Thanksgiving Tis the Season to Reflect

Thanksgiving

Well hello there! Time has shot by faster than a speeding super train and it is the day after Thanksgiving, or as I like to think of it, “Tis the season to reflect.” Soon enough it will be “Tis the season to be jolly,” but since I really feel I am here on borrowed time, I am a much jollier person all year round.

As I am not out and about today, Black Friday…shudder, I felt that a short visit to my poor neglected blog was in order whilst I put off cleaning my portion of the house. Procrastination added to recovering from Turkey day illness equals blog time…Apparently.

I feel quite guilty really, this whole blogging lark started a few years ago and now that I write full time for a living, Deputy Managing Editor/Senior Entertainment Editor for the Guardian Liberty Voice, I mostly link to articles which I post to the paper, since I do interviews and reviews of both film and television,there is not a lot of time left over for my little friend here.

I do have mates here who stop by and comment on my reviews (And to them I say a hearty, “Thank you!”) I am sure that at some point in the near future I will be spending a bit more time on here, but I cannot really say when.  Dealing day-to-day with getting used to my new life after almost dying is interesting, frustrating, fascinating, and time consuming.

So…where was I?

Oh yes, Thanksgiving and “Tis the Season to Reflect.” This has been my first Thanksgiving in the USA for a very, very long time. I have been back in the land of my birth since January 15 this year. Thankfully, (I need to mention the things I am thankful for, it is that time of year, after all.) my medical needs are met by the Veterans Administration folks and apart from not having a dental plan, as well as contemplating suing the dentist who messed up my mouth when he extracted on particularly painful tooth, health wise everything seems to be okay.

Thanksgiving

I do feel very much like a stranger in a strange land. Nothing is more puzzling and confusing than to have spent the majority of one’s life in another country (And becoming a citizen of said country.) and then returning to your home country to find you don’t particularly fit any longer. Having spent a lifetime learning how everything works in the United Kingdom has left me ill prepared for life in the United States.

Everything has changed, as I have, and even the food tastes different. I have become a supermarket ghost. Wandering aimlessly up and down aisles looking for something tasty, which in my case equates to the Brit food I’ve ingested for over 31 years and not finding any. I am not a noisy wraith while I shop for something that looks appetizing, although I do sometimes mutter under my breath with frustration…

I am counting down the days till I start writing about my time as a Prison Officer for Her Majesty’s Prison Service. I have had to wait as there is a rule that one cannot divulge anything for a two year time period after leaving the Queen’s employ. There is a certain amount of excitement attached to this upcoming project, I had some very interesting and entertaining times working with the juvenile criminals of Britain. I also had to stop working with some very special and dear people.

As yesterday was Thanksgiving, a day that I spent mostly either  dozing in my chair in front of the laptop or sleeping properly in my bed, today tis the day of my personal reflection since I pretty much missed the festivities. I had a lovely meal to attend and had to beg off there apologies all around and a bucket load of guilt was in order. My solo “sickbed” thoughts yesterday were about how odd life is and how diverse the path is to where we are at any particular moment.

Thanksgiving

Most prevalent in my musings was, and is, the thought of just how surreal this whole thing has been. My life recently has been full of dealing, meeting, interacting and writing about people that, until recently, I had no chance of seeing apart from on television or the big screen or the pages of a magazine. Speaking with wildly talented people whom I admire greatly has been a dream come true and funnily enough a dream that was never at the forefront of my mind.

My dreams, apart from wanting to be a writer from age 11 (Which has come true via the auspices of journalism.), have always been to be a professional actor, I have done this infrequently, last year working in a fellow blogger’s first professional film for festivals, but would love to do so more often. I may still get the chance, this is, after all, the land of opportunity (I should know, I was born here.)

At this point in time, I count myself successful, although sad that thousands of mile separate me and my lovely talented daughter and her fella as well as being closer to my son, who is very busy leading his own life so contact with my children is, sadly minimal. I am, however, doing a job I would do for free (“And getting paid!’ he said, cackling wildly) and everyday, I count my blessings and am very thankful that the “Big Guy” decided to keep me around that little bit longer. I missed the old “tis the season to be thankful” chance to have a spot of holiday refection “on the day,”  but since surviving my two close brushes with death in 2012, everyday is Thanksgiving to me.

