Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gothic Romance: The Dark Allure (A Guest Post by author Alyne de Winter)

"(These stories) fill you with a kind of psychic dread. They address the soul."
-----Barbara Steele

While the genre of Romance Fiction cuts a wide swath between the happily-ever-after Chick Lit comedies to the strains and stains of Dark Erotica, the Gothic Tale cuts a winding moonlit path right across the middle. From Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre to Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca to Stephanie Myer's Twilight series, Gothic Romance seeks to explore the mysteries of love, paying special attention to the dark side.

Through my 20's I wondered a lot about what people meant when they used the term dark side. Some would say it was sexual, others that it meant secrets----especially scandalous ones. Or it had to do with forbidden impulses, transgressive desires, those things we dare not speak about. Darkness describes the Unseen, as in the uncanny dimensions where spirits dwell. I began to realize there was a great rabbit hole of darkness. That what tantalized from the shadows, could lead to the abyss.

The Gothic novel as we know it, was born in the 18th century at a time of social upheaval, when revolutions were tearing down familiar social structures and leaving many aristocratic families decadent and penniless in their crumbling stately homes. Those of the literate class, able to spend their days writing and studying and thinking, spun tales describing what they'd lost, what they missed, what they'd been, and what they'd become. Their great, empty mansions were haunted by ghosts, their families by madness, their religious faith deteriorated to fantasies of undead lovers and corpse brides.

There was death a-plenty all around: in the theater of war, in the home, and in the soul. Under some of these old houses were crypts and tombs where people might be buried alive, or might clank their chains in hell, their howls echoing through the night.

A quick read of some of the classics in the genre will prove much of this. From Poe to Wilde to Stoker, we find aristocratic vampires and werewolves stalking their great halls and gardens to ravish the beautiful heroines. We find hidden crimes and scandals. If we're lucky we get an old cemetery, a Gothic cathedral, a castle, damask walls, wingback chairs, huge fireplaces, and libraries of arcane books read by dripping candlelight.

Oh, lost... and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again...
-----Thomas Wolf

It should not be surprising that in our time, this 21st century, when humanity seems to be on the precipice of losing everything, that Gothic Fiction should be making a comeback.

For all those who celebrate the Zombie Apocalypse, or enjoy excursions to Dystopia, there are those of us, the True Romantics, who mourn the loss of beauty and art and love in the world.

Did I say love? The L-word?

In much of what passes for Romance in fiction these days Love seems to be missing. There is sex all over the place, page after page after page. But love? Some stories, in attempting to be full of positive virtue and love from the heart, are often corny, cheesy, or shallow. How about some good old sexual tension? Chemistry, intrigue, mystery? Neither of these polar opposites is even close to what the Gothic reader seeks.

The fan of Gothic tales is primarily interested in mystery, in the mysterious, what is hidden in the dark. That is why you will find lots of passion in Gothic Romance, but little explicit sex. It's not about the sex act. It's about parting the curtain over the beloved's soul.

"The driving force of drama is the dark side."
-----Barbara Steele

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier was one of those books that made me want to write. By all accounts it's a Romance novel with Thriller elements---though you don't find that out until the last third of the book. If it had been a nice May-December story about a mousy young girl falling in love with a rich old man who harbors a dark secret, it might have done well in its time, but I doubt we'd still be reading it.

What has given Rebecca its power to endure in the Gothic. The title character haunts Manderly, a remote stately home in Cornwall. Truly haunts it. Though Rebecca is never described as ghost, she functions as one. And she is a great enemy to our nameless heroine, coming back into her husband's life, via her little boat called Je Reviens, or I Return, with lethal power. Then of course there is the witchlike Mrs. Danvers, through whom the dead Rebecca seems to act, Mrs. Danvers who, every day, brings Rebecca back to life in a kind of necromancy.

I can't say for sure, but as an author myself, I am convinced that DuMaurier was haunted by Rebecca, by Manderly, and Mrs. Danvers long before she built the other, nicer, characters around them.

I don't believe a writer can mature as an artist unless and until they allow the dark side to express itself in their work. The battle, or dance, of Light and Dark is the fuel of drama. The moral questions that arise as the author works this alchemy of imagery and language into something memorable, empower the work and lead to deeper thought in both writer and reader alike.

In engaging the Gothic, we tear the curtain away from our own mystery, our own madness, our own relationship with love and loss and death. On the other side is transformation. In all the old fairytales, which are also Gothic, redemption is always accomplished by love.

Note: In case you don't know of her, Barbara Steele is a British actress who made a series of Gothic Horror films in the 1960's in Italy. Her words of wisdom reflect a lifetime of working with these themes.
Find two of these, Black Sunday and Long Hair of Death in the Gothic Library on my blog: Alyne


Oh my, what a delicious account of what it is to love the Gothic Romance in all it's dark, gloomy, damasked and mysterious element.

I so enjoyed this generous post from the very talented deWinter. What a glorious guest post! You'll be hearing lots more of Alyne de Winter in just a short couple of weeks as I review one of her most popular books and interview the writer, herself!

I'll resume my regular posting schedule next Tuesday/Thursday with fresh installments of House of Hollow Wind.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

House of Hollow Wind (Mini Blog-Series Part 9)

The remainder of the night whirled by me in a series of images with no solid recollection.  The men who helped walk me back to the warm house, local farmers from the nearby Amish community, I would later be told.  How I’d welcomed the warm blankets and hot cider, sent by  their wives, harried with worry for a local girl lost in the woods. That night, they would hold their own daughters a little tighter.

