games from 2012, which seems to have been an awesome year for games of this genre, maybe because I bought my first game that year, and many of my favorites were released that year. This game is based on the same Lovecraft story as the Vincent Price movie Haunted Palace mentioned above. Although it's quite old and not nearly as "smooth" as newer games, meaning it was probably rendered at a lower resolution as befitting the devices of that time, it's still not bad to look at. Just think "classic." The atmosphere is nice, and there's a good story to it. This is, by far, my favorite in the Haunted Hotel series.

 Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst

This was my intro to the Ravenhearst series, where a master detective investigates various cases on behalf of the Queen. In these cases, he investigates the estate Ravenhearst and tries to stop the insane Dalimars. The first in the series was very pixelated and simply had a list with a picture to click on, but the second in the series set a standard for all games. It had complex puzzles and, for the first time, live actors. I didn't even play the first. I tried it, but it wasn't the same. The third installment, Escape from Ravenhearst, was more grotesque in nature, but Return was definitely my favorite. You have the falling rain and all of the lovely tropes of the creepy house, ravens, dolls, etc.

Mystery Case Files: The 13th Skull

This is probably my favorite game in the entire MCF series. Set in Louisiana, the main setting is a crumbling old mansion draped in Spanish moss hanging from live oaks. Your investigate leads you to the owner of a voodoo shop and pirates. If you like pirates, check out Nightmares of the Deep: A Cursed Heart.

Nancy Drew: The Ghost of Thornton Hall

Nancy Drew isn't for pansies. :) It's a lot harder than you'd think. There is no hint button. There is usually no strategy guide built in, and some of those puzzles are really challenging. These are not hidden object games. They are point-and-click adventures, but they've developed a following, male and female alike, who welcome the challenge. The setting on this one is similar to The 13th Skull, but the story is way different.

There are more spooky Nancy Drew games where that came from, including the recent Midnight in Salem (not to be confused with Midnight Mysteries: Salem Witch Trials).

The Cabinets of Doctor Arcana

This is actually a recent release (April of this year), and the first couple of reviews were people who clearly didn't get it. This game is a new game made in the style of an old game. That's the beauty of it. With the advent of engines and templates, some developers are relying on recycled work and not pure creation. People are tired of templates and puzzles just like the one in the last game. I mean, not even with different artwork; it's the same puzzle! But this one was puzzle after puzzle, some of them really challenging and different, and a totally lousy hint button that won't tell you anything, unless you want to skip a puzzle (which I did by accident, looking for where I could find the next unsolved puzzle). All that being said, it's moody, it's gothic, it has pipe organs playing, it has art of various monsters and mythical creatures, and it has a snarky wizard ready to watch you die if you fail.

Rhiannon: Curse of the Four Branches

Recently, I played this game—I may have mentioned it in a prior post—and I just absolutely loved it. 

This game is based on Welsh mythology, and you read about it as you go through the game. There's the haunted house, the rituals to be discovered, and puzzles that really make you think. I think I had to google a tutorial for it. It really makes you think. I tried to find a decent review of the game, and this video does NOT give you a great impression, but the game is so much better. This music does not play all the way through the game. It's actually pretty funny, like, if you don't feed the cat, he'll bring mice, and you can flush them down the toilet. You never actually see the cat, but you hear the flap opening and shutting, and you have to feed the cat or get mice. There are some rooms where you think they could have done more here, but the story is great. I didn't want it to end. I wanted the company to make more, but due to the EU laws, they were having a lot of issues and shut down. I hope that they get back together and make more games. This was one that included many different disciplines, it's so multifaceted, and you actually learn while playing. I really loved it and can't say enough about it. 

The basic story is that a family's daughter Rhiannon is being haunted. They think she is going crazy, so they take her away from the house for a while. Meanwhile, you show up, invited, and investigate. The game has a classic moody atmosphere, and I fell in love with Wales playing it. If you play it, let me know what you think! I'd love to hear about it! :)


There are so many others I could name, some seriously creepy, such as the Maze series (which even comes with a warning for psychological horror), I could go on and on, but I just don't have the time and room to go into it here. Like, in the Riddles of Fate series, starting with Wild Hunt, you get to help Death, because, you know, he's such a good guy.  Then, there's Hallowed Legends: Samhain. Mystery of the Ancients: Lockwood Manor, Dreadful Tales, Paranormal Files, Gravely Silent, Dracula....

So, there you go, my multi-media list of Halloweenish entertainment. Now, I'm off to watch Bly Manor, unless I decide it's too late and too dark outside to watch. :)


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