Jekyll and Hyde at Catholic Match

For my Halloween post at Catholic Match, I got to gush a little about one of my all-time favorite horror films, 1931’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde:

You all know the basic outline of the story: the brilliant, good Dr. Jekyll uses a chemical potion to transform himself in the evil Mr. Hyde, the embodiment of all his worst instincts and desires unfettered by even the smallest shred of conscience. Jekyll uses Hyde because, in that form, he can indulge in the pleasures that “a gentleman like me daren’t take advantage of.”

G.K. Chesterton perceptively pointed out that Jekyll and Hyde is not a story about how one man can be two, but how he cannot.
The whole point of the story is that Jekyll’s double-life, his attempt to contain and keep his sins, was doomed from the start. Because what Jekyll refuses to acknowledge, until it is too late, is that he and Hyde are the same person; what one does affects the other.

The more he lets Hyde out, the more the Hyde personality becomes his ‘true’ self, until by the end of the story Jekyll has effectively been absorbed into Hyde.

Read the rest here.

Thoughts on ‘Freddy vs. Jason’

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have a habit of referencing Freddy vs. Jason as a go-to example of solid writing. So, for Halloween, I figured I’d delve a bit into why.

2003’s Freddy vs. Jason was the final film for both the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, at least before the reboots began (though really, who’s counting those?). It also came after a fairly long hiatus for both of them: Friday had ended in 1993 with Jason Goes to Hell, then went through a failed revival effort with 2001’s Jason X (widely regarded as the single stupidest film of the series, and that’s saying a lot).Meanwhile Nightmare had ended in 1991 with Freddy’s Dead, then had a very strange and unsuccessful (though well-regarded) post-script with the meta-fiction New Nightmare in 1994.

Freddy vs. Jason very cleverly plays off this for its premise: both Freddy and Jason, in this film, are figures out of the past: Freddy’s stuck in Hell (the low-security wing for horror villains) and Jason’s body is rotting away in the woods. You see, Freddy has been forgotten by the children of Springwood (thanks to the quarantine-like efforts of the town elders), which means he can no longer haunt their dreams. No memory, no fear, no dreams, no Freddy.

But Freddy, being Freddy, figures out a weak point in their plan; Springwood is so vigilant against Freddy’s return that they will assume at any strange murders might be his handiwork. And if so, their response might just let him out for real. All he needs is another supernatural serial killer. Someone he can easily manipulate. Someone like Jason Voorhees.

Okay, so what makes me say the writing in this film is so solid?

In the first place, set up is pretty clever; it depends on both Freddy and the Springwood authorities being smart, but both their plans being flawed in a way that is obvious in hindsight, but reasonably overlooked. For Springwood, the problem is that they naturally didn’t consider the possibility of a second killer (and why should they?). And Freddy, of course, is too arrogant to consider the possibility that Jason might be harder to put down than he was to call up (we’ll come back to it, but Freddy’s slow realization that he’s drastically underestimated Jason is one of the film’s most satisfying aspects).

Moreover, this premise allows the film to neatly cover a few potential plot holes: the fact that the town authorities have engaged in a massive conspiracy to cover up Freddy’s existence, to the point of drugging and imprisoning those kids who are aware of his existence, means that when things start getting dangerous, the kids have a reason not to go to the police: they may not quite know what’s going on, but they do know the adults aren’t acting normally and that they can’t trust them.

There’s a scene partway through where the heroine, Lori, learns that her father had been lying to her about how her mother died (she’d been one of Freddy’s last victims), and that he was the one who committed her boyfriend, Will, to an insane asylum (because Will had seen the event and thus potentially knew of Freddy). Thus, when he tries to get her to stay home and take a drug he offers, she understandably refuses and runs away to try to deal with the problem herself. It’s a mistake, but one that makes absolute sense given what she knows.

