Category Archives: ramblings

The Haunting of Bly Manor: A Defense

Warning: This does NOT contain spoilers for Bly Manor. I am actually going to write a spoiler heavy post later for that. So if you are hoping for a deep dive on the themes, characters, and ooga boogas, this rant is probably not for you. Otherwise, enjoy!

Also, some of the concepts and anecdotes talked about I learned from a Lindsay Ellis video. She does some amazing video essays, and you should definitely check it out here.

Recently I began watching a BBC show called Inside No. 9. It’s an anthology show, meaning that each episode is a self-contained story. A similar show would be Tales of the Crypt, Twilight Zone, or the more recent Black Mirror. Though the stories are self-contained, they do usually have some sort of thematic thread linking them together. Scary stories, odd stories, tech based stories that reveal our existential dread, overreliance on technology, and eventual downfall…

Damn you, John Hamm…

Inside No. 9‘s only connecting thread is in the title itself. Every episode either takes place inside a building with “9” as the address or the number nine will appear very early in the episode somewhere. That was supposed to be it. But soon the show got to be known for another connecting thread: every episode managed to end in a dark plot twist. And they were extremely well written.

Learning this, the creators decided to take it upon themselves to “correct” this. They did not want the audience simply waiting for a plot twist like every bad M. Night Shyamalon movie.

Damn YOU, The Village!

Soon it became impossible to determine what tone an episode would take. Would it be darkly comedic like the bulk of episodes? Would there be a twist? Would it be a straight up drama? Who knew?! When asked about it, the creators remarked that they did not want to be constrained by branding. They wanted the freedom to create whatever they wanted, and if the audience did not like that, then tough. They did not owe plot twists to anyone.

So why am I talking about Inside No. 9 when I have indicated Bly Manor in the title of this article? Well…you will have to wait for me to get to that point. In the meantime, let’s finally talk about the “House” series.

Like many other haunted house, vengeful ghost, spooky shadows loving horror fans out there, Haunting at Hill House satiated a lot of my horror needs. It was a good old fashioned haunted house story, complete with horrifying ghosts and stupid people making poor decisions and then fighting about it before getting scared by said horrifying ghosts.

It was masterful, though not completely perfect. I did not have nearly as much patience for nine hours of family in-fighting as others did, it seems. Luckily it was made up for by some truly “clutch-your-pillow” horror, including the gift of the bent neck lady.

Seriously…amazing nightmare fuel.

When the creators announced a second series, the internet was naturally beside themselves with excitement. When the trailer dropped, that excitement intensified:

Like Hill House, Bly Manor was based on a classic horror book: Henry James’ Turn of the Screw. It would feature a few alumni actors of Hill House. But the creators warned that while there were similarities, this would be a very different show from Hill House. We did not care. We wanted us all of the scares.

The Haunting of Bly Manor finally was released. I eagerly watched it and…I loved it. I loved the characters. I loved the house. I loved the ghosts. I loved the slow, foreboding pace. I cried a couple of times (you know who you are, Episode 5), and when the final episode rolled to credits I sat listening to the haunting soundtrack and letting the entire story sink in.

Everyone who has seen this episode knows what I am talking about!

Like its predecessor, it was not perfect. But it was exactly what I needed. And yet…and yet I knew exactly what the sentiments would be of others who watched the show. And sure enough, all over social media there was a resounding:

“It’s not as good as Hill House.”

Sigh….Deep sigh….

Now…I’m not begrudging anyone their opinion. If you loved Hill House, and you expected another Hill House, you are going to be pretty disappointed in this entry. But to say it’s not as good…

Admittedly, more of Owen would have made it better.

Okay, anyone who knows me well knows my hatred of direct confrontation. I like to hear the other opinions. I will not bother to argue with anyone who is dead set in their opinion because it’s a waste of energy. Even in this blog, I am very careful about any extreme opinions of my own I may have.

And yet…I feel compelled to defend this show. I was triggered by that sentence…by even just those words…”as good.”

If you are comparing Bly Manor to Hill House as another psychological horror mixed with some classic haunted house scares, then yes, Bly Manor is not as good. There’s just one problem. Bly Manor is not a psychological horror.

