Saturday, May 31, 2014

May Review

Horror summer blockbusters are just around the corner!

For your consideration:

1.  Alien (1979): A-
2.  Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986): A-
3.  Frankenstein (1931): B+
4.  Grave Encounters (2011): B
5.  The Wolfman (2010): B-
6.  Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985): C-

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

Like classic horror franchises, some bad guys just won't die.

Director:  Tom McLouglin
Studios:  Paramount Pictures
Starring:  Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen; ft. Tom Fridley, Tony Goldwyn, C.J. Graham
Tagline:  Nothing this evil ever dies.; Kill or be killed.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, slasher, stalker, serial killer, psychopath, masked murderer, teen
Scare score:  C
Rating:  A-

Plot overview:  Years after the events of the previous film, Tommy Jarvis (Mathews) has been released from his mental health institute, but he is still intent of making sure Jason (Graham) is truly dead.  Instead of burning Jason in his grave, however, Tommy unintentionally revives the masked killer, making him stronger than ever.  On the other side of town, which has been renamed Forest Green to help citizens and tourists forget the area's bloody history, summer is in full swing and a week-long children's camp is about to begin.  Will Tommy be able to convince the Sheriff (Kagen), his daughter (Cooke), and her friends that Jason is back and to cancel the camp, or will they simply write him off as being crazy?

Why did I enjoy this movie so much?  There are plenty of reasons.  First of all, like a rookie, when the scary music (I believe this is still Manfredini's score?) set in before the opening scene I jumped.  Yes, I know: total rookie move but hey, started off the movie in a good direction.  Jason Lives' (how funny would a musical concert version called Jason Live! be?) cast of characters, actual focus on some sort of plot (a first or second for the franchise??), awesome '80s soundtrack, and acceptance of inherent farce - all revolving around what I thought was a fantastic zombie Jason - made for a really enjoyable, and, at times, scary movie.

Ze cast of actors.  T-Jar is back and ready to kill Jason once and for all!  I liked Mathews in this performance as he was energetic, but the role itself becomes fairly repetitive and limited as all Tommy does is scream "Jason is back!" while nobody believes him.  Little bit of yawn city there, but a huge improvement from the mental case Tommy in Part V.  The very lovely Jennifer Cooke as the very badass Megan Garris added plenty of teen excitement to the film.  Who doesn't love the Sheriff's daughter?  But here, unlike in Halloween and Halloween IV, instead of being the prototype of a teenage, female victim, the Sheriff's daughter turns into a 'ready to rumble' protagonist.  Fun fact about our punky, comic-relief, kind of confusing character Cort (Fridley) is John Travlota's nephew, making him a part of a very interesting Hollywood family.  Other camp counselors, especially Renée Jones as Sissy and Kerry Noonan as Paula, add fun teen personality to the film.  In a fairly prominent subplot at Camp Forest Green, young Courtney Vickery also delivers what I guess is a cute performance as the little girl Nancy, who sees Jason and is frightened by him.

It was funny mixing our typical teenagers with a group of small children going to camp, as this changes a lot of the typical plot and humor that we've seen up until now.  Also for once the camp is actually being used as a camp, haha, so I suppose that makes things more realistic.  The inclusion of children - who, as we know of course from the rules are not to be harmed - cause two major things to happen within the movie: (a) directly resulting from the fact that we know they aren't going to get hurt, there is an added level of comfort in the film covered by a false pretense of nerves; the movie makes it seem like Jason wants to hurt the children, but we know he will not and (b) more humor.  My main example would be as Jason is about to attack the children's cabin once again and one boy turns to another to ask "So what were you gonna be when you grow up?"  Like really?  There were a few moments in this movie that we just had to pause to take in all the silliness.

Otherwise the deaths were colorful and creative as per usual, a nice usage of blood compared to not too much gore (save for skull crushing à-la-Michael Myers).  Our large cast is more concentrated this time around, given a few unlucky couples in the woods that find themselves face to face with Jason, aka Tony Goldwyn in what appears to be his first film credit?  Imagine that.