The drug in question is hypnocil, a dream-suppressor that was introduced back in Nightmare on Elm Street III. The kids sent to the asylum have been getting nightly doses of it to help keep Freddy at bay, despite the fact that the film shows it to be dangerous in high doses (we see a ward full of patients who were overdosed into comas). The kids only figure out what it does after they’ve decided they can’t trust the adults, which leads them to make a deadly run to the asylum to try to get it, thus putting them into both Freddy and Jason’s paths once more.

So, the premise of the film is not only solid in itself (given the somewhat flexible rules of this universe), but also provides a solid reason why the kids can’t go to the authorities for help and a motivation to put themselves into harm’s way.

The use of hypnocil points to just how much respect the writers show to these franchises. The return of Jason’s mother Pamela (actress Paula Shaw gracefully replacing Betsy Palmer) is another example; Mrs. Voorhees hasn’t been seen since way back in Part 2. Moreover, this isn’t just fan service; it all serves the plot. How does Freddy control Jason? By impersonating the one person Jason loves and is obedient to. This not only works to move the story along, but actually helps to develop Jason’s character, from the rapt way he listens to ‘her’ to his wide-eyed fury when he realizes that Freddy’s tricked him (that her trademark blue sweater is now a Freddy-appropriate red is another mark of the filmmakers’ attention to detail).

As this indicates, the writers clearly took the time to sit down and work out just who these characters were before writing the film. This results in some really pretty startling scenes, such as the horrifying prologue where we see a pre-death Freddy slaying one of his child victims (off screen, thankfully), or the unexpected conclusion to their first fight in the dream world. Ultimately, the film is credibly driven by the contrasting personalities of its two stars, and they both consistently act in character throughout.

Again, it kind of amazes me that Jason, of all people, actually gets something like character development in this film. We get to see something of his relationship with his mother, a hint at how he views his murderous actions, and even a glimpse of him as a child (which, if I’m not mistaken, is the only depiction of his actual drowning in the whole series. Granted, it’s obviously a twisted, nightmare version, but still it’s interesting to finally see such a pivotal moment in the Friday the 13th ‘lore’). Actor Ken Kirzinger gives a really quite excellent performance using only his eyes and body language, so much so that I would even rank him above Kane Hodder as the best Jason portrayal. I also really like how, when we visit his shack in a dream, there’s a toy ukulele on his bed, pointing to his childlike nature (attention to detail again).

As others have pointed out, the fact that Jason is a kind of ‘child-man’ whose twisted mind remains as it was when he drowned at the age of eight and Freddy is explicitly a child murderer makes their showdown all the more satisfying. Here is one ‘child’ that Freddy can’t kill, and when he tries to bully him it comes back to bite him hard.

Robert Englund, of course, gets to ham it up one last time in his signature role, though his boisterous personality and bad puns are here leavened by his truly horrific actions. Again, almost the moment the film opens it let’s us know just what Freddy is, and it never lets us forget it for long. After being reduced to a clown in his later films, Freddy is back to being the monster he’s supposed to be. They also thought out the implications of his dream manipulation, allowing him to attack one character who, rather than falling asleep, simply gets thoroughly stoned (the scene has Freddy appear as a hooka smoking caterpillar; a nice touch).

On that subject, though the film aims at being pulpy, almost comic-book style entertainment, it also remembers that it’s supposed to be a horror film and makes a genuine effort to scare the audience. There are some great atmospheric shots here, especially whenever we’re around Crystal Lake, and some nicely constructed scares. Jason’s prologue, which is kind of a compression of the Friday the 13th formula, where a girl strips, skinny dips, then runs through the woods and gets killed, is quite exceptionally well-done and reminds us that yes, that formula can be effective. The nightmare sequences, especially one about the middle of the film, are likewise pretty darn frightening and, like in the olden days, capture the feel of a nightmare pretty well (for instance, there’s one where a girl tries to flee, only to find that the door she just entered through has turned into a solid wall).

