Tag Archive: haunted house

Shambling Up The Ranks…


Go “like” their page! (http://www.facebook.com/DistrictoftheDead)

It’s the time of year again!  Time to bundle up, grab a hot apple cider, and hit the road to your favorite haunted attraction.  Every year I’m thankful to be living near Buffalo, New York, where there are plenty of haunted houses to visit.  Last year, District of the Dead opened its doors for the inaugural year.  It was a small house, run partly for profit and partly for charity.  I was excited to see what the new year would bring for them, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

District of the Dead made many smart changes for the 2012 season.  First – they moved to a better location.  They are now at the corner of Sheridan Drive and Eggert Road, near Yings Wings Things & Bar.  This new location is prime – they are at a busy corner and surrounded by well-established businesses.  The second smart change they made was their overall expansion.  There are now two haunted houses:  District of the Dead, and Lake Effect.  While both houses are smaller than most in the area, they are jam-packed with scares!  The actors and actresses are literally laying for you in wait around almost every corner.  The team also used clever distractions and props to divert unsuspecting eyes away from their attackers.

Where District of the Dead really shines is in the pure zest of their workers.  Every blood dripped, drooling, gargling zombie on the property seems genuinely thrilled to be there.  I’ve been to enough haunted houses – trust me, when the cast and crew aren’t into the house, it shows.  Don’t be surprised if you’re eating next door at the local Mighty Taco and a freak in bandages and bloody drool comes bursting through the door – they’re just doing their job.  Scaring you senseless and inserting themselves into your nightmares.

I highly suggest you visit the District of the Dead this year.  The admission is reasonable ($13), the cause is worthy (they support local charities including The Food Bank of WNY), and the scares are plentiful.  Did I mention they also had chainsaws???  I can’t wait to see what next year will bring!

This photo was taken from the facebook page of District of the Dead.

This past Friday, my friend Steve and I checked out a new haunt in Buffalo, NY.  It’s called “District of the Dead”, and it currently resides in the old Don Pablo’s building on Elmwood Avenue, by the Regal Cinema.  You can check them out on the web here.  Now, when I review haunts, I take a few factors into account.  It’s not fair to judge all haunts by the same standard.  It’s important to consider:  How much did the ticket cost?  How many years has the haunt been in business?  What’s the purpose of the haunt?  Who works there?  When I was in college, I used to run the Haunted Hallway with Steve and the other members of the Astronomy Club.  I know how hard it is to plan a haunt, purchase all the props, and convince people to come to the haunt.  There’s a ton of work behind every haunt that people don’t always consider.

The haunt itself was interesting.  It had the obligatory chainsaw – always welcome, as well as the claustrophobia section that is common in haunted houses.  I thought that the haunt was pretty good.  I went through it and screamed my guts out.  I went back in again, and screamed just as much as I did the first time.  The actors seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, which is a big draw for me.  If the actors and actresses aren’t enjoying themselves, why should I?  The set design wasn’t very extensive, and there were no animatronic props – but remember, it’s their first year.  They still have time to build a larger and more extensive haunt in the coming years.  (Personal note:  I prefer live people to animatronics any day!  The stupid whirrr noise they make is very fake.  I don’t like being able to predict what’s going to happen next.)

The Old Don Pablo’s building made a pretty good first-haunt space.  It’s a small-ish building which added to the atmosphere.  Also, being small, the props and actors/actresses weren’t stretched too thin.  They were able to mix live action with props and scenery.

My only worry is the location.  Elmwood is a busy street, but it isn’t situated in a place where it can be easily seen all day long.  Competitor haunted houses in the area are on busier streets, and are more likely to be visited by a spontaneous crowd.  Next year they should opt for a more prominent place.  On a good note, they advertised on Groupon.com, and have a Facebook page.  The souvenir cups were a great idea – it will keep their haunt in the forefront of people’s minds.  It’s also something that sets them apart from the other attractions in the area.  They don’t have a concession stand as of yet, but I believe that will be something they will incorporate later.

