Umma tells the story of Amanda (Sandra Oh) a woman of Korean descent that now lives on an American farm with her daughter Chris (Fivel Stewart) estranged from her family. When a relative (Tom Yi) brings the remains of her now deceased mother (MeeWhat Alana Lee) to Amanda’s farm, her spirit, angry at Amanda’s forsaking her duty to her and leaving, begins to the single mother and her daughter.
Written by Iris K. Shim, this is at its core a completely generic and routine haunting, elevated by being steeped in Korean tradition and a wonderfully strong performance by its leading lady. There are some spooky moments, but this story has been told many times before and better. What makes it engaging and watchable is a knockout performance by Sandra Oh as a woman haunted by her decisions and in turmoil over having lived her own life, instead of following generations of custom and duty. There is some commentary about tradition, respecting one’s family heritage and yet making your own choices, but we know how this story will ultimately end. It is worth taking the journey, however, to watch Oh give a two-dimensional character strong life, intensity and emotional depth. A perfect example of a weak script made something interesting by a veteran actress giving her all and enhancing the material. Also stars Dermot Mulroney and Odeya Rush.
THE RAVENOUS DEAD by DARCY COATES
Second chapter in Darcy Coates’ Gravekeeper series finds Keira trying to help a faceless. nameless spirit find it’s rest while also battling the specter of a local serial killer that has evolved into a vicious entity that devours other spirts. At the same time, a brush with a secret organizing puts her closer to finding her true identity while also placing her in danger. Even with the help of new friends Mason, Zoe and kindly priest Adage, can Keira succeed in saving her graveyard home and herself?
Coates, now armed with a group of endearing characters from the first installment, The Whispering Dead, concocts another entertaining tale that is again part ghost story and part mystery. Keira finds herself in double danger as the spirit of serial killer Gerald Barge drains the energy of both the living and the dead, while mysterious men in black recognize and almost capture her at a local hospital. Keira is literally caught between threats from both the living and the dead! There are a lot of spooky moments, scary confrontations, chases, escapes and mysteries to be solved to thoroughly entertain the reader. As we now know and like these characters, it makes it even more engaging. With a third book on the way, this is a spooky series from Darcy Coates that one can’t wait for more of!
THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR by DARCY COATES
Jo lives next door to The Marwick House, an ominous home that has a dark history and has seen more than one owner flee the residence in the middle of the night, never to return. When pretty Anna moves in, she and Jo become friends bringing Jo into the house for the first time. Jo and Anna soon find out that there is indeed a presence in this house, and it is very angry and may want something even more frightening than just its mere presence.
This is one of Darcy Coates more intense chillers and perhaps one of her darker stories. Aside from the angry spirit inhabiting the house, Anna’s abusive boyfriend also plays a part. There is an air of mystery as now Jo feels she must help Anna and is drawn into finding out who haunts the house and why. It has some very spooky moments and Coates weaves some very atmospheric imagery as the secrets of Marwick House are slowly revealed. There is more intensity here than in some of her previous haunted house tales and is delightfully a bit scarier that one usually expects from her. Another spooky and chilling read from Darcy Coates and one refreshingly darker than her norm.
DEAD LAKE by DARCY COATES
Another spooky tale from Darcy Coates, this one set at a remote cabin on the shore of a lake, where there have been some disappearances as of late. Artist Sam intends to spend a week at her uncle’s self-built cabin to try and finish an art project for an upcoming exhibit. She soon starts seeing a mysterious figure and it becomes apparent that she is not alone in these woods, and someone may be stalking her.
Coates gives us something different from her traditional haunted house and paranormal tales, though this story does have some supernatural elements. It’s a very creepy and unsettling tale as we quickly endear to struggling artist Sam and given a good idea of just how isolated and alone she is there. Not only does she start seeing this figure, but there is evidence someone is entering the cabin and she is painting frightening portraits at night of a very grim looking stranger…paintings she has no recollection of doing. Of course, there is a mystery element and there is a spirit involved and it all comes to a very intense and unnerving climax, where we get some startling answers. The book also comes with four spooky and entertaining short stories, the nerve-wracking Whose Woods These Are, the chilling Mannequin, the bizarre Hitchhiker and the haunting Bellamy. Another very spooky book for nights under the covers from an author who has yet to disappoint!
THE HAUNTING OF LEIGH HARKER by DARCY COATES
Latest chiller from Darcy Coates tells the story of Leigh Harker, a single woman who lives alone in an old house…until now. She starts being visited in her bedroom in the middle of the night by a mysterious and frightening figure. The door under the stairs begins to rattle, as if someone—or something—is trying to get out from inside. Leigh starts to believe a malevolent entity has come to her once cozy home and now needs to find out why it’s here and what it wants!