Final critique:  This entry is also short since I watched the movie a few weeks ago and didn't take good notes to help my entry.  Since starting the franchise, Part VI has certainly been my favorite to date, perhaps with the exception of the first or second film.  With bumbling police officers, a very '80s group of campers and counselors, a potentially crazy protagonist, and a zombie Jason on the loose, this movie has a lot to offer.  Definitely recommended.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985)

Just when you thought it was over...

Director:  Danny Steinmann
Studios:  Georgetown Productions Inc., Paramount Pictures
Starring:  John Shepherd, Melanie Kinnman, Shavar Ross
Tagline:  If Jason Still Haunts You... You're Not Alone
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, psychological thriller, mystery, masked murderer, serial killer
Scare score:  D
Rating:  C-

Plot overview:  Years after killing Jason, Tommy Jarvis (Shepherd) is a young adult still coping with his trauma.  As part of his recovery, he is sent to a halfway house for troubled young people.  Shortly after his arrival, however, a rash of murders begins in the local community.  Has Jason come back from beyond the grave?

We're going to keep this super brief.  This movie, while taking a huge step away from the formula of the first four films, continues the sort of thoughtless, reckless killings that the previous films have subjected us to time and time again.  Shockingly, this movie does not take place at Camp Crystal Lake, but rather in and around the Pinehurst Halfway House.  I think this change hurt the movie, leaving fans craving real Jason and not a mystery that leaves us unsure of what's happening.

We have a ton of possible suspects among the weird, diverse cast of characters.  Is it Tommy himself, gone mad?  Is it the terrifying cook (Vernon Washington) at Pinehurst, or the unnecessarily psychotic hick neighbors (Carol Locatell and ?).  How annoying were all of these people anyway?  We had "punks" dressed straight out of what Grease has taught me to believe the '50s were like, we have a huge segment dedicated to characters at a diner that have absolutely nothing to do with the plot, the totally unimportant arrival of Reckless Reggie's (Ross) brother and lady friend... the list goes on.  One thing that this movie did offer via such a random lack of plot was creative kills.  This franchise delivers in terms of fun, colorful deaths.

More than anything else, I hated the character Joey (Dominick Brascia).  That was almost as bad as the worst movie character of all time, Franklin from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.  Horror Buff hates nothing more than Franklin, and Joey was too reminiscent in his sheer annoyance.

Final critique:  I watched this movie a few weeks ago and never blogged about it, so I don't remember all the details of what I would have originally said.  Friday the 13 Part V is just a new beginning of the same old weirdness: strange characters, senseless deaths, pointless plot.  That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the movie, but it certainly would not be a pick of mine for scary movie night.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Alien (1979)

In honor of the recent death of artist and alien designer, H.R. Giger, as well as the upcoming 35th anniversary of its release.

Director:  Ridley Scott
Studios:  Brandywine Productions, 20th Century Fox
Starring:  Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Ian Holm
Tagline:  In space no one can hear you scream.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, science fiction, drama, suspense, alien, monster, mystery 
Scare score:  B-
Rating:  A-

Plot overview:  In the future, the cargo-towing spacecraft Nostromo is returning back to Earth from deep space.  The crew members are awakened from their deep-sleep stasis when the ship's computer system, called 'Mother,' picks up what seems to be a distress call from the uninhabited planetoid LV-426.  The 7 crew members, led by Captain Dallas (Skerritt), descend to LV-426, and their small shuttle is damaged in the process leaving them stranded for at least a full day.  Several members venture off the shuttle and find a crashed alien spacecraft containing remnants of one race as well as countless eggs from another.  When one egg hatches, the terror begins.

Ask me for a movie that I truly love every time I watch it, and Alien will be way up there on my list.  While this movie is heavy on the sci-fi and somewhat light on the horror (this has got enough of an And Then There Were None feeling about it to pull it into the 'drama' and 'mystery' genres), it is the first installment of a famous and reputable film series that are appreciated to this day.