After going through the haunt, Steve and I spent some time chatting with one of the minds behind the haunt.  Already, they are thinking ahead to how to change their haunt and improve it.  As it is, the haunt runs about 15 minutes, and will set you back $11.00.  If you show your ticket at the bar after the haunt, you get a free soda and a souvenir black light reactive cup that celebrates the haunt.  What’s more intriguing than an $11.00 haunt?  An $11.00 haunt that donates 10% of it’s profits for the opening year to Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo of course!  The haunt is staffed by volunteers who also do their own makeup, and a company was on site taking pictures of people at a strategic point in the haunt, and you can buy them after you get out.  The makeup the volunteers did will give most attractions in Buffalo a run for their money.  Some of them even had prosthetic wounds and other gory details like slashed and believably bloody clothing.

District of the Dead is certainly a haunt to watch!  I’m excited to see what they come up with in the coming years of their operation, and I will most certainly add them to my list of yearly haunts.  It will be fun to watch them grow from a small operation to a larger one.  If you’re in the area, I suggest you stop by.  In the meantime, bounce on over to Facebook.com where you can find their page, or just take this quick link.  You’ll be in the loop about tickets, pricing, and hours.  You’ll also be able to take a peek at the haunt in their picture section, and get updates on additional District of the Dead goings-on.

insidious-movie-title (2)

Image by LaryCrews via Flickr

If I were to choose the scariest movie that I have ever seen, then I would choose “INSIDIOUS”.

INSIDIOUS” successfully avoided so many common pitfalls in the horror movie industry.  The haunting started almost immediately, and very quickly grew in horrifying intensity.  At first, objects were moved around the house (sheet music box in the attic, books moved off a shelf onto a floor, etc.) and quickly became  more frightening and threatening (bloody footprints, loud voices, visions, etc.)  All of this was done without the use of excessive blood and gore.

The next pitfall that “INSIDIOUS” avoided is more my own personal pet peeve than anything.  I don’t like to mix sex scenes and horror movies.  I have found more often than not that when a horror movie is lacking in scare power, it makes up for it with a skin show.  If the sex adds to the story, fine, whatever – but I don’t like when it’s thrown into the story for no apparent reason.  Both writer and director did a great job of showing Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson‘s love for each other without having them bare it all on the screen.  Horror should be the focus of a horror movie, not the actor and actresses’ spare bits.

The story centers around a couple and their three children.  They move into a new house and immediately strange things begin.  At first, books are moved from the shelf onto the floor, and a box of sheet music goes missing.  Then, as things start getting worse, Renai (played by Rose Byrne) hears a horrifying voice on the baby monitor.  She runs upstairs to find that her baby is alone in its room, and she can’t find the source of the voice.  A few days later, her son falls into a coma which the doctor’s can’t seem to explain.  Her mother-in-law (Barbara Hershey) decides to call in the help of psychic Elise (Lin Shaye) in order to help with the haunting.  Josh (Patrick Wilson) doesn’t believe his wife or mother about the nature of the haunting until he finds evidence in his comatose son’s room.

I’m not going to spoil the movie by giving your further details, but I promise you – you’ve never seen a movie like this!  I have not come across the basic idea of this movie in any book I’ve read or movie I’ve watched until now.  “INSIDIOUS” is a welcome change from the horror reboots that Hollywood seems to enjoy inundating the theaters with – it relies on a very strong story and an equally strong cast.  If you see one movie that is in theaters now – go see “INSIDIOUS”.

Some interesting “INSIDIOUS” trivia:

* writer Leigh Whannell starred in the film as part of Elise’s team of paranormal investigators (he is the guy with the thick glasses)

* actress Lin Shaye appeared in “Snakes on a Plane

* actress Rose Byrne was in “Knowing” and “Sunshine”

Burnt Offerings

Image by mstephens7 via Flickr - That's an image of the house - beautiful isn't it ?

Yesterday I happened on “Burnt Offerings” on my Netflix and decided to watch it.  For some reason, lately I’ve been leaning towards watching older horror movies (ie Poltergeist, Legend of Hell House).  My dad came in while I was watching it and said he remembered it being a really good movie, and I found at the end that he was right.  Incidentally I went to Amazon.com and bought the book while I was watching the movie, so at some point you will see that review here, though just not yet.

