There are few things that bring me more pleasure than a good horror movie. Unfortunately, most entries in this genre just aren't.

Good, that is.

Now, "good" does not necessarily mean the thing has to be Art, per se. Some of my favorite ghastly flicks feature the likes of Don Knotts, Abbott & Costello, Kay Kyser, etc.

No, a horror flick that does not take itself too seriously, but instead opts to offer us the cinematic equivalent of a carnival ride, can be delightful indeed.

On the other hand, all too seldom a film comes along that provides the audience with genuine moments of actual Terror - a rare feat, and all the rarer in these less than subtle times.

My favorite in the latter category is still Robert Wise's "The Haunting", from 1963 - a relatively faithful adaptation of Shirley Jackson's classic novel "The Haunting of Hill House".

One of my favorites in the "carnival ride" category had come out a couple of years before that - William Castle's "The House on Haunted Hill", with Vincent Price and a plastic skeleton that would fly out at the patrons on the film's initial release. Fun stuff.

And now, in 1999, both films were being remade! I could hardly wait.

Well . . .

Oddly enough, not only were the plot lines "toyed" with on both, but the brand new denouements for each were identical to each other! In case you haven't seen them I'll forbear from spoiling them - suffice it to say the protagonist(s) of each ended up having a "connection" to the house in question that had not been a factor in the original film versions of either.

Hmmm . . . All sheer coincidence, I'm sure.

Anyway, "Haunted Hill" would come out in October, and, though certainly not great, and nowhere near as good as the original, it was nevertheless fun, a legitimate "carnival ride" type of horror film. (They even opened with a carnival ride sequence, arguably the best moment in the thing.)

As for "The Haunting", it came out a bit earlier - July 1999, to be exact. It was a big production, the sets were incredibly lavish and, as the original had been shot in black and white, it was nice to see such a colorful extravaganza.

The film itself was, I'm afraid, somewhat disappointing, however. Incredible attention had been focused on the design, the look, a lot of money had been poured into the thing to create a feast for the senses - but the story had been tampered with unmercifully, and the end result was Not Good.

Audiences were laughing rather than gasping.

However, the same month that this "Heaven's Gate" of Horror was released, a small little film also came out, one made for a fraction of the cost, with a decidedly low budget feel - and not only did it tear up at the Box Office, it instantly became a bona fide Horror Classic.

I refer, of course, to "The Blair Witch Project".

It was worth a column.

Horrors from Hollywood


This month I find myself inextricably drawn toward the Movies.

Small wonder, as anyone who's seen my previous musings on Shirley Jackson. Yep, the wonderful, big budget full color version of Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" has finally hit the Big Screen, with special effects galore, magnificent sets, etc. etc.

And I must say it's exciting to be alive at this time, right at the release of the film that will very likely be remembered as the greatest horror film of the 90's!

Oh, wait -

You didn't think I was still referring to "The Haunting", did you?

No, no, no, dear me, no.

In defense of "The Haunting", it was probably wise to stray so far from the premise and intent of both the book and the original film, as neither could possibly be improved upon. And, of course, the visuals are indeed stunning. It is, I'm afraid, not likely to be remembered as one of the great movies of our time, however - but see it for yourself (quick, before it disappears!)

No, that probable candidate for Greatest Horror Film of the 90's is - well, by this time if you haven't seen it you already know what I'm talking about, don't you? I refer, of course, to that tiny little half a million mostly hand held camcorder miracle known as "The Blair Witch Project".

I do not propose to discuss the movie, per se, but to have such a delightful little film come out that is so steeped in fraudulent folklore of the supernatural variety . . .


I actually have one acquaintance who left the movie absolutely convinced it was real. I laughed to myself, and was still chuckling as I watched a documentary on television the next day concerning the roots of the Blair Witch mythos.

You see where this is going.

Yes, I watched, entranced, as several scholars and historians related the eerie tales of the original Blair Witch, and was fascinated to learn there really had been one. I mean, it was clear, this was obviously an actual documentary, the footage from the forties certainly seemed authentic enough -
And it wasn't till the credits rolled and they listed the Actors who'd appeared in the forties footage segment that I realized that I, too, had been completely taken in - if not by the actual film, than by this evil and devilishly clever (and extremely well done) quasi-documentary.

As we all probably realize by now, no - not only is the movie a work of fiction, and all the characters actors who are very much alive (and who we'll see more of soon, based on the success of this film), but there never was a Blair Witch, or a Blair Witch legend, or anything remotely like it. They made it all up.

I think what got me was when one "scholar" from the TV special spoke of his fascination with both the Blair Witch and the Bell Witch. That, my friends, lent credibility to his testament.

For there certainly was such an entity as . . .

The Bell Witch

The Bell Witch was actually not a witch at all, per se - it seems to have been a classic poltergeist - that is, a ghost that disturbs furniture and people and in general makes a nuisance of itself. However, the devout and upright denizens of that part of Tennessee where this haunting occurred did not, due to religious convictions, allow themselves to believe in ghosts. For them, any supernatural manifestation, no matter its nature, was the work of Witchcraft, and so the Ghost that decided to haunt the Bell family became known as the "Bell Witch".

The manifestations began around 1817, as farmer John Bell began to hear strange noises - disembodied knocking and scratching, etc. Shortly thereafter two of his children were suddenly accosted by a rather disturbing looking old woman, who seemed to fade away as they watched, horror-stricken.

After that the entire family was subject to the ghost's ministrations. Blankets were pulled from beds, and more than one family member and curious visitor were surprised by a spectral slap in the face.

An impromptu seance was convened, and now the apparition began to speak. She initially claimed to be a neighbor woman, but as that woman was very much alive this was discounted rather quickly. The ghost had now found its voice, however, and soon graduated from merely speaking to singing, and from singing to screaming.

John Bell was the principal target, evidently, and when he took to his bed deathly ill it was assumed to be the work of the Bell Witch. Indeed, as he died, a horrible disembodied shriek was heard in the house, and as the earth was tossed upon his casket many mourners distinctly heard the sound of unearthly singing . . .

Things quieted down after that, the Witch appearing only once seven years later, where she reportedly predicted both the coming Civil War as well as the two World Wars. She promised to return to a Bell descendent in the mid 1930's, but as far as we know she never did. The Bell Witch was apparently gone for good.

Or was she?

The Bell family farm is gone now, but the family cemetery remains. Not far from the cemetery is a partially hidden cave, now known as the Bell Cave, and once part of the Bell farmland. Visitors flock to this cave to this day, and many have seen fleeting apparitions, while many more have heard strange noises emanating from deep inside the cave.

It seems that the Bell Witch is with us still . . .