It’s Halloween! Time for some spooky ghosts.

Happy Halloween!  As everyone knows there’s nothing scarier than breaking your schedule and posting two days early OOOOOOH SPOOKY!

In all seriousness though, I wanted to do a special post for Halloween.  I’m not much for the dressing up in costume type stuff, but I do enjoy the stories and the general atmosphere that pervades the holiday.  So with that in mind, today I wanted to share some ghosts stories with you.  Generally speaking, I don’t technically believe in ghosts, but I enjoy the tales nonetheless.  So let’s get started.

 

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

Raynham Hall is a country house in Norfolk, England that was built in the 1600s and is the seat of the Townshend family.  It may or may not have been the first of its kind in England, as the builders choose an Italian style rather than the native one.

 

Raynham Hall

Raynham Hall from the outside.

 

It is certainly something to look at.  But Raynham Hall’s fame extends beyond its architecture, as it is also the sight of one of the most famous ghost photographs of all time.  The story goes like this: two photographers from Country Life magazine, Captain Provand and Indre Shira, were on assignment at the house taking pictures for the magazine in September of 1936.  They had just finished taking a photograph of the stairs when Shira says he saw a veiled figure descending the stairs.  He called out to Provand, who was focusing for another exposure, to take a picture quickly as he flashed the light.

This was the photograph they caught:

 

brown-lady-of-raynham

 

I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve seen this image before, as it is one of the most famous ghost photographs of all time.  Now, is it necessarily real?  No.  It is possible that the image is a double-exposure, especially considering the photographers had just taken a shot of the stairs moments before.  But the age of the photograph makes it highly unlikely to be a fake in the sense that they staged it (although some have suggested that maybe Shira walked down the stairs himself or smeared grease on the camera lens).  To me it is likely a genuine article, although whether or not it’s actually a ghost is debatable.  Nevertheless, it is one of the more well-known photos out there, even today.

The supposed ghost is called the Brown Lady because of the dress she wears.  According to legend the ghost is that of Lady Dorothy Walpole, the sister of Robert Walpole who is considered the first Prime Minister of Great Britain.  She was married to Charles Townshend, a man who was apparently known for a violent temper.  When Townshend discovered that Lady Dorothy was having an affair, he grew angry and locked her into her rooms in the house.  She officially died of smallpox in 1726.  Her ghost was seen a number of times, although the sightings grew less frequent following the 1936 photo.

 

The Lord’s Chair

Next we have another old photograph, this one from the 1890s.  But first, a little background.

 

Combermere Abbey

Combermere Abbey

 

 

Combermere Abbey is a former monastery and country house in Cheshire England that was built in the 1130s, making it nearly 900 years old.  After its dissolution in 1538 it was bought and held by the Cotton family until 1919.  Ever since then it has been in private ownership.

But the tale we’re interested in takes place in 1891.  In that year the second viscount (a viscount is a British nobleman ranking above a baron but below an earl) Lord Combermere passed away after being struck by a horse-drawn carriage.  At the time his funeral was taking place, Sybell Corbet (Lady Combermere’s sister) decided to take a picture of the abbey library.  The exposure of the camera took about an hour.  And this is what showed up:

 

combermere-abbey-ghost

 

If you look at the bottom left of the picture, you’ll see what appears to be the transparent figure of a man sitting down in the chair.  Many believe the figure to be that of Lord Combermere.  Now, due to the long exposure time, it has been suggested that one of the staff may have stepped in and sat in the chair.  However, the staff and family at the time refuted this, saying that all of the staff were attending the funeral miles away from there.

Does this mean it’s a true and blue ghost?  Again, no.  It could simply be another case of double-exposure, like in the case of the Brown Lady.  It could also be our brains taking in visual data from the photo and arranging it in the form of a face.  You see, we only actually see a certain percentage of what’s around us (around sixty percent or so, maybe even less).  The rest of it is filled in by our brains, which recognizes patterns and smooths over the gaps for us.  So what we see as the ghost of a man might simply be a trick of the mind.

Or maybe it really is a ghost.  Who knows?

