Tag Archives: ghosts

31 Days of Spoooktacular: The Haunting of Dylan Charles

I recently talked about the fact that I now live in a haunted apartment. I don’t know who or what it’s haunted by, I just know that, on occasion, it gets all creepy up in here.

There have  been new sounds added into the mix. We both heard the sound of something thumping on the side of the house, though when I went onto the porch to investigate, I didn’t see anything there. There are the usual creaks and moans as though someone was walking on the ceiling and doors continue to open and close of their own volition.

But here’s the thing about ghosts I don’t understand; why? Assuming that you have a soul and assuming that this soul survives beyond death, then why would you give a good goddamn about what’s going on here on Earth? Your very existence has been altered in a fundamental, mind-boggling way. The very matter from which you are made is completely redefined and you’re just going to hang out in some old apartment and bang the pans together?

I don’t think so.

I think we can rule out that ghosts are dead people just based on the fact that I would hope people had better things to do after they die, assuming the existence of an eternal soul. Also, sidenote, if you’re religious, how do you explain ghosts? Are they caught in Limbo? Did they get lost on the way to Heaven/Hell? Either way, it would seem to point to some weird loophole in the mechanics of the afterlife. “Oh! I’m going to Hell? No thanks, I’ll just hang out on Earth for a few more decades.”

I do like the idea of strong, emotional events (murders, suicides, explosions in the old mines) leaving a kind of resonance in the area. It’s not the actual spirits of people, it’s a discordant harmony worked into the aether of a particular place. That would explain why it stays so localized, as opposed to just wandering around at will, like I sure as hell would do I could go anywhere I wanted in a phantasmagoric vapor.

But I’m pretty sure that science hasn’t proven that emotions leave imprints in inanimate objects. Science HAS proven that certain sound frequencies (infrasound) can cause feelings of dread, uncertainty and fear and even cause hallucinations in a listener and that these infrasounds are not uncommon in places that were reportedly haunted. Which all makes perfect sense and I’m glad that science has finally put this ghost nonsense to bed.

But that doesn’t quite explain the strange slime I found oozing from the tap this morning. Or the ring of dark, dried…something on the ceiling of my office that comes and goes. Or the whispered screams that come from our closet at 3am. Or the sound of footsteps behin

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31 Days of Spoooktacular: Even a Man Who Is Pure in Heart

For 31 Days of Spoooktacular, I wanted to do the occasional spotlight on the monsters that have formed the deep and gristly backbone of pop culture. Through a society’s monsters, you can tell a lot about that society. What scares us, helps to define us. It is no coincidence that, in the wake of World War II and the Emergence of the Atom Bomb, atomic horrors plagued our silver screen.

More telling, is the changes we made to old legends.

The werewolf, in the olde days, in the olde country, was a man or woman who had made a pact with the devil and, through that pact, had gained certain supernatural powers, including, but not limited to, changing into a ferocious beast. The idea was that this was a gift, a boon for giving oneself to evil. They were satisfying their baser urges.

Once it entered modernity, specifically the movies, the werewolf became a different kind of creature. No longer was the lycanthrope a witch or savage, but an innocent who had been cursed by the bite of another werewolf. The transformation could only happen under the light of a full moon, or a around a full moon. The person change against their will and, once transformed, lost all control.

It became a symbol of repression unleashed, of inner savagery, a beastial nature unchained.

In more recent years, it has followed the route of vampirism. Rather than a supernatural curse or a religious affliction, vampirism and lycanthropy have both become diseases. The disease is transmitted by a bite or scratch and produces extreme changes in both physiology and psychology.

It is the last gasp of the mythology to survive in our modern times as a viable thing that exists beyond entertainment, as a lesson. Because that’s what monsters are. Monsters are how we teach our children fear and how to deal with that fear. Be careful after dark. Do not talk to strangers. Stay in church and with your community. Do not go up to make-out point.

