THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL. (2015) BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL BY PETER JAMES. PUBLISHED IN 2015 BY MACMILLAN.
BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

They said the dead can’t hurt you. They were wrong…

Evil isn’t born, it’s built…

This book had such an American feel to it that I was shocked to find it was written by an English author called Peter James, best known for penning crime thrillers and police procedurals featuring his well-loved fictional character, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace.

THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL, a haunted house book, is one of his stand-alone books. He’s obviously a big horror fan and a fan of horror movies in particular. He kills off an entire family, BURNT OFFERINGS-style, within the first few pages of the book, and before they even get a chance to move into the titular Cold Hill House, a run-down but still impressive Georgian mansion in the Sussex countryside.

BURNT OFFERINGS, as some of you will know, is a fantastic and really scary horror film from 1975, featuring Bette Davis, Oliver Reed and horror queen Karen Black. It scared me when I first saw it in 2014, and it’s scared me all the times I’ve watched it since. It’s scaring me now, just writing about it here! If you haven’t seen it, you really should try to find it and watch it. It was on YouTube, last time I checked.

Anyway, the real beginning of the book happens when the Harcourt family move into Cold Hill House, in the modern era of mobile phones, FaceTime and laptops in every home. Ollie is the dad, a web designer who works from home, and he’s really looking forward to the challenge of living in the countryside after being stuck in the city, Brighton and Hove to be precise.

Ollie doesn’t even mind that the house is what the estate agents euphemistically call a real fixer-upper, which in this case translates to a real fally-downy, and he’ll be lucky if the place doesn’t turn into a proper cash-guzzler. The 1986 film THE MONEY PIT, starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long, is referenced in the book, and I’m sure Ollie can relate.

Ollie’s missus is Caro, a solicitor who’s going to commute to her office in Brighton every day now, and Jade is their teenage daughter, who cares about all the things you’d expect a teenage girl to care about: phoning her best friends from her old school whom she misses terribly, keeping in touch with a boy she likes, and pestering her father for ponies and puppies, now that they’re living in the countryside and have all the space in the world for four-legged friends.

The ghosts in the house make themselves known pretty damn quickly. I’ve read an awful lot of haunted house books over the years and, though I enjoyed this one very much, there wasn’t really a whole lot in it that was new and startling.

A ghostly old lady in an old-fashioned gown is seen gliding around the place by various members of the household, including a friend of Jade’s who sees the malevolent old woman standing behind Jade when they’re on FaceTime together.

The ghost can cause the temperatures to drop suddenly, or to make someone feel like there’s someone standing right behind them, when there’s really no-one there. Shadows abound in the house, there’s a strange man in Jade’s bedroom who looks like her father but isn’t, parts of the house are sopping wet one minute and dry the next, causing the family to have to sleep on couches in the living-room at times. Ollie feels the energy and vitality being drained out of him, something that happened in BURNT OFFERINGS as well.

There are some rather strange people floating around the village as well and there’s a distinct possibility that some of them may be late. As in, a late parrot. Deceased. Dead. Snuffed it. Clogs popped and buckets kicked good-style. You can only imagine what effect this has on an increasingly frazzled Ollie, who tries to shoulder the entire burden of the ghosts by himself in order to protect his wife and child, whom he loves dearly.

The rather grisly history of the house affords Ollie and Caro a partial explanation for the spectral goings-on, but unfortunately no comfort. When they turn to members of the clergy for this comfort and even some encouragement and help, the house reacts violently and makes its views known. And houses really shouldn’t have views on things, should they? They should mind their own business and leaves the opinions to their occupants. (I’m going to be haunted now for saying that, lol, aren’t I…?)

The ghosts have a disastrous effect on Ollie’s web design business too, for which they would have had to learn computer basics such as sending emails and rudimentary mobile phone use in order to be able to send out text messages. I found this to be funny, but also a bridge too far. When a poltergeist starts telling you its evil plans for you via computer or mobile phone, I think it’s time to throw in the towel and give up the ghost, if you’ll excuse the pun.

