Get the Night Light Ready

At Halloween do you like to settle down and watch a spooky movie to get you in the mood for handing out candy to the ghosts and ghouls on your doorstep? Perhaps you have more of a taste for the macabre. Reflecting on Halloween makes me think of how I would rank my favourite fright-filled films.

Now, I’m not really a horror fan. I have been known to watch a movie with a blanket pulled up, covering my face, with one eye peeking over the top while I ask my husband to tell me when the scary part is over. Still, there a few films that I’ve watched and enjoyed which do fit the bill.

One of the most recent horror films I’ve watched is Winchester. It was Helen Mirren playing Sarah Winchester, the widow of the Winchester Firearms company magnate, that first intrigued me. This partly fact-based film (with some creative license of course) wasn’t one of those blood-gushing, over-the-top violent films. However, it does make you jump at the right times and the underlying theme of ‘why’ resonated with me. Although only a few parts of the movie were filmed at the actual Winchester mansion it made me want to visit and see just what made Sarah frantically build this mysterious house in San Jose, California. If you’re as intrigued as I was, watch the film and then check out the mansion’s website.

Another of my favourite horror films is Sleepy Hollow, based on the Washington Irving legend that we’re all familiar with. A headless horseman haunts a town. People are scared. A gruesome death occurs.

What makes the Johnny Depp version of Sleepy Hollow a favourite of mine is the romantic twist on this piece of European folklore that’s been popular since at least the Middles Ages. In this version a personally troubled police constable from the city, Ichabod Crane (Depp), is asked to help the village. Arriving in Sleepy Hollow, he meets Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci), the daughter of a wealthy landowner. Ichabod falls in love with Katrina while trying to help rid the town of its monster. This “battle” is highlighted by some CSI-like techniques which have been adapted to fit in with the time period. As dark as the cinematography of this film is, the light in the outcome of the story makes it one to watch.

This brings me to my two favourite films based on Stephen King novels: The Shining and Misery. In The Shining Stanley Kubrick adapts the story of a boy whose psychic powers brings out the evil in an old hotel. Being isolated in a large hotel during a snowy winter creates cabin fever for one of the main characters with murderous outcomes. The historic setting of the hotel and the film’s score of music from the past gives the film a nostalgic feeling which is partly what attracted me at first. The scary scenes will make you jump out of your seat and although the film is slightly different from the book it’s a great movie to watch!

In Misery it’s the spectacular performances of Kathy Bates (who won the Academy Award for this role) and James Caan that originally caught my attention. Rob Reiner directs and one of the best scenes happens as Caan’s character slowly, painfully hobbles across the screen towards freedom and then … BANG … our excitement is squashed and we cringe as Bates’ character ends his attempt to free himself of this ‘misery.’

The final films on my Halloween “must watch” list are:

I’m sure there are much scarier movies out there with blood and guts that would give me nightmares forever but I digress. Whether it’s the spinning head of Linda Blair in The Exorcist, the mysterious woman’s appearance in the Woman in Black, the question of is he dead or alive in The Sixth Sense, the satanic plot of the people in Rosemary’s Baby, the classic shower scene in Psycho or the static on the television in Poltergeist these frightening, suspenseful moments always draw me in. I get the shivers just thinking about these films. For now though, I think I’ll just wrap my blanket around me tightly and make a run for the candy bowl!

— Teresa N-P

Stepping Out of My Reading Comfort Zone

I have to come clean right off the bat and admit that I almost didn’t keep The Saturday Night Ghost Club on my reading pile. Looking at the blurb, it didn’t seem to be the kind of subject matter that would normally catch my attention. I am thrilled to say that I stepped out of my comfort zone and into a gorgeously written coming of age story set against the backdrop of a derelict city called Cataract, a.k.a. Niagara Falls.

The narrator, Jake Breaker, is a neurosurgeon whose career has offered him the opportunity to delve deeply into people’s brains, knowing full well that the slightest error could cause irreparable damage to the patient. The technical details that are interwoven into Jake’s adult narrative are interesting and told with a simplicity that allows those of us uneducated in the anatomy of the brain to understand the concepts and to visualize what it must be like to be at the either end of the scalpel.

The 12 year old Jake takes us on a poignant journey of self-discovery through his membership in the Saturday Night Ghost Club, a group formed by his eccentric Uncle Calvin. With fellow club members, new kid-in-town Billy Yellowbird and his sister Rose and Calvin’s equally quirky friend Lex, who owns a video store that only sells Betamax, Jake begins a journey that ostensibly is meant to satisfy his curiosity about some of the town’s macabre urban myths but ends up stirring up the pot in a variety of life-changing ways. The summer of Jake’s twelfth year ends up being the one that introduces him to love and to the heartbreaking sadness that loss of love can bring.

At times hilarious and yet devastatingly sad, the story told from the perspective of a nerdy outsider feels poignantly real and emotionally charged. While the reader knows from the beginning that Jake has matured into a successful surgeon, one can’t help but be caught up in the dramatic pre-teen angst that culminates in the adventures of the Saturday Night Ghost Club.

Craig Davidson is establishing himself as one of Canada’s most successful and hard-working authors. Cataract City, published in 2013 was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and The Saturday Night Ghost Club is a shortlisted finalist for the 2018 Rogers Writers Trust Fiction Prize.

— Nancy C.