We use our monsters to learn what to be afraid of and how to deal with that fear. The lessons we learn from our folktales are meant to leave lasting repercussions that affect our behavior well into adulthood. The werewolf, the vampire, the ghoul, the goblins; they have lost resonance. They don’t function in our world anymore. In spite of increasingly desperate attempts to make them relevant, they are falling behind.

They have nothing left to teach us. They have nothing to scare us with. In a world with bombs and serial killers and viruses; the occult loses all meaning. The werewolf has lost his bite.

-D-

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I Want to Live in a Haunted House

For the first time, I think I can truly understand why people say that their house is haunted. I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in the supernatural. I don’t believe in anything that can’t be proven with the logical, brute force of Science.

But….

Late last night, I was in bed reading when I thought I heard the back door open and then close. A minute or so later, I heard footsteps walking passed the dining room door. I called out to Emily.

No answer.

I got out of bed and walked out into the dining room and into the hallway. No-one was there. Emily wasn’t home and I was all by myself.

It was a little nerve-wracking.

This is no isolated incident. The doors open and close on their own. The venetian blinds hum and chatter. There are the sounds in the walls like something is pressing to get in.

It’s an old house. It moves and settles and shifts. The doors close and open because they’re too damn loose on their hinges and the wind from the open windows opens and shuts them.

I know it. I internalize it. And I still don’t believe in ghosts. Not one jot.

But….sometimes, when it’s really late at night and I’m all alone in the apartment and I hear those soft and sinister sounds start up again, deep within the walls of the house and moving across the floorboards like cat’s paws, I can’t help but want to believe there are ghosts making their way through the apartment with unearthly purpose.

Because, really, isn’t that more fun that a seventy year old house with some creaky floorboards?

-D-

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Plans Macabre

So Halloween is rapidly approaching and how. I know you’re probably not as excited as I am, since most people who get excited about Halloween are under ten and thinking about candy. As someone who indulges in horror year-round (writing it, reading it, watching it), it’s always nice when October comes slouching ’round and everyone else starts talking scary movies.

And I have plans. Some are fantastical and out there and are most likely not going to happen. I’m not even going to tell you what they are to avoid your inevitable disappointment.  I do have more workable plans however and you’re going to hear about those. There’ll be movie reviews and pontificating blog entries about the nature of horror. There’ll be me pitching my book at you repeatedly (it’s a book of scary stories, perfect to get you in the mood for scary stuff). There might even be pictures.

It’ll be exciting. You’ll be excited.

Dylan Charles

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The Rules of Horror

Horror movies exist primarily to do one thing: scare people. And, for the most part, horror movies fail in that one goal. They shock, they gross out, they startle, but they don’t truly scare. There’s nothing scary about Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. There’s nothing scary about torture porn like Hostel and the entire Saw series.

Modern horror filmmakers seem to have forgotten the fact that these movies are supposed to terrify us, not make us roll our eyes and gag. The formulaic and tired nature of slasher movies got so bad that Wes Craven wrote Scream to lambaste the tropes he helped to create. So it’s an irony that the Scream series has become a victim to the same rote formula like every other slasher series.

And the slew of viciously violent movies like Hostel and The Human Centipede are just more fuel for the fire that horror movies as a whole are culturally bereft of value and nothing more than cheap intellectual trash.

There was a point when horror movies were actually good, not just as scary movies but as films. Psycho, The Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera (the one with Mr. Chaney); these were well-made, well-written and actually scared the audiences at the time.

But after eighty years of scary movies, filmmakers seem to think that the only way to make a relevant scary movie is to get progressively more and more shocking, graphic and violent. And yet, there have been movies released in recent years that have scared the bejesus out of people with a minimum of blood and gore. Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch Project both used similar techniques which were effective in scaring audience members. And there have been other effective thrillers that have a similar reluctance to employ the wet stuff (The Vanishing is a prime example).