Coates delivers another haunted house tale with a heavy dose of mystery and, at the same time, one of her most intriguing books yet. She gives us the tropes we’ve come to expect from her, a strong heroine, a haunted house and a mystery to be solved. She also throws us a curve, as this time, it’s a haunting told from the ghost’s point of view. It’s the specter who feels the living occupant of the home is the one haunting it, until the two join forces to solved the mystery behind the spirit’s demise and reason for it’s current presence in the house. It’s a spooky and fun tale, with some chilling surprises and a very unexpected twist early on. We have two very likable characters in Leigh and Sarah and it keeps you guessing till all is unsettlingly revealed in it’s final chapters. Overall, it’s simply one of Darcy Coates’ best books yet. This author has yet to disappoint! Her books definitely cry out to be adapted to film!
THE WHISPERING DEAD by DARCY COATES
Latest book from Darcy Coates begins with a young woman named Keira fleeing from a group of men who are hunting her. She has no memory of who she is and why she is being pursued. She finds herself at a small church and graveyard, outside the remote town of Blighty, where a kindly pastor lets her stay at the groundskeeper’s cabin. There she discovers that she can see and communicate with the spirits still inhabiting the cemetery and gets embroiled in a mystery, while helping the troubled ghost of a murdered young woman move on from her mournful wandering.
Once again Coates spins an entertaining yarn that is equal parts ghost story and mystery. A story brimming with fog shrouded graveyards, shadow filled woods and locals with dark secrets. It’s the start of a new series, so don’t expect to get answers to all your questions, but Keira is a very engaging character and the town of Blighty a strange and gothic place, filled with some eccentric—and maybe some dangerous—characters. It’s a very quick read and a very entertaining tale, populated with some likable supporting characters, such as Pastor Adage, conspiracy theorist and general store clerk Zoe and charming med student Mason. The type of spooky fun book, perfect for reading under the covers at night, that we’ve come to expect from Coates, and starring a heroine we want to hear more from.
THE CARROW HAUNT by DARCY COATES
Another fun and spooky read from Darcy Coates, though a bit of an uneven one. This book finds Remy, a tour guide in the notoriously haunted Carrow House being hired to host a two week paranormal investigation of the mansion, which has a background of serial killers and murder. She has an eccentric group to watch over, including Carrow’s teen owner, April, the mysterious founder of the investigation, Mark and psychic medium, Marjorie. When things start going wrong and guests start turning up dead, Remy begins to believe this was a bad idea and that the evil in Carrow House is greater than any of them imagined—and maybe even far more corporeal than expected.
Book is another entertaining story, though based on Coates’ books read so far, it is also the most over the top tale from the author. It starts out grounded in the traditional haunted house tropes and a somewhat more down to earth approach, combining haunted house story and soon murder mystery. By it’s last act it gets very theatrical, though, with evil spirits plotting to become corporeal, a storm that seems almost to have a mind of it’s own and a ghost battle royale in a burning house. Depending on one’s tastes, the more bombastic ending may cause the story to lose it’s grip, or you may embrace the more Spielbergian theatrics. There are some plot contrivances in the last act, too, that allow characters thought gone to reappear and it gets a bit much. At least Coates’ penchant for good, fun characters holds up with her largest cast of characters in the books read so far. Her most uneven book to this point overall, but still an entertaining read and Remy is yet another memorable lead heroine.
THE HAUNTING OF BLACKWOOD HOUSE by DARCY COATES
Mara was raised by shyster spiritualists and thus doesn’t believe in ghosts. She purchases Blackwood House, a structure with a past of murder and bloodshed and that is rumored to be haunted. The house comes cheap, for the down on her luck young woman, who rationalizes that a house is just a house. Her Christian boyfriend Neil warns her against living there, but she refuses to believe such superstitious nonsense. The longer she stays there, though, the more weird things start to happen and while determined not to let them shake her disbelief, she soon starts to question maybe the supernatural exists after all and that she might be in real danger!
Another delightfully spooky ghost story/haunted house chiller from Darcy Coates. She first throws in some really endearing characters, such as our heroine, the skeptical and independent Mara, who is in a relationship with the strong, sensitive and caring, Neil. A born Christian, Neil is the Mulder to her Scully. We then get an absolutely spooky old house that was not only home to a serial killer, but in a bizarre twist of fate was built by Mara’s spiritualist great, great grandfather, Victor Barlow. Darcy Coates knows how to describe a haunted house, so it comes vividly to life in our imaginations. She again takes the traditional tropes like footsteps in empty rooms, rocking chairs that rock on their own and bloody hand prints appearing on walls and turns them into a very effective and spooky tale. Add to that, Mara has abilities she refuses to acknowledge that not only attracts spirits, but gives her vivid nightmares of the past, that add to the already chilling atmosphere. It’s one of Coates’ best books read so far and a really spooky story to take to bed and enjoy while safely under the covers. It’s a fast read and another book that is also appropriate for young adults, too. This author has yet to disappoint!
