Sunday, December 16, 2012

Follow-Up to Suicide Forest entry

Hey everyone,
Obviously I was so committed to watching every horror movie ever made during our favorite season of Halloween that I was too busy to blog. Maybe my New Year's resolution should be to blog every week. Goodness knows there are enough supernatural topics to keep me busy 365.

As a follow-up to my previous post about the Suicide Forest, I wanted to let you know that I spent most of November in Japan. It was really amazing and beautiful. If you haven't been or previously haven't had any interest in going (as was my case), I have to say it was one of the best trips I've ever taken. Solo, of course, and I don't speak or read the language. I'll admit it was difficult to get to some of my destinations (out in the country or in the mountain areas there is no English available), but that was part of the fun.

So I went up to Mt. Fuji (sugoi!) where it was -3°C at the 4th station. It was the highest that we were allowed to go that day due to weather. On the way back down the mountain I inquired if the driver would stop at Aokigahara aka the Suicide Forest. Not sure if the horrific look on his face was due to my terrible Japanese accent or if he thought I was out of my mind for asking. More than likely it was both. The above photo is the only keepsake that I have of my close encounter with Aokigahara, other than my first impression, "Man, that forest is dense." It made me understand why people go in there to bid their lives here on earth goodbye - if anyone went looking for them they'd be hard-pressed to find.

I was fortunate, however, to visit another mountain: Koya-san where Okunoin Cemetery, the largest in the country, is located.

The trip to Okunoin was one of my most-difficult travel days, but so worth the effort. I also had the good fortune of rain the day I visited so photographing the cemetery was an even better experience than I'd imagined. Here are a few photos. Oh, by the way, the place was so huge I got lost in there. But, you've probably seen a trend from my previous entries: I seem to get lost pretty easily. LOL

(Please note that all photos are copyrighted. Thanks, guys.)

At one point, alone in the rainy oversized cemetery, the silence was broken by what sounded like a human shriek. I'm sure it was a bird or something (uh, yeah... right. That's what I told myself anyway).
Because of that and the overwhelming beauty of this graveyard, I have to give Okunoin 4 jumpers on my Scare-O-Meter!

Until next time (and hopefully it won't be so long),

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Japan's Suicide Forest

Aikigahara Forest at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan is also known as the Demon Forest. It is supposedly the place where the most suicides occur in the country and it's second only to the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge as far as worldwide tallies are concerned. Approximately 100 people per year commit suicide here.

Signs such as this are posted throughout the forest. They translate to something like: "You don't have to do this. Please reconsider. Your life is precious." The Japanese government even assigns people to go out on suicide prevention patrols.

In a country riddled not only with suicide, but with superstition, many Japanese believe that the suicides have permeated the trees of the forest, resulting in paranormal activity. Urban legend states that directional compasses stop working when you enter this area.

There are many images available online, some showing people hanging from trees. It's obvious from the photos that these people had been there quite a while before their bodies were discovered. Other photos show the final campsites of people with the personal belongings they left behind -- some with skeletal remains still in the tent. Can you imagine being the forest worker who is assigned to this area? Yikes! These poor workers are responsible for removing the corpses and carrying them down to the local station where the victims' bodies are stored. Supposedly the workers even play a game of jan-ken-pon (Rock, Paper, Scissors) to see who has to sleep in the room with the remains. You see, it's considered bad luck for the body to be left alone. What?! Oh man, I'm glad I'm not one of those workers because I suck at Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Here's a quote from a local policeman, "I've seen plenty of bodies that have been badly decomposed or that have been picked at by wild animals... There's nothing beautiful about dying in there." Does that mean that some people choose this as a, somehow, romantic spot to end their lives? Yes. Some say that this "trend" of committing suicide here started after a book was published in 1960 called Kuroi Kaiju (Black Sea of Trees). The story ends when two lovers kill themselves in the forest. Leave it to the Japanese to romanticize suicide. Oh wait. The French did that, too.

There are also legends about ghosts (obake) inhabiting the forest due to people sacrificing their family members to the forest during periods of hardship. They would literally abandon their loved ones there (I'm going to guess they were in some way prevented from just up and leaving) and had them die a horrible death by starvation. Witnesses claim to see spirits floating from tree to tree. I remember being fascinated by an episode of Destination Truth (SyFy) where they caught a spirit (white mist) manifesting and then dissipating near a tree in Aokigahara. It was intriguing to see the footage because, to me, it appeared to be a cloudy figure standing up and then squatting back down, ultimately disappearing from sight.

I'm headed to Japan next month and will make the trek to Mt. Fuji. I'm not sure I'll have time to skulk around Aikogihara Forest, but if I do it will definitely be during daylight hours!

Counting down to Hallowe'en,

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


My, my, my. Where has time gone? I can't believe it's been two months since my last post. Well, now that October is finally here I should have a lot to talk about. This is my favorite month, where it's appropriate (and even cool!) to bring ghouls, ghosts, and goblins into every day conversation. It's the time when the air feels a little crisper (except for this year -- ugh to all you SoCal folks out there), the moon seems a bit larger, and a pot of warm cider on the stove makes for a lovely nighttime treat.

I typically do a Google search for ghost stories as soon as Hallowe'en season begins so I'm making a note to self: Google it in the morning. But until I find some good stories to share with you, I want to write about:

I understand that Delusion began last year, billing itself as an interactive play. I hadn't heard of it until this year (now called Delusion: The Blood Rite). Created by Hollywood stuntman Jon Braver and produced by Neil Patrick Harris (does anybody not like that guy?!), the action takes place in a mansion in the West Adams area of Los Angeles. YOU are part of the plot and YOU must participate in order to move the storyline along. It's been said that no two people will ever have the same experience. Intrigued? I am.

