9 Simple Rules For Ghosts

ghostsWhether you believe in ghosts or not, you have to admit that there are all kinds of things in this world that we simply can’t explain.  They exist outside our accepted knowledge and they defy our know-it-all science — without apology.  I have a friend who says and believes, “It’s all a pack of rubbish. There’s no such thing as ghosts.”  Still, I know of one place in particular she avoids, because, she says, “I just don’t like the feel of that place.”  If nothing else, that’s what ghosts are: a feeling.  And that’s the problem: even after thousands of sightings over hundreds of years, and some pretty thorough investigation, there is still no hard evidence to prove (or disprove) the existence of ghosts.

However, if we rustle through the stacks of eyewitness reports, from the last several hundred years, we find some amazing similarities.  Ghosts seem to adhere to a few simple rules.  These rules are not etched in stone like the markings on a tomb, but, in general, all ghosts tend to behave in a strikingly similar way.

Rule #1 – Ghosts appear at night.  There are very few ghostly sightings in the bright morning or afternoon sun.  They don’t seem to like it.  I’ve been told that twilight is a relatively good time to see ghosts, but by far the best time for ghost-watching is between midnight and 2 A.M. — the so-called “witching hour.”

Rule #2 – Ghosts have little or no colour.  In general, ghosts appear to be black and white or grey.  When they do have colour, it’s usually a washed-out tint like a flimsy transparency.

Rule #3 – Ghosts are cold.  More accurately, they are accompanied by cold.  It is almost universally agreed that whenever ghosts appear, there is a noticeable chill in the air.

Rule #4 – Ghosts don’t like to be touched.  They will, on occasion, touch people but there are very few accounts of people touching ghosts (and getting away with it.)

Rule #5 – Ghosts inhabit buildings.  They prefer places that have some history to them.  There are cases of ghosts showing up in new houses but not very often.  Generally they live (exist?) in older buildings or in places close to old buildings.

Rule #6 – Ghosts don’t like an audience.  They prefer to appear before one or two people at a time.  And they tend to disappear just as quickly if more people come to investigate.  Interestingly enough, even though nearly every West End theatre in London has a ghost or two in its repertoire (Drury Lane has three, I think), none has ever appeared before an entire audience.

Rule #7 – Normally (if that’s the right term) ghosts stick to familiar surroundings.  They like the places they knew when they were alive, and they don’t travel well.  There are reports of people seeing the same ghost in the same place several times over the course of a couple of hundred years.  The major exception to this rule is Anne Boleyn, the beheaded wife of Henry VIII.  They say that her spirit haunts Hampton Court Palace (where she was a bride) Brickling Hall (her family home) and the Tower of London (where she met her violent end.)  Ghosts may indeed be singular apparitions, but apparently there’s no “rule” that says they can’t be in two places at once.  After all, why not?

Oddly, these last two rules are different from the first seven. These “rules” have changed over the years.

Rule #8 – In the past, ghosts did not usually speak, apart from howling, shrieking or crying.  When they did speak, it was either to lament their fate or issue a dire warning.  There were very few documented cases of ghostly talk before about 1960.  However, since then, ghosts have gotten more and more conversational, and here in the 21st century, they’ve become downright chatty.  There doesn’t seem to be any explanation for this change in ghostly behaviour.

Rule #9 – Also, over the last fifty years or so, ghosts have gotten much more benevolent: the howling hauntings of the 19th and early 20th centuries have given way to a kinder, gentler ghost population.  In most cases, there is no blood-cold horror associated with ghosts anymore, even though, on the whole, the existence of a ghost is still tied to some kind of trauma during the ghost’s life — an unhappiness, a violent death or a strong emotion, like love.

At the risk of stereotyping the inhabitants of the Spirit World, these 9 simple rules are a good guideline for ghost watching; however, they don’t always apply.  Ghosts have appeared in open fields in broad daylight.  They’ve singed people’s hair.  They’ve showed up in bold tartans and shocking-pink tutus.  They’ve played cards and laughed and even walked their ghostly dogs.   But the next time you’re home alone after midnight and catch a gray shadow out of the corner of your eye, or feel a sudden chill, you might want to look into the history of your house.  You might not be as alone as you think.

How To Write A Horror Movie – 2015

horror movieHallowe’en is nearly upon us, so, from here ’til breakfast on November 1st, we’re up to our elbows in the splattering blood of the Horror Movie.  Personally, I don’t watch horror movies.  I’ve had the hell scared out of me for real, a couple of times, and I’m in no great hurry to have that sickening adrenaline rush artificially induced.  However, I’m clearly in the minority: horror movies are a multi-billion dollar business.

So why not cash in?

Here’s a simple guide that will help you write your own horror movie, and depending on how ambitious you are, take you to the very gates of Horror Movie Heaven: The Slasher Franchise.

SPOILER ALERT (If you watch Horror Movies for the storyline, stop reading right now.)

