The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘ghost stories’

Ringing the Changes

October 30, 2015 | by

There’s always the temptation, when recommending anything, to go only for the deep cuts. It’s true that Robert Aickman wrote several volumes’ worth of “strange stories,” many of them very good. It’s also true that “Ringing the Changes,” from 1964’s Dark Entries: Curious and Macabre Ghost Stories, is probably the best known, or the “most anthologized,” or however people like to subtly dismiss anything with a certain profile. Read More »

Casting the Runes

October 9, 2015 | by

From Night of the Demon, a 1957 film loosely based on M. R. James’s “Casting the Runes.”

I love being read to. I could pretend it’s because it takes my mind away when I have a migraine or because it allows one to appreciate the aural poetry of writing—and that would be partially true. But the appeal is more elemental, more regressive. When you’re being read to, you’re being taken care of.

Perhaps by the same token, something scary can be magnified in the hearing. Ghost stories are meant to be told orally, after all, and when you are listening to something recorded, you have the option of doing so in the dark. When October comes, no matter if it’s more Indian summer than crisp fall, I want nothing so much as the occult and creepy. And so I walk through the city or work in the kitchen or stand on line at the bank, with M. R. James playing in my ears. Read More »

Ghosts on the Nog

December 19, 2014 | by

The great English tradition of Christmas ghost stories.

One of John Leech’s illustrations for A Christmas Carol, 1842.

I’ve long thought of Christmastime as a season of mostly pleasant intrusions: thirty or so days of remembering to tend, checklist style, to the latest pressing bit of Yuletide business that comes racing back to you. The well wishes. The trip to the Home Depot. The seasonal ales.

This is the Fezziwig side of Christmas, that portion that makes you look up the word wassail when you encounter it and think, Ah, that would be fun. But what of the darker elements of Christmas—and what of Christmas for those people who enjoy making merry most years but may have hit upon a bit of a tricky patch? What succor of the season might they find at the proverbial inn?

Having experienced both sides of Christmas, there is but one constant I am aware of that serves you well both in the merriest of times and in the darkest: the classic English Christmas ghost story. You’d think Halloween would be the holiday that elicits the best macabre stories, but you’re going to want to check that opinion and get more on the Snow Miser side of the equation. Time was the English loved to scare you out of your mind come December, but in a fun way that resulted in stories well afield of your typical ghost story outing. Read More »


Marvels and Mysteries

December 3, 2014 | by


A caricature of Conrad by David Low, 1928.


How would you define fantastic, then?


I wonder if you can define it. I think it’s rather an intention in a writer. I remember a very deep remark of Joseph Conrad—he is one of my favorite authors—I think it is in the foreword to something like The Dark Line, but it’s not that …


The Shadow Line?


The Shadow Line. In that foreword he said that some people have thought that the story was a fantastic story because of the captain’s ghost stopping the ship. He wrote—and that struck me because I write fantastic stories myself—that to deliberately write a fantastic story was not to feel that the whole universe is fantastic and mysterious; nor that it meant a lack of sensibility for a person to sit down and write something deliberately fantastic. Conrad thought that when one wrote, even in a realistic way, about the world, one was writing a fantastic story because the world itself is fantastic and unfathomable and mysterious.


You share this belief?


Yes. I found that he was right. I talked to Bioy Casares, who also writes fantastic stories—very, very fine stories—and he said, “I think Conrad is right. Really, nobody knows whether the world is realistic or fantastic, that is to say, whether the world is a natural process or whether it is a kind of dream, a dream that we may or may not share with others.”

—Jorge Luis Borges, The Art of Fiction No. 39, 1967

Since it’s Joseph Conrad’s birthday, I went in search of his foreword to The Shadow Line—it was an author’s note, actually, appended to the novel’s second edition in 1920. And Borges’s memories of it are largely accurate: Conrad uses it to mount a defense of “the world of the living,” which “contains enough marvels and mysteries as it is … I am too firm in my consciousness of the marvellous to be ever fascinated by the mere supernatural.”

