Jen In England 2018 – Part 2: Driving and Dining in a Babysnatching Kind of Place

First, I found Oxford University. I found it 4 times in fact, because I kept missing the damn turn on the roundabout.

Recently, Jen took her first ever trip outside the United States. Please enjoy Part Two of this multi-part series chronicling her tale abroad, along with the requisite musings. Part One can be found here. 

Note: The internet is full of posts by smart, photogenic people taking meticulously staged selfies at famous landmarks, so this travelogue is restricted to actual personal thoughts, including things I found fascinating and/or hilarious. This entry contains baby snatching, naked arthouse mannequins, and a brief moment of uncontrollable public sobbing. Off we go!

Oxford Bound

Thursday I bid adieu to London and my Airbnb, and headed to Marylebone train station. After walking probably 30 miles the previous few days, I was looking forward to a train ride.

Oxford_marylebone
Pictured: Thursday Morning Bustling

Along the way, I people watched.

Continue reading “Jen In England 2018 – Part 2: Driving and Dining in a Babysnatching Kind of Place”

Creepy, Creaky Old Houses Week: Crimson Peak

THEN I knew that Del Toro had in fact been reading my diary because GOD ALMIGHTY– a well-dressed, incredibly dapper gent who turns up out of nowhere, has intelligent input on her writing, and exudes manners and charm?

October is Horror Movie month, where we let down our hair and celebrate all things macabre and scary! Not that we don’t during the rest of the year, but still… HORROR MOVIES! People who don’t like horror are encouraged to check back November 1st for less bloody and/or disturbing films. For everyone else, let’s put on our galoshes and WADE INTO THE MIRE!

Creepy, Creaky Old Houses Week is a gear-switch from Hell Week; in Hell Week we donned our raincoats and galoshes to wade into the Hellraiser movies– bloody, fleshy, hooky, painy, S&My wonders that they are. This week is all about subtle, understated horror, with very little blood, highbrow content, and plenty of atmospherics. So put on your Edwardian nightclothes and some hard-soled shoes– we’re creeping slowly up staircases while clutching unreliable lighting sources this week!

Today’s entry is Crimson Peak, which just opened last week! Since it’s still in theaters today’s entry will contain NO SPOILERS.

The colors! The colors!
The colors! The colors!

If I had to describe Crimson Peak in a single long word without taking a breath, it would be RomancySwoonyBloodySteampunkySexyCostumeyVictorianyHiddlestonsassy. There, you’re all caught up! I leave it up to you if that last one is ‘Hiddleston sassy’ or ‘Hiddlestons assy’ because both are apt.

Ripped from the sweat-stained pages of my secret smut diary!
Ripped from the sweat-stained pages of my secret smut diary!

I was SO. EXCITED. when the trailer came out almost a year ago. Maybe my expectations were overbuilt or something, because although there were many, MANY things I loved about Crimson Peak, I did feel myself a bit let down. I just wasn’t feeling it… I cried big ugly sobs during so many of Guillermo Del Toro’s other films– even Hellboy 2!– but for some reason the emotional center of this film never gelled for me.

Without a doubt, the film:

  • Is composed of a beautifully twisted world of extremes: the sun-drenched golds of Buffalo and the slate-sky’d, wintry moors surrounding Allerdale Hall define the light spectrum of the film
  • Contained some of the most magnificent sets and costumes, especially the aforementioned Allerdale in all its decrepit, strangely sentient glory
  • Is atmospheric almost to a fault
  • Was advertised as brain-melting horror but never quite got inside my head– the ghosts were grotesque, but ultimately quite sad
  • Held fascinating characters, an engaging setup, and plenty of promise
  • Reminded me of Poe’s The Fall of The House of Usher, and I wondered why I haven’t seen that mentioned in reviews.

Edith Cushing is a young, well-to-do lady not content to lay around and spend her father’s hard-earned money; she’s got a dream. She’s a writer, so right away my interest was peaked (HA! yes we are still doing bad puns). Literally stained with ink, she waits, with her heart in her throat, while an editor boredly pages through her work. He dismisses it and tells her that since she’s a woman, she ought to write romances instead of ghost stories. She astutely points out that it’s not a ghost story, but a story with a ghost in it, which all but sets up the film for us. Undaunted by the rejection, Edith resolves to learn to type so that her feminine handwriting won’t give away her gender to the next editor.