Can you imagine that Sigourney Weaver (a veteran by the time Cabin in the Woods rolled around) was a newbie in this movie?  And can you furthermore believe that she was treated disrespectfully by other cast mates for being a newbie?  This shocks me most of all because she kicks absolute but both in plot and in acting during this entire movie.  Warrant Office Ellen Ripley (Weaver) is a stern, smart mix of man and woman (not physically of course, as the ending of the movie flaunts), and perhaps the only member of the Nostromo who uses her brain throughout the film (don't let aliens on board.  Period.)

Even though they were apparently bullies, the other actors in this film do a swell job.  I love the small cast, the feeling of playfulness and also mistrust between the adults, especially when the pressure, claustrophobia, and loneliness start to set it.  Quick shout out to Veronica Cartwright in the role of Lambert, an equally tough space woman.  Hasn't she come a long way from The Birds and yet only a year earlier she starred in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  All in all, the small cast makes for an exciting mystery filed with diverse personalities that add to the melting pot of tensions, even before a nasty, practically indestructible alien gets thrown into the mix.

I love alien.  Love the design, love the tongue thing that's actually another small head and mouth, love the different stages of growth/ evolution.  It completely baffles me how it manages to grow from being about a foot tall to becoming an enormous killing machine in, oh, say, 45 minutes.  Maybe that just makes alien all the scarier.  What's most interesting about alien in this movie is how little we know about it and how little we see it.  That's right, there are maybe two scenes that give us a complete idea of what alien actually looks like.  Even then, due to the film's dark nature, a lot is left to imagination.  This obviously has its plusses and minuses: there is plenty of suspense followed by large thrills waiting for alien to attack; then again, does the creature deliver?  There are a few scenes that would make us think so, but overall I would have to say the problem is resolved too easily.

The horror in this movie is slow and consuming.  It surrounds us, isolates us, penetrates us - just as it does the crew members and its victims.  There is a hunt, but the hunters are also the hunted.  There is a chase, but it's just as much frantic as it is planned.  Boasting one of the most memorable scenes in sci-fi/ horror (who's hungry?), Alien is filled with plenty of twists and turns that leave us craving and questioning more, just as the crew of the Nostromo questions more, only to find that curiosity kills the cat, even in the 2100s.

Final critique:  This is a great movie that ties together multiple genres such as drama and mystery, science fiction and horror.  While there is a generally pressured, scary feeling through the film, there are only a few actually scary (and also very memorable) scenes.  When Alien decides to do scary, it doesn't hold back.  I'd still easily recommend this movie to scaredy cats, as there is a truly interesting plot here supported by good acting and effects that surprisingly don't make me think it was done in 1979.  Really good movie; not the scariest, but super entertaining with some terror throughout.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Grave Encounters (2011)

Director:  The Vicious Brothers (Collin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz)
Studios:  West Wing Studios
Starring:  Sean Rogerson, Sasha Parker
Tagline:  They were searching for proof... they found it.
MPAA Rating:  Unrated
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, found footage, ghost, haunting, paranormal investigation, insane asylum
Scare score:  B/B+
Rating:  B

Plot overview:  A team of TV paranormal investigators, led by host Jerry Hartfield (Rogerson), decide to spend a night in an old mental institution to prove any haunting that might be taking place there.  Once they make contact, they aren't ready for what happens next.

This movie surprised me.  It isn't the greatest film out there, but it is two things for sure (a) entertaining and (b) pretty scary.  By pretty scary I mean this film has its moments that make us jump up in our seat, regardless of whether or not we saw the scare coming.  In fact, the movie often sets us up for a scare rather than dump one upon us.  When you see the scare coming a mile away and you can still appreciate it, you know it's done well.

