‘Explain This… If You Can’ (2018)

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They’re not so easy to find anymore, but David Seibold and Charles Adams III, years ‘n’ years ago, write a series of books of what we might call local ghost stories of southern New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Patty and I always bought one or more of them while we were on vacation.

One of the stories they collected–well, maybe it’s not actually a ghost story, strictly speaking; but it’s certainly a weird story!

Explain This… If You Can

How do you see a whole town that isn’t really there? Or maybe it does exist–but it’s thousands of miles away. If you’re not sick, goofy, or intoxicated, how do you see a thing like this? And how many others have seen the same, but never, ever mentioned it because they were afraid of what people would think of them?

Not an easy story to forget.


Fun with Phantoms

Death Be Not Loud  by Jan Olandese

Death Be Not Loud: Ghosts Haunts & Tall Tales For Restless Nights:  Olandese, Jan: 9781521379561: Amazon.com: Books

It isn’t every day we get to review a book written by a frequent visitor to our humble blog. You might know Rev. Olandese from her blog, “Book ‘Em, Jan-O”–I just love that title, a takeoff on Jack Lord’s immortal line from Hawaii Five-O, “Book ’em, Dano.”

These are billed as “ghost stories,” but they’re much too original to be labeled. Ghosts are in or around the stories: but mostly what we get is clever, witty, off-the-wall story-telling. The book is easily available via amazon.com.

It says right there in our mission statement that a good laugh is a gift from God, a blessing that helps us keep our sanity in a fallen world whose Very Smartest People can’t find anything better to do than to denounce cartoon characters. Jan’s little book will give you a great many smiles and not a few laugh-out-loud moments. Patty read it first and fell in love with it. We’re both very happy to recommend it to you.

Warning: If you’re not a scary story fan, there are inside jokes and allusions and takeoffs in here that will probably elude you. But even then you’ll still have fun!

Whatever Happened to Horror Movies?

The Highest-Grossing Horror Movies of All Time | Mental Floss

I know this isn’t so for everybody; but for some of us, there’s nothing quite so bracing as a good, clean scare–just the thing horror movies were invented to provide. My wife and I both find a good scary movie very relaxing. Sure, it creeps you out for a time: but then it stops! Don’t you wish real-life problems would just stop, roll the credits, and trouble us no more?

Take a classic horror movie like The Uninvited. No cussing, no nudity, no writhing around in the bed–and no blood ‘n’ guts spattered all over the screen. And all the deaths and tragedies involved are in the past (hence the ghosts). It’s in black-and-white, and none of the characters gets killed. It’d be hard to create something less like today’s horror movies; but The Uninvited packs plenty of good, stiff scares. And having Ray Milland, Cornelia Otis Skinner, and Alan Napier in the cast doesn’t hurt, either.

Sometimes we’d like to see a movie that we haven’t seen before. We read the descriptions and rule out the slasher movies. But we still get stung. The last one we saw was supposed to be an H.P. Lovecraft thing, based on one of our favorite Lovecraft stories, The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Back in the 20s and 30s, HPL wasn’t even allowed to write gross-out horror. So his tales rely on true creepiness and weird takes on reality. And never mind! This movie soon degenerated into nudity, physical cruelty, and violence that was so far over the top, it was almost funny. The key word is “almost.”

In the last couple modern horror movies we’ve seen, the story always seems to wind up, “And then everybody got killed in assorted nasty ways!” It’s like the writers walked out halfway through the picture and the director’s 12 and 13-year-old kids had to write the rest of it.

Is this telling us something about our culture, that can’t even crank out a proper ghost story anymore?

I think so.

A Very Good Scary Movie

The Innkeepers ~ Trailer - YouTube

Some of us love ghost stories. I love them because they blow out the cobwebs and then they’re over–they don’t just go on and on and on, like socialism or the Drag Queen Story Hour. When the story’s over, it’s over. It won’t be there tomorrow.