Then there was Greg, leading the pack and squeezing my hand, telling me I was safe now.  Even in my disheveled state, I could tell his demeanor towards me had changed.  He was looking at me intently.  Was that sincere concern I saw in his eyes?  No whispered words of warning or bitter premonitions this time, only his warm, calloused hand steadily leading me home.

I sobbed as the old, be-draggled farmhouse came into view.  Each well-lit window shining  like a yellow beacon.  First I was overcome with hugs from a tearful Grandma, guilty for having asked me to call for Shadow.  Then scalding, black coffee was forced into my chapped, quivering lips by Libby, who’d been the first to realize I’d never come back .  Aunt Helen was quietly pacing back and forth in the sitting room, her right hand clasped so tightly to her cane that I thought she might lose circulation to her fingers.  I could only imagine what they had thought.  

First Vanessa, and now Aubrey…

I remember trying to speak, descriptions of Vanessa’s makeshift shack on the tip of my tongue, shining pink behind my eyelids.  My cousin, my best friend, my childhood folly…now gone.  No words would come.  Only wretched, choking sobs that tore from my throat in waves. 

Hysterical beyond comprehension, and babbling like a mad woman, I remember someone calling Doctor Sturgill.  And mere minutes later an old kind man, eyes crinkled at the corners in a permanent smile, savior who gently sedated me with a shot I didn’t feel at all.  And then nothing but a blessed blackness as I fell into slumber.

I awoke with a start.  The dream was in the back of my head, a secret place behind my eyes, yet I couldn’t fully recall it.  Someone screaming.  Their eyes frozen open.  A scream forever silenced in the cold, open ‘o’ of their mouth.

I raised up, slowly, wincing from the stiff twitch in my lower back.  I guess that was to be expected after a one-hour trek through snowy woods.

“Not so fast, there.  Doc says you gotta take it easy.”

I looked up to see Greg sitting in the armchair across the room, his creamy skin and blue eyes a sharp contrast to the floral upholstery.  I wondered how long he’d been there and instantly concluded he must have held vigil the night before, when I’d been guided to the room in hysterics.  He smiled and tipped his hat as he sauntered towards me.  Perhaps I was still dazed from the events of the previous night, or the sedative, or both, but his eyes seemed to hold a certain, mischievous twinkle.

I shook my head.  No way was I going to get fancy on the house help.  Particularly one who hadn’t given me a very friendly reception. 

“Nonsense,”  I shot back.  “I’m perfectly capable of getting out of bed on my own.  Besides, I’m starved.”

He might have played a hand in rescuing me, but I wasn’t going to be so quick to forgive the way he'd treated me when we met mere days ago.

He smiled a little and tilted his head, as if he were secretly making a decision.  Then he gently sat beside me.  He wrung his hands nervously for a few moments, then touched the frizz of my hair in a brotherly way that embarrassed me.

“Listen now,” this was the first time I took notice of his Southern drawl.  He scratched the stubble on his chin thoughtfully and then went on.  “I know I wasn’t the nicest to you the other day, but this whole thing with your missing cousin has been grating on my nerves for weeks.”

“But whatever can you mean?”  I said, worry furrowing my brows in a way that made my head begin to ache. 

“Something around here just isn’t right.  And you seem like a nice girl.  Right now just wasn’t the most opportune time for you to walk in here, on this whole mystery. “  His eyes crinkled, pointedly boring into my own.  “Or this crime, which I think it is…I’m not sure your cousin would have just up and ran off without telling me.  We’ve been friends for years.”

I laid back against the pillows and sighed.  So there, I had it, someone else who had suspicions.   Maybe I wasn’t so crazy after all.

“I think someone’s done something to Vanessa, and I think it’s someone who is closer than you might think, Aubrey.  And I want you to be careful not to go letting anyone know that your suspicions have been aroused.”

“But someone, they chased me last night,” I spat out.  “Chased me until I was lost, delirious from the cold.  Once they got me out into the woods with no idea how to get back home, I heard them walking away.” 

“Are you sure of that?” Greg stood up and began to pace, his arms crossed, face pinched in concentration.

“I’m one hundred percent positive, Greg,” I shot back.  

And then I told him of the cabin, which he’d already known about long ago.  He reassured me he’d already went through it with a fine-toothed comb, yielding no evidence and no clues.  And while it was fresh in my mind, I told him of the grotesque thing that had lured me into the hallway, it’s eerie warning, the way it had knocked me down and ran off into the shadows of the corridor.  He listened, his eyes wide and angry.

“Someone doesn’t want you here, Aubrey.  I think they know something and they are trying to spook you away.   We don’t know who it is yet, that’s why we’ve got to be careful,”  he said again, gently touching my hand.  “And I don’t want you roaming around in the woods alone again, you hear me?  At least not in the dark, and not without keeping the farmhouse in sight, okay?”

I assured him I would not and he left the room to give me privacy, promising that Libby would have a hot plate of breakfast awaiting me once I was dressed and ready to go downstairs.

“Oh,” he said, reappearing in the doorway.  “I have to drive into town tomorrow morning, need to swing by the hardware store and the post office.  Your grandmother said you might be interested in getting out of this house for a while.  What do you say we make a day of it and have lunch, maybe do a little sight-seeing?”

“Hm,” I pondered for a moment, my smile a dead ringer.  “I think that sounds lovely.”

Part 10 coming soon!!

<<<House of Hollow Wind Part 8                     House of Hollow Wind Part 10>>>

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Gothic Romance Artwork: "Who's There?"

Digital Photo Manipulation by Stacy M. Stephens

Round-Up Wednesday

So, it's been a while since I did a round-up post.  That's not to say I haven't been doing tons of stuff, just really lacked the time to throw one together.

