Pensive Prowler #7: This House is Haunted

Pensive Prowler #7 by Dmetri Kakmi

This House is Haunted

I have lived in this house for twenty-three years. It’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere. After all this time, the very fibre of my being is imprinted in the walls. I can walk around in the dark and know exactly where I am, without bumping into furniture or stepping on the dog.

When I drop off the twig, the plaster and the hardwood floorboards will retain an impression of my passing and transmit it to the new owners. That’s if developers don’t buy the old weatherboard Victorian first and knock it down to build the bland ‘town houses’ that spring up like cancers in this seaside suburb. Or if the water levels don’t rise and swallow the flat isthmus.

I remember being terrified when we first talked about coming here. I flew into a panic. A voice inside me said, ‘You’re going to die in this house.’

The voice didn’t mean that a madman would come and shove me in a garden mulcher. Though that might still happen.

It meant that I would live here the rest of my days. This house that will contain the entirety of my life; and at thirty-three or thirty-four I didn’t want to think about such things.

At that age you want to fly, not be tied down.

Things were fine when we moved in and found a place for the furniture and the pictures and the books. The feeling of immanent death dissipated and I saw that I might grow to enjoy the slow pace and the quiet of our little compound in the middle of these neat, orderly streets, filled with houses and families, living cheek by jowl, sometimes speaking to one another and sometimes not.

It’s a pleasant, airy home, modest and inviting, filled with pleasing amounts of light and shadow that shift with the day’s sun. The garden makes its presence known through French doors and the many mirrors strategically placed to capture the deepening greenness in spring and bring it indoors.

The House

I even found that my writerly self flowered in the quietude, where there’s time to sit and contemplate without interruption. All in all, I’m lucky to live here and the house has done well to add us to its list of occupants, like Shirley Jackson’s Hill House.

The previous owner, Mrs Cameron, moved here in the 1940s and died in the room that now serves as my writing room. This being the industrial western suburbs, the widow saw fit to run the place as a boarding house for men who worked the nearby shipyards and train yards.

I imagine it was a rowdy residence in those days, filled with boisterous men’s talk of an evening and cigarette smoke mingling with jasmine in the yard. The radio always on. Or maybe Mrs Cameron ran a tight ship; and perhaps a man snuck to her room at night to take her in his arms. Who can tell?

Sometimes, on hot summer’s afternoons, Mrs. Cameron’s presence is so strong in the house you feel you might bump into her in the hallway.

I know she hates closed doors. The door to the present-day bathroom, which used to be the entrance to the original kitchen, is always open. No matter how many times I close it. And I feel her press close when I cook in the new kitchen, which used to be a room oddly fitted with a sloping, rickety shower stall.

That’s an old house for you. They’re filled with uncanny presences. You have to drive them out and impose your own stamp on decades of previous occupancy, until you too become part of the fabric of the structure.

During our first years here, I kept finding mementos in the backyard: coins, tobacco tins, chipped plates, men’s lapel pins, cuff links, a perfectly good woman’s ring with a stone once, tin soldiers, a pipe. You name it.

The residue of the past rose through the soil to greet the present in silent acknowledgement.

An elderly man stopped on the street one day and said he boarded here when he was young. He looked at the house with such a surfeit of wistful longing that, briefly, I contemplated asking him in. But I’m a selfish sod and didn’t want to be stuck with him. Afterwards, I wondered if perhaps the pipe or one of the elegant cuff links was his. Or maybe he’d walked past to capture a precious experience. (It’s easier to think kindly of people when they’re not around.)

When all is said and done, that is all that’s left of anyone, isn’t it? Memories and objects. Even houses go on standing, for a time at least, while we vanish off the face of the earth, never to be seen again.

Makes me wonder what they’ll find when I’m gone. Lots of hats probably.

‘Look, another hat.’

‘How many hats did he have?’

‘Hundreds probably.’

‘Weird old bastard.’