It’s a gothic horror.

Gothic horror is very unlike the horror we have grown accustomed to watching during the 21st century. The emotions are big. The scares are not as frequent. It is highly romanticized. There is more of a focus on a slow building atmosphere, remote countryside, and romance than there is with things jumping out going ooga booga.

Thanks Crimson Peak for encompassing all of that in one poster.

When people hear gothic horror, they tend to think of gloomy old mansions, ingenues wandering in nightgowns, and the eccentric/haunted men who entrap them within their clutches. There are certainly older examples. Phantom of the Opera is one of the more classic ones. The Turn of the Screw, the book Haunting of Bly Manor was based on, is another. In film, The Others is one of my favourite gothic horrors. Seriously, if you liked Bly Manor, check it out.

Haunting of Bly Manor is well written. It is consistent with the genre and tone of the book upon which it is based. The actors, including even the child actors, are giving amazingly compelling performances. The rules of the ghost world appear to be mostly consistent, though not all is revealed to us. The ooga booga scares are few, but when they are there they make up for lost time. At times, it almost feels like a fairy tale, those tragic fairy tales that parents don’t like their children to discover.

You know…the nightmare fuel fairy tales…

In other words, Haunting of Bly Manor is good. To me, it was more than good. If you did not like it, it is a matter of not liking the genre. To try to compare it to Haunting of Hill House would be to try to compare a muffin to a cupcake. The basic principles are there, but you have two very different products.

Honestly, in a world of Sinister and Conjuring movies, I wondered if we collectively forgot that there are other types of ghost stories out there. They do not pack as many scares per minute, or blood, or horrific faces contorted in agony…but they are no less haunting.

But when I thought about it more, I realized we did not forget about the different genres of horror. This was much more about branding and audience expectations.

And so we come back to Inside No. 9.

Probably one of my favourite, ridiculous episodes

Inside No. 9 established early on that they would play by their own rules. In a way, not having a brand IS their brand (although it could be argued that dark comedy is prevalent throughout). It is extremely rare to see this in the entertainment world. Creators are constantly talking about developing their own style and brand. Once their style is established, their audience expects that style to be adhered to. If you are not consistent, you risk losing that audience.

Every creator eventually struggles with this. Walt Disney himself once lamented while watching To Kill a Mockingbird that this was a movie he could only wish to make. By that point, he had been so successful in establishing the Disney brand, he had essentially trapped himself within it.

And we do not make it easy for creators should they deviate from their established style. When a creator decides to take a risk and try something a little different, there is a very real risk they might upset their audience’s expectations and lose more than just money.

In this sense, Mike Flanagan is pretty brave. Even with all the warnings he gave of the two series being very different, we still held up the expectation that it needed to be the same type of story that Hill House was. The fact that it was not disappointed many, and the series may very well lose viewers because of it.

And BELIEVE me, I have been guilty of this in the past. Seeing my favourite creators of classic adventure games experiment with new forms resulted in many an entitled rant from early-20’s Manda that I am embarrassed about to this day.

I’m sorry Dreamfall…you tried new things and…I…respect that….

Like the creators of Inside No. 9, Mike Flanagan wants to tell whatever story he feels inspired by. The main difference is that he has created a brand now: haunted house story based on a novel. What form that story takes on though is up for grabs. And who knows, perhaps he will even break that pattern on the next series (I hope there will be a next series).

All of this is a very long winded way of saying that before you start calling a show “not as good” as your other favourite media, do consider the other factors. What genre and tone was the media going for? Were they successful within the constraints of the given genre?

In my opinion, Haunting of Bly Manor is a great take on the gothic horror genre. It did have some pacing issues, and yeah, there are a couple of gaping plot holes, but the pros do outweigh the cons. If you did not like it, consider responding with “I don’t like gothic horror.” the next time someone asks you what you thought. Or if you have thoughts on just why it is not good, I would love to hear them! But do try to separate it a bit from Hill House before bringing down the gavel.