You will be one in a group of twelve and you will be told the rules of the play (you can't touch the actors... but they can touch you!). You are a group of war vets, entering into an old medical ward that has been abandoned by the doctor and his staff, but the patients (who have gone mad) are still in residence. Oh, did I mention that the patients also have supernatural powers? Before you can enter, you must go into the cemetery to find a certain article and bring it back to the house. Once inside, mayhem breaks loose as you realize the patients have escaped. YOU may be kidnapped or you may have to be one of the rescuers. Either way, you're screwed.

Billed as one of the best (read: scariest) attractions e-v-e-r, Delusion promises to be clever, unique and to bring outrageous scares done by professional stunt people. You know those horror movie scenes where people scamper on the walls and ceiling? Yeah. Like that.

This girl knows her limits so I'm not convinced that I will venture into this Hell house. Nonetheless, because of its overwhelmingly positive reviews -- all promising that this attraction will scare you like nothing before -- I have to give Delusion: The Blood Rite and its creators four jumpers! Facebook me if you want to go, then do your best to convince me to join you.

Happy Hallowe'en!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ryan Buell's Cancer: Playing With Fire?

As we close out July 2012, it has been revealed that Ryan Buell has pancreatic cancer. Buell, star of TV's Paranormal State is also the founder of the Penn State Paranormal Research Society (bet he wasn't aware of all the demons wreaking havoc at Penn State). He went public with his condition last week after being hospitalized for kidney failure. I wish Ryan the best and pray for a full & speedy recovery.

But this leads me to an interesting debate that has ensued: Can paranormal research kill you? Journalists Greg Newkirk and Donna Anderson have raised this question within the past week, citing the cases of Ed Warren (The Amnityville Horror), Lou Gentile, Tom Robinson, Father Malachi Martin, and now Buell. All of these men were in constant contact and warfare with evil spirits.

Father Martin, a recurring guest on KFI's Coast to Coast A.M., performed exorcisms for over 30 years and had many tales about interactions with evil spirits. He suffered a heart attack during an exorcism and was witness to another priest actually dying during another exorcism rite. He died in the hospital after taking a nasty fall down some stairs, claiming that he was alone and was pushed from behind. He succumbed to his injuries a few days later.

Buell also claims that he has been singled out by demonic forces resulting from an investigation where he met the demon calling itself "We Are Six." This demon repeatedly showed up in many of the Paranormal State investigations/episodes no matter where the team traveled. After a few encounters the demon revealed its true name as Belial. Buell claims that this demon has been harassing him for years and that it is the cause of his cancer.

Both of these men (I'm not sure about the others mentioned above) were very religious and heavily active in the Catholic church. As a Christian I was always taught that Christ, living in me, is stronger than the devil. So I have to admit that I'm not sure what to make of these situations. Do I believe in evil spirits? Yes. Do I believe they can move objects and make physical contact? Yes. Do I believe that they can inflict cancer on a person? The jury's still out on that one.

I'm curious to know what Buell's lifestyle is and if there's a history of cancer in his family. Greg Newkirk revealed in his article Bad Vibes: Can Dealing With Evil Spirits Kill You? that in 2009 New Scientist Magazine claimed that negative thoughts definitely have an effect on people's health. He also explains that it's feasible that the "ghost hunter lifestyle" is to blame for their injuries and illnesses. "These folks often work well into the night and since most don't make any real income from their paranormal investigations they also work full-time jobs during the day. Little sleep, combined with a poor diet of Red Bull and cigarettes to keep them awake, and greasy diner food for fuel aren't the best lifestyle choices and can lead to all kinds of illnesses and disasters."

No matter what you believe, the debate is on. And, again, I hope that Ryan Buell will beat his cancer. Just in case, he may also want to choose a different line of work. Just sayin'.

Until next time,

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Rippers (Warning: Graphic & Disturbing Images)

Although almost 125 years old, the case of Jack The Ripper still fascinates us today. Numerous movies have been made throughout the years, hypothesizing Jack being everything from an upholsterer with an array of sharp weapons to a British Royal with a lust for torture. He is still so much on the minds of the English that when I was in London in 2006, all the headlines read: "Jack The Ripper back?" or "Beware The Ripper" due to a rash of killings involving local prostitutes. I also remember being just a bit too excited when BBC broadcasts instructed women not to travel the streets of London alone, because I was traveling solo and wouldn't have the opportunity of another person accompanying me on my journeys.

The famous "From Hell" letter is shown above. It was sent to George Lusk who was head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee and in charge of the Ripper investigation. In it the murderer wrote, "I send you half of the kidne I took from one woman & prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise." Along with the note was, indeed, half of a very well-preserved human kidney.

Eleven murders (1888 - 1891) were included in the Whitechapel Murders investigation, but only the following were considered Jack The Ripper's canonical five victims: Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. Each of these women had been killed with a deep slash to the throat then had their abdomens mutilated and/or their uterus removed. Mary Kelly's heart was also removed and her face hacked to pieces (pictured below).

Some "Ripperologists" have surmised that only someone with a surgical education could have done these murders. And that surmising always causes my thoughts to go to another infamous "Ripper" case: the Black Dahlia.

I was intrigued by the Dahlia murder at a very young age because my father would speak of it often as we would drive around our neighborhood. You see, I grew up not far from where they found Elizabeth Short's remains on Norton Avenue. Of course by the time I could even understand the concept of her brutal death, the once empty field had been turned into a business building. And it wasn't until the birth of the internet that I was finally able to search for actual photos of the crime scene. That's something that I regret to this very day. I have never viewed anything so heinous and disturbing. Not only was that poor woman dissected-ever-so-neatly in half, but her organs were literally cleaned out of her, leaving her body as an empty shell. I am convinced that her killer had to be a surgeon.