By Michael Smith

Southern Haunts: Spirits That Walk Among Us Down South Spooks

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Edited by Alexander S. Brown and  J. L. Mulvihill; illustrated by Robert K and published by Seventh Star Press, this anthology of 16 ghostly tales range from Missouri to Louisiana and use real life locations to start each story off.

While some of the stories are not as entertaining as others, the introduction to new authors is an overall treat.  I also liked the different types of ghost stories on offer. Each is an original take on already infamous buildings, roads, and areas filled with southern  spooks and legends.

You won’t meet any chain rattling spooks or moaning ghouls a la Dickens, but you will find a very disparate group of hauntings in this “Down South” multi-locational collection of short stories.

You’ll be introduced to the soothing, healing bath houses of Hot Springs, Arkansas where you’d be wise to avoid one house in particular. [Bath 10]

There is a job opening for a new ghost hunter on an existing team that you may want to pass on to some other job seeking applicant.[Interview for a Ghost Hunter]

And there’s a certain Civil War hospital you wouldn’t want to check into. [The Top Floor]

Southern Haunts is just one of several anthologies on offer at the moment that give us a view of what lies out there just waiting for us to discover it. It is full of variety and has something in it that should appeal to everyone who loves this genre.

This book is available on Amazon.com and other booksellers.

A 4 out of 5 stars for me based just on the variety and the setting. I am, after all, a southern boy who loves his southern ghosts!

Alexander S Brown
Alexander S Brown
J L Mulvihill
J L Mulvihill

True Haunting by Edwin F Becker: Hair Raising Experience

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As Author Edwin F Becker points out, there were no Ghost Hunters a la TAPS in 1970. There was also no Amityville horror; at least not until 1977 when Jay Anson put pen to paper and wrote about the “alleged” ghostly problems of the Lutz family in the house where an entire family sans one was murdered.

It would not surprise me to learn that Jay Anson was not already aware of the ghostly events that plagued the Becker family via a NBC newscast that was aired both locally (where Becker and his wife lived) and nationally. Where else could he have gotten the idea? And  where Anson, admittedly, stretched the truth to breaking and beyond in search of a fast buck; Becker did not profit one cent from his haunted house experience until years later when he self-published his story.

I’d bet a pretty penny myself to say that he’s not profiting much from the sales of his story; his e-book is very affordable.

In 1970, Becker and his new wife and baby, wanted to buy a house. Finding a two-story house with two ready-made apartments already under one roof, he thought he’d found a bargain. Sure the house needed work and they needed to get rid of the “crazy” woman who lived in the downstairs apartment, but Edwin was not afraid of hard work and the “crazy tenant” was on her way out.

So what could go wrong?

Apparently, everything.

Becker recounts what happened when he and his young family moved into the house in the suburbs of 1970 Chicago and the traumatic affect the property had on friends and family. He tells of the Church’s refusal to get involved and of seeking help from two (the only two in the Yellow Pages) paranormal investigative societies available.

He tells his story in a straight forward, no-nonsense manner that convinces and disturbs and (for me anyway) made the hair on the back of my neck stand-up which resulted in my deciding  to read the rest of the book in the daylight. What he does not do is embellish the events to “sell” his story. He steadfastly refused to sensationalize any of the occurrences that he and his family experienced. Hence the self publishing.

When he and his family encountered what, at the outset, seemed like odd events: a kitchen door that refused to stay shut, a mixer that refused to hang on the wall, a phone that kept taking itself off the hook and countless other things, that he found  “logical” explanations for. Or so he thought.

As the haunting began to escalate, he and his wife (who to be fair, sensed this a lot earlier than her skeptic husband) realised that the house was haunted by not one, but several ghosts.

It was Mr Becker’s sincere and plain retelling that both convinced me of the truth of his story combined with “strange” experiences that I myself have encountered that sold me on the validity of his tale.

This is a very understated book when compared with Jay Anson’s nefarious tale of the Amityville “hauntings.” You’ll find no oozing black stuff pouring out of the sockets; no overabundance of flies; no voice telling anyone to, “Get Out!” and no pigs floating outside a second story window.

