I love a good ghost story and haunted house movie and some of the best ones are set in the past. The moods, atmosphere and tones fit in well with certain time periods. Some of the best ones to exemplify this are The Others, The Awakening, etc.
Watching Winchester this Wednesday (my son and his girlfriend’s choice rather than a ‘romantic’ movie, I’m so proud *sniff*). I have to say, though that the most feeling it created was a hearty “Eh”. I try not to watch previews, sometimes they give away too much, so maybe it was my own fault. I was expecting something along the lines of it being closer to the real story of the Winchester Mansion, heavy on atmosphere with some supernatural elements. What I got were some big Hollywood Horror moments with some modern commentary so forced in that I think I rolled my eyes so hard I lost a contact in my cranium.
It got me thinking, however. In almost all period horror pieces there are always strange anachronisms. I don’t mean the nitpicky kind where “This feather should not be in that hair because that bird didn’t live in that area in that time”. I’m talking about when the director or writer wedges in modern commentary, actions or attitudes that sit so awkwardly in the movie they might as well be shouting “See how tuned in I am??!!”
I do see this in books more often than movies but books would be too numerous to mention here. Generally the worst offenders that I see in books are the ones who make their 19th century ladies very modern and nobody bats an eye. I have no problem with good, strong, female characters being portrayed in period novels but it detracts from the work if it’s so obvious that it takes you out of the story altogether.
However, there are some movies, some very good ones that also fall into the same error. I’ll talk about a few here. I don’t think there will be any spoilers. However, if there are they will be clearly marked. I also want to remind people that these are my opinions only.
I’ll start with Winchester because it’s the most recent. honestly, I’m not even sure where to begin with this one. There will probably be spoilers so if you want just skip down to Crimson Peak.
The first one that caught my eye made me giggle. In a beginning scene Dr. Price is shown taking laudanum. The laudanum label has a huge POISON on the front. And if that didn’t get it across there’s also a huge skull and crossbones. I’m assuming that it was done to get it across to modern audiences what laudanum was since some people might not know what it is. That one just made me laugh.
The more annoying ones have to do with the main plot of the guns and what amounts to a modern day office shooting. I’m not getting into any discussion of gun control here. I only want to point out that at that time (1906) guns were common. Very, very common. One of the reasons people thought that Sarah Winchester was crazy was because of her stance that the ghosts of the people killed by Winchester guns were haunting her. Most people didn’t give guns a second thought.
The other, and more annoying one, is what Sarah Winchester referred to as “soldier’s sickness” which is what addiction was called. And if they had went straight from the soldier’s sickness comment to her requesting him to not take drugs while he’s there since she wants him clear-headed I wouldn’t be so annoyed. But they just couldn’t resist adding in her question to him, “Are you addicted to any medication?” With all of the scrutinizing of painkillers lately this was not a throwaway line. Seeing this crackdown hurt so many people who are taking their medication correctly instead of the people it’s meant to be stopping, yeah, it ticked me off. Big time. The more so because it was so wedged in. It was not a very common stance at the time.
There’s not many in this one. Just one, actually. When Edith is complaining that the publishers didn’t take her seriously because she was a woman writer who was writing ghost stories. That publisher’s wanted ‘a love story’ in her ghost story. Well, there were a lot of female writers at the time writing ghost stories that had no love stories but were still well regarded. I feel as though it’s Guillermo del Toro’s comment on love stories being wedged into almost every kind of story, whether they’re needed or not.
Let’s ignore all of the other stuff wrong with this movie (namely Julia Roberts playing an Irish woman) but they literally had to change almost everything about the original story to force in a love story between Marty and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. They also wedged in a “be free!” message that is just…ugh. I don’t know how much of this is the book’s fault and how much of it is the movie’s but it doesn’t work.
One thing I notice the absence of in period pieces (most notably the war genre) is the absence of smoking of any kind. Especially when a doctor in 1860 lectures a patient about smoking (Sherlock 2009). I’m sorry but it just wouldn’t happen at that time period. Yes, smoking is bad for you. And in modern movies and tv shows they can leave it out all they want. But to act like it didn’t exist in period pieces is asinine. Thy try to work around it occasionally by showing someone with a cigarette or cigar but they usually lose it or their lighter doesn’t work. And for some weird reason cigars are ok to be shown but not cigarettes. What’s the difference? Especially when they have no problem showing those same people chugging down alcohol like it’s water.
So what movies did I miss? Are there others that have been very noticeable to you guys? This article is more of a lead-in to next week’s. I’m a little tired of being so serious so I’m going to let the inner Nitpicker out to play next week and pick apart some major flaws in some movies! So see you next week to have a little snarky fun!