Horror is a pretty simple effect to create, but it’s also very easy to spoil. Generally speaking, if you try to go too big with it or too over the top, you kill the effect (something Universal apparently failed to understand with its recent ‘Mummy’ remake, with disastrous effect). Halloween II is not three times as scary as Halloween because three times as many people died; quite the reverse. Freddy vs. Jason ups the ante some, but ultimately keeps itself within a reasonable frame; there’s no world or even city-level threat, it’s all a matter of these people and this community, and its most effective scares are the most focused.

Meanwhile, the human characters range from insufferable to excellent (though fortunately most of the insufferable one’s don’t make it out of the first act), but they are pretty much all decently written and at least believable, and you do root for them. Katherine Isabelle gives a particularly good performance, as does Chris Marquette. I also like how the film takes the time to actually let the characters mourn a little when their friends start dying. And how there’s a scene where the kids simply sit down, pool their information, and try to work out a plan for survival. And again, they never really do anything unbelievably stupid (well, the stoner deciding to get high in the middle of the raid on the asylum was monumentally dumb, but not unbelievably so). Again, the actions of the characters all – or at least almost all – make sense given what they know and who they are. They make mistakes, but understandable ones.

I really could go on and on; the running theme of the Past being dug up and brought to light, which is consistent with both franchises. The innumerable references and small details attesting to a knowledge of the franchise (like the sugar sack that one of the bullies pulls over young Jason’s head in his nightmare). The tonally appropriate humor (my favorite being Freddy referring to Jason as “That hockey puck”). And of course the immensely satisfying fight sequences, the last of which is preceded by the wonderful moment where Freddy realizes he’s been pulled into the real world directly in front of an enraged Jason Voorhees. You will never see a finer rendition of the expression “Oh, crap!”

Also, since I just saw Cabin in the Woods, I have to point out that the black humor here is far superior. Black humor, to my mind, is when the absurdity of life suddenly intrudes upon a grim situation. Like, there’s a bit where a kid ends up holding his father’s severed head. Then Jason appears and swings his machete at him, and the kid instinctively (and ineffectually) tries to block the blow with his dad’s head. It’s quick, it’s ridiculous, and it completely fits the scene.

Now, let me be clear: Freddy vs. Jason is no classic. It’s simple, pulpy entertainment, and it has plenty of flaws (among others: the asylum is ridiculously easy to break out of and into, the CG does not hold up well, and several of the actors among the kids are pretty bad). It’s very vulgar, very crude, and definitely not for everyone. And I’m not even that big a fan of the two franchises (for the record, the original Nightmare is one of my favorite horror films, so much so that I don’t really want to see any of the others, and though I’ve seen several Friday films, I don’t think I’d recommend any of them).

Nevertheless, this is one of my favorite films simply for how solid the writing is. All the more so because this is exactly the kind of movie you’d expect to have a rushed or incompetently done script. This is the kind of movie where you expect the phrase “who cares?” to have been used a lot during production, the kind that would attract the contempt of those who worked on it.

But it didn’t. The filmmakers took these franchises seriously, treated them with remarkable respect (indeed, far more than they deserved), and put genuine effort into making a good film, one that is not only satisfying in itself, but actually manages to restore some dignity to the long-moribund franchises, just in time for them to end and allowing both to go out on a high note.

It is especially useful in contrast to the recent entries in, say, Star Wars, where the most prestigious film franchise of them all is treated with utter contempt by writers who can’t even muster the most basic level of storytelling competence. When we say we want a well-written film, one that respects what has come before while nevertheless building on it, one that holds together under scrutiny and evinces real care for the material, we’re thinking of something like Freddy vs. Jason.

Thoughts on ‘The Cabin in the Woods’

The other day I watched The Cabin in the Woods for the first time. I have to say, for a film with such a high reputation, I was really not impressed.

