Since I’m on a ghost story kick (when have I ever NOT been on a ghost story kick?), I decided to skim through Netflix’s titles and saw Crooked House, which I immediately watched because, you know, haunted house.
It was originally shown as a series in the UK, it looks like, but Netflix offers the omnibus. And it turned out to be a pretty fun way to pass the time – not necessarily creepy, no, but fun. I generally like Mark Gatiss’ work, but sometimes it falls flat, and the first two stories of the three in Crooked House end somewhat anticlimactically. The third story was the most complete or at least the best conceived, but I think it benefits a lot from the fact that the seeds of the plot were already planted from the beginning, i.e., the story completes the arc of the series, while the other two were independent stories that could’ve benefited greatly from a longer run time.
The omnibus clocked in at an hour and a half, which means each story only gets thirty minutes, tops, and the lengthy opening scene introducing the history of Geap Manor eats into some of that time.
I think the first two stories would’ve been fantastic had they been turned into two two-hour TV movies or something. “The Wainscoting”, especially, had everything I wanted in a traditional haunted house story (and it takes place in the 18th century!), but it unfolded way too quickly, and the ending was – disappointing. Though I did have fun noting that Philip Jackson and Beth Goddard were there, when I knew them best as Inspector Japp and Violet Wilson in the Poirot series.
“Something Old” also had all the elements I love in haunted house stories, but events happened only in one night – though a one-night-event could plausibly be explored in a lengthier run time – and I couldn’t care a jot what would happen to any of the characters. Heck, the drippy bride-to-be annoyed me enough to want to see her offed as per the ghost’s curse. I guess there was nothing for me to hold on to in the second story, which I felt was the weakest of the group.
Even “The Wainscoting” showed some character struggle in Bloxham as well as the side characters, but for me, character development in “Something Old” was negligible, if any.
“The Knocker” was my favorite if only in the way the story developed. Plot-wise, I prefer “The Wainscoting”.
Still, I thought the whole thing was a nice, fun way of spending a leisurely evening. The hauntings are subtle, which is the hallmark of classic ghost stories, and that made me think of a pretty long horror novel I read a little while ago and ended up disliking a lot.
It was a ghost story that was self-published, and I had to skim through a number of scenes because while it was well written in a technical sense, it did suffer from over-the-top haunting scenes. It was like, once the ghost made its presence known, each chapter had at least one haunting scene, with each scene getting more and more wild and absurd.
Then, with all those crammed hauntings and horrific scenes of mutilation and torture (that ended up sounding the same when at least five characters go through the ordeal), the ending doesn’t even give us a satisfying conclusion. Just like with a number of classic ghost stories, this one ends with the ghost undefeated and set to torment a new set of people. I’d normally be okay with that when it comes to short stories (I expect it, even), but with something this long and bloated, I felt cheated at not having any kind of closure.
It was the same kind of issue I had with the most recent film version of The Woman in Black, and I certainly would love to see more writers take the time to make their ghost stories unfold more subtly. It’s a lot creepier for me, anyway, when I’m not having my brain beaten again and again with almost desperate insistence about the house being haunted.