"Who's that idjit dancing with Edith?" I LOVE JIM BEAVER SO MUCH EVER SINCE DEADWOOD!!
“Who’s that idjit dancing with Edith?” I LOVE JIM BEAVER SO MUCH EVER SINCE DEADWOOD!!

Her industrialist father Carter, played by Jim Beaver, is supportive of her dream and so she practices her typing at his firm’s typewriter, which is at the front desk of the firm. It is there she meets Sir Thomas Sharpe, baronet whose come to town to drum up financial support in a machine he’s designed. Believe me when I say his intro is magic; with a spring in his step and tophat on his head, he saunters along a ray of sunshine, radiating confidence and integrity. He notices her story and picks it up, fascinated, and THEN I knew that Del Toro had in fact been reading my diary because GOD ALMIGHTY– a well-dressed, incredibly dapper gent who turns up out of nowhere, has intelligent input on her writing, and exudes manners and charm?

I'd faint if I weren't so busy swooning
I’d faint if I weren’t so busy swooning… oh, what the hell. *thump*

Although she’s sort of attached to ultra all-American Dr. Alan McMichaels (Charlie Hunnam) she is quickly swept off her feet by the dashing Sir Sharpe when he literally waltzes her around the room. But Sharpe has a secret that Carter hires Holly (Burn Gorman, who is in EVERYTHING, I say! EVERYTHING!) to ferret out. A murder, a funeral, and a marriage follow, in that order.

Although the characterizations start out strong, they start to fall apart as the movie loses its footing. For example: Edith is from BUFFALO, a town famous for encountering ridiculously harsh winters. And yet later in the film when shit has Gotten Real, she is only too ready to run out into the snow in her bedclothes to escape the house. I found that hard to swallow, and it’s one of the main reasons I don’t get why people are calling her such a great character. The situation wasn’t so dire that she had to escape right away, and she would know full well that such a move would get her frozen faster than if she asked her sister-in-law Lucille for a hug.

My hair caught fire from just looking at this picture
My hair caught fire from just looking at this picture

Another dumb nit I must pick – there is a huge hole in Allerdale Hall’s roof, through which leaves tumble gently in a continual cascade. And yet– there are no trees around the house!

File 404: Foliage Not Found
File 404 Error: Foliage Not Found

I know it’s a stupid thing to focus on in this otherwise beautiful and haunting film, but I can’t help it. I pick because I care!

I won’t tell you Crimson Peak isn’t good – it’s great and it does a lot of things right. For one thing, it turns the gothic romance genre on its head in a lot of ways, even as it celebrates them. Thomas is dashing and mysterious, but he’s also an inventor who’s trying to rebuild his family’s lost fortune, and his endearing sweetness sets him apart from the usual brooding hunks you find in these films. Allerdale Hall is perfectly vast, creeply and creaky, but it’s also falling apart and slowly sinking into the red clay upon which it’s built. A perfectly cast Jessica Chastain appears as Lucille, an aristocratic iceberg who must do most of the housework herself since the Sharpe fortune is long gone.

The critics are raving about it, it’s already got a built-in fandom, and I will definitely add it to my Del Toro collection when it’s out on blu-ray.

Thanks for reading this installment of Creepy Creaky week! Sorry there are only two entries, I have some personal business going on that precludes me from blogging. Next week’s theme will be Halloween And the Kitchen Sink, in which we explore horror movies that threw everything Halloweenish at the viewer, including the kitchen sink!

Have a great week!

Creepy, Creaky Old Houses Week: The Awakening (2011)

Part murder-mystery, part ghost investigation, Florence delves into the house’s history as she sets up ghost-hunting equipment and observation points.

October is Horror Movie month, where we let down our hair and celebrate all things macabre and scary! Not that we don’t during the rest of the year, but still… HORROR MOVIES! People who don’t like horror are encouraged to check back November 1st for less bloody and/or disturbing films. For everyone else, let’s put on our galoshes and WADE INTO THE MIRE!

Creepy, Creaky Old Houses Week is a gear-switch from Hell Week; in Hell Week we donned our raincoats and galoshes to wade into the Hellraiser movies– bloody, fleshy, hooky, painy, S&My wonders that they are. This week is all about subtle, understated horror, with very little blood, highbrow content, and plenty of atmospherics. So put on your Edwardian nightclothes and some hard-soled shoes– we’re creeping slowly up staircases while clutching unreliable lighting sources this week!