 

The White Lady

This story is interesting, because unlike the last two there is no known possible identity to the mysterious figure that appears in the photo below:

 

White Lady of Worstead Church

 

She is known simply as “The White Lady of Worstead Church”.  Worstead Church itself resides in Norfolk, United Kingdom.  Initially the White Lady was believed to be a malevolent spirit of some kind who would appear on Christmas eve, and that anyone who witnessed her would suffer an untimely death.  A story goes that a man in the 1830s heard of the rumor, laughed it off, and decided to spend the night in the church to debunk it.  When he didn’t return, his friends went looking for him.  They found him huddled in the corner of the belfry, shaking with fear.

His last words before he died were “I’ve seen her…I’ve seen her……”

But a more recent story would seem to show the White Lady in a better light.  In 1975 a woman named Diane Berthelot was traveling in Norfolk with her husband and son.  It was a very hot day, and the family decided to take a rest inside the church.  Diane was sick, and so decided to sit down on one of the pews and rest while her husband took photos.  It wasn’t until after they returned that they saw the white figure in the picture, a figure that none of them saw that day.  When they returned to Norfolk the following summer they showed the picture to a vicar at the church who told them of the White Lady and said that she was a healing spirit.  After being told this, Diane realized that her illness had abated somewhat, something she traced back to that hot summer day the year before.

An interesting story, and an exercise in how beliefs can change over time, given how the White Lady went from being a death-dealing spirit to being a healing one instead.

 

Good Life Ghost

I started with older photographs because in the modern era, photographs are very hard to take at face value.  With the advent of Photoshop and other image editing software, it’s far too easy to edit photos and pass them off as real.  But this next one I feel is a good example of a modern ghost photo, regardless of whether or not it’s a fake:

 

good-life-festival-ghost

 

This was taken at the Good Life music festival in Australia.  Now, it might be hard to see, but if you look at the far right of the picture you’ll see what appears to be the transparent image of a little girl hovering over a building of some kind.  Here’s a closer view:

 

good-life-ghost-close-up

 

Now, the Good Life festival actually made an official statement on Facebook, which reads as follows:

“Good Life Management have been made aware of a photo from Good Life Brisbane 2016, showing what appears to be the ghost of a young girl holding a teddy and hovering on the roof of a building over looking the festival. We have checked with the photographer who took the photo and the original image from the memory stick also shows the girl. We have since spoken with the Brisbane Showgrounds who have revealed that ground staff refuse to go near one of the old warehouses after repeated sightings of a young girl. It is rumoured a little girl named Lucy died at the site in the early 1900’s and has haunted it since.”

Interesting stuff.  They later released an update that said they couldn’t find anything that corroborated the story about Lucy, but that they still believe that the ghost in the picture is genuine.  Now, it could still be a fake, perhaps some kind of marketing ploy by the festival itself.  But like I said, these days it’s very hard to tell.

 

Oklahoma Car Impound Ghost

I thought I’d end with something different.  This time, we have a video to look at, instead of just a picture.

Here’s the story: back in July of 2005 a worker at a car impound lot in Oklahoma spotted something moving around the lot on one of the cameras.  Thinking there might be an intruder and confused about why the alarms had not been triggered, she sent another employee to go see what it was.  But of course, they never found anything, and by that time the figure had disappeared off the cameras as well.

Now, much to my chagrin, I was unable to find a good version of the clip.  There was one that just had the video itself, but for some reason the person who uploaded it put some kind of hard rock/heavy metal track in the background.  So rather than make your eardrums bleed, I’ll share this video of a story a local news station did on the event instead:

 

 

It’s an interesting clip, and one I’ve actually been aware of for a long time.  I first heard about the story back when I was in high school actually, and in doing this post, I was reminded of it.  Could it have been faked?  Probably, although I can’t see what the car lot stood to gain from doing so aside from perhaps some brief publicity.  In any case, some people believe the ghost belongs to one of three car wrecks that were there that day which were involved in fatal accidents.  Some went further, saying that the ghost may have been that of a 33-year-old woman named Tracy Martin, whose pick-up truck had been one of those involved in a deadly crash.