I think the author had also read/watched Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING (OF HILL HOUSE), the book and the film, and seen THE CHANGELING starring George C. Scott and been influenced by it, and maybe by any other films featuring little hidden or bricked-up rooms within the haunted house itself.

You know that thing where you stand outside your haunted house and you look up at the front of it and count the windows while mentally matching them up to the rooms you know they’re in? Then you discover that there’s an extra, unmatched window, or a little window up there near the top of the house that can’t be accounted for in your calculations?

Then you run upstairs with a mallet and start breaking down walls and you discover a hidden room, and it turns out that the ghosts were either trying to alert you to the presence of this room all along, because it holds the key to the entire haunting, or keep you away from it for the same reason? You do? You’re familiar with this trope? I won’t bother going into any more detail, so…!

The book is quite similar to one I read before Christmas, a haunted house book simply called HAUNTED, which was written by Bentley Little, but, as I said earlier, it’s quite hard to find new stuff to put into ghost stories or haunted house tales.

There are only so many tropes to go round, so that sooner or later you’ll almost certainly have to repeat yourself or even other writers. It’s not what you put in the book that matters, though, as much as how you handle it, and Peter James handles old material pretty serviceably in THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL.

Good luck to Ols, Caro and Jade Harcourt, the protagonists, anyway, in attempting to evade the grisly fates of their predecessors. If BURNT OFFERINGS has taught us anything, it’s that some houses really, truly don’t want to give up their occupants. Well, why would they, when living humans can give so much… energy… to a place…? Enjoy the book, but it might cost you a night or two of comfortable sleep…

   AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
 
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://www.amazon.com/Thirteen-Stops-Sandra-Harris-ebook/dp/B089DJMH64

THE DEVILS. (1971) KEN RUSSELL’S MOST CONTROVERSIAL FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

devils 2 leads

THE DEVILS. (1971) PARTLY ADAPTED FROM ALDOUS HUXLEY’S 1952 NON-FICTION BOOK ‘THE DEVILS OF LOUDUN’ AND PARTLY ADAPTED FROM THE 1960 PLAY ‘THE DEVILS’ BY JOHN WHITING.

DIRECTED BY KEN RUSSELL. SETS BY DEREK JARMAN. SCORE BY SIR PETER MAXWELL.

STARRING OLIVER REED, VANESSA REDGRAVE, DUDLEY SUTTON, GEMMA JONES, GEORGINA HALE, MURRAY MELVIN, MICHAEL GOTHARD, CHRISTOPHER LOGUE AND GRAHAM ARMITAGE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is such an incredibly intense film that I generally find I’m holding my breath practically the whole way through it, even though such a feat probably isn’t medically possible. It’s like an assault on the senses, with the fantastic period costumes, the disconcerting (excuse the pun) musical score and the way that, just when you think director Ken Russell surely can’t go any further, he then goes and does exactly that.

The story is set in France in the seventeenth century, and it’s based on actual events, which would kind of blow your mind to think about it. It features Oliver Reed in one of his finest roles. He plays Father Urbain Grandier, chief cleric in the heavily walled town of Loudun. He’s a rogue of a priest who unwittingly becomes the centre of one of the biggest witchcraft cases France has ever known.

He’s a womanising lecher of a priest, who has sex with and even impregnates his prettier female parishioners, then he abdicates all responsibility towards them. ‘And so it ends.’ Then he meets the rather plain, ordinary Madeleine, whose mother has just died horribly from the plague that runs rife through France, and he decides he’s in love, real pure love, for the first time in his whole decadent, dissolute life.

If he were just an ordinary womanising priest, I don’t suppose it would have become much of an issue in seventeenth century France. But Grandier was somewhat of a controversial figure politically as well, even though religion and politics supposedly don’t mix very well. Here’s the deal as I’ve interpreted it.

Cardinal Richelieu at the time wanted to knock down the heavy fortifications of Loudun, and thereby put a stop to its system of independent government and the possibility of a Protestant uprising.

He wanted Loudun and other similarly-governed places to stop ruling themselves independently of the monarchy, and he felt that knocking down their fortifications and leaving them defenseless would accomplish this.