So, for all those aspiring filmmakers out there, here are a list of rules that I’ve compiled based on what genuinely scares me when I watch a movie. There are only four, so bear with me here.

1. Keep it Small Keep the cast small. Keep the location small. Keep all the strange happenings located to a house, a small town, a small patch of woods. This serves multiple purposes. If you only have a few characters, then the audience has more of a chance to become invested in the characters, and you want that. The more the audience is invested, the more they’ll care when you start killing the characters off one by one.

You also run less of a chance that the audience will become desensitized. Too much violence and they shut down and tune out. Anticipation of bad things can be as effective as the actual event. Tension is important for a good scary movie.

2. Isolation This is a rule commonly employed by horror movies, which is why so many movies are set around campsites or in that house by the lake or on some deserted stretch of highway. Cut your characters out from the herd and keep them away. Facing the abyss is scary, facing the abyss with no one to help them is terrifying.

Isolate them through geography (woods, island, desert). Isolate them with their own sanity (or lack thereof). Isolate them in the middle of a crowded city (stuck elevator, basement, sewers). Just get them alone so that no one can help them.

3. Minimize suspension of disbelief There are many, many ways to break the illusion. Audiences (generally) go into a movie to be entertained and they’re willing to suspend their disbelief to do it, but you have to help them out. It’s even more important in a horror movie, because scaring someone is about creating a mood and then sustaining it. To truly scare your audience, you can’t keep providing jump scares. You have to build dread. You have to make them fear every shadow and every movement in the corner of the character’s eye. It’s no good to provide an aura of foreboding if it’s immediately ruined by a boom mike in shot or cheesy special effects or an abrasive, obvious score.

Minimize special effects. If you don’t have the technology to pull of an effect, dial it down. Jaws was more effective when the shark was in the water. The alien in Alien and Aliens was most scary when it was in the shadows. Keep your monster in the shadows. And for the love of God, don’t use digital effects to replicate blood and gunshot wounds. Corn syrup and squibs work just fine.

Subtlety is the key here. A subtle soundtrack (or none at all), a monster who stays in the dark and a bare minimum of effects work.

4. Avoid the Tropes There are certain monsters and situations that are no longer scary. Vampires and werewolves stopped being truly scary ages years ago. They’re a fixture in pop-culture, not in the darkest recesses of your audience’s imagination. While I hesitate to say there’s no way to make them scary (Let the Right One In was creepy and unsettling as sin), it will be very hard to do since the audience will be prepared.

And you don’t want the audience to be prepared. You want them to be unsettled. You want them to be on the edge, uncertain about what’s going to happen next. You do not want them to know that silver and crosses can keep the monsters at bay.

Avoid the scary haunted mansion. Avoid the invincible slasher who can only be brought down by the plucky, perky and chaste teenage girl. Avoid the those same tired ways. We all fear the unknown. That is the one thing everyone shares in common: a fear of the lurking unknown that lives in the darkness.

Surprise us. Challenge us. Demand from us our attention. Keep us always guessing. Make us dread the next frame, for the simple reason that we don’t know what’s coming.

That is how to scare the audience. That’s the way to make a truly good horror movie.

Dylan Charles

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Superstitious

I consider myself a skeptic. I don’t believe in things that I can’t verify through either my own experience or through the scientific research of people who get paid for that kind of thing. If I can’t touch it, taste it, smell it or see it, or if it hasn’t been verified in a lab somewhere, then it doesn’t exist.

That being said, I’m still bound up in superstition. I believe it’s possible to jinx an event. I believe certain numbers are just, inherently, better than others (three, six and nine are a good combination). I believe silver is a “good” metal. And places where bad things have happened feel…haunted to me.

Rationally, that whole preceding paragraph feels incredibly silly. I know absolutely none of that is true. There’s nothing about a number that makes it quantifiably better or worse than another number. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I put in nine packets of sugar into my coffee, in three groups of three, specifically because three is a good number. I feel slightly better knowing that my coffee has been sweetened three by three.