The set up is that it’s your standard ’80s horror film; a bunch of college students go out to a, yes, cabin in the woods, where they wake up an ancient evil and get slaughtered one by one. Only this time, it turns out the whole scenario is set up and controlled by a techno-corporate organization for reasons of their own. So we both follow the kids in the cabin and the workers who are arranging for all the cliches to come off. For instance, when the kids decide the best thing to do is arm themselves and stick together, the workers turn on a gas to impair their judgment and make them think that the thing to do is split up.

And that’s kind of the problem; the whole story is in service to this joke, but the joke isn’t either very clever or very funny. People have been making fun of ’80s horror cliches for ages, and Cabin in the Woods doesn’t really have anything original to add, except for a few (genuinely funny) gags involving the workers and their blase attitude toward the whole thing. It kind of reminds me of the ‘Godfather’ joke in Zootopia (to draw a somewhat distant example): it’s the sort of thing where, if you’re going to make that joke, you really have to do something original with it. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, for instance, did this very well by making the hillbillies the heroes, while the joke was they kept accidentally acting like the villains. Cabin’s horror-related gags are almost all completely standard and pretty shallow in comparison.

Another problem is that the techno-corporate framing device is all wrong. The aesthetic doesn’t fit the premise. It ought to be either more artistic (akin to a TV studio or theater) or more militaristic. The business-type organization is jarringly at odds with the atmosphere and even the premise of what’s really going on. And like mocking horror films, mocking the business world is nothing new. The satire on both fronts is much too obvious and shallow (the original Robocop was doing these same jokes better thirty years earlier).

On that note (and here we get into spoilers), there’s another issue: it’s revealed near the end that this organization has an entire stable of horror monsters kept locked up in individual vaults and, depending on what the kids did they would have unleashed one or other on them.

There are two major issues with this. One is that, like the corporate America aesthetic, blending all these creatures together, and especially in little technological aquariums, completely ruins any kind of atmosphere. These horrors are completely defanged by being established as essentially ‘props’ kept in a backroom. It’s as effective as seeing costumed characters running around Universal theme park: kind of fun, but completely ruins it as a horror film and destroys any substance it might have had.

The other is that this gets the horror genre all wrong. Good horror is essentially a morality play; there always has to be some ‘transgression’ that brings the horror as consequence. But, according to this film, the corporation essentially seeded the cabin with fake chances to ‘transgress’ while keeping the appropriate monsters in readiness. The game is rigged to produce the intended effect, and that is fatal to the genre.

The way this ought to work would be that the organization would be monitoring people who enter certain areas and providing the retribution if they transgress. That might have allowed them to have their joke without spoiling the horror. As it is, I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’s account of his reluctance to accept that the nature he so loved had a creator: it would, he said, be like discovering that the mouse that ran across your path from under a hedge was a wind-up toy that someone had put their on purpose. It all just feels so fake.

The problem isn’t that this isn’t a ‘standard’ horror film, or even that it’s not really a horror film at all. The problem is that what it is instead isn’t very interesting.

This isn’t helped by the fact that there’s really no mystery or twist going on; we follow both sides the whole time and see all the tricks being used throughout the film. What ought to be a startling twist that causes us to question everything we saw is instead just…there.

All that said, it’s not a bad film; there are some funny jokes (my favorite being the running gag about how one of the workers wants to see a merman), and there is some enjoyment to be had with the crazy monster rampage at the end, where genre fans can have some fun identifying the different franchises and films being referenced. I am glad I saw it, if only because I think it is a film worth observing and forming an opinion about.

(Although frankly, if they really wanted to be clever, the Director should have been played by Amy Steel, Heather Langenkamp, or Jamie Lee Curtis, not Sigourney Weaver. Again, the joke is too obvious and doesn’t require any real knowledge or understanding to pull off).