I thought the movie was great.  Karen Black played the mother, Oliver Reed was the father, and Lee Montgomery played their 12 year old son.  A nice suprise was an aging Bette Davis as the aunt.  Together the three rent an old house for the summer for only $900, which appears as a steal at first.  The only catch is that they must take care of the reclusive Mrs. Allardyce.  (Karen Black agrees to do that exclusively).  Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart play the aging siblings the family rents from.  When they first move in, Black goes crazy cleaning while the rest of the family settles in.  She cleans the whole house from top to bottom while father and son clean out and fill the pool.  The family is very loving and close.

What really sets this movie apart from other haunted house movies I’ve seen is the visible build up of the haunting power.  Its very apparent from the beginning what kind of family they are when they move in, and its interesting to watch them degenerate.  Each person undergoes changes in personality that are very apparent.  The mother becomes obsessed with the care of Mrs. Allardyce (to the exclusion of her own family), the father almost drowns his son in the pool and later tries to rape his suddenly frigid wife, and their aunt becomes forgetful and weak.  She seems to suddenly age.  The young son is not necessarily changed so much as attacked.  It seems like the house isn’t bent on changing him so much as killing him.  In a separate incident, he is almost killed by a gas leak.  The end result is a mixture of death and possession, and while it is in some respects predictable, it still fit the story very well.

The change that becomes apparent in the family members as a result of the haunting occurs at a reasonable pace, neither too quickly, nor too slowly.  In some regards it reminds me of Richard Matheson‘s style of haunting, although his was much more aggressive.

If you’re looking for an interesting horror film and are tired of the Hollywood remakes currently in fashion, you should try “Burnt Offerings”.  I guarantee you won’t be disappointed !

Film poster for House on Haunted Hill (1999 fi...

Image via Wikipedia

House on Haunted Hill” is one of my favorite go-to movies when I’m not feeling well, or when I’m up for some cheesy good fun with decent acting.  Among the cast members are real screen gems – one of my favorites being the snarky Geoffrey Rush, who is to be able to take on almost any role seamlessly.  Taye Diggs and Ali Larter are also unexpected (and I believe at that point, relatively unknown).  Chris Kattan showcases his diversity – as the current owner of the haunted asylum and not as the usual funny man.

The plot is rather simple – the spoiled wife of an amusement park tycoon wants to host her birthday party at the most haunted place on earth – which just happens to be Vanacutt Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane.  The spoiled wife, Evelyn (played by Famke Janssen), sends her guest list to her husband Stephen (Geoffrey Rush).  Just before Stephen sends the list, it is mysteriously changed (we assume by the asylum), which results in a group of strangers arriving for the party.  Stephen enjoys his wife’s irritation and decides to continue the party – adding that anyone who survives the night will receive $1,000,000.  To sweeten an already good deal, Stephen casually mentions that the total money will be divided among whomever survives (in other words, if you die, someone else gets your money).  The aylum’s owner Watson (Chris Kattan) warns everyone that they won’t survive the evening if they decide to stay.  He won’t explain why, but is very adamant.  Before Watson can escape the asylum for the night, the asylum’s defense system kicks in and metal panels cover the windows and doors.  Its only then that Watson begins to tell the true history of the asylum, and the capabilities of the evil that lurks within.

There – that’s enough of a teaser – go rent the movie !

The movie didn’t do well as far as reviews go, but I rather enjoyed it.  I thought that the special effects were pretty good, and the plot was decent.  Where the movie really shined was the acting.  Geoffrey Rush is by far the best actor of the film, but Chris Kattan is a close second.  Rush was able to create and maintain a suspension of disbelief which allowed the viewer to begin to care about the characters.  Rush began as the character I loved to hate, and then towards the end transforms himself and shows that despite all of the bluster and the wife-hating, he was actually a good person.  The transformation was believable, interesting, and felt “right”.  At first I was worried that Chris Kattan’s humorous roles would impede on his ability to be the flighty owner of the asylum, but I was completely wrong.  Kattan carried his role admirably.  As a direct result of this movie I gained greater respect for his acting.