Even now, as I'm reviewing the facts online for this posting, I am extremely careful as to which links to follow for fear that they'll lead me to those gruesome images. How much worse could they be than the Mary Kelly image above? You don't understand. I hope you never come across the Dahlia crime scene photos and I'm certainly got going to subject myself to them again by posting them here.

The irony of the Black Dahlia case is that Elizabeth Short came to Los Angeles seeking fame. Be careful what you wish for.

Perhaps, though, it is the repulsive nature of these Ripper cases that keeps us fascinated by them decades, if not centuries, later. It's hard to fathom, first off, that anyone could be so evil as to induce this kind of horror upon another human being. And secondly, to get away with it? Terrifying.

Until next time,

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Wow. No, really. Wow. I wouldn't normally post about this type of movie on this blog, but wow. I believe The Dark Knight Rises will be this year's summer blockbuster and, therefore, it deserves a spot in this space where I would normally talk about scary, supernatural, paranormal things.

Of course, I could mention how, today, life was scarier and more disturbing than the movies. I speak, of course, about the shooting in Aurora, CO during a midnight screening of this film. Some psycho -- whose name I won't even mention because he deserves no fame nor glory -- killed at least 13 people and wounded another 40. Idiot. My heart and prayers go out to the families and friends of the victims. Now, back to the safety of make-believe...

I enjoyed both earlier installments of the Dark Knight series. Christian Bale has done a phenomenal job as the Batman and I particularly liked Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker. But this one, the third in the series, takes the prize. I hadn't read much about the production before seeing the film and I'm glad for that.

The characters we've come to love are back: Bruce Wayne, loyal Alfred, tortured Commissioner Gordon, and cool, calm, and collected Lucius Fox along with his arsenal of toys. New to the story are Anne Hathaway as Selina/Catwoman (rawr*), Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Blake, and Marion Cotillard as Bruce's newest love interest, Miranda. Oh my. I almost forgot the best addition: Tom Hardy as Bane. I loved Tom Hardy in the TV series The Take and I didn't even know it was him under that freaky mask as Batman's nemesis. But when I finally realized it was him I loved him all the more.

Here are some fun facts about the film:
- Christian Bale said he wouldn't play the role of Batman if Robin appeared anywhere within the trilogy. Director Christopher Nolan agreed.
- Anne Hathaway wanted the Catwoman role badly and was extremely nervous during her screen test. When her agent called with "good news," she began running around the room screaming, "I'm Catwoman! I'm Catwoman!" only to find out that her agent called to tell her she was chosen to host the Oscars. Fortunately for her agent, Hathaway also got the Catwoman role (chosen over Kiera Knightley, Eva Green, and Jessica Biel).
- Hines Ward makes a cameo appearance in the film.

I won't get into the twists, turns, and surprises of the storyline but let me say they're great. From the first scene which takes place in the skies to the end which made me cry (such a girl) this movie has it all (except an intermission to go pee). I was thrilled that I decided to see it at the Regal at L.A. Live because the theater and the sound there were top-notch -- and in light of the tragedy in Aurora the crowds tonight were very tame and respectful.

My Scare-O-Meter gets the night off, but my jumpers do not. Tonight the jumpers will be used as a rating for quality, excitement, cinematography, cool bat vehicles, screenwriting, special effects, and the right to enjoy a movie without the fear of some jackass storming the theater and spraying it with bullets.

See The Dark Knight Rises as soon as you can.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

VHS (The Movie)

Today a friend of mine asked me to watch the trailer for VHS to see what I thought about it. At first I was intrigued because the trailer touted it as one of the Sundance Film Festival's picks. But after seeing the entire trailer (watched it a few times to make sure I didn't miss anything) and after reading more about it online, I'm not sure this film is going to get my money at the box office. (See the trailer for yourself here:

Bought by Magnolia Pictures for the mere sum of $1 million, VHS's premise seems too weak for my taste. It's about three burglars who are paid to steal a "secret VHS tape" (for those of you who don't know, VHS tapes came before DVDs). While the burglary is in progress, they don't know which unlabeled tape is the correct one, so they start viewing them one by one. Each tape contains footage of paranormal events, each one more grisly than the previous and we, the audience, get to watch the gore along with them.

Just like the bullshit media campaign when The Blair Witch Project was being released ("...Based on true events..."), VHS now has its own hype-filled cross-promotion. When doing a Google search for the movie title, you'll find headlines like this: "The horror movie so terrifying it made the audiences SICK!" "Ambulances called to screening at the Sundance Festival!" "Film producers insist they had to call ambulances and it wasn't staged!" Yeah, right. Okay, so I'm bitter because I fell for the Blair Witch campaign and still want it to be true. But I didn't fall for Paranormal Activity's true story claim and I'm certainly not going to fall for these ridiculous headlines.

Sounding to me like a mash-up (mixed tape? ha ha) of The Ring, The Blair Witch Project, and Paranormal Activity, I can't get too excited about VHS. I think it's a low-budget indie that was made for shock value with the hope of cashing in big. I'll wait for it to show up in my Netflix queue. And I'm sure that'll be sooner, rather than later.

No jumpers for this waste of film.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

School Spirits: Sweet Briar College

Have you been watching the new SyFy show School Spirits? The first couple of episodes were okay -- nothing too scary, but interesting enough to keep my TiVo's season pass programmed. Tonight's episode, however, was quite a good time!

The entire hour was dedicated to Sweet Briar College, an all women's college in Virginia. The school sits on land that was once a plantation owned by the Fletcher family. Upon the patriarch's death his daughter, Indiana, inherited the land. Indiana had one child, a daughter named Daisy, who died of a congenital condition at the age of 16. Indiana, grief-stricken in her loss, decided to donate her land and money in order for the college to be built. It was her hope that by doing so, young women would be able to receive higher education, something that Daisy was never able to do.