The protagonist of the film, as it turns out, isn’t the redheaded final girl, but her stoner friend, who turns out to be immune from the chemical manipulation of the watchers due to the massive amounts of pot he’s consumed. That, it strikes me, is pretty much what this film is like and probably who it’s made for; it’s like listening to an intelligent, somewhat stoned college student with absolutely no aesthetic or moral sense trying to deconstruct something. He’s able to identify the superficial absurdities and inconsistencies and make witty jokes about them, all while completely missing the point. There’s no real insight into the subject; just a handful of fairly obvious observations.

 Galaxy Quest deconstructed and made fun of the tropes of ‘Star Trek’ and similar shows while being itself an excellent example of the genre. So too did Hot Fuzz, Megamind, and The Princess Bride, among others. These films didn’t just play with their tropes, but they also understood why they were tropes and how to use them. In other words, they understood their genres. Cabin in the Woods doesn’t understand horror, it only knows the cliches.

Horror Short for Halloween

Below is short piece I wrote up for the holiday. Enjoy!

Room 312

            Nothing had happened to Room 312. No grisly murders or occult rituals ever took place there. No workers died during its construction, or were entombed alive in its foundation. Nor was there anything at all unusual about the ground upon which the hotel stood. It had been run profitably for years, and as far as I have been able to discover, no one has ever reported any strange occurrences there outside the confines of that one room.

I arrived at the Garden Gate Hotel late on a rain-swept evening, tired and wanting nothing more than a good night’s rest. To my dismay, however, it seemed it wasn’t going to be that simple.

The Garden Gate Hotel has what its brochure describes as a ‘charmingly old fashioned aesthetic’, right down to the fact that the rooms had actual keys rather than keycards, and the keys were hung on pegs behind the front desk. This had the added benefit of displaying at a glance how many rooms were available. I saw, to my relief as I approached the desk, that there was at least one key left.

“I’d like a room for the night,” I said.

“I’m sorry, sir,” said the desk clerk, a pale, soft-looking man with the most perfectly round head I’ve ever seen. “We’re full up.”

I did a double take. The lone key was still on the wall.

“Are you sure?” I said, nodding at it.

“Yes, sir,” said the clerk. “I’m very sorry.”

“What about that key right there?”

He didn’t look round. Instead, his eyes dropped slightly, as though it were something he didn’t like to talk about.

“That room is not available, I’m afraid.”

“Why not?”

“It…it’s hotel policy, sir.”

By now I was getting angry. I had just had a long journey, and was facing another one the next day. The last thing I wanted was to be told I had to get back on the road in the rain and look for another hotel, especially for what seemed to me no reason at all.

“I’d like to speak with the manager if I could,” I said.

The clerk seemed relieved.

“Right away sir,” he said, and disappeared into the inner office. I waited, silently marshaling my debating powers. Whatever was wrong with that room, be it mold or noise or whatever, I intended to have it.

A few minutes later, the clerk returned with the manager in tow. The manager was a tall, soldierly-looking man, who I at once pegged as being more straightforward and intelligent than his employer. We shook hands and he explained that, he was very sorry, but they never rented room 312 out to anyone.

“So I have been told,” I said. “But why? What’s wrong with the room?”

“That’s rather difficult to say,” the manager answered.

“Is it a health hazard?”

“N-no,” said the manage hesitantly. “Not exactly, though I believe it could be dangerous.”

“No mold, no toxic chemicals, no gas leaks, nothing of the kind?”

“Of course not,” said the manager. “If it were, I’d have it fixed. I’m afraid I’m not doing a good job of explaining, but the trouble is the thing is so darned hard to explain.”

Another idea occurred to me. It almost made me want to laugh.

“Is it haunted?”

He hesitated.

“Again, not exactly,” he said. “Though that’s closer to the mark.”

He thought about it a moment, stroking his chin.

“Put it this way,” he said at last. “Every man who has spent a night in that room has called it the worst experience of his life.”

I stared at him.

“What happens to them?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never spent a night in that room, and the people who have won’t describe what happened. They just say it was hell.”