Father Grandier, however, refused to allow this to happen by getting the townspeople to stand firm against any such notion. He maintained that, in Loudun, Catholics and Protestants lived harmoniously side by side, without any pesky uprisings at all, and that they needed their fortifications to protect them from marauders. Moreover, the King himself had said that Loudun could keep her walls. So there, lol.

Therefore, Grandier was a big thorn in the side both of Cardinal Richelieu, and also of Baron de Laubardemont, the official he’s sent to Loudun to knock down the walls. They feel powerless to move against Grandier, who’s so popular in the town. What they need is to get rid of him, but how? Then into their laps lands the gift of a lifetime… a tailor-made excuse to rid themselves of the troublesome priest…

The lead female character, chillingly played by Vanessa Redgrave, is Sister Jeanne of the Angels, head nun of the local convent. Poor Sister Jeanne. Her head is permanently to one side because of a dreadful hump on her back. She constantly shuffles about on her knees in the narrow, claustrophobic confines of the convent and this has the effect of making her personality seem as stunted, deformed and twisted as her physical person. I see her as a figure deserving of pity, yes, but a little creepy too.

Underneath the habit (and the hump), Sister Jeanne is a normal woman with normal, human lusts and sexual appetites. Sometimes these will out, even if you try your hardest to repress them. She has a huge crush on Father Grandier, whom she’s never seen, but the legend of the sexually dynamic and charismatic priest that precedes him wherever he goes is enough for her to hang her hopes on.

A perceived slight from the genuinely unwitting Father Grandier leads the horribly frustrated Sister Jeanne to accuse Grandier of a terrible crime. In comes the church’s leading exorcist, the handsome blonde could-easily-have-been-a-rock-star Father Barre, to get to the truth (let’s not say ‘the bottom,’ please!) of the shocking matter…

What follows is certainly shocking. The scenes of orgy and exorcism, torture and sheer brutality-for-brutality’s-sake are hard to watch. Father Barre believes in putting on a good show, and the farcical spectacle attracts viewers from all over France.

Father Mignon cuts a frightening figure all in black with his pudding bowl haircut, Baron de Laubardemont is in his element, strutting about the place shouting, and King Louis XIII is shown to be a disgustingly decadent and trivial character, with no more real feeling for his subjects than for one of the grapes peeled for him by his lackeys.

Underpinning it all is the magnificent performance of Oliver Reed as the poor tortured Father Grandier, who once played fast and loose with the feelings of all women, but who now believes he really, truly loves a woman, which love has brought him closer to God and shown him the meaning of love and life for the first time in his thirty-something years.

What he undergoes in the name of ‘Christ,’ no man deserves to go through. This film will stay in your mind for a long time after you watch it. And rightly so, because it’s surely Ken Russell’s and one of Britain’s finest.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

THE HAUNTED. (1991) THE LOST ”CONJURING” MOVIE REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS.

haunted warrens

THE HAUNTED. (1991) DIRECTED BY ROBERT MANDEL. STARRING SALLY KIRKLAND AND JEFFREY DEMUNN. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I love haunted house films, as some of you might already know, but even better are the ones that are ‘based on a true story.’ I mean, it’s bad enough to think that some of these poltergeist-y phenomena might happen, but to know that they did happen to some folks in real life, well, that really makes you sit up and take notice.

In this film, it’s the ‘Eighties and a family called the Smurls are moving into a lovely big new house on Chase Avenue in a place called West Pittson in Pennsylvania. Jack and Janet are totally Mrs. and Mrs. Normal America in every way, a nice hardworking couple with four daughters, Erin, Shawn, Colleen and Katie. Jack’s lovely old parents move in with them too, and they have their own entrance to their big new house in the respectable new neighbourhood.

They’re not even unpacked before the new neighbourinos are calling over with fresh-baked brownies, inviting the Smurls to join the Lions Club and the Sacred Heart League. Lands’ sakes, but this sure sounds like a jumpin’ neighbourhood…! I’m sure they hold great yard sales, luaus and block parties too, lol, like every respectable ‘Murican family on television ever, lol.