Aww, what a sweet story. Makes you a little teary-eyed, huh? Of course, there's more.

The episode goes on to tell the story of three classmates (all current students graduating in the classes of 2013-2015) who have experienced ghostly encounters with Daisy. One of the standout stories was when two girls were riding in an elevator in one of the dormitories when the elevator took them to the 4th floor, instead of their desired 3rd floor. The thing of it is, you weren't able to access the 4th floor without the override key. When the elevator doors opened they found themselves staring into a room of old furniture. Creepier still was the fact that there was a single chair, facing directly in front of the elevator doors, as if someone was sitting there... watching them. The chair began to move, but as soon as one of the girls yelled, "Daisy, stop!" the chair stopped moving and the elevator door finally closed, taking them to the 3rd floor as they'd originally intended.

While, at first, the experiences were terrifying and unsettling (I know I'd pee in my pants if I'd seen the reflection of someone standing next to me when there wasn't anyone there), once the girls realized that Daisy meant them no harm they were all able to relax a bit. They even made an annual pilgrimage to her gravesite (on school grounds), bringing her flowers, and thanking Daisy and her family for the opportunity and privilege of attending Sweet Briar.

Some time passed when one of the girls was walking back to her dorm, alone, one night and heard someone whistle at her. (Unfortunately, the whistle was similar to the sound of my text alert on my iPhone and from this point forward it's going to scare the crap out of me every time I receive a text.) She looked around and in the distance saw the figure of a large man, dressed in black. She began to run, but as she looked back he was gone. All of a sudden she felt a presence behind her and, although she wanted to run, she was frozen in fear. Oh man, then the thing starts singing in her ear! Augh! I almost had to turn the damn TV off! (I, too, had an experience with an entity that was way too close for comfort. I'll tell you about that some time.) After she told her friends about the incident they did some research and found that Daisy's uncle (Indiana's brother) had been disinherited because of the shame he had brought to the Fletcher family. He was a drunk, an accused murderer, and the worst criminal the area had seen during his time. He was angry that he received none of the land nor money and even threatened to kill Indiana. The girls believed this was the person who was taunting them and terrorizing them. As far as we know, the incidents continue to this day, but the classmates refuse to be intimidated by him and call upon Daisy to help in their battle against him.

OK. I'm home by myself tonight and I'm extremely jittery after watching this episode. Every little noise makes me jump. So, good job School Spirits! Because of your decent storytelling and spooky re-enactments I can't help but give you three solid jumps on my Scare-O-Meter!

Sleeping with the light on tonight...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

How can you not love this? One of our greatest Presidents and one of the greatest men of all time, a closet vampire hunter?! What a great premise.

As I normally do, I read the book first so I could get a better feel of the setting, the characters, and what drives them. Do yourself a favor and read this book. It's so cleverly written -- incorporating historical quotes into a fictional tale. It's so well done that sometimes you have to ask yourself, "How much of this is true?" or "I wonder if that really happened?"

Now, having learned my lesson from reading the Hunger Games series and then being completely disappointed by the movie, I knew not to expect too much from Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter's adaptation to the screen. I also knew it had gotten pretty bad reviews but I rolled my eyes on those. I mean, critics weren't really expecting anything besides a lot of tongue-in-cheek dialogue and some great special effects, were they? I, for one, really liked this film. Yes, it was extremely different from the book, but I had to respect that the author himself, Seth Grahame Smith, also penned the screenplay. Hell, they're his characters so he can do with them whatever he damn well pleases. I also liked the fact that I didn't recognize anyone in the cast (can you tell I'm not big on pop culture?) so I didn't have to sit there thinking to myself, "Hmm... Didn't that guy play Kumar?" or something along those lines.

Go strictly for the fun of it and I assure you you'll have a good time. Although not what I would consider a horror movie, it even made me jump out of my seat once! And because of that I'm going to give Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter  one "jump" on my Scare-O-Meter, but I'm also giving it two thumbs up for its cleverness, originality, special effects, and its fun factor.

Until next time,

Saturday, May 19, 2012

O! It's been a while!

It's been so long since I've posted an entry that I forgot my user login. #duh The reason for my absence was my birthday. Yup, O has turned the big 5-O. I celebrated in haunted Edinburgh (great city if you haven't been) and spent my big day in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Although no run-ins with the Mackenzie Poltergeist, I was touched while walking through the graveyard. I felt something tap the back of my leg and I immediately reached down to adjust the strap of my backpack, which I thought had come loose. Nope! Nothing there. There were a lot of dead tree branches on the ground so I looked around to make sure I hadn't walked in the path of one while gawking at the beautiful crypts. Nope! Well, Scotland, that's two for two (I also had an experience while walking through the Necropolis in Glasgow in 2009).

The reason for my return to blogging also has to do with my birthday. My friends and I celebrated my milestone event at the O-Bar and everyone was asked to bring a gift that started with the letter O. It's great to have such creative friends! One of my gifts was my own Obituary (love that!) and another was the "jumper" illustration for my Scare-O-Meter! Now I can start using my rating system in the way it was O-riginally intended. Thanks to all my friends who made this birthday extra-special.