Strange though it is to say, especially knowing what I now know, all this only made me more eager to have the room. I wanted to know what was strange about it. We are infallibly drawn to the forbidden; the best way to make sure someone touches something is to put a sign over it saying ‘do not touch.’

“Well, look,” I said. “I don’t believe in ghosts or whatever else it is, and I’m not going back out in this weather trying to find another hotel. If you don’t intend to offer the room, why keep the key out?”

The manager gave me a rather twisted smile.

“I don’t,” he said. “Most of the time it’s locked in my desk. But somehow or other, it always finds its way back onto the peg just in time for someone like you to come along and ask for it.”

That made a chill run down my spine, but at the same time I thought “maybe this is a gimmick of the hotel: a way to make the stay more memorable.”

“Be that as it may,” I said. “I’d still like to have that room tonight.”

The manager sighed. He could see I didn’t believe him.

“Very well,” he said, nodding to the clerk, who took down the key. “Wait here a moment, sir.”

He disappeared into his office again and returned with a sheet of paper.

“This is a waiver signifying that I warned you of the dangers of Room 312 and that you will not hold this hotel responsible for any trauma or injuries that may occur.”

“Wait, seriously?”

“I’ve been sued twice by people who have spent the night in that room, and nearly lost my business. Either you sign this waiver or I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

I rolled my eyes and signed. The clerk handed me the key.

The manager himself accompanied me upstairs to the forbidden room. After all that build up, I expected something strange; maybe full of dust and cobwebs. But no; the room looked perfectly ordinary. The door opened on a short hall that ran past the closet and bathroom. There was a queen-sized bed, a desk, dresser, two nightstands, and a chair. The window looked out on the highway, now hidden by the mist and rain.

I admit, there was something about the very ordinariness of the room that struck me as slightly ominous. If the management had merely been attempting to create a memorable experience, then wouldn’t they have gussied up the room a bit?

Nevertheless, I went inside and deposited my bag on the bed. I looked in the bathroom and closet and found they were perfectly normal, as everything else, and my initial sense of unease abated. It seemed clear there was nothing at all to worry about.

“Well, sir, if you’re still determined…” the manager began.

“I am,” I said.

“Then I’ll say good night, and I wish you luck. If you need anything, dial nine for the front desk.”

With that, he bowed and departed, shutting me in as he did so.

I chuckled to myself a little, and dismissing the idea of ghosts and hauntings from my mind, started to unpack the few things I would need for the night.

First of all, I wanted a shower after my long drive. The spray was weak, but at least the water was warm. I’d certainly had worse hotel showers.

As I was leaving the bathroom, I paused. Something struck me as…off. The room appeared much as I had left it; there was my suitcase on the desk, my folded clothes on the dresser, and everything else in its place. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that, somehow, the room was different.

I shook myself; that was absurd. I was letting the manager’s spooky talk get to me. With a shrug, I packed away my dirty clothes, got into bed, and settled in to read for a while to settle my mind.

Nevertheless, that sense that something had changed kept nagging at me, so that I had trouble focusing on my book. I set it face-down on the bed and looked about, frowning at the furniture, carpet, and walls, wondering what it could be that had so caught my attention…

Something twitched inside me, as if I had missed a step going downstairs. For it suddenly occurred to me that the wallpaper, with its cheap, miniature floral pattern, had been blue when I came in, but was now green. And not the kind of green that could be mistaken for blue: rather, what had been a light baby blue was now a bright leafy green.

Upon realizing this, I caught my breath. But then I told myself I couldn’t have seen it properly on my way in; the light was dim, after all, and I hadn’t paid it any particular notice. For all I knew, it could have been green when I came in. I forced myself to chuckle and returned to the book.

I forced myself to read without glancing up at the room. After a little while I became absorbed in the story and ceased to think about the wallpaper. About a half-hour later, as my eyes began to itch with tiredness, I finally set the book aside, yawned, and went to turn out the light.

