A (Brief) Case in the Haunted Library

Happy Halloween, Cassettes! This year, we recorded our annual (brief) case in a very special location: Wagnalls Memorial Library in Lithopolis, OH! The Library has a reputation for being haunted, so we thought it would be the perfect place to cozy up with a good scary book.

For this episode, we found three spooky tales from books in the library that all take place in our home state: Ohio! So, settle in and don’t get too scared!

THE MOONVILLE TUNNEL

Our first story comes from a book called “Guide to Ohio University Ghosts and Legends” by Craig Tremblay. This story, however, is about Moonville, a small ghost town in Lake Hope State Park. Moonville is a ghost town in the literal and figurative sense. It’s a completely abandoned town that is most famous for the ghosts that people have spotted there. For more information on The Moonville Tunnel, check out this link!

THE OHIO STATE PENITENTIARY

Our second story comes from the book “Haunted Ohio II” by Chris Woodyard. This scary tale recounts the horrific tragedy that occurred in the Ohio State Penitentiary on Easter Sunday 1930 when fires broke out in the prison. Over three hundred people were killed, and the event shocked the entire country. If you would like to know more, check out this link.


THE GHOST THAT ROARED

Our final story also came from “Haunted Ohio II.” It was a personal account of a haunting in someone’s home in Cincinnati, Ohio. The haunting took place in the 1960s, and involved a demon and a bookcase!

Now that you’ve heard the stories, here are some more photos of the haunted library!

Wagnalls Memorial Library was founded my Mabel Wagnalls in 1925. For more info, follow this link!

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The Case of the Sequel was Better

Hey Cassettes, it’s 2020 and we have a clear vision of the year ahead! Welcome back to another episode of The Black Case Diaries Podcast. 

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So for the past few months, we have been doing a lot of what we call, “focus” episodes where we talk about one movie or show at a time. But, we like to shake things up here, so we’re starting off 2020 with something a little different. 

Today we are talking about movie sequels! On Twitter a while back, we asked people to name a sequel that they thought was better than the original. We got a lot of feedback and some really great ideas, so thank you! We are going to highlight some of these movies and discuss what it takes to make a great sequel, and whether or not a sequel is ever “necessary.”

What We Mean By a Sequel

Really quick, we want to clarify what we mean when we say “sequel”. A sequel is a continuation of an earlier story that takes place in the same universe. Sometimes it takes place directly after the original, or maybe a long time after. This is different from a reboot, which is a re-telling of the same or similar story and it may take place in a universe where the original events did not occur. 

  • For example, Ghostbusters 2 is a sequel; but Ghostbusters (2016) is a reboot. Ghostbuster 3 will be a sequel to the original Ghostbusters films, but not a sequel to the 2016 reboot of the franchise. Confused? Don’t worry, so is everyone. 

 

Where do sequels come from? 

  • Since the ability to mass produce any kind of story has existed, so has sequels. If something is popular, why not use it to make more money? It’s a simple model that has been around for centuries. 
  • Even in the silent film era, directors were making follow-up films to their original pieces. For example, the famous film “A Trip to the Moon” (1902) by George Méliès  was soon followed by “The Impossible Voyage” 
  • As long as sequels have been around, they haven’t had the best reputation. In some instances, filmmakers relied too much on the popularity of the first movie, and didn’t put in the same amount of time and effort for the sequel. This continues to happen today, and more often than not, the sequel is inferior to the first film in the franchise. 

But, why do studios make so many sequels? Well, it’s because audiences want them. Jurassic World, The Force Awakens, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel; no matter how “bad” these movies seem, they make money! If audiences didn’t really want them, we wouldn’t pay to see them. We as a capitalist country vote with our money every day, and that’s a vote that really counts. 

Bad Sequels

Before we look at sequels that could be the exception to this rule, we need to find an example of a “bad” sequel. We looked at lists curated by Business Insider and USA Today to find some sequels with the worst reputations. Now, movies are subjective, so we will try our best to look at the technical aspects of these films and take into account the general consensus from audiences and critics

  • Home Alone 3
  • A Good Day to Die Hard
  • Son of the Mask 

 

What makes a good sequel?