Well, I guess it wouldn't be a true blog entry without some story about the paranormal, so I'll tell you about one of the incidents in my haunted home. One day I was in the bathroom putting my make-up on when I heard my son crying in his bedroom (he was five or six at the time). I walked down the hall to check on him and as soon as I got to the doorway the crying stopped. I called his name and asked if he was okay. No answer. I looked around the room and didn't see him anywhere. I called his name again. I looked under his bed. Empty. I looked in his closet. No kid. Thinking I had just imagined it, I headed back to the bathroom and as I did the crying began again. I went back toward his room and when I reached the doorway... you guessed it. The crying stopped. I called his name again, but still no response. I thought he might have gone outside to play with his friends and had gotten hurt or I thought maybe one of his friends was sitting, outside, under one of his windows hiding from his parents so I quickly went outside to look. I walked the entire perimeter of my house and found nothing. I hurried back inside, now yelling my son's name and he answered me from the family room located on the other side of the house. When I reached him he was sitting on the couch, watching TV. I asked him if he was okay and he said, "Yes, Mommy!" I could tell by his demeanor and his face that he had not been crying at all. Still, I had to verify. "Were you crying?" His response was, of course, "No."

Many other paranormal incidents took place in that house, including the sighting of a full-bodied apparition. I'll save those stories for another time.

(No "jumpers" today. I can't figure out how to import them the way I want. #duhagain!)

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Sometimes I forget just how terrific this movie is. Taking a break this afternoon from the 2nd book in The Hunger Games trilogy, I turned on the TV to find Gothika streaming its opening credits. I decided to watch it again since it was the middle of the day. It's easy to be courageous when it's light outside. I remember watching this film for the first time and, even though that was almost 10 years ago, I still get the chills thinking back on some of the graphic images. This, my friends, is movie editing at its best.

The movie opens with Miranda Grey (Halle Berry), a doctor in a mental institution, frustrated with Chloe who is one of her patients. Chloe is a rape victim who can't cope with reality and from time to time embellishes her rape recount. Miranda shares her frustration with her husband Doug (Charles Dutton) who happens to run the facility. On her way home that night, Miranda sees a girl in the middle of the road and gets in a car accident trying to avoid her. Miranda wakes up to find that she, herself, is now an unwilling patient at the mental institution where she worked. Enter Dr. Pete Graham (Robert Downey, Jr.) and the rest of the amazing storyline begins to unfold.

We come to find out that Doug has been savagely murdered and Miranda is accused of the crime. Halle Berry's portrayal of the misunderstood patient is played to perfection, allowing the viewer to feel her vexation as the people she used to work with are now treating her like some random nut job. The beauty of the screenplay is Miranda's own self-doubt about her sanity, leaving the audience to wonder about it as well. Are the ghosts she sees and the disembodied voices she hears simply delusions? You'll have to see for yourself.

The creep factor is high for this thriller considering the setting within the mental institution and its oddly flickering florescent lights. The cinematography and music are executed well causing you to be on the edge of your seat, when you're not jumping out of it, that is.

On my Scare-O-Meter of 1 to 4 jumps, I give Gothika 3 jumps for not only its scare factor but for its excellent screenplay and originality.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Winchester Mystery House

There's just something creepy about the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA. Maybe it was all those times my family drove from L.A. to San Jose to visit my uncle, and I'd see billboards touting "The Winchester House of Mystery --> 6 miles." I remember the signs had a large skull on them making them quite ominous to any child under ten.

I always wondered why we never stopped there. After all, my family was so into horror movies that we would spend every (every!) Friday or Saturday night at Studio Drive-In in Culver City to catch the latest B-Horror film. Dracula or Blackula... Yeah, quality didn't matter much to my folks. They were just looking for a fun, inexpensive way to relieve some work-week stress and, back in the late '60's and early 70's, drive-in theaters were just the ticket. But with so much focus on scary entertainment options, I was always curious why Dad never took that coveted off-ramp to the Winchester House. I just figured it was too frightening even for him, let alone my sister and I, so he'd always drive past it. Disappointed, I remember asking my cousins if they'd ever been and each one glared at me with that "deer in the headlights" expression squealing, "No way! It's too scary!" It wasn't until many years later that I learned about this wonderful, old house and just why it's so mysterious.

As the story goes, Sarah Winchester was the wife of William Wirt Winchester, magnate of the Winchester rifle company. Soon after Mr. Winchester and their young daughter died unexpectedly, Sarah went to a medium who told her that she had lost her loved ones because of a curse, resulting from all of the deaths caused by Winchester rifles. The medium also told her that the only way she would be able to appease the spirits (and not be their next target for death) was to continually build on to her home. And so she did, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 38 years. Sarah was a very superstitious woman, also believing that she could ward off evil spirits by using items in the quantity of 13 throughout the house. The Winchester House has windows with 13 panes and there are 13 bathrooms. The 13th bathroom has 13 windows. On your way to said bathroom 13, you'll pass 13 wall panels, followed by 13 stair steps. The greenhouse has 13 cupolas, there are 13 ceiling panels in some rooms, and the chandelier in the Ballroom held 13 candles. Sarah even made sure that her lovely Seance Room contained 13 robe hooks. The caretakers of the home now continue the tradition where every Friday the 13th a bell on the property is rung 13 times at 13:00 hours in tribute to Sarah.

The photo above was taken prior to 1906, when the big earthquake destroyed most of the house (photo courtesy of Winchester Mystery House). It was 7 stories high back then, but today it has only 4 stories and sits on 4.5 of the original 162 acres. Historians guess that between 500 and 600 rooms were built, but because of constant demolition and rebuilding (damn those spirits!) there are now only 160 rooms. Of course, each of those rooms has had its share of paranormal investigations. People claim to feel cold spots, see full-bodied apparitions of Sarah, they hear breathing, see doorknobs turn by themselves, hear the organ playing, and have seen balls of light.