Before I could, however, I froze.

There was no question this time. The carpet, which had been a dull gray when I came in, was now red.

For a long time, I didn’t move. I had, I think, been prepared, after a fashion, for ghosts: spectral figures, strange noises, phantom touches and the like, but this…this was like nothing I could have anticipated. It was, like the manager said, just strange. There was nothing threatening, or in the ordinary sense, frightening about it, except that it couldn’t happen. Carpets and wallpaper do not just spontaneously change colors behind your back. Yet, here they were, so softly and so quickly that I hadn’t even noticed it. It was so simple, so small, and yet so impossible that I had no idea how to react.

But I had to do something. Slowly, I reached down and felt the carpet, perhaps expecting to find that my hand would come away stained with dye. No such luck; the carpet felt as it had when I came in. Feeling wide-awake now, I got out of bed and began pacing on the strange carpet. What was I to do now? Go down and tell the manager he was right and I didn’t want the room after all? That probably would have been the smart thing, but even in such circumstances stubborn pride and an unwillingness to show weakness before others maintained its grip upon me. Really, was I about to go out again, in the rain, looking for another hotel just because of a color-changing carpet? No, that was absurd. It was too late for that. I was here and I was in for the night.

By now, though, I was very interested in the room. I wondered what secrets it might conceal. I started meticulously searching it, going through all the drawers in the dresser, the nightstands, and desk, as well as the closet. Nothing out of the ordinary. There was even a Gutenberg Bible in the nightstand. I rifled through it just to see if anything was concealed inside, but nothing fell out.

Then I stopped. Glancing idly over the pages, something caught my eye; the heading of the page I had flipped open to identified it as the Book of “Belial.” Though I’m not a religious man, I was pretty sure that wasn’t part of the New Testament. Moreover, from movies and books I’d read, I’d always heard ‘Belial’ used as an evil name.

I started to read a passage at random. My half-remembered Sunday school lessons told me it was the famous parable of the sower. Since that night I looked up the original to remind myself what it’s supposed to be like: Jesus likens Himself to a farmer planting grain, where some lands on a road where it’s eaten by crows, some lands on shallow ground where it withers, some lands among thorns, and some lands on good ground.

This version started out like that. But it didn’t end that way. Instead, the crows came all four times and ate up the seed no matter where it landed. The parable ended with the line “And the crows grew fat upon the seed.” Then this version of Jesus began abusing the crowd, using language that would never have been in a real Bible. I won’t repeat it here, but it made me feel rather sick. I stopped reading and put the ‘Bible’ away.

I was half afraid to look up, but as though the room were rationing itself, there was no visible difference that I could detect. Again, I considered just getting dressed and leaving, right now. But again I rejected the idea. After all, color changes and a nasty fake Bible weren’t all that bad: nothing to really keep me awake all night.

With that thought, I laid back down on the bed. But it took me a while to resolve on turning out the light. I had a nasty feeling that as soon as I did, the walls and floor would start flicking through the entire color wheel around me. I don’t know why, but that thought made me uneasy.

I lay there for a while, trying to nerve myself to turn out the light, until I realized that I was afraid of the dark. This made me angry enough at myself that I switch off the lamp without another thought, rolled over, and shut my eyes, determined that if the room wanted to go changing colors about me, it was welcome to as long as it didn’t wake me up.

What a damn fool I was.


It took me a long time to fall asleep, as you may imagine. Indeed, if I hadn’t been so very tired, I doubt I could have slept at all. All the time I lay awake, I was listening, for what, I don’t know, though I heard nothing. But my exhausted body eventually overcame my troubled mind, and I slept.

A noise awakened me with a start. It sounded as if something heavy had been dropped onto the floor. The room was in total darkness, so that it made no difference whether my eyes were open or shut. I reached for the bedside lamp…but couldn’t find it. I felt all along the side of the bed, growing more and more uneasy as I did so, for I sensed there was someone in the room, and the longer I spent groping in darkness, the more certain I became of it. There was no other noise, but I could sense it.

