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10 psychological haunted-house movies — for when the ghost might be you

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With the early-October arrival of The Haunting of Bly Manor to Netflix, a miniseries in the vein of 2018’s hit The Haunting of Hill House, the haunted-house genre has gotten a timely boost. While Bly Manor takes many liberties with its initial inspiration, Henry James’s classic gothic horror novella The Turn of the Screw, the series shares one of the book’s most common haunted-house tropes: The ghosts may or may not be a manifestation of what’s going on in your own head.

One of horror storytelling’s greatest strengths is its ability to viscerally capture, through images and sensory details, the experience of mental collapse or psychological dysfunction. And one of the greatest things about a ”haunted” house is that what haunts it might not be a ghost at all. Sometimes it’s a person inside of the house who’s haunted, not a thing (think Insidious). Sometimes it’s an event that hasn’t happened yet — a premonition rather than an apparition (think Eve’s Bayou). Sometimes it’s a manifestation of personal trauma and psychosis (Martyrs or The Babadook) or a manifestation of even larger cultural trauma (Poltergeist or Pan’s Labyrinth).

And, of course, sometimes, the ghost is you, the viewer. And that feels especially true in 2020, when, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have probably deepened our relationships with our own homes over the past seven months.

As we look forward to what will certainly be a unique, very indoor Halloween 2020, we thought it’d be fun to take a look at haunted-house movies — and specifically the kind that play with the tension between the internal and the external, the supernatural and the psychological. Many haunted-house movies work because the ghosts within them are real. But sometimes, the ghosts aren’t real — or maybe they are real, but they’re also connected to the workings of the mind, rather than, say, a real demonic possession or an external supernatural event. Or maybe it’s a bit of all of the above.

We invite you to try these psychological haunted-house recs if you’re in the mood for something a bit different. We can’t promise you that all these hauntings will have a tidy ghost dispersal at the end — but they will leave you wondering if that noise you heard in the dark was all in your mind.

The Old Dark House (1932)

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Our first pick for this list is cheating a bit, but hey, it’s our list. Recently restored and having re-entered the critical consciousness, The Old Dark House is an early film from legendary horror director James Whale (Frankenstein). Over the course of an evening, a crew of sophisticates up from the city find themselves stranded in a thunderstorm and forced to seek shelter in a strange Welsh farmhouse — which, of course, turns out to be harboring more than just mortal dinner guests. Boris Karloff is hailed in the credits as “KARLOFF!” and billed as the star, even though he plays a sinister mute side character eerily similar to Torgo from Manos, The Hands of Fate. The rest of the ensemble cast, a cadre of British stage and film actors, including Charles Laughton, tiptoe around him to hilarious effect.

By turns catty and campy, The Old Dark House drips with cheeky nods to haunted houses and psychological horror tropes — despite not quite fitting into either genre. “Madness came,” the 101-year-old patriarch tells the lovers at one point, referencing her bizarre, slightly murderous family. “We’re all touched with it.” As a horror-comedy, The Old Dark House marries its gothic themes to merry Edwardian farces and Clue-esque dinner parties. But it retains the basic template for a true psychological horror: You’re never sure whether the house’s malevolence has infected the occupants, or whether their collective psychosis has imprinted itself on the house.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, YouTube

The Innocents (1961)

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The Innocents dramatizes The Turn of the Screw in a way that’s frankly unforgettable and shocking, perhaps even more today than it was in 1961. You may recognize Deborah Kerr from her much more mild-mannered roles in other movies like The King and I and An Affair to Remember. But Kerr’s performance here, as a disturbed governess who may or may not be projecting madness upon the children she’s caring for, is just shy of frenzied. The Innocents is a must-see for anyone who loves gothic horror, stories of possession, or just stories with unreliable — and possibly deranged — narrators.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

The Haunting (1963)

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Robert Wise’s adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House remains one of the most famous examples of psychological horror because of its fantastic acting and its dedication to ambiguity. Wise uses a stable of filmmaking tricks — from jump cuts to canted angles and dreadful special effects — to vividly portray mental confusion and disorder, while the legendary stage actress Julie Harris slowly deteriorates in front of us. As a bonus, if you liked the film, you can delve even deeper into a different level of haunting with the excellent standalone Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, YouTube

Amityville 2: The Possession (1982)

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The second film in the bloated Amityville franchise is a prequel, not a sequel, and it’s based on the real-life 1974 annihilation of the DeFeo family. On one level, Amityville 2 is campy and overwrought, featuring Satanic panic, sibling incest, and every other over-the-top ’80s trope imaginable. (As a bonus, it features one of my favorite lines in a horror movie: “He did it to HURT GOD!”)