What you will find is a simply written(not in a negative sense)  tale of growing fear and financial difficulties. Your heart will go out to his (then) young family and the fact that they had so few avenues of help. Before the modern “ghost busting” equipment of today and the digital revolution that enables ghost hunters to track down “spirits and demons” you had psychics and clairvoyants and the odd paranormal scientist. Oh and the clergy, if you could get them to acknowledge the problem. This was a time of real “hit and miss” ghost hunting and something that not many of the main populace knew about.

This was a great read and, as I said before, one that literally “creeped” me out. I will warn you, this is not a book for the overly imaginative. I slept with the light on after reading this book.

I’d give this a full 5 out of 5 stars for no-nonsense reporting of one family’s experience with a haunted house. Do not miss reading this book, it is a great story, even if you don’t believe in ghosts.

Author Edwin F Becker.
Author Edwin F Becker.

The Pact (2012) It’s Not What It Looks Like

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Don’t let the trailers fool you. I was expecting something completely different after being bombarded with misleading trailers; first in the cinema and then on the internet. Despite my false expectations, the film surprised the hell out of me and I really enjoyed it.

Written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy The Pact is actually a “lengthening ” of his short film of the same name. The short starred Jewel Staite and I don’t mind going on record saying I think it’s a shame she wasn’t used in this version of the film.

Nicole (Anna Bruckner) is alone in her mother’s house. Mom is dead and the funeral is the next day. Nicole calls her sister Annie (Caity Lotz) and demands that she come over. Before Annie can get there, something happens to Nicole and she vanishes after going into a dark room in the hallway.

When Annie arrives, Nicole cannot be found. But according to Annie this is not unusual for her sister. After the funeral (Nicole is not there) Annie’s cousin Liz (Kathleen Rose Perkins) and Nicole’s daughter Eva (Dakota Bright) come to the house. Annie has a nightmare and when she wakes up, Liz is missing and some real scary shit is going down in the house.

It is unusual in films for an area of “occult” activity to take place in a “cracker-box” two bedroom tract house. But this movie uses this suburban setting masterfully. I will admit to jumping almost out of my skin at least three and a half times watching the events that unfolded in this little house.

I expected a completely different film. The trailers were misleading and I thought it would be like a Paranormal Activity rip-off and it did put me off a bit. I finally decided to give it a go after watching the trailer yet again and reacting to the Skype call where Nicole is talking to her daughter and she asks, “Who’s that behind you mommy?”

The was not so much a horror film as it was a supernatural thriller/mystery. The main protagonist was, once she pulled in that outthrust lower lip, someone you could warm to. She also convinced the hell out of me when she got frightened. So although I was disappointed that the lovely and talented Jewel Staite was not in this film, I did discover the considerable acting talents of Caity Lotz.

The only real problem I had was with the blind “medium/clairvoyant” character Stevie (played by Haley Hudson). The filmmakers seemed to go out of their way to make this character as strange-looking as possible. She might as well have had a sign around her neck stating, “Look! I’m weird-looking/acting and not normal! Of course I can talk to the dead!”

It was not big, nor was it clever. It was, if anything, just annoying and it detracted from the film. But despite this drawback, I still jumped like a Mexican jumping bean on speed several times and I swear that my heart stopped at least once. Pretty good for a film that is not really a horror film in the “classic” sense of the term.

So at the end of all this discourse, I have to say it’s a definite 4 out of 5 star film for me. It scared me in all the right places and it introduced me to Caity Lotz whom I don’t recall ever seeing on film before.

Put a lid on your popcorn bowl while watching this film or it will wind up all over the floor and the furniture.

Ouija believe this is actually pretty scary?
Ouija believe this is actually pretty scary?

 

 

HAUNTED The Ghosts that Share Our World by John Pinkney

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HAUNTED is the type of ghostly chronicle that permeated my teen years. After experiencing several “events” that could not be satisfactorily explained, I became obsessed with reading every ghost tale I could get my hands on. I became a devout fan of the writings of Elliot O’Donnell, Ghost Hunter extraordinaire.

