The neighborhood association had to postpone the movie night in the park because it got awfully chilly and there were high winds that would have been bad with a movie screen, so I stayed in and watched a BBC adaptation of “The Turn of the Screw.” I’d read the story when I was researching Rebel Mechanics, since it was about a governess and in my very early preparation I was thinking of doing something more gothic (that didn’t last long because Lord Henry refused to be a brooding gothic hero type).
I don’t like horror, but I do love a good ghost story, especially an ambiguous ghost story — is it a ghost or is she nuts, or is something else going on? I guess you could say I like gothic, not horror. I’m all about the atmosphere. Give me windswept moors, old houses with secrets, creaking staircases, dense fog, mysterious men you’re not sure you can trust. I’m a sucker for those old books with women in floaty nightgowns fleeing spooky castles. In fact, my favorite nightgown is made from a pattern for a Halloween costume for a gothic heroine. When I wear it, I feel like I need to be running from a castle on a foggy night.
This version of “The Turn of the Screw” was interesting in part because it was essentially a Downton Abbey prequel. It was made a couple of years before Downton Abbey, and the main character — the governess — was played by Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary). There was a framing story in which the governess is in an asylum and telling her story, and the curious psychiatrist who was trying to get the story out of her was played by Dan Stevens (Matthew). They had a really nice chemistry in their scenes, so I wonder if this film had anything to do with the Downton Abbey casting.
The story is about a governess who comes to work at a spooky old house, where she’s in charge of a couple of really creepy kids. Are the kids in danger from some outside force, or are the kids just evil?
Another good “creepy house” movie is The Others, about a woman and her children in an old manor on the Channel Islands just after the Nazi occupation. I can’t say much about it without giving away the twist, but the atmosphere is really spooky. I have to admit that I still enjoy the Disney cartoon version of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Or there’s the ghostly romantic comedy The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
In a way, spooky ghost stories are more appropriate to Halloween than all the monsters and mayhem, since Halloween is “All Hallows Eve,” which is a time when supposedly the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead becomes thin. In the church, All Hallows (or All Saints) is the day to honor the members who came before us and who have died in the past year. It’s a time for metaphorical hauntings, even if you’re not into the literal kind.
And I think I’ve just added an item to my literary bucket list. I need to write a spooky house story.