Skeptics have suggested that perhaps, among other things, someone dangled a doll on a string in front of the camera, replicating the effect of a moving figure.  But like our other stories, neither side gains a victory.  And so the footage will likely remain inconclusive, now and forever…

 

Well thank you for reading this special post.  Before I go, I do want to say that I feel that the line between skeptics and believers is often too harsh.  Skeptics often call believers stupid, and vice versa.  Now, I am a skeptic when it comes to these things, but as I said before I still enjoy the stories.  They’re almost like small nuggets of folklore in a way, telling tales about the people of the region who have come and gone.  And sure, it is probably possible to fake every single entry on this list, but just because it is possible doesn’t mean it is so.  That doesn’t mean that they necessarily show actual, factual proof of ghosts.  It just means that there are other possibilities that don’t involve deceitful intent on the part of the photographer or other parties.  Believers need to take things with a grain of salt as well though.  Far too often their need to believe is so strong that they’ll ignore what is right in front of them, the same way conspiracy theorists will ignore any evidence that doesn’t support the story they want.  And they often mark skeptics as “arrogant”, simply because they dare to question things.

Ghosts or no ghosts, we can all just enjoy the stories themselves.  And can’t we all just admit that it’s a little arrogant of human beings to assume that we know all the ways in which the world works?

Anyways, happy Halloween everyone!  Have a great holiday and I will see you this Wednesday for my regularly scheduled post.

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Advertising Gone Weird: The Strangeness That is Video Game Commercials

Before we start, I just want you to take a look at this ad.  No seriously, just watch it.  It’ll give you an idea of what’s to come.

 

 

Yes, that was an actual ad that ran on actual television for an actual game.  Pole Position was released in 1982 for the Atari 2600, so presumably the commercial came out around that same time.  It’s certainly bizarre, and if there’s a lesson to be learned from it, it’s that God can be a dick sometimes I guess?

But this isn’t the only television commercial for video games that goes absolutely batshit crazy.  Oh no…there’s plenty of them out there.  Like this one that Nintendo released in Australia and New Zealand.

 

 

Oh yes…it was a whole thing.  Not half a thing, not even a quarter of a thing, but a WHOLE thing.

Now, these two ads I personally never saw on TV, mostly because one, I don’t live in Australia or New Zealand.  And two, I wasn’t even born when these ads were released.  I found them much later on as part of a Cracked.com article talking about strange video game commercials.  And this weirdness was almost par for the course when it came to video game advertisements, particularly in the ’80s and ’90s.  A possible explanation for this was that the technology was still new, and game companies weren’t sure how to present it to a television audience.  It’s also possible that the people in charge of making the ads had no damn clue what video games were about and so just decided to give good old insanity a try when it came to marketing.

Speaking of insanity, check out this ad for the original Legend of Zelda.

 

 

“Now you’re playing with power”?  More like playing with powers beyond mere mortal comprehension.  Poor guy…doomed to forever scour a room searching for a princess that doesn’t exist…

Well I suppose it’s better than the nerd rap commercial they made.  Or is it?  I really don’t know.

In any case, it seems that advertisers had no clue how to market this new technology to people, so they went for the most attention-grabbing tactics they could find.  But were these ads effective?  I can’t really say.  I know that from my own personal experience, television ads for video games rarely, if at all, affected the games I would buy.  Word of mouth and the internet were far better predictors of the games I bought, along with what I read in the gaming magazines I was subscribed to.  Of course, my experience is merely anecdotal, but as far as I can tell the television ads were secondary to the whole thing.

But hey, this is all in the past right?  There’s no way they’re still doing this kind of thing in modern times…right?

Wait, what’s this?  An ad for the Playstation 3 about ten years ago?  Well there’s no way this could be weirder than-

 

 

…dear god what in the hell did I just witness?  Maybe it’s metaphorical.  Maybe it has metaphysical connotations.  Maybe it’s a musing on the frailty of human life and the terrifying power of the technology it can create.

Or maybe drugs.  Lots of drugs.  Yeah probably drugs.  I’m guessing drugs.