Character — All Horror movies are based on one single character: the half-naked young woman.  Ideally, you need one Alpha female and a couple of expendable friends.  (We’ll call them The Skanks.)  Don’t sweat the details on the The Skanks — they don’t need anything beyond abnormal cleavage and interesting underwear.  They’re just there to flash a lot of skin, do a little screaming and get butchered early on, to show that the villain/monster/psycho is serious.  The Alpha female, on the other hand, does need some character development — perhaps a name or a hairstyle.
You also need an Alpha male (normally a boyfriend.)  He comes with his own set of male friends — a larger, stronger man and an idiot.  The idiot is there to do stupid stuff that invariably attracts the villain/monster/psycho.  The larger, stronger friend is there to get hacked up somewhere around halftime to prove that the villain/monster/psycho is unstoppable.  And the Alpha male is there to … uh … actually, the Alpha male doesn’t exactly have a job — but again, don’t sweat the details.  The Alpha male should have a name, however, so the Alpha female can scream it on occasion.
Finally, you need a villain/monster/psycho.  This guy REALLY doesn’t matter; all he needs to be is somewhat grotesque and have a steady supply of sharp and/or pointy things to stick into people.

Setting — Someplace so dark and isolated that nobody in their right mind would even think about going there.

Plot — The only plot device in any Horror Movie is everybody in the movie (except the villain/monster/psycho) has to be about as dumb as a box of wet hammers.  First, when confronted by a dark, rambling mansion, deserted campsite, scary island or what-have-you, the characters must ignore common sense completely (stuff like, there’s safety in numbers) and split up and go exploring.  Get out the body bags!  Next, as they creep around dark alleys, hallways, basements, attics or derelict buildings, they must never turn on the lights nor carry anything brighter than a disposable cigarette lighter.  Toe tags, anyone?  And finally, even in the heat of battle, the characters must never arm themselves with anything more dangerous than a toothbrush (which — in a land as gun crazy as America — is a good trick.)  In short, they should show all the survival instincts of a lemming.
Meanwhile, the villain/monster/psycho should be equipped with a variety of hacking, stabbing and slashing devices.  He should be able to wield these ingenious weapons with the stealth and dexterity of a ninja; butchering everything in sight until only the Alpha female and (maybe) the Alpha male remain in one piece.  Then, simply shuffle the villain/monster/psycho off into the darkness, and it’s “roll credits” and you’re outta there!

So there you have it.  All you need to do is write it up.  Or, you can forget the whole thing and go buy some old Archie Comics, piece together a couple of their adventures, add a villain/monster/psycho to massacre a few of them, and you’re halfway to Hollywood.

Halloween: A History

halloweenI’m totally into Hallowe’en.  It’s right up there with Christmas, St Paddy’s Day and the Summer Solstice.  (I think I was a Druid in a past life.)  Unfortunately, idiots have taken over the celebration and they’re ruining it.  Every year, the minute the calendar says October, our 5,000 channel television universe turns into a butcher shop and it’s wall-to-wall Horror Movie gore until the bloodlust finally abates November 1st.  What a bunch of crap!

Here’s the deal.

Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, what’s-his-name with the hockey mask and anybody else with a chainsaw, pickaxe or pointy stick have nothing to do with Hallowe’en.  These guys and their horrible movies were invented by Hollywood to cash in on the universal need for teenage boys to get close to teenage girls — who, BTW, are looking for an excuse to let them.  That’s where horror movies came from — not from Hallowe’en.  Hallowe’en was never about half-naked young women and dumbass young men getting their entrails splattered from here to Main Street.  Nor was it about the lunatics, maniacs and psychopaths who stalk them.  These are all modern creations of the film industry.

Historically, this is what Hallowe’en is all about.

Hallowe’en actually started out as a quasi-religious holiday.  Back in the day, when pagans ruled the world and Christianity was a fairly new religion, the battle for the collective souls of the European multitudes was waged without mercy.  Religious marketing was at its cutthroat best.  The early Christians weren’t stupid, and they hijacked a lot of pagan traditions and incorporated them into their rituals to ease the masses into accepting Jesus as their personal Saviour.  In those days, pagans (and most Christians) believed that unsatisfied souls walked the night, and they could, on occasion, mete out some pretty mean-spirited retribution on the living — if they saw fit.  The church decided that November 1st, Hallowmas, a day that already honoured the saints, would be a good opportunity for people to pray for the souls of the recently dead.  This would aid the tormented on their journey to heaven — and, more importantly, keep them away from the God-fearing living.  Since midnight masses were de rigueur in those days, the church services took place at night or on All Hallows’ Eve.  (Sound familiar?  Hallowe’en?)  However, the nouveaux Christians of the day weren’t above hedging their bets — just in case this Jesus thing didn’t work out.  On their way to church, they wore cloaks, masks and even costumes – to disguise themselves from the ghosts who were hanging around the cemetery, waiting for prayers of deliverance.  In addition, some of the poorer members of the parish would accept coins or food from the wealthier patrons to add their prayers for the dear departed.  That’s it: the time, the place, the costumes, the tricks and the treats.  There’s a lot more to it, but for bare bones, you can take this history to the bank.

Notice!  There were no chainsaws, axes, heavy mallets or ball peen hammers.  There were no knives, swords, machetes, garden forks, shovels or soup spoons.  Nobody got stabbed, jabbed, poked or prodded.  Nobody got torn limb from limb, dismembered or even bruised.   It wasn’t a bloodbath, or even a slight rinse.  Originally, and for over a thousand years of its history, Hallowe’en was spooky, creepy, perhaps even a little frightening, but murder and blood soaked mayhem were never on the agenda.  It’s only recently that it’s been turned into a month-long multi-channel Splatterfest.  And for my money that’s a total corruption of a perfectly good festival.

Friday:  How to Write a Horror Movie