Meanwhile, I discovered that, not only the lamp had vanished, but the whole nightstand had apparently been moved and was no longer within reach. I hurriedly crawled to the other side of the bed, but again, I found nothing.

By now I was definitely alarmed. Someone was in the room; I was sure of that, and they had somehow moved both nightstands, with their lamps, out of my reach. The only thing to do now, I thought, was to make for the door.

I crawled back to the right side of the bed and swung my feet out. They landed, not in carpet, but in something soft, warm, and wet. I cried aloud at this, then tried to feel for solid ground with my feet, but to no avail. Deciding I had no choice, I nevertheless stood up, feeling my feet sink into the foul-smelling ooze. Feeling one hand along the wall for support, I staggered for the door. It was like walking through deep mud.

I hadn’t gone more than three steps before I ran flat into a wall. I pounded on it in desperation: this was wrong. I remembered the layout of the room, and the hallway to the door should be right here.

I began to grope my way along the wall, seeking the door, which I now thought must have moved somehow. I felt my way along two whole sides of the room before I realized that the door wasn’t the only thing missing; the dresser was gone, as was the desk. Moreover, the wall didn’t feel like wallpaper; it felt more like stone.

Then, on the third wall, about where the window had been in the normal room, I found it; the door. I almost exclaimed in relief as I felt for the handle and turned.

A blast of icy wind met me as I opened it. It certainly did not open into the hallway. I had the impression of vast, empty space: endless and cold. The air I now breathed was as sharp as on a winter night.

But it wasn’t absolutely dark. There was a light directly in front of me; a pale, almost greenish light, perfectly round and, from what I could see, about the size of a basketball. Though since there was no frame of reference and it cast no illumination on its surroundings, I suppose it might have been any size and any distance. It didn’t move or change in any way, and yet, the longer I looked at it, the more uncomfortable I became. I felt nauseous, depressed, and terrified all at once.

I don’t know how long I stood there, staring at the orb, but eventually I came to my senses enough to slam the door shut. With nowhere else to go, I felt for the bed. The only way I could think to end this nightmare, apart from entering that endless, cold chamber, was to go back to bed so that I could wake up.

To my slight surprise, I found it, just where it should have been. I crawled in and buried myself under the warm covers like a child hiding from a nightmare.

The relief of the warmth and comfort of the bed was such that, for a while, I didn’t even realize that there was something in there with me.

I froze, not daring to move for fear the thing should grab me. We were close enough that the stiff hairs on the thing’s body were just tickling my back. I had the impression that its body was long and thin and vaguely human, though I can’t be sure of that. It made no sound, nor did it move, yet it was there, just touching me.

I lay like that all night, not daring to move a muscle, while the thing lay beside me in the dark. I suppose I must have drifted off at some point, because the next thing I knew it was morning. The room was normal, except that my suitcase lay on the floor by the bed on the other side of the room from where I had put it.

Though I no longer felt the hairs in my back, it was a long time before I dared to look around to see if I was alone.

Needless to say, I left the hotel as soon as I could. The manager wasn’t there when I checked out, but the clerk said he had orders not to charge me for the night’s stay. I got on the road and drove to the nearest town, where I went into a small restaurant to order breakfast and coffee and stayed there the whole morning trying to collect my scattered nerves.

Since that night, I’ve tried to find out everything I could about the Garden Gate Hotel, and especially Room 312. As I said, I haven’t found anything in either the history of the building or the site that might give a clue as to what happened in that room. A year or so later, I even went back to discuss it with the manager, but he had no more idea than I did. The room had always been like that since it was built, and no one knew why.

I’ve never had another night like that in any other hotel. Though, ever since that night, I have sometimes awakened in the small hours of the morning, feeling stiff hairs tickling my back and the undeniable sensation that something was in bed with me.