After finding out this information there was only one thing for me to do: take the Halloween Flashlight Tour of the Winchester House. I drove my son (then 13) and my mother up to San Jose for the weekend. Our tour, of course, began at midnight and upon entry they gave each of us a souvenir flashlight with which to take the tour (I still have mine). I was disappointed that we had to stay with our tour guide - I would have loved to have roamed freely on my own - but I understand why they don't allow it: people would get lost. I mean really lost. Or worse yet, hurt. The interior is crazy-making! Open cabinet doors in the kitchen and find a wall, rather than shelving. Climb 40 steps to go up only nine feet. Open a door and if you're not looking you could fall from a sheer drop to the exterior of the house. There's even a glass pane right in the middle of the floor which you could easily fall through to the floor below. My favorite oddity: the staircase that leads straight up to the ceiling. So freaking creepy! Some say that she built the house this way to confuse the spirits, making it difficult for them to find her. Unfortunately for me, our tour was filled with frat boys so it wasn't as scary as I'd hoped, although I will say it was quite ghastly every time we'd follow them up a staircase and they would purposely fart in our faces. Yeah, that wasn't quite the kind of terror I had in mind.

Still, I say if you haven't been to the Winchester Mystery House you should do yourself a favor and see it for yourself. It's a beautiful Victorian-style home and it has been immaculately maintained. It's located at 525 S. Winchester Blvd. in San Jose, CA (phone 408.247.2000). It's also a California Historical Landmark. On my Scare-O-Meter, I give it "1 jump" for its creep factor and would recommend that you take the kiddies, too.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Cabin In The Woods

My initial reaction to the plot of this film was that it was a cross-breeding between The Hunger Games, for its location much like the arena in Games, and Hostel to the tenth degree. Co-written and produced by Joss Whedon (you'd better know who he is if you're reading this blog), The Cabin In The Woods is highly entertaining, taking all of your worst nightmares and throwing them into one film. At times comical, at other times ridiculously gory, this movie's premise was original and a great thrill to see on Friday the 13th.

It's the story of five students who go off to spend the weekend at a cabin in the woods (!). You've got the typical players: the sex kitten, the jock, the brain, the good girl, and the reefer dude. Wait. Did I just describe Scooby-Doo? Anyway, while investigating the cellar they unwittingly decide their fate. One by one they start to die at the hands of... Oh, you didn't think I was going to spoil it for you, did you? You should see it for yourself, just go with the mindset that you're going to have a good time. If you go in thinking you're going to be scared out of your wits you'll be terribly disappointed. Personally my favorite parts were the Japanese school girls and the elevator ride. I know. I'm such a tease.

On another note, my co-worker told me today that she wasn't sure if she wanted to see the film and "needed" a website with a Scare-O-Meter to help her judge if certain horror movies would be too much for her to handle. I told her that was my original intent for this blog: to rate the items I blog about by "jumps." I wanted to have an illustrated icon of myself jumping out of my seat, using it to rate between 1 jump (not too scary even for the faint-hearted) and 4 jumps (reserved for incredibly scary and disturbing movies like The Exorcist (The Director's Cut). So even though I don't yet have my "jumpers," I'm going to start my rating system with this post. Ann, this one's for you: On my scale of 1 to 4 jumps, I'll give The Cabin In The Woods 2 jumps. I didn't think it was scary whatsoever, but it's extremely violent and gory which, to some, can be scary in and of itself.

Oh, and yes, there's a clown.

It's Friday the 13th!

Not only is it Friday the 13th, but we're having lightning and thunderstorms in Los Angeles today. I think I'll consider it an extra-lucky day (I'm obviously not triskaidekaphobic) and attempt to see Cabin In The Woods which opens tonight citywide.

Here's a fun tidbit for you regarding the superstition of the number 13: Some believe that if your name contains 13 letters you will have "the devil's luck." How many letters are in your name? Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Charles Manson all have 13.

And this year there are three Friday the 13ths, which are exactly 13 weeks apart.

Have a good one, people!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy (Haunted) Birthday to me!

For my 50th birthday next month, I was planning the trip of a lifetime. However, due to circumstances beyond my control, the trip has been cancelled. I wracked my brain trying to figure out what else I could do, where else I could go to celebrate this major milestone in my life. And then it struck me. Why not spend my 50th birthday in Greyfriar's Kirkyard!

Greyfriar's Kirkyard ("churchyard" or cemetery) is located in Edinburgh, Scotland. Established in the mid-1500's, the cemetery was necessary because the churchyard in St. Giles was filled to the brim with bodies which would create a stench during the summer months. Sounds wonderfully ghastly to me!

There have been many stories over the centuries that Greyfriar's is extremely haunted. But first, let me share a sweet story about Greyfriar's Bobby.

Bobby was the loyal dog of John Gray who was a nightwatchman for the Edinburgh Police department. The two were inseparable until Gray's death from tuberculosis. Gray was buried in Greyfriar's Kirkyard where Bobby spent the next 14 years (some say 17 years) faithfully watching over his master's grave. At one point some people said that Bobby, with no owner, should be destroyed but Sir William Chambers, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, paid for Bobby's license and Bobby officially became the responsibility of the Edinburgh City Council.

Upon his death Bobby could not be buried with his owner because the Kirkyard is on consecrated grounds, but he was buried inside the gate of Greyfriar's, nearby to his master. Talk about man's best friend!

(Okay. I don't know about you, but I think this little kid is way creepier than the supposed face in the gravestone at Greyfriar's... (bottom left))

Back to the hauntings. The most infamous ghost within the Kirkyard is that of Bloody George Mackenzie, Lord Advocate during the reign of King Charles II, who tortured and killed hundreds (maybe thousands) of people who proclaimed their loyalty to God, rather than to the King. It's often said that a soul sent to hell cannot rest, so it continues to roam the earth. This excerpt from Robert Louis Stevenson's Edinburgh Picturesque Notes (1897) says it best: "When a man's soul is certainly in hell, his body will scarce lie quiet in a tomb however costly; some time or other the door must open, and the reprobate come forth in the abhorred garments of the grave."