‘Mad hatter, more like…’

_______

Dmetri with Hat

Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #54: The Taming of the Shrew (1929)

Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film

54. Sam Taylor’s The Taming of the Shrew (1929)

Taming of the Shrew Poster

Thirty-eight years before Hollywood power-couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton captivated audiences as Katherine and Petruchio, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford did something similar.

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Apparently, this is the first Shakespeare film with sound, and the performances of Fairbanks and Pickford are not especially good. When their acting gets more physical than vocal, the performances improve a hundredfold.

The slapstick of the play comes off wonderfully, with plenty of people falling down a staircase that is the chief hero of this film.

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I suppose I find myself slightly shocked that the violent tendencies of Katherine could be more cartoony than in the later Zefirelli version, but Pickford is arresting as this female dervish. That she actually wields a whip makes this a kinkier version of Shrew than one should expect from 1929, and when Petruchio woos her, they both have whips. (Behind the scenes, Fairbanks and Pickford’s marriage was on the rocks.)

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Hugo Riesenfeld’s music is delightfully bouncy, insanely melodramatic. It is good along with that staircase.

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At times, Fairbanks is good in a hammy, egotistically clownish way. Pickford’s voice is why her career would not last long into the sound era of film.

Shakespeare’s text was altered and truncated, so much so that the running time is about 65 minutes. It’s like a fun fever dream.

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John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.

Episode 261: Sarah Gerard!

Episode 261 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

On Episode 261, I interview the prose writer Sarah Gerard!

Sarah Gerard

Photo by Levi Walton.

TEXTS MENTIONED

Sunshine State
Binary Star

NOTES

The Promethean Conduit

The Promethean Conduit was a hell of a good show!

In Animal: a Beast of a Literary Magazine, here is my essay about the alligator incident at Walt Disney World.


Episode 261 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #180: She

The Curator of Schlock #180 by Jeff Shuster

She

Simple. Beautiful. Classic.

Ever get invited to a friend’s birthday party and you don’t know any of the guests? It’s awkward. You don’t get the in jokes. You don’t want to hog your friend because he has other guests to attend so you strike up a conversation with a stranger who won’t shut up about the t-shirt he’s designed for the cartoon Aqua Team Hunger Force. Then you spend about an hour hiding out in the coatroom with only your GameBoy and a copy of Tetris to keep you company. You slip out half-past nine, hoping that no one sees you leave. Not that this ever happened to. I’m just speaking hypothetically or hypothetically speaking.

That’s how I feel sometimes when I watch a movie based on a novel and it’s pretty clear that I should have read that novel before walking into the movie theater. Joe Bob Briggs went on a rant about The English Patient years back, about how people kept telling him how beautiful the book was, but he didn’t care because he hadn’t read the book. I saw The English Patient. I seem to recall an extra crispy Ralph Feinnes talking about plumbs. I’m sure I’m getting to a point about something. Oh yeah. Sometimes going to see a movie that’s based on a book that you haven’t read is like going to a party where you don’t know anybody. And sure you could just read the book just like you could mingle and be sociable with new people, but who wants to do that?

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For instance, let’s look at Hammer Studio’s adaptation of the H. Rider Haggard novel She: A History of Adventure. I mean I’m lost from the get-go. The movie starts out in Pakistan (or is it Palestine?).

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We’re introduced to three adventurer types in some exotic, belly-dancing bar. There’s Professor Holly as played by Peter Cushing, a blond leading-man type named Leo Vincey (John Richardson), and a manservant named Job (Bernard Cribbins). Vincey is pulled away from the bar by a young woman named Ustane (Rosenda Monteros) and introduced to Ayesha, an immortal Queen of the lost city of Kuma. 

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Ayesha gives Vincey the map to the lost city of Kuma and they make out for a bit. Vincey convinces Holly and Job to follow him out into the desert to discover the lost city of Kuma. Ayesha will be waiting there for him. Vincey sees a vision of Ayesha in an oasis on the way. Ayesha says she’ll give him anything he desires. Vincey desires her. We learn at some point that he’s the reincarnation of an old lover of Ayesha’s named Kalikrates. That’s a funny name. Kalikrates. It does kind of roll off the tongue. Vincey experiences a flash back of Ayesha stabbing Kalikrates to death. Hmmmmmmmm. That might be a red flag . Murder is not a good way to start a relationship. 