Escape Room Narrative: Workshops and Beta Testing

Beta Testing is so important for games. What might make sense to you as a designer could utterly fall apart once it’s in the hands of your gamers. The puzzles are either too vague or overly complex. The super expensive tech you centered your room on is too finicky or breaks entirely. The eight players you thought would be totally a perfect number end up having nothing to do.

headesk

What I have yet to see as part of the beta testing process of escape rooms is to test out the actual narrative. Does it make sense? Are players following it or ignoring it? Are they feeling emotions you intended for them to feel?

My experience lies in theatre. Any script that is written is usually workshopped by other writers and actors and combed over so extensively that the poor writer is left in a daze with mountains of feedback to sift through.  However, it’s that feedback that allows them to make their story the best that it can be…maybe…if they are good.

So how do we apply narrative workshopping to escape rooms?  To be honest, I am just theorizing at this point but hopefully the lessons I have taken from script workshopping can apply to escape rooms. Here we go! Read the rest of this entry

Working With Anxiety Part 1: Mistakes

Disclaimer: I am not a professional counselor nor have I studied mental health issues. This blog is based on my own personal experience with anxiety. It is entirely subjective. If you happen to share my experience, that’s great! But please do not take this as objective advice.

Hallo all! Over the last few months I have been kept incredibly busy helping to do the narrative design for an large scale escape room on a train…

A moving train…

An escape room…

On a moving…train…

tenor

Needless to say, when the opportunity first came up Errol immediately pushed himself onto the project and I followed suit. We both love the mystery and romance of trains. The idea of being able to design an adventure on one was too good to pass up. Read the rest of this entry

The Dilemma of Easter

In a very short while, American Gods will premiere.

When I saw the first look trailer, I was giddy. I continue to be giddy. American Gods was a book that changed my life in the best of ways.

Despite the giddiness, I know to temper my expectations. I know this is an adaptation. I know Bryan Fuller will bring his own interpretation of this epic story to the small screen. I know that changes will be made and I will try not to let that affect my own vision of adaptation. I will watch it and I will love it no matter what.

Except in one regard.

A few months ago it was announced that the character of Easter would be played by Kristen Chenoweth.

americangods-easter-191771

Kristen Chenoweth is talented. She oozes charisma. She has that southern US charm to win anyone over. In many ways, she is a good choice for Easter.

But she is not Easter. Not to me.

In the books Easter’s first appearance is described by the following:

“She was–not fat, no, far from fat: what she was, a word that Shadow had never had cause to use until now, was curvaceous. Her hair was so fair that it was white, the kind of platinum-blonde tresses that should have belonged to a long-dead movie starlet, her lips were painted crimson, and she looked to be somewhere between twenty-five and fifty.”

And then later on, she describes herself…

“New Orleans was such a mistake–I put on, what, thirty pounds there? I swear. I knew I had to leave when I started to waddle. The tops of my thighs rub together when I walk now, can you believe that?”

Maybe I read too much into it but Easter is a part of what made American Gods so important to me. She was confident and insecure all at the same time. She looked like me. She was a chubbier woman like myself. Unlike myself though, she was completely comfortable in who she was.

In my fantasies I imagined American Gods getting an adaptation dreamed of myself getting cast in the role of Easter. Even before I quit professional acting (which partly had to do with my inability to be a proper weight), I knew this was not a possibility. She had a natural confidence and sexiness that even at the pique of my acting career I had to fight to exude.

When I heard that American Gods would miraculously get the television adaptation so many of its fans desired, I imagined actresses like Christina Hendricks getting offered the role: shapely women who exuded confidence and charm.

CHRISTINA HENDRICKS at Promo Shoot for Mad Men Season 5

Instead we got Kristen Chenoweth…full of the confidence and charm, sure, but very much a skinny woman in a skinny world that would always accept her and would never have trouble finding her place within it. I should not have been surprised. But I was. And I am saddened by it.

I wish it did not bother me so much. I wish I could shake it off and just let it go. But there she is. Skinny Kristen Chenoweth. Accepting a role meant for a shaplier woman while other actresses continue to scrounge for parts relegated to “chubby best friend/co-worker”.