I should first state that I typically hate 'found footage' movies almost as much as I hate moves that claim to be based on a true story (often the two intertwine).  Sure, Blair Witch put the whole first (third?)-person or character controlled camera thing à la mode and I'm not talking ice cream.  Although this movie is a found footage, with its reality falling somewhere within the realm of "sort of real," I thought it was interesting, and, furthermore, since it imitates a television show, we're not subjected to much shaky/running/broken clips.

I did like how, in its imitation of one of the countless paranormal investigation shows on TV these days, the movie pokes fun at said programming.  Do I like horror?  Yes.  Do I love ghosts?  All of them.  Do I watch those TV shows?  Absolutely not.  Why, you ask?  Because it's all build up and absolutely zero delivery.  Has anyone ever proved anything on those shows?  No.  And I'm not gonna' waste my time waiting around for the drama and fake scares when I could be watching horror movies or doing other things that involve people and being social.  Grave Encounters shows the team's sarcastic and even exasperated approach to trying to actually catch things on camera or make the show interesting, going so far as to pay off a hospital groundskeeper to lie and say he'd seen a ghost.

The ghosts lurking around the twisting and turning halls of the institution were pretty fun and decently creative.  There was a liberal usage of blood throughout the movie which was enjoyable.  Perhaps the best thing about this movie is the twist that takes place somewhat early on.  We know before going into Grave Encounters that the team is going to find ghosts.  Like that's clear.  What I wasn't expecting, however, was the fun twist and what resulted in the majority of the plot.  That was a very cool turn as far as Horrorland/ the Twilight Zone goes, giving the film new energy that almost lasts until the end.

Final critique:  I watched this movie over a week ago, so I'm only giving it a brief review.  Acting was favorable, plot was surprisingly interesting, and cinematography was what we expected from a "found footage"-inside-a-mental-hospital-at-night sort of movie.  I would absolutely recommend this movie to anybody looking for a fun scare any night of the week.  Those who scare easily should be wary.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Frankenstein (1931)

Director:  James Whale
Studios:  Universal Pictures
Starring:  Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clark, John Boles, Edward Van Sloan
Tagline:  The Man Who Made a Monster!;  A Monster Science Created - But Could Not Destroy!
MPAA Rating:  Unrated
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, monster, classic, mad scientist, Universal Horror, black and white
Scare score:  D+
Rating:  B+

Plot overview:  Henry Frankenstein (Clive), an obsessive young scientist, will stop at nothing in order to perfect his experiment with reanimation.

I hope I don't sound ignorant when I say everybody on the planet knows who Frankenstein - or at least his monster - is.  In fact, most people confuse the two (cute rookie horror fans).  The original story, crafted by Mary Shelley for fun, shocked readers with its dark realism, its gothic and scientific ideas contrasted against the Romantic ideals of Victor Frankenstein as he tries to make fantastic strides within science and society.  While this 1931 isn't the first film adaption, I would say that it was (and remains) the most famous in its time, making various changes to dramatize the plot for cinema audiences.  I cannot believe that Mary Shelley is named in the opening credits as Mrs. Percy B. Shelley; that caught my eye immediately.

Acting in this movie is, not surprisingly, dramatic and overly stylized as it was Hollywood in the '30s.  Luckily, nothing is too over the top at least for my taste, give or take a few scenes between the hunchback helper Fritz (Dwight Frye, also in Dracula and The Invisible Man) - a role we usually know as Igor - and Frankenstein, who has been renamed Henry here.  Speaking of drama, I thought that his "It's alive!" bit could have been much more dramatic.  Clive's delivery of the very important line "It's alive!  It's alive!  In the name of God!  Now I know what it feels like to be God!" was lackluster (guess my opinion doesn't matter in Kansas or in other states where that line was cut lollzzz censorship).  All in all, I thought Clive did a good job representing Frankenstein's obsession for his work and then his consequential remorse upon seeing the monster.