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Vincey doesn’t care about the murder of his past self. The fact that Ayesha rules over her people with an iron fist and throws slaves into lava pits doesn’t seem to faze him either. Her beauty bewitches him. Plus, there’s the prospect of becoming immortal after he walks though some kind of sacred thingie. It would have been funny if he just caught on fire when he walked into the flame, if this whole thing was just a sick prank by Queen Ayesha that she cooked up while she was bored. Let’s see. There’s a slave uprising. Christopher Lee shows up at some point. The rest escapes me. I think it has a sad ending, something to do with being careful what you wish for or some such rubbish.

_______

Jeffrey Shuster 1

Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #53: The Tempest (2010)

Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film

53. Julie Taymor’s The Tempest (2010)

In 1999, Julie Taymor gave life to Titus Andronicus, an obscure, early, and quite bloody play by Shakespeare. It was great.

In 2002, she gave us a visionary biopic of Frida Kahlo. It was good.

In 2007, she made Across the Universe, a musical cobbled together from Beatles tunes that … what was I talking about? I fell asleep for a moment.

In 2010, she returned to Shakespeare to attempt The Tempest, a famous, late, and quite fantastical play by Shakespeare. It was—well, what was it?

The-Tempest-movie-poster

My critique of this film is colored by the fact that the cast and production of Taymor’s Titus was so exquisite, and by the fact that Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books set an equally high standard for any film of The Tempest. There isn’t much wrong with Taymor’s Tempest, but there isn’t much right with it, either.

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What should have been momentous is that Taymor changes the gender of Prospero, making her a Prospera, played by Helen Mirren, which again should have been momentous on Mirren’s strength as an actor. But Mirren’s turn is stoical to the point of emoting almost nothing until the climax of the film.

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Russell Brand, as the clown Trinculo, is precisely as annoying as Russell Brand tends to be. Alfred Molina plays Stephano, the butler of the king of Milan who has drunken aims to become a king himself. Watching Molina act with Brand shows off Brand’s affectations and weaknesses as an actor all the more.

Chris Cooper also struggles to make Shakespeare’s words fit into his mouth, leading him to offer an uncertain performance despite his generally strong qualities as an actor.

THE TEMPEST

Alan Cumming was one of the highlights in Titus. His Saturninus was a mixture of Hitler, Marilyn Manson, and Pee Wee Herman. He can work no wonders with the part of Sebastian, the treacherously jealous brother of King Alonso. What casting director let Russell Brand, and not Cumming, play Trinculo? Watching him interact with Chris Cooper reveals how tentative Cooper’s performance was.

David Straitharn, as King Alonso of Naples, acts well enough to serve as some sort of redemption for his atrocious performance in Michael Hoffman’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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Ben Wishaw, who portrayed Richard II in The Hollow Crown, makes a fascinating Ariel here, although the special effects are often unpersuasive.

Tom Conti is wonderful as the elderly Gonzalo, eager to restore peace to Milan.

THE TEMPEST

The love story between Ferdinand and Miranda seems dulled by the performance of Reeve Carney, who seems like he was hired mostly on the strength of his cheekbones and the quality of his whisper.

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Felicity Jones, who filmgoers may recognize as Jyn Erso from Rogue One, is lively as Miranda, managing to imbue her with an ebullient innocence that is not treacly.

THE TEMPEST

The problem is that any good performance in this film seems counterweighted either by bad ones or stoic ones.

One of Taymor’s strengths is a surrealistic streak, and the visually dissociative moments in this film are good, but few and far between.

The end of this film isn’t cathartic, but is only as memorable as the last breath you take before falling asleep.

On the whole, Taymor and her actors tended to be too light-handed in their choices. So says your humble rogue.

