Back in 2011 I wrote about my history with and love for the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. One thing I’ve enjoyed about the stories I read in my childhood is encountering their origins or earlier versions through the years. Now, as part of my never-ending quest on this site to start new things that I rarely revisit or see through satisfactorily, I’m going to start a series of posts focused on the light history and evolution of some classic scary stories. Starting with the joke story, “Wait ’til Martin Comes.”
On her official page, Michelle Paver is described first as simply “A Creator of Legends,” and whoever wrote that “ain’t never lied,” as the folks say. I haven’t read any of her fantasy works. I’ve only read two of her novels in fact, but they’re two of the best ghost stories I’ve ever read. This is especially remarkable as they are so similar. You might think the latter story might be less effective for being so close to the first. No, it’s still excellent, and both novels pull together something that feels like a legend. Classic, timeless lore befitting Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book.
Spoilers ahead for the 2017 film Ghost Stories, as well as a handful other films that share its big twist.
I can’t remember the last time a plot twist in a short story, film, television series or novel truly startled me. Surely some “unpredictable” twist must have had an impact on me in recent years, but I can’t think of one at the moment. I’ve enjoyed–even loved–plenty of other movies that featured a twist, but the twist is rarely near the top of the reasons why most stories stand out to me. That leads me to believe that the plot twist, one of the most deliciously irresistible devices available in any writer’s toolbox, is mildly overrated. Not bad, just not the thing that ought to be the most important element of a story in most cases.
What a strange delight is Whispering Corridors, a movie that haunted my recommendations across multiple online platforms for years. I am so glad, at long last, to have taken time to watch it.
Why I didn’t ever give it a chance until now, I cannot say. I’ve taken a chance on movies with worse reviews, worse looking covers, less interesting blurbs, so on and so forth. For some reason I just left Whispering Corridors behind, stuck in my “Eh, I’ll get around to it eventually” bin. This weekend I finally did indeed get around to it.
$30,000 for proof of the afterlife seems like an underpayment, but when it’s all the payer can afford I suppose you can’t say that he’s a cheapskate. Anyway, that’s the general premise of We Go On, a decent little horror flick with some quite-qualified actors available on Shudder.
A mostly ordinary man named Miles is so terrified of the idea of dying that he’s willing to give half of his recently inherited $60,000 to anyone who can prove to him that death isn’t the end of it all (he spends the other half on the ad calling for all potential purveyors of paranormal proof). I say “mostly” ordinary because Miles has a pretty run-of-the-mill job (well, by movie standards) and life, but is exceptional in that he’s host to an inordinate amount of phobias. On top of thanatophobia (death anxiety), he has agoraphobia, acrophobia, septophobia, and vehophobia. We find out about the latter in a reasonably effective opening-scene nightmare, and it’s apparently caused by the knowledge of his father’s death via car accident.
Spoilers abound. Be warned.
John Carpenter’s The Fog initially had an 80-minute runtime before Carpenter, dissatisfied with what he believed to be “a movie that didn’t work,” reshot some scenes to improve what he didn’t care for and make the movie bit more coherent where he felt it was needed. These reshoots included new and extended scenes, which beefed the runtime up to a whopping 89-minutes. Ironically, one of the added scenes makes the movie cut even more abruptly to the chase than it would have otherwise.
The film adaptation of Peter Straub’s novel is unsurprisingly simplified in comparison to its source material. While it has its moments, including a fairly well executed and suitably gruesome climactic reveal, and Alice Krige is pretty magnificent in it, it also has more than its share of corny scenes doomed by bad shot selection, or oversold acting, or questionable (even unnecessary) dialogue. There’s an opening scene featuring a man plummeting to his death that’s laughable even by 1981’s “We’re still sketchy on how best to execute believable falling scenes” standards. A later scene of someone falling off a bridge ends with the same clumsy impact seen when a character takes a dive in Les Miserables thirty-one years later. Apparently, in this one very, very specific area, we haven’t collectively learned much in the past three decades.
Barry Pain’s short story “The Four-Fingered Hand,” initially published in 1911’s Here and Hereafter, is a great, swift tale that can be read on Project Gutenberg for free. You should, perhaps, read the story first, then come back to read this post because I’m going to dive into story details, including the ending.
Ready now? Let’s get to it.
If you read enough ghost stories, you know that supernatural omens and phantom harbingers are plentiful in ghostlore; banshees, La Llorona, black dogs, death coaches, The Flying Dutchman, and a host of others that I’m not naming, and plenty more that I’m sure I’ve never heard of. These entities and their freshly imagined stand-ins often pop up in horror fiction, because a being whose mere presence foretells death is ripe for producing frights. Given the familiarity of this character type, stories often add some twist to try to keep the audience on its toes, often utilizing dramatic irony that suggests predestination (the cursed person tries to avoid their death, only to accidentally cause their death through very actions meant to prevent it), or a plot turn involving a false presumption (the banshee appears, but the person sick in bed recovers, and someone else in the house ends up dead instead).
“It was Christmas Eve.
I begin this way because it is the proper, orthodox, respectable way to begin… The experienced reader knows it was Christmas Eve, without my telling him. It always is Christmas Eve, in a ghost story.”
This is how Jerome K. Jerome introduced his short ghost story collection Told After Supper, released way back in good ol’ 1891. He goes on to describe Christmas eve as the a “great gala night” for ghosts, and state that, “There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas—something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts, like the dampness of the summer rains brings out the frogs and snails.”