Other funny players in this movie would have to be our old friend Edward Van Sloan (The Mummy) excellently typecast as - wait for it - a doctor.  In fact, he does a really nice job as the senior Dr. Waldman, a leading figure in [what town are they in?]'s science community that doesn't hesitate to give his voice of reason and warning to the eager Frankenstein.  I also enjoyed the performance by Frederick Kerr in the role of Baron Frankenstein, the family patriarch who perfectly if irritatingly represents the landed male aristocracy.  I thought one of the weirdest things about this movie was the way it ended, with the bustling, giggly maids (who I think just wanted to get their lips on more wine) bringing the Baron wine, resulting in his toast to a future son for the Frankenstein family.  While this has dark implications of the monster being like a son to the family, it's also just an ambiguous and oddly light-hearted way to end a film which I think for 1931 standards was pretty scary and horrific.

Let's talk monstahs.  We got good makeup here, not to mention the fact that Frankenstein's monster I think is pretty creative for the moment.  The fact that this monster has no name of his own makes him that much more important, being one of the first and finest examples of nameless terror: shapes, shadows, fear made manifest.  He's both human and not, having been reborn a monster; he consists of various people who had earned their right to eternal rest, but now, back in a monstrous, rotting, scarred form, the monster has a right to live.  This right is denied to him by those who forced him to come back into this world, by those who also deny him light and freedom (not for long!)  I thought Karloff (The Terror) was sincerely good except for when he made small animal sounds, which I did not like.  Makeup was really eerie here, and some of the first shots we see of the monster's face should send a little shiver down our spine.  One of my absolute favorite scenes was his interaction with the little girl Maria (Marilyn Harris) by the lake.  I can't believe that that was included in a film in 1931; I'm sure at least one person in the audience must have fainted.

While the film has its moments, it naturally falls under the 'too old to be scary' category today, but that's okay.  Compared to other Universal Horrors that I've reviewed already, I think that this is the scariest.

Final critique:  You should certainly check out this movie late at night along with a bowl of popcorn.  It's an important piece of cinema, especially within the horror genre, that has lasted quite nearly 100 years of cultural importance.  Can't wait to see what happens for the centennial.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Wolfman (2010)

A potentially monumental occasion: I think this is the first time The Horror Blog has reviewed a remake of a movie that I've already reviewed?  Given the remake-happy nature of the horror genre, this is more than certainly the first of many to come.

Director:  Joe Johnston
Studios:  Universal Pictures, Relativity Media, Stuber Productions
Starring:  Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt
Tagline:  When the moon is full the legend comes to life
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, terror, thriller, action, monster, werewolf, curse, remake
Scare score:  C-
Rating:  B-

Plot overview:  Following the disappearance of his brother, Lawrence Talbot (del Toro), returns to his family estate in Blackmoor, England.  While there, he must deal with painful childhood memories as well as a very rocky relationship with his father, Sir John Talbot (Hopkins).  During this time he also grows closer to his late brother's fiancee, Gwen Conliffe (Blunt).  While trying to learn more about his brother's death from a group of gypsies, Lawrence is attacked by a wild beast that begins to plague the town, leading the suspicious locals to think that a terrible curse has been unleashed at Blackmoor.

As far as horror movies go, this is an action-heavy, gore-happy, high-speed thriller that happens to revolve around werewolf lore with several tie-ins to the original film.  It reminded me in many ways of Van Helsing (2004) and similar films that claim to be scary, but in reality are special effect-flaunting blockbusters based on tropes from within the horror genre.  If you are looking for a true horror movie, don't bother with The Wolfman; if you are looking for a somewhat scary thrilling action ride, definitely give it a try.

The Wolfman is romantic, filled with dark forests, dark villages, and dark manor houses (in general, it's a dark movie both in plot and in cinematography).  There is intrigue and silver bullets around every corner; a tragic overtone regarding family and love and, of course, the curse of the werewolf.