This movie is well worth giving a try.  The acting is great, the special effects are good, and overall its a good movie.  As I said before, its a cheesy good time.  Nothing Oscar-worthy – but definitely a fun movie to watch with friends or on a date !

A stylish update…

Cover of "The Haunting"

Cover of The Haunting

The Haunting” is based on an unremarkable book by Shirley Jackson.  The movie, on the other hand, is very enjoyable.  Liam Neeson is a great asset to the film as always, and Catherine Zeta Jones is a great supporting actress.

“The Haunting” has an interesting plot – Liam Neeson plays Doctor David Marrow, a man intent on finding evidence of the supernatural.  Catherine Zeta Jones, Owen Wilson, and Lili Taylor are study subjects picked from a vast survey for a study on sleep health.  As can already be suspected, things go poorly for all involved.

The haunting phenomena is different from the book – it’s more agressive, dangerous, and frightening.  One of my favorite scenes in the movie is the lion-shaped draft dodger in the fireplace.  It seems to drop out of nowhere at first and scare Lili Taylor (who plays the mentally unhinged Eleanor).  When the huge metal lion makes its second appearance, it takes Owen Wilson’s head completely off his shoulders !  Word to the wise – stay out of fireplaces that are so big you could host a tea party in them.

The story is greatly enhanced by the addition of a pedophile angle regarding Hugh Crain (the man who built the mansion).  He brings children up from the factories and has them live with him, and its found out that the children disappear.  Anytime children and weird people with terrible motives are combined, its sure to be frightening.  Other haunting phenomena include moving walls, angry bedposts, blood writing on the walls, and a veritable host of other supernatural goodies.

Each of the actors and actresses played their parts well.  No one stood out as being out of character – everything was believable.  The sets were lavish and creepy, which was what you’d expect from such a large house with a terrible history.

“The Haunting” is more enjoyable and scary than the book on which it was based (“The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson).  If you’re the kind of person that likes to read the book and watch the movie – read the book first – no matter what !  I really enjoyed watching “The Haunting”, and I think you will too.

The Haunting of Hill House

Image via Wikipedia

At the outset, I’d like to say that I read Richard Matheson‘s “Hell House” just before I read “The Haunting of Hill House“, which was probably the biggest literary snafu of my life.  It’s far better to read Jackson first, because its an older novel and in many ways, more of a subtle haunting.

“Hell House” comparison aside, I thought “The Haunting of Hill House” was a tad boring.  The haunting phenomena was subtle (as in some pounding on the doors, holding hands with what you thought was a friend but was a ghost), and very spaced out in the book.  I prefer haunting stories to take you by the scruff of your neck, drag you to hell and back several times, and leave you begging for mercy at the end.  I didn’t feel that way about “The Haunting of Hill House” at all.  This is one of the only times that I have said in my life that the movie was better.  (The movie made in 1999 with Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta Jones.)

One of the biggest problems I had with the book were the characters.  In the beginning I liked Theo, the mostly cheerful and witty assistant who has a slight inclination towards a sixth sense.  As the book progressed, I found that Theo was selfish, annoying and catty.

As for the character we take as our main, Eleanor (Nell), she’s a loon.  I can’t tell what’s actually happening to her versus what’s going on in her own mind.  She’s a weak character who keeps reminding herself that she’s “really here, really doing this” since she’s broken out of her mother and sister’s control.  Her suicide at the end of the book is no real surprise.  Despite the fact that the curve she crashes the car into is supposed to have caused many deaths, I think Eleanor would have found a way to kill herself at some point.  She wasn’t used to having the freedom to run her life, and as the novel progresses I see that as being what causes her to go mad, not the influences of the house.  Perhaps the house did a little prodding, with writing messages in blood on the walls saying “Welcome Home Eleanor” twice, but I still blame her weak mind instead of the house.

The opening sentence was so frightening, so promising that the rest of the book couldn’t be anything but disappointing.  Starting off describing a house where “whatever walked there walked alone” and ending it in a predictable suicide by an already unstable character is not the stuff of a literary classic.  Perhaps when it first was published it was terrifying, but now it feels outdated and boring.