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John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.

Episode 260: Jaroslav Kalfař!

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Episode 260 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

260 shows equals a fifth anniversary, I’ve decided, so it was a pleasure to talk to someone who was here at the very beginning. Jaroslav Kalfař was my occasional co-host to talk about craft books, during those last days of his being an undergraduate at the University of Central Florida. Five years, one MFA, and one novel later, Jaroslav is an international literary phenomenon. We try to catch up and manage to talk about writing along the way,

Jaroslav Kalfar

plus Heleen Sikorski reads her poem “Autoerotic Alliteration.”

TEXT DISCUSSED

Spaceman of Bohemia


Episode 260 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #179: Lust for a Vampire

The Curator of Schlock #179 by Jeff Shuster

Lust for a Vampire

Don’t lust after a vampire, kids! 

So we’re continuing Hammer Month here at The Museum of Schlock. Tonight’s entry is a vampire picture called Lust for a Vampire from director Jimmy Sangster. If memory serves, lust is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. I was taught to avoid the Seven Deadly Sins because the Seven Deadly Sins will lead you to do stupid things. Like lusting after a vampire. Why is lusting after a vampire so stupid? Because vampires eat people!

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We’ve got some truly evil vampires in this motion picture. They kidnap this barmaid in broad daylight. They then bring her to some ruined castle and start performing some kind of Satanic Mass. They slit the girl’s throat and pour her blood all over the desiccated remains of Carmilla Karnstein, a dead countess or something. Tendons and muscles form on the bones and before you know, there’s a beautiful, young, blonde woman sitting up the coffin.

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Oh, and she has fangs because she’s a vampire. Looks like vampires can be resurrected with black magic by other vampires. Kind of puts the kibosh on the whole stake-through-the-heart solution.

Enter the movie’s hero, Richard LeStrange (Michael Johnson), writer of horror stories and heir to some title. While visiting the town of Styria, Austria, he happens upon a finishing school for young ladies. The prim and proper Miss Simpson (Helen Christie) runs the academy and she does not approve of the kinds of stories LeStrange writes, but she still allows him to lurk about the campus since he’s royalty. Let’s see. There’s also a creeper history teacher named Giles Barton (Ralph Bates) who always seems to linger around the girls while their doing their Roman jazzercise sessions. These sessions are lead by another teacher, Janet Playfair (Suzanna Leigh), who would be a potential love interest for LeStrange if not for the arrival of a new student, Mircalla Herritzen (Yutte Stensgaard). Yeah, she’s the vampire we saw get resurrected at the beginning of the film. 

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Mircalla manages to capture the obsessive eyes of a few characters in this movie. First there’s an American student by the name of Susan Pelley (Pippa Steele), who has a passionate affair with Mircalla. You could say she lusts after a vampire. Mircalla sucks her blood and kills her. You know, there’s something I just don’t get about the vampires in these movies. Whenever they bite someone, they only drink a little bit of blood and just leave the rest of the body to rot in a field somewhere. That’s a lot of blood going to waste. Can’t they get someone to drain it for them, store the blood in some milk bottles somewhere?

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Anyway, the creeper history teacher finds Susan’s body and dumps her in a well. Through research, he’s discovers that Mircalla is vampire. When Barton confronts Mircalla on this, he tells her that all he wants is to serve her. Mircalla bites Barton and leaves him behind to die while he screams her name. What a maroon? Didn’t anyone tell him that nerdlingers never get the girl, vampire or no vampire? Next up is the dashing LeStrange who manages to capture the heart of Mircalla. There’s even a cheesy song that accompanies their love scene. And the two of them live happily ever after. Not really.

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There are more deaths. A castle is set on fire by a mob of angry villagers. Mircalla gets a stake through the heart. The end.

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Jeffrey Shuster 1

Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

The Curator of Schlock #178: The Reptile

The Curator of Schlock #178 by Jeff Shuster

The Reptile

Because The Amphibian just doesn’t sound as sinister. 