People who have entered Mackenzie's tomb, especially during nighttime ghost tours of the cemetery, have been bitten, scratched, become horribly nauseated, and pregnant women have been known to faint (no worries for me there). Others feel hot and cold spots, smell strange odors, hear unexplained voices and have seen full-bodied apparitions. One legend states that a local schoolboy hid there and went stark-raving mad.

Sounds like the perfect place for me to celebrate my half-century birthday. Let's see if I muster up the courage to go there in the evening and knock on the door of his tomb shouting (in my best Scottish accent), "Bluidy Mackingie, come oot if ye dar. Lift the sneck and draw the bar!"

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Audition (Japan)

One of the most disturbing (and, therefore, one of my favorite) films I've ever seen is Japan's Audition. Directed by Takashi Miike, this horror film caught me completely off-guard. I hadn't heard anything about it prior to watching it and that made it even better. I'll give you the plot without going into too much detail in case you plan on seeing it (highly advisable!).

It's the story of a man named Aoyama who is searching for a new wife. One of his best friends, being in the film industry, suggests Aoyama "audition" women to fill the role under the pretense that they're casting a new movie. His interest is sparked by a beautiful, shy woman named Asami and they quickly fall in love. However, after finding out that the audition was faked Asami leaves Aoyama and the story follows his every move as he tries to regain her trust and win her heart once more. Mission accomplished, they marry but the next morning he awakens to find her gone. His search for her is where the movie truly begins for us fans of Asian Horror when what Aoyama finds is not what any of us had expected. From that point forward the film is like a grisly accident on the 405 freeway where you know you shouldn't slow down to look, and yet you do. A warning to the faint of heart: the graphic images may stay with you for a long, long time.

Possibly director Miike's attempt to shake his finger at men who, even today, search for that stereotypical docile, subservient Asian wife, this film makes all of us who are single question if we're going deep enough when screening our potential mates. Like me, it may even cause you to stop dating for a few months.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Evergreen Cemetery

Having photographed many cemeteries in Europe and South America, I wanted to shoot some of the local graveyards which, I feel, are often just as beautiful even though they aren't as ornate or grandiose as those in other countries. Unfortunately, I've often been confronted by security guards telling me I'm not allowed to photograph within the cemeteries and once was asked to erase my memory card while the guard stood over me. Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights, however, did not seem to have an issue with me wandering freely, D-SLR camera around my neck, shooting their beautiful grounds. Thanks to my friend Jayne Osborne for meeting me there and showing me some of the highlights.

Evergreen is the oldest non-denominational cemetery in the city (est. 1877) with over 300,000 people buried there. The rich history of Los Angeles is evident as you walk through its various sections. Most impressive for me was the number of veterans buried there and the old, weathered tombstones that I find so mesmerizing. Be sure to check it out when you're in the area. Oh, and say, "hi" to Joe Blow when you find him.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Kill the bastards!

Vandals in Marville, France broke into the local charnel house and broke the skull boxes on the altar and smashed the skulls. KILL THE BASTARDS! Above is a before and after photo so you can see the damage that was done. To me, this is inexcusable. I can't even imagine what would go through someone's mind that would cause them to destroy something so beautiful and so sacred. This is a centuries old tradition for the French and a way for them to honor the dead. The locals are very upset to say the least. Sorry, I have to say it one more time: KILL THE BASTARDS! (Photo courtesy of Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Silent House

I went to a 5:10 showing of The Silent House on a Friday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles hoping for an empty theater. I was thrilled when I entered to find I was alone. Aah, the thought of sitting all alone in the theater while watching a horror film was o-gazmic, to say the least, but I was soon disappointed when two giggling girls walked in, followed by a lovey-dovey couple who would have been better off getting a room at the nearby Figueroa Hotel. Still, I did my best to ignore them as the lights went down and The Silent House filled the screen.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the film - all I'd heard was that it was supposedly filmed in one take, in real time (like Hitchcock's Rope) and that was enough for me. I knew it ultimately wouldn't scare me since I've "seen 'em all," but I was intrigued nonetheless.

The verdict? I have to say I was pleasantly surprised although I hated the ending. Elizabeth Olsen did a great job playing the skittish daughter who's at her family's summer home with her father and uncle while they fix the place up prior to its sale. Again, not knowing what to expect, I wasn't sure if the movie was about a haunted house or if this was a case of a home invasion. I'm glad I wasn't aware of the plot prior to taking my seat because the writer purposely left this question unanswered until 3/4 of the way through the film. My favorite portion of the movie was the Polaroid sequence for its intensity (I won't reveal more than this in case you want to see it). In all fairness, I will say that the film managed to make this self-proclaimed Queen of Horror (me) jump out of my seat a few times. I love that.

Since seeing The Silent House, I've seen an interview with Elizabeth Olsen and she evaded all questions regarding the movie being shot in one take. Her answer, "Whether it was or it wasn't, the important thing is that the audience is watching the movie in 'real time' which is unique." Okay, so apparently it wasn't filmed in one take. But I've also heard that achieving the long periods of footage was extremely difficult and tiring for both cast and crew. For example, they'd shoot flawlessly for 25 minutes and then a prop guy would accidentally appear in the shot and they'd have to start over again. So, for the amount of effort to make this as true to real time as possible, I'll give them the thumbs up.

As with most American horror films these days, this is a remake of a foreign movie. La Casa Muda was the original title (Uruguay) and was one of those "based on a true story" films. After seeing The Silent House I watched the original because I wanted to compare the two to see if anything got lost in translation or, perhaps, was improved upon. I typically compare Asian horror to their American counterparts (The Grudge, The Ring, Dark Water, One Missed Call, etc.) so I wanted to do the same here.