I do not mean this as a sleight to Kristen Chenoweth. I adore her. I understand why she was chosen. Bryan Fuller worked with her before on Pushing Daisies. She is extremely talented. Nor am I mad at Bryan Fuller. It is not his job to appease every fan’s desires. It is his job to bring his own interpretation of Neil Gaiman’s words to the screen.

I am simply sad. As much as we say that every body shape is important and beautiful, there is still not much room for those body shapes to be represented in our media. It is changing, ever so slowly, but the big budget endeavors still play it very much safe when it comes to physical appearance on screen (apart from comedy perhaps). 

American Gods Season 1 2017

Seriously, don’t get me wrong. She looks stunning here. But…

In my eyes, Easter will always be a chubby (or curvaceous) woman who mattered. She had dimensions and a character arc. She knew who she was and she was never ashamed of that. She went for what she wanted. She made me feel better about who I was.

That is the Easter that I will remember and hold on to. I will of course still watch the miniseries and more than likely adore it. But my Easter remains in the books and she will continue to inspire me when I write. If anything good came from this, it is that small comfort.

american-gods-easter

“Real” Escape Rooms: A long ranty rant

I’ve been seeing lots of talk about the Red Bull Mindgamers tournament that happened recently. It’s sparked some interesting discussion but there’s one point in particular that seems to keep coming up that almost warrants its own post.

That point is the competition design did not really feel like an escape room. Either the puzzles were too cerebral or it did not feel immersive enough (To the viewers. According to the players, there was much more story there to follow) or there were too many task based puzzles or a myriad of other complaints. Read the rest of this entry

Casa Loma: King of the Bootleggers

I have been to Casa Loma in Toronto twice now. Both of those visits were for escape rooms. One of those escape rooms just happened tonight.

This particular escape room, King of the Bootleggers, is set in the 1920’s during prohibition. You play a team of bootleggers looking to cash in on the lucrative business of forbidden alcohol. Being that the mafia is involved, there are of course obstacles in the way like snitches, guns and far too many bruised egos. Read the rest of this entry

Doctor Who: Face the Raven

Warning, the following contains extreme spoilers. It also is a very raw unedited piece of writing that probably could be better organized. But ah well.

So….let’s talk about that last episode of Doctor Who.

Read the rest of this entry

The War on Cardio

I have an issue.

I missed using this guy

I missed using this guy

Almost a year a go I decided to sign up for a Boot Camp. It was a desperate act, one spurred by my sister’s upcoming wedding in which I would be a bridesmaid. There were other reasons too such as wanting to kickstart a fitness regimen that would allow me to begin my quest to fit into that awesome dress from that very brief period in my life I was a size 10…glorious times indeed… Read the rest of this entry

Sport Terror

 

The sporting world has always been a mysterious and somewhat terrifying world for me. I would love to say it’s because I was always a bookworm or a video game geek or a theatre geek…but then I don’t really live in a 1990’s sitcom. In reality I have many video game geek, theatre geek and bookworm friends who love to go to a huge stadium to scream in excitement and rage  at whatever local team happens to be popular at the time.

For myself, this excitement has evaded me. This is despite having a family full of sports lovers. Six hour long trips to our cottage were largely filled with my mom fiddling with the radio trying to get the ball game admist mounds of static. Read the rest of this entry

Hermione Hair

So I looked at my last post and I realized it was way back in March. That is a long time indeed. I would love to say that it was because I was gallavanting across the world in search of ancient treasures but in reality I’ve simply been adjusting to the new job (which is wonderful, by the by) and have been taking a slight (very slight) break from writing.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been writing reviews for Errol’s escape room blog and have also been helping him out writing our event that’s coming up! All of that is exciting! But I realized the other day that I’ve felt very little motivation to do much else in the last few months and I’ve actually been quite happy with that.

But the other day…well, the other day I was watching Harry Potter again…okay, I was watching the Cinema Sins for Harry Potter. And I realized that there was something about it that had always bothered me as the series wore on.

When I read the Harry Potter books, I much like many other girls immediately related to the know it all Hermione. It wasn’t just her intelligence or resourcefulness that attracted me to her though. It was her hair.