Anyway, the house is haunted, as you’ve probably already guessed. At first, the mom, Janet, is the only one who experiences the supernatural phenomena with which their home appears to be plagued, so naturally, when she complains about it to her hubby, he thinks she’s over-tired at first. Then he gets angry and starts to make out like it’s all in her head.

But when Jack’s mom starts to experience some of the spooky stuff too, he and his dad are forced to take the situation a bit more seriously. So, what exactly’s been happening? Well, doors slam shut of their own accord, putrid odours are smelled in various places, whispered voices are heard in conversation with each other and humanoid shadows float from place to place in the house. It’s pretty scary stuff.

The creepiest thing for me was the fact that the supernatural entity in the Smurls’ house was able to simulate Janet’s mother-in-law’s voice in order to lure Janet into the basement. That bit was freaky. In the bedroom, a sleeping Janet is made to levitate several feet above her bed and the bedclothes are pulled off Jack and Janet’s bodies while they slumber.

Probably the most horrific supernatural event to which we’re made privy is the rape of the dad Jack by his own teenage daughter, though of course it’s the demon who lives in their house taking the daughter’s form to make the rape all the more terrible.

If you look closely during the rape sequence, you’ll see the real face of the demon who haunts the Smurl house like a deadly and disgusting miasma. Demon or no demon, though, I’m not sure that the dad would ever have been able to look his daughter in the face again after that dread-filled experience.

The Smurls’ call in the church, just like the poor family in AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSSESSION, for my money the scariest haunted house/demonic possession film ever made, bar none. The priest blesses the house, but the vengeful demon is only getting started. The Church refuses the priest permission to perform an exorcism or to help the Smurls further.

So, who do the Smurls turn to now? I cheered loudly when ghostbusters- sorry, demonologists!- Ed and Lorraine Warren were called in. I’ve loved the Warrens ever since watching THE CONJURING/ANNABELLE films, but these Warrens aren’t as nice and smiley as their counterparts in THE CONJURING, and Mr. Warren sure doesn’t play Elvis on the guitar to cheer up the Smurls. Mind you, the Smurls didn’t ask him to. Maybe he was just waiting for that invite, lol.

Still, Lorraine Warren, the head ghostbuster of the pair, does manage to confirm that the Smurls are housing three relatively harmless spirits and one demon. Rent-free as well, I’m guessing, those pesky freeloading entities! The demon’s the one you need to watch out for.

His main goal, apparently, is to tear the family apart and destroy their faith in God, because family strength, unity and togetherness and an unswerving faith in the Lord are the only things that can hurt the demon, see?

So, can the Warrens help the Smurls, or will the Smurls be forced to engage in ever more extreme measures to get the help they need? It’s a pretty scary and unnerving film and, because it’s based on a true story, it’ll remind you strongly of the first two original AMITYVILLE HORROR films.

Because of the sexual element, I was also reminded of Barbara Hershey in THE ENTITY, a terrifying film in which a woman is raped repeatedly over time by a sexually aggressive ghost who haunts her house. She sustains actual physical injuries from these assaults, so she knows herself that they’re really happening.

The psychiatrists, however, are falling over themselves to prove that some sort of sexual abuse in the woman’s childhood is causing her troubled mind to invent or imagine the ghost-rapes in her adulthood. It seems to be really, really hard for them to accept that maybe, just maybe, there’s a real ghost in this lady’s house.

When I watched THE ENTITY first, I was clearly still rather immature because I was giggling at the ghost-sex and making out like it was better than no sex at all. Now that I’m older, and with, of course, the benefit of hindsight, I stand by every word I said back then, lol. Any sex, even ghost-sex, is always better than no sex at all…!

I watched THE HAUNTED on Youtube and I put on captions (subtitles), as sometimes the sound isn’t great on these Youtube films. You know the way that these captions are often poorly translated into English and can end up looking like total gibberish?

The funniest bit was when the exhortation to ‘expedite Amish women in glasses’ came up on the screen (and nothing whatsoever to do with the plot, of course!), but a big shout-out must also go the following: ‘Boppity happens when there’s a big stinky.’ I’m not even going to try to follow this one with a comment of my own. I think ‘boppity’ speaks for itself. ‘Nuff said.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor