Tag Archives: movies

2018 Spooky Film Recs, Part III: Ghost-free Horror

Today you’ll find paranormal, sci-fi, slasher, and post-apocalyptic films, but there’s nary a ghost in the bunch! (As far as I could tell, at least.)

As always, the brief synopses are from imdb.com.


The Ritual (2017) — Rated: TV-MA
A group of college friends reunite for a trip to the forest, but encounter a menacing presence in the woods that is stalking them.
Add a paranormal twist to Deliverance**, set the story in northern Sweden, and you have a very EERIE film! Great cast led by Rafe Spall, but also including Robert James-Collier (Downton Abbey’s conniving Thomas) in a strong and sympathetic role.
**Those who have seen Deliverance please note: The Ritual is a freaky film, but not Ned Beatty-in-peril freaky, okay? I wouldn’t do that to you.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 57
Goth-o-Meter: medium


The Endless (2017) — Not rated
As kids, they escaped a UFO death cult. Now, two adult brothers seek answers after an old videotape surfaces and brings them back to where they began.
The director and writer of this film also play the two brothers, and their on-film relationship brought to mind Sam and Dean from Supernatural. I really, really enjoyed this story — so much that I sought out Benson and Moorhead’s earlier film, Resolution, featuring a pair of characters that have a cameo in this film. I’m kinda glad that I watched them in reverse order, and I look forward to more stories from this writer/director duo.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 80
Goth-o-Meter: medium


Better Watch Out (2016) — Rated R
On a quiet suburban street, a babysitter must defend a twelve-year-old boy from intruders, only to discover it’s far from a normal home invasion.
I expected this to be typical slasher fare, but there is a twist — that’s why I’m sharing a clip rather than the official trailer. I typically don’t enjoy slasher films unless they are quirky and/or satirical. This one definitely has its moments.
Watch a clip / Options for viewing / Metascore: 67
Goth-o-Meter: low to medium?


Train to Busan (2016) — Rated TV-MA
While a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.
This film has appeared on so many “best horror” lists, but I resisted due to zombie fatigue. (I blame The Walking Dead.) However, I finally decided to give it a try, and it might be my favorite spooky film viewed this year. With its nuanced characters, gut-wrenching tension, and impressive special effects, Train to Busan is a fresh and poignant take on the “zombie apocalypse” theme.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 72
Goth-o-Meter: low


The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) — Rated R
A father and son, both coroners, are pulled into a complex mystery while attempting to identify the body of a young woman, who was apparently harboring dark secrets.
I can’t think of any other movie quite like this spooky mystery set in a morgue. The chemistry between Brian Cox and Emile Hirsche, playing father and son, was the most appealing thing about it. Since the plot revolves around an autopsy, you know it will be a special sort of gruesome. Consider that fair warning!
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 65
Goth-o-Meter: medium

***You might also consider:

Wildling (2018) — Rated R
A blossoming teenager uncovers the dark secret behind her traumatic childhood.
A new spin on the werewolf story, but perhaps it goes a bit off the rails in the final act? If you watch, I’d be interested to know what you think.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 58

It Comes at Night (2017) — Rated R
Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son. Then a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge.
This tense and claustrophobic story probably won’t appeal to those seeking monsters and jump scares. More psychological thriller than horror, this is another film from producer/distributor A24, which also brought us The Witch, Hereditary, and The Blackcoat’s Daughter.
Watch the trailer / Options for viewing / Metascore: 78

Check back on Monday when I’ll be recommending “family viewing” horror film options. AND REMEMBER, if at any point you wish to browse previous spooky film recs (going all the way back to 2012), click the tag “spooky film recs” in the list below–or in the sidebar–and scroll to your heart’s content.

2018 Spooky Film Recs Part II: Ghostly Favorites

In this post I hope to inspire you to watch some ghost films that flew under the radar during the past couple of years. I’ve come to appreciate lower-budget/independent ghostly films because there’s much less reliance on expensive special effects and, in many cases, more appreciation of characterization and tension. If you’ve already seen or plan to watch any of the options suggested here, please let me know what you think!

As always, the brief synopses are from imdb.com.