To answer this question, we looked all over the internet and read lots of lists about the good qualities of movie sequels. We used them as a reference to compile our own list of what makes a sequel worth watching: 

  • Is it necessary? 
    • Now what we mean is: Does this story need to be told? Did the first film warrant a sequel? 
    • Some, including Jessica Firpi from Always the Critic Movie Podcast, would argue that no sequel is ever necessary or worthy. This is not that crazy of an idea! 
    • But if a writer creates a story with a sequel in mind, who’s to say that the sequel story isn’t as important as the original? There is no law stating that sequels are automatically of less artistic value, so why do we automatically assume that a sequel won’t live up to an original? 
  • Is it a new story, or the same story told again? 
    • Audiences go see sequels because they like feeling confident that they will enjoy what they are paying for. But this is where studios make the mistake of trying to give the audience the exact same movie. 
  • Did the actors/characters return, and if they didn’t, were they replaced with equally well-written characters? 
    • Are all the characters important to the plot? Were characters kept around for fan service or do they serve the story? 
    • If these characters return, do they develop? Have they changed or will they change in this continuing story? 
    • Does it recognize the original and the accomplishments of its characters? 
  • Did the unique and iconic elements of the first film return? 
    • This can be as simple as a line or an outfit. Imagine Terminator 2 without “I’ll be Back” or any Indiana Jones film without the fedora? It just wouldn’t be the same
  • Does the sequel change the lore or rules of the first film’s universe? Has the genre changed? 
    • This can be a pro or a con, depending on how well it’s done
  • Does the villain return OR does this villain stand on its own as a character? 

Most of these points could be boiled down to one key concept: If you must make a sequel, figure out what made the original so special and build off of it! Don’t rewrite it, and don’t leave it out!

Best Sequels Consensus

Twitter Suggestions: 

We got SO MANY suggestions for sequels that were better than the original on Twitter, we can’t name them all. But, it was nice to see how passionate everyone was about this topic! We made a list of movies that came up again and again, and we are going to examine what makes them good sequels!

The best sequels according to Twitter were: 

  • Aliens
    • Ridley Scott’s original Alien hit theatres in June of 1979 and introduced the world to Sigourney Weaver’s heroic Ellen Ripley and the doomed crew of the Nostromo. It was sci-fi horror film that made history, so it wasn’t a surprise when a sequel was in the works. 
    • Directed by James Cameron instead of Ridley Scott, Aliens takes place 57 years after the first film. James Cameron also wrote the screenplay. 
      • Was this sequel warranted? 
        • This is a tough question for this particular franchise, because the first Alien could have been a one-off from a story perspective with the question of whether Ripley will awake from hyper sleep.
        • But the second plot goes well with the first, using a rescue mission as the main motive of the characters, similar to the original motive of the crew in the first Alien film.
      • Is it a new story?
        • Absolutely. Even though we see the return of a lead character and villain, this film feels like a continuation of a franchise, not a repeat. Without the knowledge of the Xenomorph, it makes sense that eventually humans would colonize the moon inhabited by the creatures and watching Ripley express these horrors to a disbelieving audience builds on her character arch.
      • Did the actors/characters return? 
        • As the sole survivor of the Nostromo, Ripley’s return in Aliens is instrumental to the plot of the film and connects the movie to the original. If Sigourney Weaver did not return, this film would not have been nearly as successful as a sequel
          • Because of the nature of the first film, no unnecessary characters returned for Aliens. 
          • Ripley is a strong, intelligent, and resourceful character in both films. But in the second film, we see her step forth as a natural hero and leader, and with the introduction of Newt, we see her compassionate side.
        • The other characters in the original Alien are replaced with a larger group of Marines. Some of these characters stand out, like Bill Paxton’s Hudson or Jeanette Goldstein’s Vasquez, but ultimately more people means more room for bloodshed.
        • Aliens recognizes Ripley’s experiences and how her character would have been affected by them. We see her get ignored just like the first film, but her past experiences put her in a place that allows her to take charge and help her shipmates survive.
      • Did the unique/iconic elements of the first film return? 
        • The most iconic parts of Alien were the Xenomorphs, and they return in full force. We see the face-huggers and chest-bursters along with full-body aliens.
          • The look and feel of the sets are similar, with the futuristic setting.
      • Does the sequel change the lore of the original or change genre?
        • Alien is a unique sequel, in that it sits in a different genre than the original movie. The first film was an all-out thriller set in space. The second film is a sci-fi action film and strays from its horror roots. Aliens takes on more of a Jurassic Park feel, humans trying to survive against an animal force. 
        • The sequel Aliens does not change the rules of the universe, it doesn’t suddenly reveal the Xenomorphs to be anything but soulless beasts that kill to survive and take over whenever possible. 
      • Does the villain return?
        • It depends on what you mean by villain. In the first Alien film, Ash the android is a stand-out villain that does not return for Aliens. But, as we said before, the Xenomorphs do return for this movie and stand alone as their own terrifying villains.  
    • Aliens could not have existed without the iconic Alien. Although many may consider it to be better than the original, it certainly stands on the shoulders of a film giant. 
    • How is Aliens BETTER? 
  • The Godfather Part II
    • Was the sequel warranted? 
      • The Godfather is regarded as one of the greatest films in cinematic history, so a sequel was inevitable. Every family has a history, and the Coreleone’s are no exception! The second film explores Vito Coreleone’s origin as an Italian immigrant and juxtaposes this against his son Michael taking over for him in present day.
    • Is it a new story? 
      • Yes, this is a new component to the story that brings more depth to the characters and performances of the first film.
    • Did the characters return? 
      • Yes! The Godfather Part 2 brought back the infamous Vito Corleone and his son.
      • While it turns the clock back on Vito, we see a progression of Michael. Michael’s character moves forward and adapts to his surroundings.
      • Michael assumes the role of The Godfather, and goes through a metamorphosis to do so.
    • Did the unique/iconic elements of the first film return? 
      • The iconic characters, the film score, and the cinematography continue a signature feeling from the first movie 
    • What makes The Godfather Part 2 BETTER?
  • Terminator 2
    • Did the first warrant a sequel?
      • This again is a very hard question to answer.  Could they have stopped after the first movie? Yes.  But….Would it have been a disservice to the character of Sarah Connor? Yes.  In the second installment we get to see a much more confident and strong woman who is willing to do anything to not only save her son but also the fate of the world, even when there is nobody that believes her.
    • Is it a new story?
    • Did the characters return?
    • Did the unique/iconic elements of the first film return? 
    • Does the sequel change the lore of the original or change genre?
    • Does the villain return?
    • What makes Terminator 2 BETTER?
  • Kill Bill Vol 2
    • Was the sequel warranted?
      • In this special case it was definitely warranted because it is a two part story.
    • Is it a new story?
      • No it is the same story continued.
    • Did the characters return?
      • Yes
    • Did the unique/iconic elements of the first film return? 
      • Quentin Tarantino’s unique storytelling is kept throughout both films.
    • Does the sequel change the lore of the original or change genre?
    • Does the villain return?
    • What makes Kill Bill Vol 2 BETTER?
  • Empire Strikes Back 
  • The Dark Knight
    • Was the sequel warranted?
    • Is it a new story?
    • Did the characters return?
      • We of course get Batman and Alfred.  We also have the return of Batman’s love interest Rachel. The actress, however, was changed from Katie Holmes to Maggie Gyllenhaal. The decision to keep the character was wise in order to keep consistency because otherwise the audience would have wondered what had happened to Rachel.
    • Did the unique/iconic elements of the first film return? 
    • Does the sequel change the lore of the original or change genre?
    • Does the villain return?
      • The villain of The Scarecrow returns but we also get an amazing performance from a new villain, The Joker.
    • What makes The Dark Knight BETTER?