GHOST STORY (1981)
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1981’s Ghost Story is a combination of supernatural chiller and mystery based on a book by Peter Straub. It tells of the Chowder Society, four elderly men who have known each other since college. Sears James, Edward Wanderley, Ricky Hawthorne and Dr. John Jaffrey (John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Fred Astaire and Melvyn Douglas), all gather together once a week to tell horror stories. One of their spooky stories comes to life, when the ghost of a mysterious woman (Alice Krige) starts to haunt them and their kin. Soon members and family members are dying tragically and Edward’s son Don (Craig Wasson) comes home to investigate after the death of his twin brother. What he finds is a mystery fueled by a terrible secret, the one grim story the Chowder Society won’t tell.
Classy flick is directed by John Irvin from a script by Lawrence D. Cohen, based on Straub’s book of the same name. It’s atmospheric and very old fashioned and has a great cast of actors. Sadly it’s also a very dull and slow paced flick with the scares few and far between and a mystery which isn’t very hard to figure out. There is some nice SPFX make-up from the legendary Dick Smith and it is relatively bloodless, despite the era it was made in. The performances from the veteran cast are all good. Krige is very sexy and mysterious as the spectral femme fatale, though Wasson seems a bit miscast, especially in his scenes as twin brother David. Despite all the talent in front of and behind the camera, the film just plods along and takes almost two hours to reach a conclusion we all already know is coming. There is also the edition of two characters, escaped lunatic and son Gregory and Fenny Bate (Miguel Fernandes and Lance Holcomb) that add nothing to the story. It would have flowed smoother without them, even if they were in the book. A well intended film, but also a bit of a misguided one as well. It simply should have been consistently scarier and perhaps with a director more comfortable with the supernatural elements…elements Irvin almost seems to try to avoid.
In conclusion, it’s a noble effort with a lot of talent involved, but one that unfortunately fails to deliver the chills. It’s atmospheric and looks good, by way of Jack Cardiff’s cinematography. It has a few spooky moments and the score by Philippe Sarde is very effective. What really holds this flick back is simply a far too pedestrian pace, taking longer to tell the story than needed and a director just not taking full advantage of the trappings of such a tale. Definitely a movie that hasn’t aged well either, despite a very classy cast of legendary actors.
Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) spooks.
SWEET HOME (1989)
Hard to find haunted house flick has TV producer Kazuo Hoshino (Shingo Yamashiro) bringing a crew to the supposedly haunted Mamiya mansion that has been sealed for thirty years. It was the home of famed artist Ichirō Mamiya and Kazuo believes his final works rest inside. Along for the production are his daughter Emi (Nokko), reporter Asuka (Fukumi Kuroda), cinematographer Ryō Taguchi (Ichiro Furutachi) and Akiko Hayakawa (Nobuko Miyamoto) his producer whom he has feelings for. Once inside they find that all the rumors are horribly true as a terrible incident decades earlier has left a vengeful spirit lurking inside the mansion.
Film is written and directed very effectively by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. All the haunted house traditions are present with the mansion itself being a very spooky and deserted place. There is a tragic backstory to give our haunting it’s purpose and a group of individuals who refuse to believe the folklore of the house, until it’s too late. Stormy nights, grotesque phantoms and some gory deaths are presented in a very entertaining fashion with Kiyoshi Kurosawa giving us just enough time to get to know the characters before the spooks hit the fan. It even has an old gas station attendant, Yamamura (producer Jûzô Itami), to give the traditional warnings and exposition. It’s a lot of spooky and gruesome fun and the make-up effects are not only nostalgically practical, it was the 80s after all, but done by make-up effects legend Dick Smith. When we finally see Lady Mamiya’s spirit in full view, it doesn’t disappoint. There are some chills, thrills, some blood spilled and a very exciting and suspenseful climax, as our survivors face the angry spirit head-on. You even need to watch through the credits for something extra. It’s a very entertaining haunted house flick that can stand on it’s own up against flicks like Poltergeist which set a standard in the 80s. Atmospherically directed, the house setting itself is great and there is just enough humor to make it fun without offsetting the scares. Despite being a familiar tale, the movie has it’s own creepy identity and likable characters to fear for.
As those characters, we have a solid cast. Yamashiro is good as Hoshino. He’s a likable guy and avoids the arrogance most characters like this carry. His intentions are good. Popstar Nokko is endearing as Hoshino’s teen daughter Emi. She’s rebellious, though not annoying and serves as a damsel in distress in the final act. Nobuko Miyamoto is widower Hoshino’s producer. A pretty woman he has feelings for and a strong heroine when all Hell breaks loose. Ichiro Furutachi and Fukumi Kuroda are fine in their roles, though they serve more as body count. Rounding out is producer Jûzô Itami, who is good in the classic role as Yamamura. An efficient and likable cast.
In conclusion, this flick desperately needs a blu-ray release! It was spooky, gory fun and had a likable group of characters ignoring the classic warnings to suffer the consequences. There were some great practical make-up FX from the late, great Dick Smith and a very creepy house where it’s paranormal action takes place. A very solid and old fashioned haunted house flick from Japan.
3 and 1/2 (out of 4) spooks