The whole thing reeks of a touch of the obsessive compulsive or the remnants of those things I believed as a kid. As I got older, I stripped away each and every of those beliefs in the metaphysical and the supernatural. The afterlife, psychic ability, ghosts, hauntings; I drove them down to their knees with reason and killed them one by one.

But belief dies hard and in tiny little ways, they still exist. My subconscious is haunted by ghosts and demons, created by my own desire to believe that there is magic in this world, even if I know there isn’t.

So…even though I know it’s silly, I’ll hold onto those fragments, because three is a good number (but not as good as six) and silver can keep the monsters at bay and there are places where the bad things happened that are truly haunted.

Dylan Charles

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A Ghost Story: The Lady in Black

It’s 1862 and General Burnside has successfully gained control of Roanoke Island. The Confederate soldiers who were captured were sent up to Fort Warren in Massachusetts, a detention center for prisoners of war. Among those captured was Lieutenant Samuel Lanier, a soldier out of Georgia.

Lieutenant Lanier manages to smuggle a letter out of the fort to his wife Melanie. After receiving the letter, she risks everything on a trip up North to see her husband. She finds sanctuary in Hull, Massachusetts in the home of a Confederate sympathizer. She disguises herself as a man, cutting her hair short and wearing the clothes of a serving boy.

But Fort Warren is on an island in the middle of the harbor, difficult to reach even if one isn’t a Confederate soldier’s wife. She hitches a ride aboard a boat and sneaks onto the Fort and finds her husband’s cell using plans he sent her in the letter.

Once reunited they make plans to escape from the fort, plans that involve a lot of digging. Unfortunately, they choose a spot far too close to the barracks for the guards. The couple is discovered. Backed into a corner, Melanie points a pistol at Colonel Dimick, the officer in charge of Fort Warren. She tells him to release her and her husband or she’ll shoot him. Dimick refuses and Melanie fires.

The pistol explodes and shrapnel from the gun hits her husband, killing him instantly. Melanie is arrested and convicted and sentenced to hang in less than a day.

Her final request is that when she is hanged, that she is allowed to wear women’s clothes, instead of the disguise she’s been wearing. Her request is granted and she’s given some old robes that had been used in a play earlier that year.

After she’s hanged, her ghost is seen wandering through the fort, dressed in the black robes she wore to her execution.

This was the first, interesting ghost story I came across while researching haunted places in and around Boston. What you read above is an amalgam of half a dozen different versions that I read, though each version only differed a small amount. It was always Fort Warren. There was always a captured lieutenant. And there was always his wife, who seemed to posses far more steel than he did.

What was interesting, to me, was the amount of detail I’d find sometimes. The names of everyone, the battle Samuel Lanier was captured in, the place he and Melanie came from, the name of the commanding officer for Fort Warren: so much detail.

And yet, it’s most likely completely bull.

There is a record of a Samuel Lanier being both imprisoned and dying at Fort Warren. However, there are several differences between the historical Samuel Lanier and his legendary counterpart.

At Fort Warren, there’s a memorial stone that lists all those prisoners who died during their imprisonment (seen here). Lanier’s rank is not listed, but he’s from Company K of the 10th Regiment from the North Carolina State Troops (if I’m reading that right), which means he wasn’t from Georgia.

This matches with the record listed on this site of the soldiers from Company K. Samuel Lanier was a private who was captured and sent to Fort Warren where he died of typhoid.

No trigger happy wife from Georgia. No exploding pistol aimed at the fort’s commander. Just a bad sickness that Lanier caught in one of the nicer prison camps at the time.

Since the story is made up, that means there’s no ghost. You can’t have the ghost of an angry, hanged woman without the angry, hanged woman.

Sigh, like I said yesterday, I didn’t even need to leave my chair.

Dylan Charles

Special thanks to The Washington Greys website and waymarking.com.

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