All joking aside, as strange as it might seem there is actually a logic behind these kind of ads.  Because they are not just relegated to the realm of video game marketing.  Have you ever seen an ad that just makes you scratch your head and ask “why would that make me want to buy their product?”  Then you know what I’m talking about.

Back in college I had a class where we talked about the different types of ads marketers will use to sell their products.  At one end of the spectrum you have the typical “problem solution” ads.  An example of this would be those cleaning product advertisements where someone spills something on their shirt, making a stain which is then solved by the appearance of a cleaning product which transforms their shirt into looking good as new.  You see the formula: there’s a problem (stain on the shirt), which is then counteracted by a solution (the cleaning product).  These are probably the most common ads you’ll see on television.

There are other types of ads out there, but in the interest of time we’ll skip to the other end of the spectrum.  These were described in my class as something like “attention ads”.  These ads, rather than straight up selling you a product, will do something to grab your attention.  Most of the time it’s done by being funny, showing something interesting, or in the case of the Playstation 3 ad, fueling unbridled terror in men’s hearts.

 

And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you...

And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you…

 

The purpose of these ads is not to convince you of the virtue of their product, but to make the ad itself stick into your brain.  These will cause you to remember the ad, and by association, the product with it.  And you know what?  It actually kind of works.  After all these years I can still remember the Playstation 3 baby doll ad but I’d be hard pressed to tell you about any of the Xbox 360 advertisements, which was the Playstation 3’s competitor at that time.  Now whether or not these tactics translate into sales I cannot say.  It’s well-known by now that the PS3 was outsold by the Xbox 360 for almost the entirety of that console generation, but that was largely due to a botched launch.  The PS3 was just too expensive, didn’t have many games worth playing, and the technology was just too awkward for game makers to develop for, which lead to consistent technical issues with their games.  The ads were certainly bizarre, but it’s highly doubtful they led to the failure of the system on any level.

In any case, these ads are fun to look back on as curious pieces of history in a way.  They stick with us, and even if they didn’t achieve their purpose, they’re still fascinating to watch.  At the very least, they provide us with some entertainment value.  Creativity is the spice of life after all.

Well thank you all for reading, and check back next Wednesday for another post.  Now, before I go, I leave you with one last video game ad.  So enjoy!

 

 

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here.

Spotlight: Salt

If you were to ask someone what the point of a video game is, they’d likely say something along the lines of “getting to the end”, “completing the story” or “beating the game” as it were.  Ever since Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) came out back in the 1980’s, games have largely been about journeying to the end.  You played through a set series of levels with your mission being to beat the final level.  This is the mentality that many gamers like myself grew up with.  Even Myst, one of my favorite games of all time, was still about getting to the end in the long run.  That sense of completion is what games are all about.

Or are they?  Modern games are a much different beast.  With their sheer number and the influx of independent developers, video games have taken an interesting turn in recent years.  The market has shifted towards being digital rather than physical, with people being able to purchase games online and download them directly from the internet.  With Steam’s Early Access program gamers can buy a game that’s still being developed, play it, and give feedback to the developers.

But more so than that, games today can be about more than just “beating the game”.  They can be adventures.  They can be involved stories where you make your own choices.  Or they can be nearly story-less, focusing instead on a player’s individual journey rather than a shared destination.

Enter Salt.  Salt belongs to a genre of games known as “survival games”.  In a basic sense, these games are about building a shelter, finding food and water, and generally surviving within the game world.  You can trace the origin of this genre back to Minecraft, a game where you built structures out of blocks.  Originally, Minecraft was about the survival element, forcing you to deal with the native wildlife of the game while trying to find food to eat and build a place for sleeping as well as storing your items.  But nowadays, Minecraft seems to be more about the building aspect, with people building large and elaborate structures solely for the fun of it.

Salt, on the other hand, takes a different path.

 

salt-6

 

Rather than survival, Salt is mainly focused on exploration.  The game’s world consists of an infinite number of randomly generated islands that you can search for items, food, and other characters that will give you information, quests to do, or sell you items.  The game’s pace is very relaxed, trying as hard as it can to not pressure you into anything.  Part of my issue with many other survival games is that they can feel kind of obnoxious, constantly forcing you to deal with your hunger, thirst, or even body temperature.  I like to explore, but often I find that my food stores are running low and then I have to spend time taking care of that instead.  These games are a lot about micro-managing your needs, which can be fun and interesting, but sometimes it can feel more like a chore than anything.