The Lodgers (2017) — Rated R
1920, rural Ireland. Anglo Irish twins Rachel and Edward share a strange existence in their crumbling family estate.
This was right up my alley in the Gothic department–haunting and atmospheric if not truly frightening. (Seriously, if you prefer a fast-paced story with lots of jump scares, don’t bother with this one.) Charlotte Vega is quite good as dominant twin Rachel, but the true star of this film is Loftus Hall, a centuries-old (and reputedly haunted-in-real-life) Irish country house. While there is a strong fantasy element to the story, the script also takes into account the social and political turmoil in early 20th century Ireland. I would watch this one again–it’s so lovely to look at!
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / Metascore: 52
Goth-o-Meter: very high


Marrowbone (2017) — Rated R
A young man and his three younger siblings, who have kept secret the death of their beloved mother in order to remain together, are plagued by a sinister presence in the sprawling manor in which they live.
Marrowbone offers so many of my favorite things: a gorgeous setting (supposedly the U.S. but actually filmed in Spain), a focus on characterization, moments of sweetness that balance the Gothic peril, and an ending that makes you want to go back to the beginning and watch all over again. (Random observation: this will only resonate with people of a certain age, but to me it’s almost like a horror version of Dear Lola, which was adapted to film as The Beniker Gang.) The film is not without flaws, but it’s very compelling overall and I will watch it again. Stranger Things fans will be pleased to see Charlie Heaton–and to hear his native English accent.
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / Metascore: 63
Goth-o-Meter: high


Personal Shopper (2016) — Rated R
A personal shopper in Paris refuses to leave the city until she makes contact with her twin brother who previously died there. Her life becomes more complicated when a mysterious person contacts her via text message.
If you’re looking for a very unique sort of ghost story/mystery, this might fit the bill. It does require patience and an open mind, but the film really is rather fabulous. I re-watched several scenes afterwards and couldn’t stop thinking about it for days–I hadn’t expected to find Kristen Stewart so compelling. (Reviews are all over the place with this one–so it was reassuring that my favorite YouTube film reviewer, Chris Stuckmann, liked it as much as I did).
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / Metascore: 77
Goth-o-Meter: medium (there are Gothic moments in this film, but overall I consider it to be more in the realm of Noir.)


The Keeping Hours (2017) — Rated PG-13
10 years after the death of their son, a divorced couple is suddenly reunited by supernatural events that offer them a chance at forgiveness.
This film must have gone straight to Netflix–it has no reviews from mainstream critics–so I went in with low expectations. You guys! It really got to me. First of all, fans of Lee Pace should watch–he is lovely and will break your heart in the best way. (He’s a native Oklahoman, y’all!) This film derives its eeriness more from grief and longing than jump scares. There are deliciously spooky bits, but nothing to give you nightmares. If you’re anything like me, you’ll cry and find it all very cathartic.
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / No IMDB metascore — check Rotten Tomatoes
Goth-o-Meter: medium to high

***You might also consider:

Ghost Stories (2017) — Not Rated
Skeptical professor Phillip Goodman embarks on a trip to the terrifying after finding a file with details of three unexplained cases of apparitions. (Adapted from a play and featuring Martin Freeman in one of the vignettes.)
The three cases are interesting and spooky, but the frame narrative did not work for me.
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / Metascore: 68
Goth-o-Meter: medium to high?

A Ghost Story (2017) — rated R
In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife.
Not a “thrill-a-minute” sort of ghost movie. It is fascinating and quite moving, but perhaps a smidge pretentious? Your mileage may vary. (There is a cool tribute to Poltergeist at the mid-point. In fact, I was fascinated by this slideshow overview of the writer/director’s influences.)
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / Metascore: 84
Goth-o-Meter: medium

Check back on Wednesday when I’ll be recommending “under the radar” ghost-free horror films. AND REMEMBER, if at any point you wish to browse previous spooky film recs (going all the way back to 2012), click the tag “spooky film recs” in the list below–or in the sidebar–and scroll to your heart’s content.

2018 Spooky Film Recs Part I: Mainstream Favorites

Today I launch the 2018 Spooky Film Blog Series with four mainstream favorites released in 2018. Since you’ve probably already heard of them, I won’t write lengthy reviews. I will include helpful links, however, and with my Geeked on Gothic post in mind, I’ll rate each film’s Gothic content using my (incredibly simplistic) Goth-o-Meter.

The brief synopses are from imdb.com.


Annihilation (rated R)
A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don’t apply.
This eerie and unforgettable example of Scifi horror requires deep engagement from the viewer, but your patience will be rewarded with a mind-blowing finale.
Watch the Trailer / Options for streaming / IMDB metascore: 79
Goth-o-Meter: low


A Quiet Place (rated PG-13)
In a post-apocalyptic world, a family is forced to live in silence while hiding from monsters with ultra-sensitive hearing.
This film impressed me with its unusual concept, breathtaking performances, and TENSION. Suitable for viewing with tweens/teens.
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / IMDB metascore: 82
Goth-o-Meter: low to medium?