The monster in this movie is very well done.  The transitions are seamless, I enjoyed both the form of the body and even the face wasn't that bad.  It certainly surpasses An American Werewolf in London's beast, due both to the conception and modern special effects.  Speaking of this great werewolf film, the keen viewer will note the huge similarity of the chaotic London street scene which I'm sure The Wolfman borrowed.  It's really no wonder that this movie won the Oscar for best makeup given the impressive nature of both beasts, humans, and victims in the film.

Acting was pretty good in this film even though it relies more on action and thrills than dialogue.  Although from the get go I realized I detest Benicio del Toro's voice (it's extremely irritating), I thought he did a really good job as a dark, driven Larry Talbot.  Emily Blunt as the love interest Gwen was also endearing, charming, and proper.  The really good acting here goes to Anthony Hopkins, who manages to conjure up this menacing Sir John that we are wary of from the beginning.

Scares are not too severe in this movie.  Think of it as an action movie with tons of car crashes and shooting scenes: these things make us nervous and tense while watching.  This movie does the same thing, except instead of car crashes and fighting, there are just scenes of a super-fast beast killing victims.  The occasional slash and spilling of blood or guts might rouse a scare, but otherwise this is certainly not the scariest film in the werewolf genre by far.

Final critique:  I'm a fan of remakes, and pro the whole remake classic movies movement.  That might sound blasphemous, and I don't think every movie merits a remake, but some incredible classics deserve to be modernized either in plot or production and brought to today's audiences that doesn't know how to dig past the year 2000 when looking for a movie to watch.  With a big-billed cast and the ability to flaunt great special effects, it should come as no surprise that The Wolfman turns into an action remake, filled with high-speed fight and murder scenes, a healthy amount of gore, some romance, and an extended plot that explores more psychology than the original film did.  If you're looking for a true horror movie tonight, pass over this one, but don't forget about it for another time when you want a fast-paced, monster-based thrill ride.

The Turn of the Screw (1898) - novella

Because you know I love a good ghost story.

Author:  Henry James
Publisher:  William Heinemann, London; The Macmillan Company, New York City
Quote:  "No - I suppose we shouldn't.  Of course we have the others."  "We have the others - we have indeed the others," I concurred.
Genre:  novella, serial novel, psychological thriller, thriller, suspense, ghost story, ghost, haunting, drama
Scare score:  B-
Rating:  C+

Plot overview:  In 19th century England, a young, respectable governess is hired to take charge of the education of the orphaned niece and nephew of a disinterested London man.  Upon arriving to Bly, the man's country estate, the governess is smitten with 6-year-old Flora and 10-year-old Miles, the latter of whom has just been expelled from boarding school under entirely mysterious circumstances, describing them both as perfectly handsome, intelligent, and loving.  The governess begins to doubt the children's angelic qualities, however, once the lonely household begins being visited by the specters of two very unwelcome, unholy guests.

This novella, extremely famous to this day for its masterful use of suspense both in content and form, is perhaps best known today as the inspiration behind The Others starring Nicole Kidman.  Having seen that movie countless times (and always forgetting to review it...), I was more than happy to find this book, pick it up, and devour it in a few hours of free time.

Horror Fan was not the biggest fan of the writing style of this book, although the terror is certainly pure and enjoyable.  I foremost had an issue with the rather confusing nature of the governess' narrative.  Understandably a lot of this was done on purpose to mix up the reader, making him further doubt what is happening in the story.  I think half of my problem was that the now aging language was a bit confusing for me in some points (and I ain't no dope), but then there we so, so many padded and run on sentences.  What I'm TRYING to say, I do believe, is that the governess, our dear narrator, often finds it necessary, nay, IMPERATIVE, to speak in such a way - such a way that I hope to convey in this VERY phrase - that requires a most distressful, and, dare I say, frustrating overuse of commas and - you perhaps catch my drift - asides; not to mention the BIZARRE usage of, as you can perhaps see, if it is not too much to ask of you, capital letters to denote EMPHASIS; and I ask myself, humbly, of course, did italic letters NOT exist YET?  Case in point.  Try getting through an entire novella written like that.  The constant majuscule exclamations in today's internet day and age just made me feel as if these people were screaming at me, which perhaps makes the story even that much more suspenseful and stressful.  Furthermore, any scene between the governess and her confidant, the housekeeper Mrs. Grose, feel like high school girls gossiping with PhD level vocabulary.  The bickering, so feminine, in these scenes almost complicate the plot even more than clarify it, as their conversations often revolve around trying to fix the worsening problems at Bly.