On another level, it’s genuinely creepy. Actor Jack Magner bears an eerie resemblance to family annihilator Ronnie DeFeo, who murdered his parents and siblings and later claimed to have heard voices urging him to commit the killings. Amityville 2 was panned on release but has risen in critical esteem over the years, perhaps because family annihilation is something we take more seriously — and subsequently fear more — than we did in 1982.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Shudder

Eve’s Bayou (1997)

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Eve’s Bayou is an untraditional haunting. Lovecraft Country’s Jurnee Smollett, at just 10 years old, turns in a stellar performance as Eve, a girl growing up in Creole Louisiana, surrounded by a tight-knit community and traces of witchcraft — both of which help her navigate her way through a fraught web of family secrets. The supernatural is everywhere, but instead of battling ghosts, Eve struggles with her own second sight, including a premonition of tragedy that might be a manifestation of much darker family secrets, and childhood trauma yet to be exposed.

You’d never guess from her subtle, mature directing that Eve’s Bayou was filmmaker Kasi Lemmons’s feature debut. And it’s a crime that, 23 years after its release, this sultry Southern Gothic melodrama isn’t better known.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, YouTube

Event Horizon (1997)

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Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill are at their best in this zany, unhinged classic about a spaceship that becomes possessed by — well, you’ll see.

Many of the best space movies — including Alien, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and 2001: A Space Odyssey — all have an element of psychological horror: As the occupants of the lone spaceship drift deeper into the uncharted unknown, they grow more stir crazy, and they’re more likely to confront themselves, their demons, and their ghosts. Event Horizon takes that general premise, wraps it in barbed wire, and bludgeons you with it. This film tortures its doomed spaceship crew with their own worst nightmares and many more unthinkable horrors, before finally revealing the secret of what their ship has become. You may not think of a spaceship as a haunted house, but this ship will prove you wrong.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Hulu

The Others (1999)

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The Others suffered at the box office and with critics by being overshadowed and compared to better-known films with similar premises. That’s a shame because the pleasures and chills of this supernatural gothic thriller are manifold. Take the sheer weirdness of its conceit: A pair of children who are allergic to light is permanently confined to their huge Edwardian mansion alongside their mother (Nicole Kidman, who’s absolutely transfixing in her smothering obsession with her children). Director Alejandro Amenábar layers on the creepiness as Kidman’s character starts hearing voices and seeing things, emphasizing her increasing psychosis with a hypnotic grace. All the while, Amenábar blurs reality until even the film’s twists leave you with more questions than answers.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, HBO Max

A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

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This relatively obscure Korean horror film spawned an utterly terrible US adaptation called The Uninvited that no one should watch. The original film, however, teems with paradoxes, veering across timelines and shifting from soft and graceful to agitated, confused, and horrific. Two sisters battle growing conflict with their stepmother and wrestle with an unspoken shared trauma, all within their family’s desolate country house, where ghosts and angry spirits manifest.

A Tale of Two Sisters turns around the riveting performances of Im Soo-jung and Moon Geun-young as the titular siblings. It also makes outstanding use of editing, staging, and camera work to tell its story more through suggestion than dialogue. The result is a wonderfully jarring, unforgettable portrait of family dysfunction, wrought with imagery you won’t soon forget.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Shudder

The Orphanage / El Orfanato (2007)

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Another debut film that’s almost too good to be true, The Orphanage is a masterful psychological portrait of grief, isolation, and loneliness, as well as a gorgeously wrought aesthetic achievement. J. A. Bayona’s fable of a woman whose son goes missing is a tale of spiraling obsession and of the traces that remain in a house with a violent history — a violence that perhaps inevitably imprints itself on the present. The film reconciles these two themes with a vision of great hope and optimism, but what remains with the viewer is the sheer harrowing despair of actress Belén Rueda as she allows her huge, empty house to swallow her and her grief whole.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016)