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (rated PG-13)
When the island’s dormant volcano begins roaring to life, Owen and Claire mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event.
I freely admit to having felt a little “meh” when we went to see this, so imagine my surprise when the film turned into a GOTHIC MYSTERY. Lots of fun! My 12-year-old niece quite enjoyed it.
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / IMDB metascore: 51 (really?)
Goth-o-Meter: unexpectedly high


Hereditary (rated R)
After the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets.
Hereditary is shocking, scalp-pricklingly creepy, and its slow burn of horror will stay seared on my brain for the rest of my days. That said, I’m aching to see it again, but I may need a buddy to hold my hand!
Watch the trailer / Options for streaming / IMDB metascore: 87
Goth-o-Meter: high

Also, keep in my mind that Mike Flanagan’s “modern reimagining” of The Haunting of Hill House has its Netflix premiere on October 12. I love his films–check them out here–but this trailer will boggle the minds of Shirley Jackson fans:


For more context, you might cast a sideways glance at the positive reviews from Variety, Forbes, and Screen Anarchy.

Check back on Thursday when I’ll be recommending “under the radar” ghostly films. AND REMEMBER, if at any point you wish to browse previous spooky film recs (going back to 2012), click the tag “spooky film recs” in the list below or in the sidebar and scroll to your heart’s content.

Geeked on Gothic

It’s mid-September and each day we draw closer to the season of ghosts, ghouls, and witches (not to mention sugar hangovers). I must confess, however, that I wrote this post not just to celebrate the season. I’m also hoping for a particular sort of redemption.

Over the years, I’ve talked at great length about Gothic with students, teachers, and librarians. For some reason, however, when I recently was asked by a very nice person — in a non-classroom/conference setting — why I liked Gothic, I FROZE.

My mind emptied of all words.

Today’s post is my way of correcting that particular brain lapse. It also strikes me as an appropriate way to kick off my 2018 Spooky Film Recs blog series. (If you’re new to this blog, click the “spooky film recs” tag at the bottom of this post to scroll through past recommendations.)


As you probably already know, the genre’s name comes from Gothic architecture–castles, cathedrals, abbeys, towers, and crypts–designed to inspire awe and fear. (Cologne Cathedral is a great example.) For the most part, Gothic literature concerns itself with these structures when in partial or total ruin, long after the Medieval period. The literary label of “Gothic” came into being with Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, which was subtitled “A Gothic Story.”

In early Gothic novels the setting was a fortress, secular or religious, located in a foreign land long ago. The villain was an evil and murderous man, the heroine was pious and prone to fainting, and more often that not, a ghost or monster made an appearance. At times, early Gothic was so over-the-top that it strikes us now as rather ridiculous. (And thus it was very easy to parody, as Jane Austen did with Northanger Abbey.) However, these stories paved the way for more subtle offerings in the 19th and 20th centuries.

What really fascinates me about early Gothic literature is how it bridges the gap between the Medieval and the Modern. I see it as a reaction both to the Enlightenment, which lauded Reason and Logic, and Romanticism, which exalted Emotion and Imagination. Gothic celebrates emotional excess while also showing its dark consequences. It offers commentary on rapid social change, the possibilities and dangers inherent in scientific experimentation, as well as the oppressive nature of institutions and mores. Gothic conveys nostalgia for the past and its traditions while also celebrating characters who break the rules and cross boundaries.


What are you hiding in the attic, Mr. Rochester?

Why are Gothic stories still so popular and accessible today? I think Sigmund Freud had something to do with that, as Gothic gave him a visual vocabulary for talking about the human mind. He coined the term unheimlich (“the uncanny,” or literally “unhomely”) to describe something that is mysterious in an unsettling way–familiar yet horrifying at the same time. The attics, labyrinths, and underground vaults of Gothic fiction provided metaphors for repression as heroes and villains struggled between their compulsions and better natures (id and superego). From Gothic literature and Freud we learned that the dark secret, terrible sin, or dead body you’re trying to hide will always return to haunt you, no matter how deeply you bury it.

For me, the best Gothic stories rely on atmosphere, mystery, tension, and dread rather than sudden shocks or explicit violence. My favorite thing about modern Gothic is that the “evil” rarely has a specific external source, and in many cases the hero/heroine may have brought into being, consciously or unconsciously, the very problem that haunts them.

***For a humorous overview of classic Gothic literature, read How to Tell You’re Reading a Gothic Novel

***Also check out this very informative blog post on Gothic Horror and Children’s Books.

My top five Gothic novels:


(Click images for more details from Goodreads)

My top five Gothic films:


(Click images for more details from imdb.com)

***Are you a fan of Gothic? If so, what are your favorite stories, novels, or films?

Tea with Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday last year inspired me to re-read Jane Eyre, and I decided to make this part of my Read Harder Challenge by watching two film adaptations for comparison to the original text. I’d been meaning to re-watch the 2006 BBC version with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson, and I’m always eager to watch the 2011 theatrical version with Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska. What a pleasure to read the book*, watch both adaptations and compare! It also was great fun to pair the book with tea and a sweet treat, as you’ll see below.

(*Actually, I alternated between reading the e-book and listening to Thandie Newton’s spectacular audio performance.)


I’d forgotten that both the 2006 and 2011 adaptations were filmed at Haddon Hall in Derbyshire (as was the 1996 Franco Zeffirelli version with William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg!). I’ve visited Haddon Hall in both the summer and at Christmas time, and it’s one of my favorite old piles in all of England. It seems perfect for Thornfield Hall–castellated and gloomy in a Gothically romantic way, also boasting a rushing stream and lovely terraced gardens. The 2006 version makes a little more use of the Haddon Hall interiors, whereas the 2011 version uses Broughton Castle (another lovely place to visit!) for many of the interior shots.


So, which adaptation did I like better? The 2011 adaptation will always be my favorite, but the 2006 TV movie is quite good in its own right. Excellent performances from Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson, and a teleplay by Sandy Welch that is mostly true to the original. Welch departs from the book by presenting Rochester as a naturalist, and by introducing house party discussions of the scientific study of twins (???), as well as musings on the paranormal. There’s even a scene with a table transformed into a talking board. (Why add a talking board when you already have gypsy readings?)

The 2011 theatrical version is stripped-down, but effectively so. I like the Rivers family as a frame, and I do prefer Fassbender’s darker Rochester–he has a bit more menace to him and doesn’t babble so much as the original. Mia Wasikowska truly does seem little and plain(ish) in this adaptation, but also strong-willed. I think the scene that really seals the 2011 version as my favorite is when Rochester begs Jane to stay after the revelation of his dark secret. “I cannot get at you, and it is your soul that I want!” (Watch the scene–you know you want to!) I also love the ending–very compressed from the original, but somehow more satisfying to me.


I’ve probably mentioned my Haddon Hall china from Minton before. I first saw the pattern at the Haddon Hall gift shop, but it just wasn’t feasible to ship a set back to the U.S. Fortunately, I later found pieces from various sets at Replacements.com. They don’t match perfectly, but I think that makes the collection all the more charming. And, of course, the Haddon Hall china seemed perfect for a Jane Eyre tea!

For my tea treat, I made parkin, a spicy oat cake from the north of England, particularly popular in Yorkshire (home to the Brontës).

[Parkin] is eaten in an area where oats rather than wheat was the staple grain for the poor. It is closely related to tharf cakes – an unsweeted cake cooked on a griddle rather than baked.[7] The traditional time of the year for tharf cakes to be made was directly after the oat harvest in the first week in November. For festive occasions, the cake would be sweetened with honey. In the seventeenth century (about 1650) sugar started to be imported from Barbados[b]- and molasses was a by-product of the refining process. Molasses was first used by apothecaries to make a medicine theriaca, from which name the word treacle is derived.[8] As molasses became plentiful, or treacle as it became called at that time, it was substituted for honey in the preparation of tharf cakes. (From wikipedia)

After a disastrous attempt with a different recipe, I had success with this: Parkin–a Guy Fawkes Night Tradition. The recipe is accompanied by a helpful explanation of Parkin’s connection to the 5th of November, and it uses U.S. measurements and ordinary ingredients. (I happened to have golden syrup on hand, but according to the recipe corn syrup will suffice.)


It looked a bit like a pan of brownies when it came out of the oven, but oh, the glorious spicy smell!


This parkin was very moist and filling. If Jane Eyre had tucked some of this in her pocket, she might not have suffered so much on the moors before the Rivers family took her in! For tea I needed something strong to match the spice of the bread, so I chose the Irish Breakfast from David’s Tea in honor of Charlotte Brontë’s Irish heritage through her father, Patrick Brontë (originally Brunty or Prunty from County Down, Ireland).

Some related links for your edification and amusement:

The Best Yorkshire Recipes (some nice options for sweet treats here)
–A Jane Eyre tea blend from Adagio
Every Meal in Jane Eyre, Ranked in Order of Severity, from The Toast
–A Tea with Jane Eyre necklace at Etsy
Jane Eyre Tea Cozy patterns for knitters!
Walnut Tea Sandwiches inspired by Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre, the Fragrance, from Ravenscourt Apothecary (this is a NEAT site!)
–And finally, this long-time favorite: Dude Watchin’ with the Brontës from Hark, a Vagrant.

Also, some of my previous Jane Eyre-related blog posts:
Brontës on the Brain (Nov 2013)
The Problem of Kissing in Jane Eyre ’11 (Aug 2011)
Derbyshire Top Ten, including photos of Haddon Hall (July 2011)
I saw Jane Eyre yesterday (April 2011)