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!"