Today’s entry will contain SPOILERS.

Today we’re taking a look at The Awakening, a 2011 horror film that must have flitted into and out of theaters right under my nose. I first saw it while scrolling through Netflix, and when I saw the cast included Dominic West (The Wire fans know him as drunken tomcat Jimmy McNulty), Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Bran from Game of Thrones! He’s so little!) and Imelda Staunton, I hit ‘play.’

Mist! Trees! Coats! Cold ankles!
Mist! Trees! Coats! Cold ankles!

If you liked The Sixth Sense, The Others, or El Orfanato, then I have good news for you– The Awakening definitely breathes the same rarefied air as those aforementioned films. It is WONDERFULLY atmospheric, full of strong performances, complex characters, beautiful settings and haunting music. The historical setting was especially immersive, and informed the story in a natural way. Although there were plenty of cliches common to period haunted house movies, the plot held just enough surprises to keep the viewer guessing.

We open on a seance, complete with old blind seer, dead animals, cobwebs, table knocks, and the whole ‘does someone here wish to speak with someone named X?’ The creepy atmosphere stretches into some nice tension but is soon shut down by hoax-hunter Florence Cathcart, who proceeds to reveal all the chicanery and machinery that the fake psychic is using to bilk people out of their money.

Dat setting!
Bilking people out of their money by pretending to put them in touch with dead loved ones? Florence is NOT HAVING IT.

Florence is a Modern Woman in 1921 England, and like most hoax-hunters, is driven to expose psychics because she has lost someone she wishes to see again. Everyone knows how Harry Houdini dedicated his life to exposing such hucksters after his mother  passed away, as the idea of people preying on the grieving infuriated him. Florence is likewise a little too overzealous in her exposure, but she is also revealed to be a woman in pain; not only did her love pass away (she keeps a locket with his picture in it) but she’s an orphan. She’s written a very famous book about her experiences exposing the supernatural and how it has convinced her that such things do not exist.

Dapper! The Waffle House waitresses of B-more wouldn't stand a chance
Dapper! The Waffle House waitresses of B-more wouldn’t stand a chance

Enter Dominic West as Robert Mallory, a teacher from an isolated boys’ school in the countryside. Mallory walks with a cane and a limp, and he doesn’t seem that impressed with her. He’s been sent to ask her to investigate a possible haunting at the school–a little boy died, and the children have been seeing things ever since. It’s a job she blows off until he reveals that most of the children are orphans. She changes her mind and agrees. EDIT: Upon reviewing the film last night I see that he actually strong-arms her into going after reminding her that she herself wrote about terrible it is for a child to grow up in a fearful environment, and that the children in the school are terrified. So their interaction is a little more terse than I made out – apologies! 

Upon arriving, we’re introduced to Maud (Imelda Staunton) who has read Florence’s book and utterly worships her; Tom (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), one of the little boys who lives at the school year-round; Judd, the weirdo groundskeeper, and some other staff and students. Naturally, weird things begin happening, and Florence’s disbelief in the paranormal is sorely tested.

COLD.
Pictured: A Terrible Way to Meet Men

Part murder-mystery, part ghost investigation, Florence delves into the house’s history as she sets up ghost-hunting equipment and observation points. I really liked the background on this, that Florence had designed many of the machines herself. She’s such a fully realized and well-written character, it’s hard to believe she wasn’t based on a real person from history.

The Awakening contains a deeply emotional story at its heart. I found the slow emergence of Florence’s unhappy and traumatic childhood to be gripping and incredibly sad, due to Rebecca Hall’s performance. Hempstead-Wright was compelling as Tom, a resident at the school. He has a great range and his understated looks of puzzled disappointment at Florence as he waits for her to recognize him from her past were spot-on. His character’s backstory was so sad and tragic, it was all but impossible not to feel for him, but Hempstead-Wright doesn’t do schmaltz and Tom is an infinitely like-able little boy. Likewise, West’s performance as a Great War veteran suffering from PTSD was stirring, especially as you realize he and Florence are both people literally and figuratively haunted by their own pasts.

I also really, really appreciated the ending being a happy one. There’s just too many movies about women with mental problems offing themselves these days! Still, there were a lot of the present crop of atmospheric horror cliches – folks haunted by the past and such, strange shapes flitting past in the background. I thought one of the most effective scares was the doll house moment… YOU know the one!

The Awakening is available on Instant Watch.