Salt, on the other hand, doesn’t fall victim to that.  It does have a food meter which depletes over time (the green bar at the bottom left of the screen), but it goes down so slowly that it’s rarely a problem.  The game also tells you that if your food runs out, all it really does is make it so that your stamina regenerates more slowly than normal (the blue bar).  Funnily enough, I’ve never had to deal with it so far when playing the game, which shows you how unobtrusive it really is.

As I said before, the game’s primary focus is exploration.  At the beginning of the game you wake up on a small island with a strange journal in your pocket.  The journal was left by a stranger who found you lying unconscious.  It states that you should probably make a raft and get off the island as staying there is probably not in your best interest.  It gives you some hints of what to craft first as well as tells you about a chest filled with items that you can scavenge.  It concludes by suggesting you sail to the nearby islands to locate an inn and speak with the innkeeper as he will have stuff for you to do.

 

The game has a very relaxing atmosphere to it, due largely in part to its colorful aesthetic.

The game has a very relaxing atmosphere to it, due largely in part to its colorful aesthetic.

 

What you do after that point is up to you.  Right from the start you can see that Salt is not forcing you in a direction, basically telling you “hey there’s a thing somewhere out there that you should find, go out there and find it if you want”.  Finding the inn isn’t a necessity, although it will give you something to do as well as help you figure out what certain items do.  Crafting is another element of the game, which consists of taking two items and putting them in a “crafting menu” to create a new item.  If the combination can be turned into a new item, its icon will appear on the right side of the menu.  This is necessary to the game, as you will need to do this in order to create a simple raft which will allow you to traverse to new islands.  As you play the game more and more you will stumble on new recipes that you can use to create new and more powerful items and weapons.

But more than anything, Salt is about puttering around and experiencing the world around you.  You can scavenge the islands for materials to craft, food to eat, or you can just sail onward looking for anything of note.  You can even pause in the middle of the ocean to do some fishing if you need food or if you just want to relax for a little bit.  And speaking of sailing, while you may have to start with a small raft, you can upgrade to a small sailboat later on and you can even find derelict pirate ships to repair and commandeer.

 

Start with a raft, move on to a sailboat, and eventually...

Start with a raft, move on to a sailboat, and eventually…

 

...to a big pirate ship (even if it does look a little beat up).

…to a big pirate ship (even if it does look a little beat up).

 

Speaking of pirate ships, you will occasionally come across pirates in your travels.  This is where your weapons come in, as you will have to fight them.  Honestly, this is the weakest part of the game: the combat.  It usually comes down to “swing once or twice, block, then swing one or two times and repeat until either you or the enemy is dead”.  The combat doesn’t have a whole lot of weight to it, so it just feels clumsy.  But this game is part of the Steam Early Access program, so things are subject to change as the game’s developed.  And hey, at least the enemies have items you can loot off their bodies (although so far I haven’t found anything too remarkable).

 

Not only that, but some enemies (like Buffbeard here) can be really tough to kill. Fortunately, you don't lose your inventory when you die, keeping the game from being too frustrating.

Some enemies (like Buffbeard here) can be really tough to kill. Fortunately, you don’t lose your inventory when you die, keeping the game from becoming too frustrating.

 

In the end, Salt is all about the experience of exploration.  You use a compass to help keep direction, a sextant to learn your coordinates in the world, and you have to actually fill out the map as you go, placing islands on the map at their respective coordinates and adding markers for what you found there.  You also have a journal that you can add entries into.  You can use it to mark down coordinates you learn in conversation with other characters, jot down cool things you’ve seen, or just leave a long and rambling diary of a man slowly succumbing to his inner insanity…

What?  No?  Just me then huh?  Lame.

 

Well that’s all I have for this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

Salt is available on Steam here.

You can also like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here.