Anyway, in the past weeks I've found quite a few gothic-romance treats.  We'll start with the ebook collections on Amazon.  There's literally hundreds of megapacks sporting classic horror, gothic, mystery, female-sleuth-type stories (you know, the kind we love).  I grabbed a few of those last week:

I won't go into great detail describing them.  They are pretty self-explanatory.  And for just .99 cents each, what can you lose?  They also have a collection of Wilkie Collins gothic romance books and a collection of scary Victorian stories...I think those are next on my list of Kindle buys!  They are worth checking out, anyway, especially if you are a GR fan or a fan or horror/mystery/suspense.  Many of the stories/books were published between the 1930's and 1960's.  

I also made a great find at my local Goodwill (thrift shops and second-hand shops are exceptional for those hard to find vintage books and other misc. things you might have to otherwise order/buy online).

I am a lover of the old vintage, mystery-type TV shows.  Boris Karloff's are reminiscent of the old Chiller and Thriller shows, as well as Alfred Hitchcock Presents (only to name a few, I actually have a more in-depth post planned specifically to outline these TV shows later on).  But for a mere $7, I got this whole boxed set.  I may later review some of my favorite episodes as I watch them.

And, as you know if you've read the blog previously, I've been in the middle of moving these past couple of weeks.  I actually put my complete Gothic Romance collection (nearly 1000 books) in storage and am planning to read what's on my Kindle and my Open Library lists before I unload my beloved collection.  So, lots of reviews coming this year straight from my ebook reading!  Don't fear, though, I still plan on finding photo's of those lovely, creepy vintage book covers we all lose ourselves in.

But, as I was saying, I purchased a few books this week from the thrift shop (can't refuse a good find, right?).  I'm particularly fond of one I found, Phantom of the Opera, and have begun to read it.  It's a bit tedious here and there (being written in the early 1900's) but so far it's a pretty creepy, engaging read.

This, of course, is a first edition, in French.  My copy looks sorta the same, only in English.

Also, please don't forget to read my interview with Poet's United (a beloved community for poets and writers).  Unless many of you don't know, I do write and publish poetry and have lots going on in my personal blog.

I invite you to visit them both.  I do mention my Gothic Romance blog in my interview and am always willing to do what I can to keep the timeless gothic alive and thriving.  

So, that about wraps up this little round-up. 

Until next time, I wish you happy reading, and writing, and gothic-romancing.

Monday, July 14, 2014

"Waiting For Willa" by Dorothy Eden

Published:  1970
Setting:  Modern Day

Grace, behind the bedroom door, struggling with the slippery silk pajama suit, her fingers trembling too much..the wig wouldn't fit securely.  It would tumble off, like a guillotined head, like a sunflower blasted by frost.

But it would stay on long enough.  And the dark butterfly-shaped glasses, and the long cigarette holder, and the tottery high heels, and the dash of Balenciaga perfume.

It was ridiculous, really.  Did Willa realize how nineteen thirtyish she had been?

But this was nineteen sixty-nine, bleak, cold, devious, and now was the moment.

She flung the door open, slipped into the darkened livingroom, and cried gaily, "Voilal."

Someone screamed.  She didn't know who.  She thought it was one of the old ladies.  It couldn't have been the sophisticated self-controlled Ebba, whose face, in the dim light, had a candle-white pallor...

She couldn't keep it up, she was trembling too violently.  She felt terrible, like a skeleton ejected from it's dark safe cupboard after too many years....then there was a gentle slither of someone subsiding slowly to the floor.

When everyone had stepped back and more candles had been lit, it was discovered that the person who had been overcome was Kate Sinclair.

Grace and Willa are first cousins, the girls are particularly close since the close deaths of both of their mothers (who were twin sisters).  They are as different as night and day (Willa being an enigmatic, spontaneous soul of expensive tastes and a frivolous taste in love interests, the complete opposite of Grace who is a quiet mannered author or romance novels).  Yet, only the two of them know Willa's secret SOS is to sign her letters as Wilhelmina.

So, when Grace receives a letter from Willa, signed by her SOS, she tries communicating with her cousin by mail but with no success.  She then sends a telegram announcing that she's catching a flight to visit Willa, as she firmly believes Willa has gotten herself in some kind of trouble with her lavish lifestyle.

Grace fully expects Willa to be cheerfully awaiting her as her flight to the Swedish country takes landing, yet her arrival is a somber one.  Grace is left to her own devices to track down Willa's flat (with furnishings that indicate Willa was living far beyond her means, a rich keeper, perhaps?) and a mysterious set of Willa's friends and acquaintances, all who seem to know little to nothing about the mysterious circumstances of Willa's departure.

According to close friends, and Willa's previous boss Peter Sinclair, Willa has ran off to marry a man named Gustav.  Other acquaintances, including a doctor friend, says that Willa had gotten herself pregnant and was in quite a predicament.

But when Grace finds Willa's secret diary and begins to decode and unravel the mysterious passages her cousin wrote, she comes to the conclusion that Willa had gotten herself involved with a married man.  References of 'queens in the attic' indicate that one wife must go and one must stay.  But to whom's attic does Willa reside, and what of the 'rain on the cottage roof' that's 'driving her mad?'

Thankfully Grace has found a friend in Willa's upstairs neighbor, Polsen, and together they work diligently at solving the mysterious disappearance of Willa.  And when Grace finds Willa's favorite sunglasses in the mud at Peter Sinclair's lakeside cabin, then the fur scarf (whom her landlord said she was wearing on the last day she left her flat) at her friend Ebba's house, the mystery only deepens.

 After Willa's body is found bloated, and floating in the lake, all of Willa's acquaintances are considered under suspicion of murder.  The grand finale will find Polsen in dire danger, a doctor on the run, and another of Willa's diaries in a cabin near the lake...a diary that will tell them everything!

This book reminded me a bit of one I just read, 'The Etruscan Smile,' as both books portray heroines who are uncovering the suspicious disappearances of close family members.  The book isn't bone-chilling or anything but does have a great plot, and several subplots, that keeps things running smoothly.  This is labeled as a Gothic and reads much like one, but I do believe a little more suspense (specifically the heroine finding herself in danger) and some additional spooky elements (particularly in Willa's flat where she resided alone much of the time) would have made this a more exceptional read.  I'd recommend this book to fans of gothic romance, though honestly it's not going to rank too highly on my list of favorites simply because I don't feel it had enough shock factor, nor enough suspense or those creepy gothic elements that make books from this genre so hard to put down!

My Rating:

  3.5 Stars

House of Hollow Wind (Mini Blog-Series Part 8)

The wind whistled an eerie song-song as I made my way up the steep incline between the trees.  After ten minutes or so, I paused, exhausted from the exertion of climbing.   My calves were cramping painfully from the effort.  I prayed a house lay somewhere over the hill ahead.  Clouds from an impending snow storm had all but blotted out the yellow spotlight of moon, leaving me to battle the elements with only the sparse light of the stars.  I ducked my head deeper into my jacket as flurries began to fall softly.

As I neared the top of the steep hill, I could barely discern what looked to be a small log cabin in the distance.  It sat nestled between a thicket of trees in the valley of the forest.  I could not recall ever seeing it when I played in these hills as a child but reasoned I had also probably never ventured this far into the woods.  The thought that I could be miles deep, lost in the forest on a winter night with heavy snow beginning to fall, brought fresh tears to my eyes.  I was cold to the bone and shook my head, as if to clear the tears.  I could be out here all night before anyone found me.  My best hope now was that someone who lived there could help me.   At the least, there would be a fire to warm myself and a place to stay until morning

I bound down the hill, steadily making my way towards the cabin.  But as I neared, I saw with dismay that it was not a cabin after all.  It looked more like a makeshift shack.  The roof of the porch sagged in protest against the heavy blanket of frozen snow.  There were a few missing floorboards in the porch.   Dried, rusty residue had dripped from the metal of it’s tiny window.  The place looked like something out of a scary movie.  A place where the reclusive outcasts from society might dwell to escape the repercussions of law.  For a moment I stood frozen of indecision.  What if some such a person resided in the old building right at this moment?  Could it have been the same person who had chased me through the trees earlier?  And what might they do to me, an intruder? 

No light emanated from the window.  And besides, I really had no choice.  I could either stand outside in the snow and risk freezing to death from the elements, or I could seek refuge in the shack.  Carefully I ascended the three rickety steps to the porch.  With each step I took, the floorboards moaned and creaked so loudly I feared they might give away and plummet me dangerously into the crumbling foundation.  I tip-toed carefully, aware that injuring a leg or ankle might certainly mean freezing to death.

I reach for the rusty knob and pushed the door open.  The hinges detested creakily, but thank heavens it wasn’t locked!  There obviously was no electricity and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the enclosed darkness.  As I looked about the shack, I could tell someone had frequented it often, and recently.  There was a makeshift fireplace, a pile of ashed cinder the meager remnants of a previous fire.  A dwindling pile of firewood sat in a corner to the left of the fireplace, and a small shelf stood in the right-hand corner.  It looked to be full of linen, towels, and a hodge-podge of miscellaneous items like dishes and knickknacks.
The wall to the left nestled a rusty old-fashioned water pump.  And a small farmers table with two chairs that looked as if they’d collapse under one’s weight sat in the center of the room atop a braided, threadbare carpet that looked to be about as old as the cabin, itself.  But what struck me most was the d├ęcor.  Several framed floral pictures had been hung across the wall in a haphazard artists’ fashion.  A pink shag rug lay near the fireplace, old and withered but still soft enough to serve its duty. 

There was no mistake, the room had the distinct feel of a woman’s touch.  A young woman.  A woman like Vanessa!  I reeled at the sudden thought, clutching the splintered doorframe for support.  Instinctively, I knew Vanessa had been there.  She’d been there recently.  From the frilly pink ruffle of curtains that veiled the weathered window to the old purple fleece blanket thrown across a rickety armchair,  I was sure.  I imagined a happy Vanessa, escaping the clutching eyes of Grandpa Wayne,  bringing her love interest to this little shack in the woods for their time together. 

Unafraid now, I stepped into the room and ran a finger across the dining table.  No dust!  So she’d been here not long ago.  My heart raced, perhaps she was here now.  Maybe she was hiding somewhere.  My hopes plummeted as I realized that in weather this cold, especially with a snowfall on the horizon, surely if anyone currently inhabited the cabin there would be a fire.  Vanessa and her boyfriend, Keith, might have taken refuge in the small room recently but I knew they were long gone by now.  But where to?  That was still the mystery.  At the moment I had more dire things in mind, like staying warm.  But I made a mental note to come back later and give the shack a good look over.  That is, if I made it through the night without freezing to death.

Returning to my senses, I walked across the room and took inventory of the fleece blankets.  There was only two and they smelled musty, but they meant warmth.  If I could just warm my hands enough to look for a match and light a fire!  I folded the blankets to make them thicker, then wrapped them around me.  Exhausted, my body aching from cold and the long hike through the snow, I sat back in the armchair.   As I sat there, inviting the sensation of comfortable warmth that had began to spread to my limbs, I couldn’t help but wonder who had chased me through the woods.  Who would want to scare me?  Maybe Greg wanted to scare me away, after all he’d told me boldly to leave.  I thought back to my first night at Hollow Wind and the grotesque figure that had warned me of my own death if I stayed.

I sat up, rigid with the fear of a new thought.  What if someone had chased me to this cabin, only to corner me there? What if they waited outside for me now?  How convenient it would be to kill me and throw me over one of the heavily wooded ravines, or into the icy river near-by.  After all, I’d been roaming the unfamiliar hills in the dark.  What a horrible accident my murder would seem to all concerned. 

I swallowed hard, noting how dry my throat was.  I would not leave the dilapidated shack tonight, of  that much I was sure.  I worked one of my arms lose and dragged one of the wooden chairs to the door, wedging it tightly beneath the knob.  I wasn’t sure how much good that would do against an intruder, but it was better than leaving the door open!  More tired than ever, I made my way back to the chair and decided that once I could feel my hands again I would work on lighting a fire.  As much as I hated the idea of it, I would spend the night in the cabin.  First thing in the morning I would set about finding my way back to the farmhouse.  Besides, once it was light out, I could retrace my footsteps.  And I was sure no one would risk an attack on my life in broad daylight.

I must have fallen asleep, for the next thing I knew voices were yelling and my makeshift barrier had been splintered to pieces as someone forced the door open.   I yelped, a bird caught in a trap.  I had nothing to protect myself with.  No place to dodge for cover in the sparsely furnished room.  Then someone shined a light in my face, nearly blinding me.

“We’ve found her,” Greg yelled over his shoulder. 

Then a series of other voices as the old shack flooded with light and the faces of several burly men I did not recognize.  I’d never been more happy to see a bunch of people I didn’t know!      

Part 9 Coming Thursday!!

<<<House of Hollow Wind Part 7                        House of Hollow Wind Part 9>>>

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Silver Scream: "Suspiria" Movie Review

I love old movies (I guess you know that by now) and this one was released to theaters in the US on August 12th of 1977.  The movie was well-received and highly-acclaimed, winning several awards for it's realistically nightmarish atmosphere and eccentrically haunting story line.  The movie has also scored numbers on several popular 'best horror movies/best movies ever' lists from movie critics like Village Voice, World Cinema, Rotten Tomatoes, and Empire.

There was quite a bit of pattern and a lot of the color 'red' on the set, which I think added to the detail and made everything stand out (specifically the terror of Suzy, the main character).  There was some very graphic, gory scenes and some off-the-record creepy gothic-like elements as well:  the creepy cook, the dog who turns evil, witches, secret passages and rooms, maggots falling mysteriously from the ceiling, the mysterious illness of the main character, and much more!

My Summary:

Suzy Bannion is an American Ballet student who has just flown in to Germany to enroll in a prestigious dance school.  However, creepy things begin to happen as soon as she arrives.  First, she's unable to gain entrance to the ballet school at all, and as a storm brews in the background she witnesses Pat Hingle (former student of the school who has been suspended) fleeing the school screaming in terror.

Later, as Pat Hingle seeks protection in the apartment of a friend, she is brutally murdered and disemboweled by invisible hands.  In the meantime, weird things are happening to Suzy.  First she meets the creepy cook, then she faints during ballet practice and is all but put on bed-rest by a doctor who prescribes a glass of wine each day as treatment.  She's moved to a room with fellow dancer, Sarah, and they become quick friends.  And although Suzy is feeling better, she keeps mysteriously falling malady to a drowsiness that keeps her fast asleep.

Strange things continue to happen at the dormitory when the blind piano players dog uncharacteristically bites a fellow employee and he is dismissed from the school.  Later, as they stroll through town, the dog seems to be possessed by an unseen force as it attacks it's beloved owner, viciously ripping his throat out.  Suzy's fear of strange things is only compounded when, that evening as the girls get ready for dinner, maggots begin to fall from the ceiling in the thousands.  Later, the head mistress of the school says this happened because of spoiled food in boxes in the attic.

That night, Sarah confides to Suzy that she and Pat had been friends, but that Pat had begun to say strange things, things that made no sense.  The girls resolve to search Pat's things and try to figure out what she was talking about, but to no avail.  Later that night, Sarah is chased by mysterious footsteps and brutally murdered.  And, come morning, as Suzy does her own investigation down mysterious passages and secret rooms, she finds herself face to face with a coven of witches and a corpse-like leader who are planning her very death!

She manages to outwit the coven, murder the head of the pack with a decorative knife. She barely escapes the academy before it goes up in flames!

Movie Synopsis:

"Suzy Bannion travels to Germany to perfect her ballet skills. She arrives at the Tanz dance academy in the pouring rain and is refused admission after another woman is seen fleeing the school. She returns the next morning and this time is let in. She learns that the young woman she saw fleeing the previous evening, Pat Hingle, has been found dead. Strange things soon begin to occur. Suzy becomes ill and is put on a special diet; the school becomes infested with maggots; odd sounds abound; and Daniel, the pianist, is killed by his own dog. A bit of research indicates that the ballet school was once a witches' coven - and as Suzy learns, still is."  (Courtesy of IMBD)

Director:  Dario Argentino

Writers:  Dario Argentino and Daria Nicolodi

Stars:  Jessica Harper, Joan Bennett, Alida Valli

I first watched this movie in 2010 when rumors of a remake was circulating.  However, after attempts at a remake (at least two in the last four years), critics state that it might never happen due to legal issues.

I thought this movie was astonishing.  The gory detail and witty cinematic effects trump even the most modern movies with their technological advances.  This truly is like watching a gothic romance on screen, give the romance, but all the same.

My Rating:

 4.5 Stars

Friday, July 11, 2014

"Raven Rock" by Mignon F. Ballard

Published:  1986
Setting:  Modern Day

I found it in the kitchen.  It was propped against the sugar bowl on the enamel table- the group picture of my mother's I had lost at Morgan's cabin.  My first thought was that Morgan had returned it, until I saw the red circle of ink drawn around my mother's face and the paper with the message beside it:

I know who you are.
-The Chuckler-

The note was complete with a childish picture of a clown's face.

My first impulse was to run...Was this someone's idea of a joke?  And how did they get in?  I tried the back door.  It was unlocked!  Had I forgotten to lock it?  Possibly.  I had been in a hurry to leave, and there was nothing valuable in the cottage, nothing anyone would want to steal.

The thought of being alone in that house weighed me down fear.  I felt heavy-limbed, slow-witted.  My brain refused to function.  The Chuckler, or whoever had returned the picture, could still be hiding in one of the rooms upstairs, waiting for me!

After the unexpected death of her foster mother, Henrietta Meredith learns that her real mother abandoned her 23 years earlier with the promise of returning.  Instead she disappeared forever.  But Henrietta is hell-bent on finding out what happened to her real mother, and her search leads her into the dark secrets of a small mountain town in North Carolina.  A town where her young mother once lived and thrived.

There, Henrietta makes friends with the same people who befriended her mother years ago.  She even finds a job at the local newspaper where she can finally put her degree in journalism to good use.  Before long she's even found a love interest.  Eventually Essie, owner of a local boarding house, offers to rent Henrietta her log cabin, Honeysuckle Cottage, the same house her own mother shared with roommates before mysteriously disappearing.  And she does so without ever disclosing her true identity.

But as Henrietta delves into the secrets that veil the disappearance of her mother, she finds herself dead center of a controversial news story, the story of a serial killer...a serial killer who was said to have been convicted and died seven years prior...but if he's dead, how's he stalking her now?  And what does that have to do with a group picture of her mother, each person in the picture a victim of 'The Chuckler,' a serial killing clown.  And what was his motive for the murders?  And did her mother fall victim, as well?

Someone in the community is hiding a deadly secret, but will Henrietta uncover the mystery of her missing mother before she falls victim, herself?

This was a very well-written, cozy little mystery written in the mid 80's.  Though it reads as a more modern, contemporary gothic romance, it's still pretty specific to the genre.  You have all the creepy elements:  a young woman uncovering family secrets, murder, an isolated cabin where the heroine resides alone, several mysteries to uncover, and a dash of romance.  This was a wonderful read and I would recommend it to fans of the Gothic genre as well as the Romantic Suspense.

My Rating:

   5 Stars

Thursday, July 10, 2014

House of Hollow Wind (Mini Blog-Series Part 7)

Late evening at Hollow Wind proved uneventful.  I was lazily browsing a shelf of Aunt Helen’s romance novels in the sitting room when Grandmother happened by.

“Aubrey dear,” I turned to a flour-dusted Grandmother, who looked to be elbow deep in her baking.  “I’m helping Libby make some cookies for her granddaughters bake sale, they say mine always sells best but I think they’re just pulling my leg.  Anyway, would you mind to go call for Shadow?  Here lately she’s not wanting to leave those woods.”

“Sure Grandmother,” I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, remembering those famous chocolate chip cookies of my childhood.  “But only if you save me a few of those cookies!”

Several minutes later, donned in fur boots and my heavy winter coat, I set out to find Shadow.  I shivered as I surveyed the edge of the dense woods, bare trees twisted grotesquely against the heavy snow.  The air was chill enough that my breath came out in little puffs of steam.  I thought about Vanessa, wondering if she’d fled to the south for warmer weather.  I sincerely hoped she wasn’t outside anywhere, facing this bitter cold each night.  I stopped suddenly, halted in my footsteps, at that last thought.  Whatever would make me think Vanessa was outdoors?  I knew no one could survive these brittle cold, winter nights with their freezing temperatures. 

No, I smiled as I imagined Vanessa in some swanky motel.  Probably a seedy place right offside the road somewhere leading south.  Right this minute she was probably drinking cheap coffee, courtesy of the motel, and reading a romantic thriller.  I was comforted by the thought as I stepped into the underbrush and called for Shadow.   I paused for a moment, trying to figure out which way to branch out in my search for the dog.   I remembered playing in these tree-lined hills as a child, but the blanket of snow was disorienting.  I saw some paw prints nearby that looked to be rather fresh and decided they would work as good as any footpath.

I walked several yards, calling for the dog until I felt nearly breathless.   I reasoned the old kanine had chased a lone rabbit or raccoon deep into the woods and was probably leisurely making her way back towards the house.  I was far enough into the trees, now, that my calls echoed into the vast, white emptiness of the surrounding hills.  Broken tree branches crackled beneath my footsteps.  This far into the woods, the thick snow was undisturbed,  swallowing the foot of each boot with every step I took.  How long had I been out here now, five minutes?  Ten?  I was rubbing my hands together for warmth when I heard the first ominous crack behind me.


I turned around.  Nothing but trees.  A low breeze had begun to howl beneath the cave of dying, early winter shrubbery.  Half naked trees swayed, throwing shadows that seemed to dance in the wake of an early moon.  I glanced upward, noting that night had fallen quickly.   Or maybe I’d been in the woods longer than I thought, for I’d worn no watch.  Gray clouds shifted across the pale, waning moon.   I was thinking about turning back when I heard it again, the shuffling of a footstep amidst bone-dry twigs and dead pine needles.  Then again.  The sound was unmistakable.  Someone was walking briskly towards me.  Someone who failed to answer my calls.  Someone who was trying to catch up to me, unseen, anonymous beneath the veil of shadowed trees.

“Who’s there,” I called, my teeth chattering.  “Grandma?”

Nothing but the quick, crackling call of snapping branches and crunching snow as the footsteps shuffled quickly towards me.  Terrified, I began to run.  The tall, gray skeletons of sycamores and half-naked pines flew past my peripheral vision in a blur.  I had no sense of direction, my feet guided only by the primal psychological conditioning of fight or flight.  The harder I ran, the louder the footsteps behind me echoed in pursuit.  Sharp, bone dry edges of dead tree branches snagged my jacket like grasping arms as I ran.  I felt one dig into my forehead as I sped past, searing the skin in a sickening thud that nearly knocked me backwards.  Still, I kept running, the footsteps echoing close behind.

My lungs were burning when, at last, I came to a clearing.  I stopped for a moment, collapsing against the sturdy trunk of an oak tree.   I gasped for air, half-expecting some faceless phantom, maybe a murderer or a swamp monster, to emerge from the edge of the wooded area.   No one came.  I strained my ears against the howl of wind just enough to hear the faint crackling of descending footsteps.  Whoever had been chasing me was now headed in the opposite direction.   The sound of their footsteps was fading quickly.

I dropped to the ground, nearly sobbing in relief, as I took inventory of my surroundings.  The clearing I’d stumbled upon seemed to be manmade.  I thought I could barely discern a footpath leading north.  It was a narrow, dirt footpath, paved sharply between trees on either side.  But it was a footpath nonetheless, I was sure.  I had no idea where I was now, nor which direction led back to the farmhouse. 

Dusk was slowly descending and I was chilled to the bone.  My fingers were numb from the cold, even with my mittens on.  I wiggled them and made the decision to follow the footpath.  Footpaths usually led somewhere, perhaps to a house?  And I knew if I went back into the woods I could be lost for hours before I found my way to the highway or the farmhouse.   Freezing to death from the elements was not unheard of in these parts.  My body shook against the wind as I pulled my hood tighter.  Rather from the cold or from the thought of dying out here in the dead of winter where hungry wolves roamed, I was not sure.

Stay tuned for part 8.  New installments added every Monday and Thursday!

<<<House of Hollow Wind Part 6                             House of Hollow Wind Part 8>>>

Monday, July 7, 2014

"The Etruscan Smile" by Velda Johnston

 Published:  1977
Setting:  Modern Day

...early sunlight, penetrating part way up the staircase, showed me something affixed to the right-hand wall.  My steps reluctant, I descended the stairs.  

It was a sheet of lined paper, evidently torn from a tablet and affixed to the stone wall with a bit of transparent tape.  On it was a childish sketch, drawn with crayons, of a figure dangling from gallows.

With nausea in the pit of my stomach, I realize that the hanged figure was supposed to be me...had the repulsive sketch been there when Arturo and I climbed the dark stairs about eight hours ago?  Perhaps.  More likely, it had been placed there later.

I must not be frightened, I told myself.  That was what someone wanted.  A cowardly someone who twice had invaded this house under the cover of darkness, the first time to set that fire- I was sure now that it had been set- and the second time to leave that crude but chilling sketch...

Samantha Develin leads a characteristically mundane existence as a single teacher in New York City.  She's always dreamed of the glamorous lifestyle of her older sister, painter and troubadour Althea, whom has taken up residency in Italy where she paints to her hearts content and lives a bohemian lifestyle.

But when months go by with no word from Althea, not even in the form of answered letters, Samantha takes it upon herself to figure out where Althea has been in her absence and what is keeping her too busy to communicate with her family.

Samantha soon takes up residency in the old Tuscan farmhouse along the green hills of Florence as she tries to uncover the mysterious circumstances of Althea's disappearance.  She's sure there's something fishy about her sisters quick leave when she notices Althea's beloved plants are dead and her fridge is over-flowing with ruined food.  Her drawers and closet are also stuffed with clothes and Samantha feels this is an indication that Althea must have left in a hurry, but for what reason?

From the onset it seems that no one wants Samantha in the tiny old town that was said to have homed her ancestors decades earlier.  The towns people are right down cruel and even her nearest neighbor, an archeologist, tries to warn her away.  Then she meets the prestigious family for which Althea rented her apartment, and their son Arturo, who is as handsome as he is sly in his advances for fancy dates and sight-seeing.

But all is not well, nor safe, for Samantha.  During her first night there, beneath the veil of darkness someone sets a fire in the garage beneath her apartment.  Mere days later she finds a grotesque painting portraying herself hanging from the gallows.  And as if there were not enough, as she delves into the mysteriously dangerous life of her sister Althea, Samantha finds herself uncovering clues of ancient goddess statues, illegal drug use, even prostitution.  She fears her sister took a wrong turn in life and became involved in shady dealings and for that she paid with her life...but with Samantha uncover these dangerous secrets and solve the disappearance of her sister, or will she lose her own life trying?

This was a wonderful book reminiscent of Mary Stewart and Barbara Micheals.  I was particularly drawn into the atmosphere of the old Tuscan hillside of Italy as well as the historical aspects of gods and statues.  The mystery of the missing sister and the blooming romance towards the end was icing on the cake!  This is one of the best I've read from Velda Johnston thus far!

My Rating:
   5 Stars

House of Hollow Wind (Mini Blog-Series Part 6)

The next evening, I found myself sitting in grandpa’s old recliner.  It was the same ratty, velvet chair of my childhood.  I was nostalgic as I sat there, recalling a vivacious Grandpa Wayne, reclining to his room after dinner.   He would sit in the light of the window and read his old western books.  Someone had pulled the chair close to the bed for easier access. I reasoned it was probably rather difficult for Helen to stand while feeding or reading to him, especially in her crippled state.

At grandma’s insistence, I’d agreed to assist Grandpa Wayne with his dinner.  It wasn’t a hard decision, considering I’d come to dread eating my meals alone.  Grandma was usually busy flittering about the old house or gone into town for appointments and groceries.  Although I enjoyed my conversations with Libby, her overly-chatty exuberance seemed out of place in the dreary old house.  I found it hard to indulge in her cheery gossip with Grandfather’s sickness and the absence of Vanessa.

“Grandpa, it’s me,”  I said gently, taking his withered hand into my own.  I barely recognized him, he’d become so frail.  Time had turned his dark, salt and pepper hair to a frizzy white.  His cheeks sunk into each other like two hollow caves until he almost looked emaciated.

“I’m awake, old girl,”  his watery eyes rolled towards me, dawning the same mischevious twinkle I remembered from my girlhood.  “Just resting.  What they tell me to do, I reckon, get some rest.” 

He tried for a smile and I returned one of my own.    

“I’m sorry you’re feeling ill, Grandpa,” tears stung my eyes, I hadn’t seen him in so long. 

I felt a twinge of something like guilt, though I knew his sickness was not my fault.  Inwardly, I kept thinking had I not been away, maybe I could have prevented this malady by witnessing the slow onset.  I was no doctor but my nursing degree and the little work experience I had did allow me enough skill to acknowledge when a person was sickly.  I shook the thoughts away.  There was nothing I could do about the past, but I could focus on the present moment and right now Grandpa Wayne looked like he could use some nourishment.

“Don’t look so sad honey,”  Grandpa gave my hand a feeble, reassuring squeeze.  “It’s probably not as bad as they are all making it out to be.  Just a little sick in my stomach is all.  Now how about some of that soup you got there?”

We ate in silence for quite a while.  I gently cajoled Grandpa into eating almost a whole bowl of tomato basil soup while I absent-mindedly nibbled at some grilled chicken and rice.  I hadn’t had much of an appetite all day.  Libby was an excellent cook and the  Creole-style chicken smelled tantalizing but I couldn’t bring myself to eat more than a few bites.

I attempted to make small talk and as Grandpa answered with a series of grunts and passive agreements I looked about the room.  There were boxes of medical supplies stacked near the closet and someone had set some plants on the window seal.  They were dying, pitiful brown masses, I supposed by the lack of sunshine during these overcast, winter days.  The room was dank and veiled in shadows thrown by a dusty old lamp that sat atop the bedside table.  The small room was furnished in bulky antique oak furniture, the knobs of it’s drawers dull of time.  Each piece loomed in the background like a dark spirit awaiting release.  I shivered and thought to myself, sadly, that were I sick this room wouldn’t do much to lift my spirits.

When finally Grandpa waved the spoon away, I wiped his face with a napkin and put the dinner tray aside.  His eyes were heavy with the exhaustion of merely eating and I realized just how sick he must be.  The Grandpa of my memory ate heartily, and loved small talk. 

“Grandpa, I need to ask you something,”  the subject had been on my mind since my arrival and given the gossip of Libby, I had no idea what conclusions to draw.

He nodded at me, his eyes vaguely questioning, and said nothing.

“It’s about Vanessa,”  I began.  “You are aware she’s gone?”

Another vague nod of recognition, though he offered no other explanation.

“I don’t think it’s like her to leave here, and just stop communicating altogether, especially with Grandma.  I’m worried…do you have any idea where she would go?”

For a long moment he didn’t say anything.  His eyes were closed and I began to worry he’d fallen asleep.  Or perhaps he was just refusing to acknowledge the sad fact that Vanessa’s disappearance was suspicious. 

“She wouldn’t just do that,”  I tried again.  “Leave and not say anything about her whereabouts.  She knew I was coming to spend the winter here, Gramps.  She was excited about it.”

“Maybe,”  he opened his eyes.  I thought they seemed more watery than usual.   He placed his hand over his forehead as if he were struggling not to cry, or the strain of being silent was making his head ache.  “Or maybe she’s not talking cause she can’t.”

My heart gave jolt.  Whatever could he mean?  Did he know something I didn’t, or was this just the ramblings of an old, sickly man? 

“Whatever do you mean, Gramps?”  I asked, hoping he’d say something to smooth over the insinuation he’d just made.  But mostly, I wanted the icy, heavy feeling that had shifted in my chest to melt.  I wanted warm words of comfort.  I needed Vanessa to be okay.

“Well what do we have here,” a cheery voice called from the doorway.  I turned to see Aunt Helen, one hand leaning heavily onto a wooden cane, the other grasping a handful of medicine bottles.  And then, “Oh hello Aubrey, I barely noticed you.  You are just a withery little thing it’s hard to see you in a crowded room.”

Aunt Helen shuffled to meet me as I stood.  Her stubby arms felt rough and cold to the touch, as if she’d just been outside.  Her hug seemed almost harsh in the way she pulled me in, then quickly pushed me away and held me at arms length.

“You are just as beautiful as ever, even if willowy, why you haven’t ate a thing, look at this plate!”  She picked up the bed tray and handed it to me.  “It’s about that time dear, dad needs to take his medicine and have his nap.  Would you be a doll and take that tray back to the kitchen for me?”

And with that, she turned away and began to fumble with Grandpa Wayne’s medicine.  I’d been dismissed.

Part 7 Coming Soon!  New installments every Monday and Thursday!!

<<<House of Hollow Wind Part 5                         House of Hollow Wind Part 7>>>