Posts Tagged ‘Ghosts’

The Innocents (1961)

October 19, 2018

I think that we all instinctively worry about children. Even those, like me, who have no instinct to procreate and claim to ‘hate children’ have an innate instinct to protect children. When I hear a baby crying or a child screaming it grates on my nerves and I absolutely want somebody to fix it. It is that instinct that draws people in to protect or rescue children in danger. The only time that I have come close to becoming a caregiver was as a counselor at a summer camp but I never really had any dominion or responsibility for any of the kids. Still, I did teach some classes and I learned how determined young people are to be crazy and worrying. By design, children do not really have the wisdom that most of the rest of us accumulate that help us survive. Poor impulse control and curiosity can often lead to dangerous situations but the kids often do not realize the danger at first. For example, in the original film version of Frankenstein (1931), a little girl meets the monster and is unafraid and ends up drowning because of it. We should all approach life with an open mind but we should also be wary of potential danger at the same time. Children often have not realized that yet and it makes them harder to protect.

Ghosts can be effectively used in horror but it is a fine line to walk. To me, ghosts are creepiest when they are not seen or barely seen. Ghost stories can be very psychological for me because they deal with the barrier between life and death. That barrier is a hard and fast rule in our real world and there have been no reliable accounts of anybody crossing it and coming back. Once you are dead then you are dead and your story is done. In the fictional world of horror stories, people come back all the time. In fact, I watched two Stephen King adaptations already earlier this month that are literally about that. The world of the living and the world of the dead have different perspectives by nature. The world of the dead lives in the past because they have no real future. In our world, we understand that the past must remain in the past at least when it comes to bad things. We learn from the past but we understand that we should not literally bring it back or we will not be progressing and growing. The idea that the past can come back unbidden and affect our present and change our future is a scary concept even without throwing the supernatural into the mix.

This is an older movie and while some older movies do not age well, I have found that many horror movies benefit from being older. Black and white movies are really good at showing off the stark contrast between light and shadow. The cinematographer definitely played a lot with light and shadow. I also noticed how well they used space which is something I do not see as often. By space, I mean that the director places a great deal of empty space between people and things to unsettle the viewer. Older movies such as this one also have fewer frills than modern movies. There is nothing wrong with modern frills but it is refreshing to watch something without fancy special effects. It reminds me of my theater days. The soundtrack is simple but creepy in its simplicity. The music, in particular, has a tension to it and even the happy music feels a little dark. In fact, some of the music was sampled and used in The Ring (2002) because of its inherent creepiness. Like many good horror movies, it gains strength from its use of silence.

The acting is top notch in the movie. The movie is about a governess who is sent to the English countryside to look after two children. Unfortunately, the country estate is haunted by a past that it cannot shake. The strength of the movie comes from the star, Deborah Kerr, who shows such a dynamic range in her acting and it is hard not to like her. Of course, there are two children (Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens). Kids can be a goldmine when it comes to horror and these kids are definitely great at horror without even trying. (Thankfully, the director shielded the kids from the intense nature of the movie’s plot). The kids are so good at being offputting that it is hard to imagine them doing it unintentionally. Their interactions with Kerr are the meat and potatoes of the movie and all the movie really needs to be scary. However, Kerr’s moments alone are also tense as heck. Finally, there is an emotional anchor to the movie in the housekeeper played by Megs Jenkins. She is a kindly old woman who provides a lot of the exposition.

Overall, I really loved this movie. To be fair, this movie is an adaptation of “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James which is an old but brilliant ghost story. I actually did light and sound design for a stage production of the story years ago when I lived in New Jersey. The movie captures that theatrical kind of horror which involves a lot of the theater of the mind. It makes for a very psychological horror movie where you wonder how much of it is real. When the light comes again, we begin to doubt our thoughts in the darkness.

Legally Haunted: Stambovsky v. Ackley

April 14, 2017

Our childhoods warp us all.

There are many things that I think I have made abundantly clear on this blog that I love on this blog. I am here today to talk about two of them. The first is the supernatural. I am a skeptic so I do not actually believe that much of the supernatural actually exists. Unexplained phenomena are just things waiting to be explained by science. However, I still love fantastic stories for the great fiction that they are. Ghost stories are particularly epic and can vary on a spectrum from touching to terrifying. Even the most benign stories used to chill me to the bone until it dawned on me that all of the stories were unproven. Still, it is still fun to suspend my disbelief and get a little scare now and again.

I mean, I learned more law from this guy than my folks.

The second thing that I have gotten into more recently is the law. I am currently very close to getting a paralegal certificate at the local community college. My parents are both lawyers and so I grew up just outside of the legal profession. You see, anyone in the legal profession really cannot talk about their cases too much due to confidentiality issue. Also, it is probably best not to talk about such things in front of children as a lot of cases are either boring or inappropriate for kids. Now, I am facing the same thing as I work on an internship. So, you will never see me tell stories on here about my work and that is probably for the best anyway. However, that does not count for famous cases that I was not involved in.

I mean how can you tell that it’s haunted. That’s profiling.

When Karen Ackley and her family moved into their house in the 1960s, they were warned by neighbors that the house was haunted. She was pretty sure, after her own observations, that there were three ghosts haunting the house. One was a Navy Lieutenant in the Revolutionary War and the other two were Lord George and Lady Margaret who lived in the 18th Century. She brought in two of the usual charlatans (who I will not publicize) who confirmed her suspicions that the place was haunted. The hauntings mostly centered around experience Ackley’s daughter and grandkids had but there were one or two reports from Ackley herself and the man who would marry Ackley’s daughter. Ackley specifically wrote a piece for Reader’s Digest detailing, among other things, that the ghosts gave gifts to the children. These gifts disappeared later.

Who you gonna call? A lawyer!

Later, her family sought to sell the house and they did so to a Jeffrey Stambovsky. To his horror, he found out that the house he had just signed a contract to purchase was haunted by poltergeists. In any fictional world, he would hire some Ghostbusters to just clean the place out and have the Ackleys pay for it. In the real world. you apparently go to court. He filed for an act of rescission which is, in this case, a request for the courts to revoke or cancel an agreement. He wanted to back out of buying the house because he felt that the Ackleys owed him a duty to inform him of the poltergeists before he moved in. The argument was that the law should not compel performance of a contract that is not fair and open. By concealing the information about the ghosts, Ackley tainted the contract by not acting good faith. The dissenting opinion talked about the doctrine of ‘caveat emptor’ which is ‘let the buyer beware’. They insisted that Stambovsky should have done his research but the majority opinion granted the cancellation of the contract.

It was the biggest case of its kind since State v. Stantz, et al.

Nevermind that this whole ‘haunting’ was mostly made up of stories from children or adults who were breathing in paint fumes or were half awake. The New York courts had ruled that ‘haunted’ was an actual condition for real property to have. However, thankfully, at no point do they speak as if ghosts are a known thing that actually exists. The ruling is based on the bad reputation that calling a house haunted causes. Once you get past the Ghostbusters and Shakespeare quote in the opinion, the actual opinion is more about whether a seller should be able to get away with concealing information. The court held that taking advantage of a buyer’s ignorance is distasteful and should not be able to be hidden behind a doctrine like caveat emptor. It was a decision that helped promote fair dealing in the real estate market in New York. So now you know!

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