The Innkeepers, from 2011, gave us some honest frights when we watched it last night. Real goosebumps. They did it without gory slasher schiff; in fact, the scariest parts of the movie were not scenes in which you actually saw something scary, but those scenes that made you anticipate seeing something really awful. That’s not an easy effect to achieve.

Sara Paxton and Pat Healy play Claire and Luke, the two young caretakers of the Yankee Peddlar Hotel, which is about to go out of business and therefor has only a couple of guests. To stave off boredom, Claire and Luke investigate a tradition that the hotel is haunted. That turns out to be a really bad idea.

Kelly McGillis is there as a formerly famous actress who’s now a New Age guru. Claire should have taken her advice. Then again, I’m not a psychic and I’d say “Don’t go down into the cellar,” too. You don’t need to be a psychic to see that things at the old hotel are getting very pear-shaped very fast.

I think I can promise that The Innkeepers will give you a few good jolts. The acting is superb and the sets are captivating. And it’ll make you forget all about the nooze for 90 minutes or so.

Our Friendly Haunted Tavern

Sam’s Bar & Grill, in Fords, was my favorite tavern, once upon a time. It was famous for its beef dip and its sandwiches. It was a nice place, no untoward happenings. My mother used to go there occasionally. Our county freeholders went there for Monday Night Football. Sam’s sponsored our softball team for quite a few years. My wife and I used to go there: she loved the sandwiches.

But as my desire to drink faded away, we didn’t go anymore and by and by, Sam’s went out of business.

Just for the heck of it, last night, I looked for Sam’s on the internet. Just to see if anyone remembered it.

Imagine my astonishment when I read that Sam’s Bar & Grill was believed to be… haunted. Ghosts. And I found that little video, displayed above.

Haunted? I must’ve been to Sam’s a thousand times, and never heard a word of any haunting. But then who would have told me? Not the owner. Not the bar maids. Nor was any ghost likely to put in an appearance while the bar was open, the lights were on, and patrons were enjoying themselves. I suppose the only people who knew those stories were those who lived in the neighborhood. Still, Weird N.J. Magazine lists Sam’s as a haunted site–so somebody was talking about it, even if the stories never reached my ears.

Gee, I wish I’d heard those stories.

It got me wondering about some of the other bars I used to go to–which led me to the startling discovery that they’re all gone. Not replaced by other bars. Gone. Where do you go to get a drink around here? But then I always liked quiet, restful places, so I wouldn’t be interested in going to any of the crowded sports bars that still look to be pretty abundant. I doubt you can enjoy a quiet conversation there.

So I wonder what I would have seen and heard if I’d been in Sam’s after it had shut down for the night and everyone had gone home. Anything? I’ll never know.

‘Old Books, New Delights’ (2014)

Image result for images of the third omnibus of crime

To my knowledge, The Bargain, by A.M. Burrage, is the only story ever written about a haunted stamp collection. Guaranteed to give you the willies!

Old Books, New Delights

We found it in a banged-up old book that my wife bought for 25 cents–The Third Omnibus of Crime, edited by Dorothy L. Sayers: 800 pages of classic crime and ghost stories.

You can still get this book from a used book service, but it’ll cost you a lot more than 25 cents.


For a Pleasant Little Scare: ‘A Warning to the Curious’

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M. R. James wrote the best ghost stories ever, and one of those gems is A Warning to the Curious. This was made into a short film (50 minutes long) some years ago and currently available on Youtube.

How good an idea is it to dig up an ancient artifact supposedly protected by a supernatural guardian? Even outside of an M.R. James story, probably not. A Warning to the Curious is about what happens to an amateur archaeologist who ignores the warning.

The thing that makes this little movie go is its spectacular photography and ominous-looking locations. If you were looking for ghosts anywhere, these places would be where you’d find them. Flat fens where it’s hard to tell where the beach ends and the water begins, stone buildings that look like they grew out of the landscape a thousand years ago, a train station smack in the middle of nowhere–sit and look. You won’t see places like those every day.