Cover of "Hell House"

Cover of Hell House

Recently I started getting interested in haunted house stories, which represents a break in my usual zombie-filled reading list.  I read “I Am Legend” and absolutely loved it, and I wanted to see what Matheson could do given a haunted house theme.  I was in no way disappointed !

A scientist, his flaky wife, and two mediums are charged by a dying millionaire to investigate the phenomena of Belasco House.  Over the years, Belasco house has earned the reputation for being fiercely haunted, and is therefore also referred to as Hell House.  The four people are supposed to survive a week in Hell House, recording data and coming to a solid conclusion of whether or not the soul persists after death, and whether or not the house is actually haunted.

At times it was hard to remember that the book was set in the 1970s, because the language was modern.  Or, I suppose it could be said that the writing was ‘timeless’.  Don’t misunderstand me, I love disco, but I don’t want to read a ghost story in 2010 and constantly be reminded of the time period.  This attribute has kept Hell House a novel for the ages.

The haunting itself was masterfully written.  In the beginning I was afraid that the haunting phenomena would be tame and sparse, but in actuality Matheson was taking his time establishing the characters.  Once the haunting began, it was page-by-page madness.  I didn’t know from one moment to the next what to expect.  There was no predictability, and every time I thought I had figured out the haunting I was wrong.  Matheson’s greatest strength was in his ability to keep the reader in the perspective of the characters by never giving too much away at one time.

Towards the end of Hell House, I became worried that Matheson had written himself into a corner and wouldn’t be able to give the story the strong finish it deserved.  Thankfully, I was wrong again.  The ending had the right amount of suspense as well as closure.  The ending definitely ‘fit’ the book, both explaining the haunting as well as showing character growth.  By the final page, the characters had progressed in maturity and understanding in a natural way, almost as if they were real people.

Hell House is a great introduction to the works of Richard Matheson, but is also enjoyable to anyone who likes scary stories.  Continue reading

Cover of "Dead in the West"

Cover of Dead in the West

If you are easily offended, it’s best not to read Lansdale’s “On the Other Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks” story as your introduction to his work.  The first Lansdale story I read was “The Long Dead Day” [discussed in The Dead That Walk].  I loved the story, but forgot who the author was soon after.  [I spent my whole summer reading zombie anthologies one after the other and sometimes its hard to keep track of authors.]  Later I came across a story involving his fictional character, Reverend Jedidiah Mercer, called “Dead Man’s Road”.  That story was likewise phenomenal, and unfortunately the book in which it was originally published has since been out of print.  The third story I came across was “On the Other Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks” [found in Zombies : Encounters with the Hungry Dead and discussed in this blog].  I was offended at first, and it took me awhile to wade through those feelings and begin to appreciate the story.  When I did, I realized what an innovative, trend-setting author Lansdale really was.

I decided to find more of his works in the hopes that I could gain a better understanding of Lansdale as an author.  I also wanted to see what he was capable of doing when not confined to reanimated corpses.  I picked up Bumper Crop when I found out that Dead in the West, like many of his books, was out of print.  Lansdale describes Bumper Crop as an anthology of stories that were memorable to him for a variety of reasons.  An added bonus is that Lansdale himself introduces each story and discusses the publishing successes or failures and the inspiration for the story.

“The Shaggy House” is a really wild story.  There isn’t another word I can think of that would describe it so well.  It is about a house that causes other houses on the block to become diseased and stricken.  Two wily old men take on the house in an attempt to reclaim their neighborhood.  It has a sci-fi edge to it, and is actually very funny.  This story renewed my interest in haunted house stories.

“Pilots” – with Dan Lowry.  This story was really freaky.  It is suspenseful, thought-provoking, and sad.  The story follows a convoy of truckers who must band together to escape the murderous attacks of a black car, aptly named the Black Bird.

“God of the Razor” – I think if I were to give an award for the weirdest story in the book – it would go to this particular piece.  My best description is haunted house meets possession meets elder god meets serial killer.  And I’m not even sure that’s correct.  I just know this story rocks house.

If you are already a fan of Lansdale, you need to read this book.  If you haven’t been acquainted with Lansdale, you need to read this book.  Either way – you NEED to read this book.