Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Draw of the Gothic & "No Rest for the Eerie: A Paean to the Haunted House"


The end of October has arrived and with it All Hallows' Eve nods to the Olde World traditions of seasonal harvest rights and festivities, like the Gaelic Samhain and Celtic Hop-tu-Naa which themselves bear some relationship to the Ancient Greek festival of Thesmophoria. Part and parcel with the changes of Autumn, come abundant celebrations of the gloomily crepuscular, gloaming eerie and ominous in literature, film and popular culture. In recognition of this season of ominous portent, The New York Times annually whip up sinister concoctions like "A House of Horror Films" their interactive history, trivia, and guessing game on Haunted Houses in cinema by Tommi Musturi. This year's features for Halloween week include a set of writers, directors and various artistic creators detailing their own personal recipes for the making the night a memorable one in, "Hoping for a Spooky Halloween? We Have Some Suggestions". Which is followed up by a horror litmus test of sorts in which self proclaimed horror aficionado Fahima Haque takes a sampling of three very different Manhattan and Brooklyn haunted house offerings, and comes away with some insight inter her own threshold for the fearsome season, "‘Not Much Scares Me.’ Then She Entered the Haunted House.". Other annual highlights have included Steven Kurutz' gorgeous little, "No Rest for the Eerie: A Paean to the Haunted House". In which he did more than an admirable job, going as far as to cite John Tibbetts' anthology of essays and interviews “The Gothic Imagination”, which is essential reading for anyone who wants to plumb the depths of "uncertainty, anxiety, and fear" that is the art of the Gothic literary tradition.

The undeniable, and very real, fears surrounding the choices that were left to us in 2016's election cycle and its fallout have been fertile ground for Halloween, "Spooked by Real Life? Bring On the Halloween Frights". No one has quite exploited those fears to the extent of Pedro Reyes' "Doomocracy" wherein, "Brooklyn Put the Politics of Fear on Display". Steven Kurutz has also delivered a brilliant Home & Garden feature, "House Haunters" on seasonal real-world Haunted Houses like Kopelman's 30-year running institution near Phoenix which also acts as ground zero to America's Best Haunts. A directory that includes Ben Armstrong's Netherworld, Kohout's long-running Hauntworld house near St. Louis, Phil Anselmo's New Orleans House of Shock, Los Angeles and New York's Blackout, and the immense, preposterous undertaking that is Rob Zombie's Great American Nightmare. Sadly none of our local Northwest haunts make that list, but there's a good number of them to be found throughout the state. The Haunted House and it's offspring have long been a staple of western literature and folklore, movies and pulp storytelling. Their origins in the 18th Century speak to an era equally fascinated by science as the supernatural, with mesmerism and the phantasmagoric in vogue, it's little wonder, "Ghost Stories: Why the Victorians were so Spookily Good at Them". Some memorable manifestations of the Gothic tradition in cinema come to mind, from Ti West's contemporary "House of the Devil", to the campier mid-century side seen in William Castle's B-movie “House on Haunted Hill”. There remain a set of classics in the genre, few of which can rival the adaptation of Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" that is Robert Wise' "The Haunting".

A select number of silent era representations also stand out like Jean Epstein's 1928 surreal, claustrophobic adaptation of the Poe classic, "The Fall of the House of Usher", and the early 1930's horror-comedy talkie of James Whale's "Old Dark House". Later decades produced Roger Corman's B-movie Vincent Price vehicles like "The Haunted Palace", and 1970s Italian Giallo works in the genre represented by Lucio Fulci's H.P. Lovecraft-inspired "The House by the Cemetery". The 1980s saw the Pacific Northwest set "The Changeling" by Peter Medak, and by the 1990s, examples like the unhinged "Sweet Home" by a young Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The late 1970's and early 80s hit their stride with the Japanese insanity of "Hausu" co-conceived by Nobuhiko Obayashi and his 11 year old daughter, Stuart Rosenberg's “Amityville Horror”, and of course no one who's seen it can forget Stanley Kubrick's singular, unnerving horror entry, "The Shining". Digging deeper there were 60's and 70's genre variations like Dan Curtis' “Burnt Offerings", the erotic horror of Elio Petri's "A Quiet Place in the Country", and Carlos Enrique Taboada's haunted schoolhouse-set "Even the Wind is Afraid". But of course the Haunted House owes it's origins to much, much older traditions in literature, as purviewed in The Guardian's, "Halloween Spirits: Literature's Haunted Houses". Traceable back to the 18th century bit of disquieting paranoia and creeping melancholy that is Horace Walpole's “Castle of Otranto”. Predating Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Daphne du Maurier, M.R. James, Ann Radcliffe, H.P. Lovecraft, and as The Paris Review notes, "The Draw of the Gothic", in all who would follow in their footsteps over the centuries since. Photo credit: Simon Marsden