We watched in this afternoon, to take our minds off stressful things, and it does do that. It does it very well.

Explain This… If You Can

Image result for images of legends of long beach island

I don’t know if this is a proper ghost story, or what. But it’s certainly a strange story. Let me quote from Legends of Long Beach Island by David Seibold and Charles Adams III (copyright by the authors, 1985), page 16. Short but sweet:

“Our storyteller… has more. His father swears he once saw a red-roofed, white-building village propped on the horizon a short distance from Holgate [on the southern tip of Long Beach Island, NJ]. Out fishing, he looked to the east, out to sea, and unmistakeably saw the buildings–terra cotta roofs, almost Spanish in style. He knows well it couldn’t have really been there. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, but it wouldn’t go away.”

Now there’s nothing between Holgate, NJ, and Portugal but mile after mile of the Atlantic Ocean. If we believe the witness was telling the truth–and why shouldn’t we?–then how do we explain what he saw? Does Brigadoon have a sea-going counterpart? Or was this the ghost of Atlantis? Or some as-yet unexplained natural phenomenon?

Go figure.

A Halloween Story

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This mini-story occurred to me this morning. It is pure fiction intended to give you a harmless little shudder.

Halloween at Bill Nye Public School. At lunchtime the children are allowed to change into costumes. They can even do it at home, if they can get back in time.

Shortly before the bell rings to end the lunch period, a figure in a horrible scary witch costume appears on the playground: ratty old black dress, coarse red hair flying every which way, unwholesome yellow-green complexion, with a long hooked nose and evilly twisted mouth decorated with two or three brown stumps of teeth. The eyes hardly bear description. So frightful was this costume that some of the younger children break into tears and run away. The older kids just stare.

Then the bell rings, and fifth-graders file into Mrs. Cafone’s classroom. The horrible witch goes in with them. Everyone wonders who it could possibly be. But so far the witch has spoken not a word.

When the children are all seated, Mrs. Cafone can’t help but marvel at the really quite awful witch costume. “Come on, now,” she says, “who is it?” The witch answers not a word. “I know you don’t want your voice to give you away, but you are sitting in Harold Winkie’s seat, so you must be Harold Winkie. Take off the mask so we can see you. Really, that costume is the limit!”

There is a pause. The children are now increasingly mad at Harold–ordinarily the bottom kid on the totem pole, the butt of every joke–for giving them a scare, and they begin to chant in unison, “Take it off! Take it off!” Pounding their desks for emphasis.

The witch stands suddenly. Silence falls.

He or she reaches up and slowly removes the mask.

And what is underneath is so much worse.

Not Honest! (Plus a Prayer Request)

Image result for images of m.r. james

Patty and I wanted to watch a ghost story last night; and, lo and behold, we found a movie treatment of M.R. James’ Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad, one of the best ghost stories ever written. There’s a 1968 version starring Michael Hordern as the intellectual know-it-all who gets a very rude awakening, but this new one is longer and stars another great actor, John Hurt.

But first we read the viewer comments.

It turns out there’s no ghost in this rendition, and no freakin’ whistle, either. Instead, it’s a story of dementia. All they did was lift the title–not honest! The story in the movie has nothing to do with the one M.R. James wrote. So we didn’t watch it.

Sorry, but dementia is very much wanting as a source of entertainment, especially when it’s eating up certain members of your family. My brother-in-law, Ray, has it: has it bad. Because it’s not possible to get his permission to divulge any of the details, all I can say is that he needs our prayers. I mean, he really needs them, and I ask you to join me in offering prayer on his behalf. Please, Lord, in Jesus’ name, do something to help him!

I know you can’t copyright a title, but this goes beyond just “based on” and is a highly blameworthy attempt to trick the audience.

Meanwhile, we thank you for your prayers.