Spotlight: Stranger Things Season 1

People have a lot of nostalgia for the 1980’s.  And why shouldn’t they?  It was the era of Spielberg.  It was the era of movies like E.T. and Back to the Future.  Stephen King was writing books like ItThe Mist, and Cujo.  It saw the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which is widely credited for saving the video game market after it crashed.  Plenty of modern pop-culture nods are taken from the 1980’s, and even the book Ready Player One has nothing but reverence for the decade.

But nostalgia is a tricky thing.  If we aren’t careful, it can turn our vision rose-colored, obscuring any unpleasant details of the past.  While we owe the 1980’s a lot in terms of pop-culture, nothing is perfect.  E.T. and The Thing might be fondly remembered from the decade as powerhouse movies, but there was plenty of garbage to go along with it.  And while Mario and Zelda are revered video game franchises that continue to this day, there were plenty of games that came out that were cheap cash grabs with little in the way of intelligent design choices and frustrating controls.  Not to mention that back then there wasn’t much in the way of seeking out reviews for games, so often kids were stuck with what they got.

This is the line that Stranger Things straddles.  Stranger Things is a Netflix original series that released this past July, and follows the residents of a small town that deal with mysterious happenings that begin with the disappearance of young Will Byers.  The first season is eight episodes long, and from the start the influence of the ’80s is obvious.  The show opens with a group of kids playing Dungeons and Dragons.  After being told that they have to quit for the night (as it is a school night) the group split up and head home.  However, Will Byers isn’t seen again after that night.  He disappears after seeing something strange that chases him through the woods near his house.  It is his disappearance that strings everything along throughout this first season.

And I must say, what a damn good showing.

There is a reason why Stranger Things basically rocketed to the top of many Netflix queues.  It’s smartly paced and expertly written.  The characters are well acted and fleshed out over the eight-episode span.  And even despite the dark tone the show has a lot of the time, it manages to be incredibly charming.  This is especially due to the kids.  If you remember Freaks and Geeks, that show from the end of the ’90s, it feels similar to that.  It has that same charm of being part of a group of outcasts, the “freaks” so to speak.  Stranger Things even has the bully characters, who will show up every now and then simply to give the kids a hard time.

In this way, the kids feel essential to the tone of the show, which is ironic because part of the reason Stranger Things wound up as a Netflix show was because every studio the Duffer brothers (the creators of the show) pitched the show to wanted to cut out the kids as characters and make it more about the adults.  After having watched the show, I can’t imagine it without them.  I’m glad the Duffer brothers waited until they found a place that would honor their original vision.

But what about the adults?  How do they fare compared to the kids?  I would say just as well.  Everyone in this show seems to fit into their roles, even if their characters aren’t initially likable (the sheriff seems a little grouchy at first, but you quickly come to realize that he’s just reserved due to tragedy in his past).  I was particularly struck by Winona Ryder.  She plays Joyce Byers, Will’s mother, and gives a very convincing performance of a mother who’s just lost her child.  Throughout the season (especially the early episodes) we see her breaking down many times, especially so when she starts experiencing some strange events.  Predictably no one believes her and they’re convinced she’s just making it up in her head to cope with the grief.  This affects Joyce greatly, and her pain feels genuine.  It’s not easy to act a role like that without it feeling like you’re either underplaying it too much or being too melodramatic.  It’s a fine line, but Ryder walks it gracefully.  She stands out as one of the best parts of the season along with the kids.  All the other adults fit their roles, but I’m going to avoid talking about them to cut down on spoilers.

As I said earlier the show’s pacing is nearly pitch-perfect.  Each episode is briskly paced, keeping you engaged with what’s going on without feeling like it overstays its welcome.  They also keep handing you little bits and pieces of the mystery to keep you enticed while leaving you just enough in the dark that you want to learn more.  It never feels like X-Files or Lost, shows where you couldn’t be blamed for thinking they would never explain anything because they spend so much time building up the mystery.  Part of this is due to the difference in formats.  With Stranger Things being only eight episodes, they can’t spend a whole lot of time being mysterious.  They have to grab you, entice you, but give you enough to feel satisfying in its short run.  Compare that to the twenty-odd episodes in each season of X-Files and Lost, and you see how those shows can feel like they’re being dragged on too long.