In all it's glory

In all it’s glory

Described as “bushy” in the first book, it’s brought up constantly through the series as one of her physically defining characteristics. From my recollection, she even gets teased about it on occasion. The thick mop of hair sticks with her throughout the books series. Oh sure, there are one or two instances in which she pulls an Eliza Doolittle and shocks the world with a sleek feminine style but after that it’s right back to her frizzy style.

And as a fellow sufferer of The Frizz, I loved it. Here was a character I could relate to. Someone who spent most of her time with books. Someone who was made fun of for that obsession. And someone who had never really learned to maintain her hair not because she was self conscious or unfashionable but simply because she didn’t want to.

At the end of the day, the last thing on Hermione Granger’s mind was how to make her hair the prettiest it could be. It was not where her priorities lay. Like myself, she had never bothered to obsess over the finer points of fashion and style (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just what women seem to be constantly judged on). And like myself, occasionally she might want to feel more pretty and put all of the effort needed into glamouring up for an evening only to realize that while it’s fun for a moment, putting that much time and effort into your looks is far too tedious.

It made me feel better about my own frizztacular Muppet hair. It made me feel comforted that while I might not be all that stylish, I could still very much be confident in all of the other things I was. Keep in mind, this was me at 19 years old too, also known as the year that I learned I needed to stop caring. That hair represented so much for me. It made Hermione the character that much more impressive.

Which is why it’s a shame the movies gradually abandoned that image.

The first Harry Potter movie, much like the first season of Game of Thrones, followed the book to a T. And much like Game of Thrones, that came with some shortcomings. But the pitch perfect representation of Hermione was not one of them.

Hermione-Granger-played-Emma-Watson

Then along came Chamber of Secrets. The same length of hair was certainly there, but it had a decidedly more coiffed feel to it…

hermionechamber

Then Prisoner of Azkaban which began to abandon the frizz entirely save for a few scenes in which she stumbles around the woods. And even then it’s hard to see the tangles…

hermioneazkaban

Of course there is Goblet of Fire, the infamous Eliza Doolittle transformation from attractive teen with somewhat messy hair…

LOOK AT ALL THE CRAZINESS! CAN'T YOU SEE IT?!

LOOK AT ALL THE CRAZINESS! CAN’T YOU SEE IT?!

To an attractive teen with prom hair. In the book the difference is supposed to be stark. Here it’s mostly…Ron didn’t realize his attractive female friend was attractive. Which works in some ways. In others, you wonder why no other guy asked her out. Well, I guess she was considered obnoxious. But still. Not a whole lot of contrast between the two.

hermioneyule

She must have kept that Time Turner for Order of the Phoenix, since she had not one hair out of place.

hermioneorderof

And in the Half Blood Prince, she had to be appear more attractive so that Ron could finally fall in love with her. Because why would he otherwise? Amiright?

John Frieda is wondering how she does it at this point.

Seriously were they dipped in molton gold?!

Only in the Deathly Hallows is she finally restored to her frizzy, bushy self thanks to being forced to flee into the wilderness for which there is no hair product, magic or otherwise.

No time for hairbrushes! We have horcruxes to kill!

No time for hairbrushes! We have horcruxes to kill!

But even then, the marketing department couldn’t quite let it go. They had to make all publicity stills to take focus off Hermione’s battle hair.

Windswept sexy!

Windswept sexy!

I am being a bit unfair. Hermione’s hair was never perfectly coiffed as Hollywood producers probably wanted it. Emma Watson’s portrayl of Hermione was spot on and the actress deserves immense praise for being able to take on such a loved and respected character. But the perfectly tossled waves and curls makes me long for the Hermione of old, the one who would let the frizz fly around with no care what anyone else thought.

The series was never perfect. The movie adaptations always left elements out that I missed such as most of the backstory in Prisoner of Azkaban. But the element I lamented the most was the disappearance of the Hermione Hair. Perhaps someday we will live in a world where a movie character’s hair will not need to be expertly styled to be worthy of screen time. Until that time though, I will have to rely on the Harry Potter books.