 

Sources:

https://screencraft.org/2015/10/02/the-ten-commandments-of-writing-a-great-sequel/

https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/7-rules-writing-sequels

The Watcher in the Case

Woods Patreon

We’re in week three of our Disney Halloween series! This week we’re talking about the 1980 film “The Watcher in the Woods.” This is a supernatural, sci-fi thriller set in England. 

The story preys on two classic fears: The Woods, and being watched. I know it sounds silly when you think of that and the title of the movie, but it’s true. There are a lot of supernatural ties to the woods. It’s a place where many feel close to nature, but it’s also a place that holds terrifying tales of people losing their way and never being seen again. 

 

When we’re in the woods, we feel small. The trees tower over us, and the foliage blinds us from seeing long distances. Even if we venture in alone, we know we are surrounded by so many unseen animals and insects. So, the belief that there are mythical beasts or wandering spirits in the woods has been around for centuries. This is why the woods are a great place to tell scary stories. Even when we sit around the campfire, we’re not safe. We can be seen, but we can’t see beyond the flames. 

 

The other fear is being watched by an unknown person or thing. This is also known as scopophobia. We use the threat of observance to trick children into behaving; we tell them that Santa or his elves are watching every move they make. None of us like to feel that we are being watched, and it gives us a strange and creepy feeling, much like most of this film. 

 

Movie Beginnings:

  • Near the end of the 70’s moviegoers seemed to want more mature content.  Disney decided that they wanted to begin dipping into this latest craze. They began with The Black Hole (a sci-fi space adventure) and then proceeded with The Watcher in the Woods. Both of these films were meant to be PG in order to attract the audience to their new direction.  The Watchers producer Tom Leetch had told the head of the studio Ron Miller that “This could be our Exorcist.”  
  • It is based on a book by Florence Engel Randall which was turned into a screenplay by Brian Clemens.  Later though, Disney decided Clemen’s version delved too much into darkness and so they had revisions done by Harry Spalding, Rosemary Anne Sisson, and Gerry Day.
    • There are small differences, like Jan finds exes in mirrors instead of triangles
      • The presence in the woods reaches out to Jan’s father and shows him why its trapped
      • Instead of using Karen’s friends, it’s Mrs. Aylwood, Jan, and Ellie that have to complete a “triad of power” to bring Karen back
    •   The biggest difference is that the book ends before the seance with the girls heading into the woods. There is a cliff-hanger that doesn’t get resolved. 