I'm not sure if I found the original version flat in comparison to the American release because I'd already seen the American version and knew what to expect, but overall I felt that the original lacked the suspense and cohesive storytelling of its counterpart. Also filmed in "one shot," I found the cinematography bland and at one point when the sound becomes muffled (for obvious reasons that I won't disclose here for fear of spoiling the plot) all the film managed to do was become annoying. Although the denouement was different in each film, I have to say that the American version did the audience a great service in fleshing out the storyline and creating more nuances in both character development and cinematography. This time, the American remake wins my vote.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Walking Dead - Season 2 finale

**SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't yet caught up on all of your Season 2 episodes, proceed with caution. This posting will r-u-i-n it for you!**

Season 2 did not disappoint. It was zombie-licious! I guess the producers heard us screaming like we were being eaten alive, because this season had more "walkers" than last and, bar the fact that it started out pretty slowly, the second half of the season was filled with more character development, action, and the unexpected. Dale? Shane?! WTF?!?!

The biggest transformation this season was, by far, Carl. You could literally see him grow from a child into a young man throughout the 13 episodes (I love that even their number of episodes is superstitiously scary). Did it have something to do with his near-death experience or did it have more to do with his idolization of Shane? He went from being a naive, little boy to a smug, sometimes hard-hearted kid - even urging his Dad to shoot their prisoner, Randall. His cocky attitude got the best of him (and ultimately Dale) when he encountered the zombie, stuck in the mud, and egged that poor zombie on so much that it freed itself and found its way onto the nearby farm only to spill Dale's entrails all over the place. How ironic that Dale's last words were, "We don't shoot the living!" when only moments later he visually begged his friends to "put him down" as he lay dying in ghastly misery.

And, I'm sorry, but I just have to vent about Lori here. I hate her character! Every week I literally end up yelling at my TV, "Bitch! Whore!" She played Rick and Shane against each other and now that Rick killed Shane she doesn't want Rick to touch her? What the...? On The Talking Dead the producers explained that she was angry at herself. I don't know. It didn't come across that way. What I do know is that she has always been my least-favorite character. Bitch! Whore!

I do, however, like where Rick's character development is headed. "This is no longer a democracy!" It's about time this guy grew a pair. I could see it coming as soon as he killed the two guys in the bar - something changed for the better. We all knew right then, right there, that there was a new sheriff in town. Now, if we could get him to kill his wife... Bitch! Whore! Sorry, I digress.

My biggest surprise this season was Shane being killed. I really thought they'd keep Shane around because he was the perfect antagonist to Rick and his moral values along with the tension he brought wanting to be replace Rick as a husband and a father. It caught me off guard, too, when  Carl aimed his gun toward his Dad only to shoot past him to bring Zombie Shane down. Nice shooting, kid.

So, the farm is gone. Everyone carries the virus. Rick has become a tyrant. We have a new character (Andrea's savior). And there's a damn prison across the lake. I don't know about you, but September can't come soon enough. I want to know if Lori's going to give birth to a zombie baby. Bitch! Whore!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ghost Dog

This photo was posted on FB by my "friends" at the Boyle Heights Paranormal Project. (Photo copyright Michael Campbell) After going outdoors to shoot the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus, Michael Campbell forgot to reset his camera settings which had been set for a long exposure. Accidentally shooting this in his kitchen on a 2-second exposure reveals a ghostly Pomeranian dog in the lower right corner. Do you see it? Michael has no animals in the house, so he believes that this could be a spirit living in a different frequency, made evident to our dimension by the long exposure. One skeptic has already called, "Foul!" on BHPP's FB page claiming that it's simply matrixing due to the movement of the person's left foot during the long exposure and has requested that the photo be taken to an expert. I love naysayers, but I tend to lean toward claims of the paranormal, especially when I can see the dog's semi-expressive face staring straight into the camera!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ghost Hunters International (*yawn)

"On this week's episode of... Ghost Hunters..." Seriously. They need to eliminate Ghost Hunters International from the franchise. Either that or they need a new team and they need to send them to Asia. Asia is so haunted! But the current team really doesn't do anything for me. Every week you can count on Joe Chin squealing that something touched him. Really? I think it's wishful thinking, Joe. I don't think a living person would touch you, let alone a dead one. And then there's Chris who's been put in the position of trying to carry the show, but she just isn't strong enough. She's cute, but she has absolutely nothing to offer when it comes to investigating. Let's mix it up, people.

And what's the real reason behind Grant's departure from Ghost Hunters? To pursue Graphic Design?! WTF?! Who believed that? Let me see... You used to be a plumber, then you got your own highly successful television show, became a celebrity (of sorts), and you're leaving the show to become a graphic designer. I guess that missing wedding ring on his finger has nothing to do with his decision, huh. Oh, okay. Cool, Grant! Thanks for being real - just like your investigations.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Charnel Houses & Ossuaries

Do you know about charnel houses and ossuaries? I thought I did until I met Paul Koudounaris and read The Empire of Death, his wonderfully detailed book on these Catholic novelties. Many of these charnel houses/rooms are not known to the public therefore Paul spent many years doing research on his own, initially through the internet and then traveling to these choice destinations in order to photograph them. He was given special permission to do so and his Fine Arts degree is evident in the richly, beautifully detailed images within the pages of this cool coffee table book. Five years in the making, this book is chockfull of history and is not only an interesting read, but it's also candy for the eyes. I thought I'd never see anything more stunning than the catacombs beneath the streets of Paris, but I was wrong. This book has become my travel bucket list. You can order it here:
Welcome to O-gazms. If it goes "bump" in the night, you'll probably find it, or a mutilated, rotting piece of it, somewhere within this blog. This blog was started through the encouragement of a couple of my friends who find my fascination with death, the macabre, and the paranormal a bit... shall we say, quirky?