Aside from confusing dialogue, stories from wealthy British society up through the turn of the century nowadays result more distanced from the modern reader because of the importance of class, level, and respect that, especially in America, is very difficult to understand.  The greatest example in The Turn of the Screw would have to be the governess' (or anybody's) sheer inability to ask Miles why he was expelled from boarding school.  Being both a woman and an employee of the family, it is not the governess' place to ask - even if she is the only caretaker truly raising this kids.  Like okay imperialist England and your middle class/ working class divisions.  I mean he's 10, and the house is falling apart because of ghost sightings; just ask the kid.


Let's talk about the horror in this novella: it's fantastic from the first moment we have an apparition.  I think the reader, especially one biased by having seen The Others (I myself was constantly questioning to what extent the film drew from the story), picks up on his or her own doubt of the governess' sanity pretty early on in the novella.  As the story races forward, speech becomes quicker, more frantic, chapters become shorter, and the screws seem to come loose, as it were.

Are the ghosts real?  While the governess herself seems to be completely within her wits, enough so to convince other members of the house of what she is seeing, there are moments she also shows critical doubt.  The second time Quint appears to her, the governess says, "The moment was so prolonged that it would have taken but little more to make me doubt if even I were in life," (Part IX).  While reading, I thought for sure that this was a hint as to who the real ghosts in the story were, but alas, that wasn't the case.

What's interesting in the governess' predicament of seeing these two ghosts is her knee-jerk reaction to be a concern not for her own safety but for the children, whom she adores and exalts perhaps too much.  Although the ghosts seem only to be appearing to her, she fervidly imagines that the children are in on the haunting, both as conjurers but also as victims.  She says, "Then it was that the others, the outsiders, were there.  Though they were not angels, they "passed," as the French say, causing me, while they stayed, to tremble with the fear of their addressing to their younger victims some yet more infernal message or more vivid image than they had thought good enough for myself," (Part XIII).  All along, our narrator imagines - strongly and intuitively feels - that these ghosts are looking to connect with the children as sinisterly in death as they did in life.  Implications that Quint and Miss Jessel molested or otherwise abused Miles are only too prevalent in the delicate, beating-around-the-bush manner in which the story's characters talk.  No doubt his abuse had to do with whatever it was he said to his friends at boarding school that ultimately got him expelled without the possibility of returning.

So are the children bad? too smart for their age?  too cunning beyond their demure appearances?  Or is our governess an unreliable narrator, torn apart at the seems by the pressure of her new post and her abhorrence of privileged men in upperclass society such as her father, the uncle, and especially Miles?  If the governess is insane, how is it that she could have perfectly described the ghosts of Bly's two former employees?  This leads us to question Mrs. Grose, who we don't truly know that we can trust either.  The truth is we cannot trust anybody in this story, and regardless of whether or not the ghosts are real or imaginary, they are terrifying in description and appearance (a pale, ginger face staring intently through the window; a figure all dressed in black crying at the bottom of the stairs), and their inclusion into the text is done wonderfully, making it truly scary.

Final critique:  What is the source of horror in this 1898 novella?  A frantic and fast-paced narrative involving children who seem too precious to be true and a governess who seems too nervous to trust, not to mention those two ghosts prowling the property and pages, result in a quick (although confusing) read that allows the reader to make the final decision.  It is the very ambiguity of The Turn of the Screw that has kept it famous to this day.  What do you think?