 

Plot:

  • An American family moves to the British countryside with their two daughters Jan and Ellie. The family encounters Mrs. Aylwood, an old woman plagued by the mysterious disappearance of her daughter Karen 30 years ago. Jan and Ellie start to notice strange happenings in the house. Ellie hears whispers and music that she assumes comes from Jan, while Jan keeps seeing the image of a young girl trapped in mirrors. 
  • Jan learns that Karen disappeared during an eclipse, and that one is about to happen again. She tracks down everyone who might know what happened the night of her disappearance and demands answers. 
  • When Ellie becomes possessed by The Watcher, an unseen entity that has been communicating through her, Jan plans to hold a seance and bring Karen back. 

 

Starring:

  • Bette Davis as Mrs. Aylwood the mother of missing Karen
    • A very famous leading lady among those in Hollywood
    • One of her most famous roles being 1962’s drama What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
    • The release of this movie was to be set with Bette Davis’s 50th anniversary in the motion picture business which rushed the production of the films ending. 
      • This was her 85th feature film
    • She had expressed interest in playing a young Mrs. Aylwood and the present day Mrs. Aylwood.  John Hough therefore shot the scenes with her wearing makeup but afterward he privately told Davis that the scenes just didn’t work because nobody would believe she was in her forties.  She reportedly then looked him in the eye and told him “You’re goddamned right.”
  • Lynn-Holly Johnson as Jan Curtis 
    • The part was announced publicly to originally be portrayed by Diane Lane but ended up being Lynn-Holly 
    • She rose to fame by her figure skating in the mid 70’s which led to her first movie Ice Castles where she plays a partially blind skater who is trying to make it to the Olympics.  
  • Kyle Richards as Ellie Curtis
    • She was a young child star that had a recurring role in Little House on the Prairie
    • She now is known for her tv personality on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills since 2010.
  • Carroll Baker as mother Helen Curtis
    • The now retired actress who had roles that ranged from innocent to bold which allowed her to be classified as a pin-up and a serious actress.
  • David McCallum as father Paul Curtis
    • Known now as Ducky from NCIS
  • Ian Bannen as Karen’s friend John Keller
  • Richard Pasco as Karen’s friend Tom Colley
  • Frances Cuka as Karen’s friend Mary Fleming
  • Benedict Taylor as Jan’s love interest Mike Fleming 

 

Making of the Movie:

  • Directed by John Hough and Vincent McEveety, The Watcher in the Woods was filmed at Pinewood Studios in England
  • After it’s premier in New York in 1980, it was pulled from theatres after 10 days because of the overwhelmingly negative reviews 
    • When Disney pulled the film from theatres, they replaced it with Mary Poppins and re-shot the final scenes
    • In the original version, the film shows a physical depiction of the Watcher, a horrifying monster that wraps itself around Jan and transports her to a different dimension 
      • Audiences hated the apparently unfinished graphics and practical effect of the watcher
      • The original ending was also confusing, making the story more clunky and hard to explain. We find that the watcher is an alien that suspended Karen in time and space when it was accidentally transported to our world in its place
        • In this version we also get an explanation of the Watcher, a creature from another dimension that “turns people into negative images”
      • In the new version, we don’t see any of this. The watcher appears as a beam of light. Jan disappears, and then reappears with Karen. The scene ends there with no explanation and we don’t see the reunification of Karen and her mother. 
  • The film also had an alternate beginning, with a girl playing with a doll in the woods. The watcher scares the girl, causing her to drop the doll and run away. There’s a burst of light that catches the doll on fire and the titles play over the melting doll’s face
    • An executive at Disney refused to allow the original beginning to be released on the DVD because it wasn’t in line with Disney’s brand
  • Many of the filming locations were used in “The Haunting” based on the book by Shirley Jackson. You might know this story, as it was adapted for a Netflix show as “The Haunting of Hill House” 
  • The movie was re-made in 2017 for Lifetime. It was directed by Melissa Joan Hart and Angelica Huston played the role of Mrs. Aylwood

Sources:

https://www.newspapers.com/clip/26186974/globegazette/

https://www.newspapers.com/clip/26187061/the_los_angeles_times/

https://web.archive.org/web/20091027052528/http://geocities.com/ditcin4/watchermystery.html

https://www.retrojunk.com/article/show/243/the-watcher-in-the-woods