The Shadow Line, which is now in the public domain, was first published in 1916, when it appeared over the course of two months in Metropolitan Magazine. It tells the story of a young man who assumes the captaincy of a ship in “the Orient.” The ghost of the ship’s previous captain, Mr. Burns, lurks: “His face in the full light of day appeared very pale, meagre, even haggard. Somehow I had a delicacy as to looking too often at him; his eyes, on the contrary, remained fairly glued on my face. They were greenish and had an expectant expression.”

Here’s the author’s note Borges mentions: Read More »


The Dark Galleries

May 2, 2014 | by


Portrait of Ballin Mundson; Gilda (Charles Vidor, Columbia, 1946)


Portrait of Mr. Antony, Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, Warner Brothers, 1951, painted by Ted Haworth)


Portrait of Azeals Van Ryn, Dragonwyck (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Twentieth Century Fox, 1946)


Portrait of Jennie Appleton, Portrait of Jennie (William Dieterle, Selznick Productions, 1948, painted by Robert Brackman)


Portrait of Pandora Reynolds, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (Albert Lewin, MGM, 1951, painted by Ferdie Bellan)


Portrait of Matilda Frazier, The Unsuspected (Michael Curtiz, Warner Brothers, 1947)


Portrait of an Unknown Woman, The Dark Corner (Henry Hathaway, Twentieth Century Fox, 1946)


Portrait of Alice Reed, The Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang, International Pictures, 1944)


Second Portrait of Sally Morton, The Two Mrs. Carrolls (Peter Godfrey, 1947, Warner Brothers, painted by John Decker)


Portrait of a Murderer, The Big Clock (John Farrow, Paramount, 1948)

The noir and gothic films of the forties and fifties often feature beguiling portraits, paintings that possess a strange power; they inspire acts of fraud, forgery, theft, murder, and obsession. Think of The Woman in the Window, Laura, or Vertigo: in the first few scenes of each film, a kind of investigator becomes enraptured with a woman who also appears in a painted portrait—and, often, the twist reveals that she’s not who she seems to be. In Laura, the portrait itself stands in for the woman who’s supposedly disappeared, as Detective Mark McPherson investigates the crime—until, that is, Laura walks into her old apartment, where the detective is sleeping beneath the portrait that so intrigued him. The portrait serves as a kind of false look, or false double, that only can really be appreciated on film.

The artists who created these portraits—usually just large-scale photographs slapped with varnish—typically went uncredited; today most of the portraits themselves have gone missing. In The Dark Galleries: A Museum Guide to Painted Portraits in Film Noir Gothic Melodramas and Ghost Stories of the 1940s and 1950s, the art and film historians Steven Jacobs and Lisa Colpaert have created a guide to an imaginary gallery of these imaginary paintings, which often took imaginary people as their subjects.

What interested Jacobs most was not so much the portraits themselves, but the roles they played in their respective films: they reflected how people thought they should behave in front of pieces of art. The plots of these films often came from classic literature or standard noir fare, but it was film techniques that brought the paintings into more direct conversation with the narrative. Read More »


Abandoned House, Frankfort, Maine

June 19, 2012 | by

© Corinne Botz. Click to enlarge.

My sister and I always heard our names called. My father always said it was the wind, but the wind don’t say your name. I didn’t like going up on the third floor, that’s where I saw a man sittin’ in an easy chair. Sometimes it sounded like people were walking around the house and running down the halls. When we first moved there the floor in the back room was all cluttered with love letters. Maybe that guy died there or somethin’. That place made me feel so weird. My mother died in the house the day we were moving out; I feel like a part of her is still there. It was always cold in the house so my mother was happy we were moving to a warm place. The moving vans had just left, she was finally gettin’ out of the house and she never got out. As bad as I wanted to leave cause it’s creepy, I miss it. I’m not sure if it’s true but I heard that the man who bought it won’t stay there ’cause it’s haunted. The place has been empty for a long time.

—Cheryl, who lived with her family in the house from the 1950s until the 1970s

Corinne Botz is a Brooklyn based photographer. A solo exhibition of her work opens in July at RedLine Gallery in Denver. She will be exhibiting Haunted Houses in a group exhibition at Museum Morsbroich in Germany this fall. To see more haunted houses or to hear ghost stories, visit the Haunted House project.