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Deliberate and methodical, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House unfolds at a snail’s pace in order to give viewers a full sense of its empty, titular house. Lily (Ruth Wilson) is hired as caretaker to Paula, the house’s sole elderly inhabitant, and Wilson moves just as slowly and methodically within it as the camera does. It’s as if she’s becoming gradually absorbed into the walls and the story of the house itself as she uncovers its past. The whole atmosphere is inevitable and inexorable — a movie for when you just want to choose your own demise.

Where to watch: Netflix


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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
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Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.


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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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Classic toy tie-up: Etch A Sketch maker to acquire Rubik’s Cube

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Spin Master Corp., the company behind the Etch A Sketch and Paw Patrol brands, has agreed to acquire Rubik’s Brand Ltd. for about $50 million, tying together two of the world’s most iconic toy brands.

The merger comes at a boom time for classic toymakers, as parents turn to familiar products to entertain kids stuck in lockdown. Like sales of Uno, Monopoly and Barbie dolls, Rubik’s Cube purchases have spiked during the pandemic, according to the puzzle maker’s chief executive officer, Christoph Bettin. He expects sales to jump 15% to 20% in 2020, compared with a normal year, when people purchase between 5 million and 10 million cubes.

By acquiring Rubik’s, Toronto-based Spin Master can better compete with its larger rivals, Hasbro Inc. and Mattel Inc. All three companies have pivoted to become less reliant on actual product sales, diversifying into television shows, films and broader entertainment properties based on their toys. Spin Master CEO Anton Rabie said he wouldn’t rule out films or TV shows based on Rubik’s Cubes, but he was focused for now on creating more cube-solving competitions and crossmarketing it with the company’s other products, like the Perplexus.

“Whoever you are, it really has a broad appeal from a consumer standpoint,” Rabie said in an interview. “It’s actually going to become the crown jewel; it will be the most important part of our portfolio worldwide.”

Hungarian inventor Erno Rubik created the Rubik’s Cube in 1974, a solid block featuring squares with colored stickers that users could twist and turn without it falling apart. It gained popularity in the 1980s and has remained one of the best-selling toys of all time, spawning spinoff versions, international competitions of puzzle solvers, books and documentaries.

The toy has been particularly well-suited to pandemic conditions. During lockdowns, parents have sought to give kids puzzles that boost problem-solving skills useful in math and science careers. Normally, toys tied to major film franchises are among the most popular products headed into the holidays, but studios have delayed the release of major new movies because of coronavirus. So classic products are experiencing a mini-renaissance.

“The whole pandemic has really increased games and puzzles,” Rabie said. “But whether the pandemic existed or didn’t exist, we’d still buy Rubik’s. It’s had such steady sales for decades.”

Rubik’s CEO Bettin said it was the right time to sell the company, with the founding families behind it ready to move on. London-based Rubik’s Brand was formed out of a partnership between Erno Rubik and the late entrepreneur Tom Kremer, while private equity firm Bancroft Investment holds a minority stake in the company.

Early on, Bettin felt Spin Master was the right home for the puzzle toy, he said. Spin Master, which was started by a group of three friends in 1994, has expanded through the purchase of well-known brands, including Erector sets and Etch A Sketch. Rabie says he works to honor the “legacy” of those products, which Bettin cited as a key reason to sell the brand to Spin Master over larger companies that were interested.

“It was important for us to not be lost in the crowd, and to be sufficiently important and cared for,” Bettin said. “And there’s a balance between being with someone large enough to invest, and agile enough to ensure you are key part of their plans.”

Spin Master won’t own Rubik’s Cubes in time for the holiday season – the transaction is expected to close on Jan. 4. At that time, the company will move Rubik’s operations from a small office in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood to Spin Master’s new games operations center in Long Island.

Some of Rubik’s Brand’s 10 employees will be part of the transition, but they won’t stay permanently, Bettin said.

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