Now that I’ve spent so much time hyping up how good the show is, the question becomes is there anything bad about it?  Well I can safely say that most of my gripes are minor.  Sometimes the special effects can look a little hokey and the CGI-ness of them is obvious.  One of the episode cliffhangers is resolved within the first five minutes of the next episode, despite the fact that the cliffhanger suggests that the solution should be much more difficult than that.

My only major gripe is with one of the characters.  It has nothing to do with the acting, just more with the character’s purpose.

Minor spoilers follow below.  You have been warned.

Early on in the season we are told about Lonnie, Joyce’s ex-husband.  He’s introduced as a small red herring for the characters, as the sheriff initially suggests that most of the time when children go missing they’re simply with a relative or someone they know.  Will’s older brother Jonathan goes to visit Lonnie in around episode three I think, but Lonnie shows up later on in the season to help console Joyce.  At first, when we hear about Lonnie, it sounds like he’s a total jerk-off who mocked Will for liking things like Dungeons and Dragons.  But when we actually see him in this later episodes, he seems like he might actually be a little more caring then we’ve been led to believe.  But this is where the show drops the ball.  Instead of doing anything interesting with him, all it seems to lead up to is a dramatic shouting match between him and Joyce, the only purpose of which is to cement in our minds the fact that she is the better parent of the two.  It feels like unnecessary drama that could have been filtered out.

Spoilers over.

Aside from that, I can’t really find anything bad to say about the show’s debut season.  It manages to be charming, enticing, and satisfying all at the same time.  And it sets up a few enticing tidbits at the end for the next season, which is said to be releasing sometime next year.  All that remains to be seen is if the show will fall victim to the “sophomore slump”, which is a term that means that the second season of a television show is often a bit of a letdown.  And when a show like this has such a strong first season, such a thing could be devastating for it.

But all that’s in the future.  If you’re looking for a good mystery with well-developed characters and elements of horror, Stranger Things is right up your alley.  If your alley is dark, spooky, and full of monsters that is.  Whatever man, I won’t judge.

 

That’s all I have for this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here.

Back Into the Woods: Blair Witch Review

It was the sequel nobody asked for.

When The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, it became one of the most successful independent movies of all time.  It was a fictional documentary about the exploits of three film students who decide to make a movie about the legend of the Blair Witch.  They travel to a small town in Maryland to interview the locals and gather information, but things go wrong when they decide to take a hike in the woods in search of more possible information.  They get lost, spooky things happen, someone disappears, and so on.

The Blair Witch Project was, in many ways, the antithesis to the standard Hollywood formula.  With a low-budget and small crew, it couldn’t rely on special effects to scare the audience so it went for a more nuanced approach.  Even the way it was promoted was different, being marketed primarily through the internet.  This actually sparked debates over whether the film was real or fake, which gave it an air of mystery that would be impossible with today’s information saturated world.

Fast-forward to 2016, and we have a big-budget Hollywood sequel to an independent horror movie called Blair Witch.  And how did it turn out?

Well…it’s okay.

My main issue with Blair Witch is that, instead of taking what made its predecessor so influential and expanding upon that, the movie takes the tried and true Hollywood route when it comes to making a horror movie.  And you know what that means right?

Jumpscares.  Lots and lots of jumpscares.

Spooky loud bangs in the night?  Check.  Loud popping noises when the camera is turned off or cuts to a new scene?  Check.  Someone suddenly appearing in front of the camera causing the camera person to scream?  Oh you better believe they check that one-off the list.  They even pull that trick twice in a row at one point, which prompts one of the characters to mutter “stop doing that” as some sort of in-joke.  And speaking of annoying jumpscare tactics, there’s even a point near the beginning where the movie cuts from a quiet living room scene to a suddenly loud nightclub.

YEAH GET DOWN AND PARTY!  FEEL THOSE PULSING BEATS!  ARE YOU SCARED YET?!