Your Curator of Schlock is back from his one month hiatus that everything to do with planning hard for the future of schlock curation and nothing to do with visiting Disney theme parks in the Orlando area. I know. I know. Liar. Liar. Pants on fire. Some observations. Those spinning toys that spew out soap bubbles need to get banned before some kid gets soap in someone’s eye. Still, no TRON ride, but I did get a glimpse of the super cool TRON ride they’ve got in Shanghai Disneyland. I’m going to cry now. At least, the Carousal of Progress is still in play. There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow

But I’m not here to yack about great, big, beautiful tomorrows. I know many of you have been asking why haven’t more Hammer movies been covered on this blog and to that I say, “I don’t know.” May is Hammer movie month over here at the Museum of Schlock. Tonight’s entry is 1966’s The Reptile from director John Gilling.

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This is pretty good one. I’ll never say that every Hammer movie is a gem, but as a studio, the films are collectively great. Just look at the poster. It’s got a half-snake woman hissing and baring fangs. That gives me the willies!

This movie starts out with some bearded guy getting attacked by something or someone in this old dark house. Before I can figure out what’s going on, his skin is turning black and blue and then the guy starts spitting out white puss. That’s a fairly horrible way to die. Anyway, this gentleman had a brother named Harry Spalding (Ray Barrett) who is married to Valerie (Jennifer Daniel). Harry’s brother wasn’t a rich man, but he did own a quaint little cottage in a town called Clagmoor Heath. Not much of an inheritance, but a free house is a free house. I’d like a house.

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Apparently, people have been dropping off like flies in Clagmoor Heath, all due to a mysterious disease the locals call The Black Death. Ummm…yeah. It’s the snake woman.

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Harry Spalding and his wife find the cottage ransacked. Harry then goes down to village pub and starts accusing the locals of trashing his brother’s place. They don’t take too kindly to accusations and I half expect the scene to devolve into some sort Straw Dogs fiasco, but they just leave the pub, insulted over the accusation. Harry befriends the pub owner, Tom Bailey (Michael Ripper) and the town crazy person, Mad Peter (John Laurie). They invite Tom Bailey over for breakfast and Mad Peter over for dinner. A good time is had by all. Until Mad Peter gets bitten by the snake woman and dies!

REPTILE, THE (1966)

The Reptile (1966) Directed by John Gilling Shown from left: Jacqueline Pearce, Jennifer Daniel

Tom Bailey helps Harry dig up his brother’s grave and, wouldn’t you know it, there are two fang marks on his neck. Harry has a neighbor named Dr. Franklin (Noel Willman) that Wikipedia describes as sinister, but that I would only describe as unpleasant. Dr. Franklin has a beautiful young daughter named Anna (Jacqueline Pearce) that plays the sitar and turns into a snake woman at night to kill the townsfolk.

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I think we find out that it’s some kind of curse a cult from India placed upon her. I think if a cult placed a curse on me, I’d turn into a duck-billed platypus man. The movie could be called The Platypus.

Duck-billed Platypus
_______

Jeffrey Shuster 3

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Episode 258: A Star Wars Roundtable!

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Episode 258 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Banner SW show 1

In this week’s episode, Julian Chambliss, Dianne Turgeon Richardson, Tod Caviness, and Kevin Hutchinson join me in a roundtable discussion of Star Wars. We talk about the questionable genius of George Lucas, the role of Disney in anticipating the needs and desires of the SW audience, the imposition of romance in war narratives, and the profound role of play in our development of self. A lot of beer was drunk. We made fun of each other.

TEXTS DISCUSSED

George Lucas A Life” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>George Lucas A Life

Rogue%20One: A Star Wars Story [Blu-ray+DVD+Digital HD]” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Rogue One Blu RayStar%20Wars: The Force Awakens SteelBook with Bonus Content – Blu Ray + DVD + Digital HD” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>The Force Awakens Blu Ray

Check out Kevin Hutchinson’s podcast, Nerding Out About.


Episode 258 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.