Horror Cinema: Grave Encounters

Full disclosure: I love Zak Bagans and Ghost Adventures.

The host, Zak, is endearing and kind to others but becomes angry and dramatic around ghosts and ghost activity. I live for ghosts caught on camera, and the show has some of the best audio and video recordings that send chills up my spine. I also like that the episodes are thoughtful in their storytelling about the locations they visit, with their mix of spookiness and a reverence for the past and the spirit world.

Watching the movie Grave Encounters, I was immediately connected to the characters because they were a parody of the Ghost Adventures crew, and I felt like I already knew who they were. I love jump scares and all things ghosts, so I truly enjoyed the movie. I was particularly surprised by the turn of events in the last quarter. It was not what I was expecting, but it was everything I never knew I wanted! Grave Encounters is one of a few horror movies that I liked from beginning to end, and on multiple viewings.

A sequel was made that I did not like as much, but I would recommend it for the purists who want to see it for themselves.

The Vicious Brothers. Grave Encounters, Tribeca Film, 2011.

Famous Accused Witch: Anne Hibbins

Anne Hibbins was not popular in her Boston community in the mid-1600s. There was her privilege, her demanding standards, and her penchant for speaking her mind.

When Hibbins’ husband died in 1654, she became vulnerable—on June 19, 1656, she was hanged for being a witch. It would be some 35 years before rampant accusations of witchcraft consumed the nearby town of Salem, but Hibbins’ conviction would lay bare the vulnerability of women in patriarchal New England of the 1600s. It was later said that Hibbins “was hanged for a witch, only for having more wit than her neighbors.”

“Traditionally, witchcraft was considered a ‘working class crime,’” says Emerson Baker, a historian at Salem State University and author of A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience. “That is, most of the accused were the poorer members of society. And, when wealthy and prominent people were accused, they usually were found not guilty. Anne Hibbins was the first high-status New Englander to be executed for witchcraft.”

Learn more about the trials that led to Anne Hibbins’ conviction and hanging on History.com’s This Wealthy Woman Was Hanged as a Witch for Speaking Her Mind.

Horror Cinema: X

Ti West’s horror movies are among my favorites—The Innkeepers, The Sacrament, and The House of the Devil—that I have seen multiple times. His newest feature, X, lives up to his reputation.

Like his previous movies, X takes a horror genre cliché and puts a refreshing new spin on it. Like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the Wrong Turn series, X takes place in a remote country setting with the locals as villains. Watching it, I admit that I was skeptical at first because I had seen the storyline before. But, I was intrigued early on because of the reason why the main cast of characters was going to the remote country location, which was something I had never seen before, so that kept my attention. Then, as the narrative unfolded and the villain was introduced and developed, I was hooked!

With good pacing, satisfying gore, and a strong cast of characters, I highly recommend X.

West, Ti. X, A24, 2022.

Seance

This 1920 “spirit photo” by William Hope claims to show a spirit hand moving the table. (Via the National Media Museum’s Flickr page)
In the 1910s, magician William S. Marriott demonstrates how he could make a table appear to levitate with his foot. (From the Mary Evans Picture Library/Harry Price)
An engraving from the April 2, 1887, edition of “Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper” shows a séance with a floating guitar and a spirit hand writing messages. (Courtesy of MysteriousPlanchette.com)
The sheet music for 1920’s “Weegee Weegee Tell Me Do” shows lovers playing with a talking board. (From the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University)
This 1865 broadsheet reads, “These Pictures are intended to show that Modern Spiritualism of A.D. 1865 … was described and practised thousands of years since under the names of Witchcraft.” (Via WikiCommons)

Images and captions from an interesting and detailed article on spiritualism from Collectors Weekly, Ghosts in the Machines: The Devices and Daring Mediums That Spoke for the Dead.

Horror Cinema: Lin Shaye Appreciation Post

I am fan of the Insidious franchise mostly because of Lin Shaye’s character Elise Rainier. I was especially happy when the movies became largely about her character, offering more of Lin Shaye’s sincere and haunting performances.

Image from screengeek.net

Did you know that Lin Shaye has been acting in the horror genre for a while? She was a high school teacher in 1984’s Nightmare on Elm Street.

Image from flipscreened.com

A more recent horror movie starring Lin Shaye is 2019’s Room for Rent.

With the same sincerity she uses to play Elise Rainier, Lin Shaye makes the protagonist of Room for Rent endearing. However, in this movie, instead of being a champion for good like Elise, her character is obsessive and dark. She certainly carries the movie, but she does it well.

Craven, Wes. Nightmare on Elm Street, New Line Cinema, 1984.
Stovall, Tommy. Room for Rent, Uncork’d Entertainment, 2019.
Wan, James and Leigh Whannell (created by). Insidious (film series), 2011-ongoing.

Horror Cinema: The Turning

I came across The Turning on Netflix. I enjoyed most of it: the contrast of the modern main character with the older estate and secondary characters; the jump scares with the mannequin; a creepy kid, who is a ghost?

My interest fell off about two thirds through when I lost touch with where the story was going. The main character was going mad and seeing things, and, instead of focusing in on the ghost story as a conclusion, I found that it spiraled out into chaos.

I have never been that impressed by Henry James’s “Turning of the Screw.” I have tried a few times over my lifetime because I love some of his other works, and I love nothing more than a ghost story. When I started this movie, I was hopeful that it would be a fresh take on the story and could change my mind on the source material.

Not successful.

Sigismondi, Floria. The Turning, Universal Pictures, 2020.