Honestly all these tactics did was make me all the more aware that I was watching a movie set up to try to scare me.  Part of the reason The Blair Witch Project did so well was that it didn’t spend its time trying to convince you its scary.  It crept along at a slow pace with very little happening throughout.  Blair Witch on the other hand throws out jumpscares like they’re candy.  And I get why.  They’re attempting to keep the audience on edge by never letting them feel safe.  But the thing is, so many of these scare moments are too telegraphed.  You can tell when they’re about to happen.  Moments before that cut to the nightclub scene, two of the characters are asked whether or not they believe the stories about the Blair Witch.  They simply stare at each other in silence for a few seconds before it jumps to the nightclub.  And it’s painfully obvious they were going to attempt something like that because it’s the Hollywood definition of horror.

This artificial feeling extends to the way the movie is shot as well.  Much like the first movie, Blair Witch is presented as a found footage movie.  And for the first twenty minutes to a half hour you can tell that the movie is shot by professionals who are trying too hard to look like amateurs.  The “wobbly cam” is strong with this one, if you catch my drift.

Now all this isn’t to say that the movie doesn’t have any scare factor at all.  I will admit there were a couple of moments that genuinely sent a chill up my spine, such as when one of the characters hears disembodied screaming or something echoing through the trees moments before he’s chased by an unseen entity.  I thought that was rather effective, instilling a sense of dread in the audience before dropping the hammer on them.  But moments like that were too few, sandwiched in between far too frequent “BOO GOT YA” moments.  I mean this is the woods in the dead of night.  That’s creepy enough on its own.  Throw in sounds that echo like crazy and can go for miles, and you’ve got a recipe for nightmares.  One of the characters even mentions how sound can travel a long distance in this area, but the movie never really takes advantage of it.

The same kind of thing happens with the story.  It has a solid, interesting premise and introduces a concept that could have added a whole new layer to the story, but the movie seems too concerned with trying to frighten the audience.  The story follows James Donahue, the brother of Heather Donahue who was one of the characters in the original movie.  James finds a video clip online which seems to show an image of Heather even though she disappeared twenty years ago.  Not knowing what to think, James gathers his friends Peter, Lisa, and Ashley and they all make a trip to the woods where she disappeared.  Tagging along with them are Talia and Lane, the two locals who found the video James watched and posted it online.

Now this is actually a great premise that could have been used to add new layers to the Blair Witch story.  The problem is that instead of expanding on things, the movie feels like a soft reboot of the original.  It follows a lot of the same plot points and does a lot of the same things.  There are some new tidbits here and there, but the movie doesn’t dwell on them long enough for it to really matter.  For example, later on the group splits into two separate groups.  After wandering for a day, one group finds themselves back at their campsite somehow and decides they have to spend the night once more.  Well during the night the other group stumbles into them again, only somehow instead of being one afternoon it’s been five days for them since they last saw each other.  It’s a really weird and creepy detail, but everything goes to hell too soon afterwards for that detail to really matter.  And this seems to be true for all the new stuff they added in this one.

Despite all this, I genuinely enjoyed the second half of the movie.  Once things got going, the movie kept up a decent focus on action and the weird stuff to remain interesting throughout the rest of its 89 minute running time.  It no longer relies on cheap scares and actually focuses on the struggle of the characters to survive.  There’s one particular sequence inside a cramped underground tunnel that actually makes you feel for one of the characters as she starts breaking down and crying while she’s alone in the darkness.  It’s actually a powerful moment and it makes you pause.

In the end, this movie definitely earns the label of “mixed bag”.  There are some really good elements in the movie and it has good writing in parts, but the obnoxious jumpscares and overly vague nature of the story leaves a lot to be desired.  When the movie ended, I didn’t feel like I was any closer to understanding what happened to James’ sister or what the Blair Witch actually is.  Instead, all I got were a bunch of cheap scares and story elements that weren’t fleshed out enough to matter.  I guess the thing the frustrates me most about the movie is that it had such great potential to be an amazing follow-up to a classic horror movie, but it squandered that potential and became the same thing you can find in pretty every other horror movie in theaters these days.

Here’s the bottom line: if you’re looking for a movie with cheap thrills, Blair Witch certainly has you covered.

If you’re hoping for something deeper, I would look elsewhere.

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

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