Of course years later I found out that O’Donnell was not above stretching the truth about his experiences with things that bump in the night and, in fact, outrightly lied about some of his investigations. This information did not deter me in my search for others who’d had the dubious pleasure of encountering things that weren’t of a solid substance.

As I got older, I read other authors who would also be “discredited” in their tales of supernatural occurrences, most notably were the chronicles of the Amityville Horror by several writers who may or may not have been pulling the proverbial wool over the public’s eyes. This “high-profile” haunting in a house that already had a tragic and obscenely violent past was thrust into international prominence when a “true” account was published in the 1970’s about a family driven from their home by evil and scary apparitions.

Despite the continued debunking of most of these stories of poltergeist, ghostly  apparitions and unexplained sightings, I kept on searching for more books on the unexplained.

As I got older and I continued to experience things that could not be explained easily (if at all) and hearing first hand accounts from people who seen and felt things scarier than I had, I kept reading. Oddly enough, I stopped after it appeared that I was among a minority of people who even cared about the supernatural and/or paranormal aspects of our world.

Books were becoming difficult to find and the ones you could glean from the sparse supply out there were from supposed “clairvoyants, mediums and psychics.” The quotation marks are there because I do not have a lot of faith in professions that are rife with charlatans.

Now with the popularity of such television programs as  TAPS Ghost Hunters, Most Haunted, Ghost Hunters International, et al; books are popping up that are stepping back. Back to the days of my youth and Elliot O’Donnell. The main difference is that these “new” relayers of urban myths and legends are more often than not, skeptics themselves. They aren’t of the same flamboyant ilk as O’Donnell and prepared to pad out their recounting of ghostly happenings.

They just relay the facts and show the readers the photographic evidence (if there is any) and leave up to us whether to believe or not.

*This must be the longest preface to a review ever.*

Elliot O'Donnell (b: 1872 - d: 1965) photograph courtesy of Goodreads
Elliot O’Donnell (b: 1872 – d: 1965) photograph courtesy of Goodreads

Author John Pinkney is a skeptic (like many other chroniclers of ghosts and ghouls) and he is careful to not overindulge his scepticism. In this book, he relays stories of well-known and not so well-known ghosts in “the land down under” aka Australia ‘cobber.’ His collection of tales include the old favourites: theatrical ghosts, TV and radio spectres, Cinema creatures and residential poltergeist as well as the non-residential sort. He also visits legendary haunting sites; such as the Aboriginal Drowning Pool where tourists mustn’t even think of taking a dip in this pool for if they do, they most likely will not live to talk about it. 

I have just finished reading a trio of paranormal parables and Pinkney’s was the last one. Looking on Goodreads, his books seem to have a bit better rating than most. I imagine it has to do with his presentation. He is very good at making the interviewees out to be normal people, which of course, they are. His sources include, town politicians (I know that no politician can be trusted but most will not willingly make themselves look foolish), pillars of the community, vicars, priests, military men, et al.

He also allows the humour and the tragic pathos to lie cheek and jowl beside one another. His stories reveal a depth that is only fitting for such a richly diverse and fascinating country. While some of the stories give off the odour of urban legend, it has been adapted to fit the landscape of its occurrence.

His choice of tales also ranged from the 1800’s to present day. A nice range of time periods and a broad spectrum of ghostly rumblings to fill the pages of his paranormal publication.

If you care to look at John Pinkey’s Goodreads author page you’ll see that he’s  written at least ten books on the subject of unexplained events. Considering the care and effort that went into this book alone, I think it is fair to assume that he has expended the same writing traits in his other works. I will be hunting down and reading all his titles.

Although, I may be a bit smarter in future and read them in the safe light of day instead of in my darkened bedroom with the small reading lamp being my only source of light. One does start to feel a bit uncomfortable after a while and those familiar shadows take on a different feel altogether.

I’ve given this book a 4 star rating. I loved it, but, according to the “Goodreads star template” I did not find it amazing. I think that old Irish ghost hunter Elliot O’Donnell was the last supernatural chronicler who was able to amaze me and I was a lot younger in those days.

If you are interested in things that go bump in the night, give it a try. Just remember to leave a lot of lights on if you decide to do your perusal after dark.

Author John Pinkney.
Author John Pinkney.