Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia took ten years to build, starting in the early 1820s, and was one of the most expensive buildings constructed during that time. Prisoners were admitted and abuse-investigations were conducted before the building was even finished. This was partially because in the beginning, regardless of their crime, prisoners were placed in isolation. They could not interact with other prisoners, nor were they given anything to read and many had break downs very quickly. Those who lashed out at circumstances faced physical abuse, such as whippings or being doused in cold water and restrained. Blanket solitary confinement was abolished in the 1870s.

By 1913, the facility had 1300 prisoners (well over its 250 maximum occupancy) and the overcrowding led to neglect of the facilities, leaving it in squalor. In 1971, the prison was shut down since building a new prison would cost less than restoring Eastern State Penitentiary. It has since been converted to a museum, with some rooms restored–such as the cell Al Capone was confined to during his stay.

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31 Days of Horror Movies: Day 5

31 Days of Horror Movies

Day 5 | Friday the 13th (1980)

This is the first installment of like SO MANY movies. Apparently, according to wikipedia there are 12!! It was also interesting to watch this movie critically since it’s a classic.

Honestly, I don’t think the first installment is really what put the film on the map. The pacing is…very weird…and you don’t have time to get to know the characters, really–the girl I pegged for the “scream queen” turned out to be the first to die! I mean, I guess that’s fine but the killings start immediately–within the first 30 minutes or so of the movie (in fact, I just checked–she gets killed at 22 minutes!). There isn’t a lot of build up, in that sense, and from there the murders just happen so rapidly. I mean, I get it–it’s a slasher film, but I actually didn’t have that much fun with it?

The spirit of camp movies is having the kids be there and telling scary stories and having campers find the bodies. We all have those fond memories of camp, right?

I think this movie was a bit of a mix between Psycho (1960) and Carrie (1976) as far as the endings of all three films. Also, if you’re looking for that iconic hockey mask, stripped sweater, and gnarly face, this ain’t it. But if you want a glimpse of young Kevin Bacon’s butt, I guess this is your film!

31 Days of Horror Movies: Day 4

31 Days of Horror Movies

Day 4 | American Ghost Hunter (2015)

At least, I was led to believe this was horror…but I’m gonna go ahead and say that it’s not and I’m kind of sad I bothered to watch it. I thought it was going to be “American gothic,” (the cover looked promising, a little like The Conjuring, but it wasn’t). The cross is there for a reason. It winds up just being a “oh, we should all just accept Jesus and it’ll probably make us happier” kind of thing.

It almost had something going for it at the beginning, when it was talking about the Villisca Axe Murders, which took place in 1912 in a city not too far away from the main character’s/main peoples’ house in Persia, Iowa. That and the fact that Lorraine (of “Ed and Lorraine Warren” fame, as made popular by movies like the Amityville Horror and the Conjuring) made an appearance in the film. Honestly, just read up about the Villisca Axe Murders and call it a day (or night).

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Do you know where the Wakulla Volcano was?

Reports of an column of smoke coming from  Jefferson County, Florida were once common, with the first recorded claims made by Seminole Native Americans and then others all the way until the Charleston Earthquake of 1886, when the smoke disappeared entirely. Its source was never found, though the leading scientific assumption is that it was the result of a peat fire.

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Is there a mysterious, dormant volcano lurking beneath swampland in North Florida?

Chippewa Lake Park

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Chippewa Lake Park was open from 1878 to 1978, when competition from nearby Cedar Point caused a sharp decrease in admission. What could not be salvaged and sold was left behind and the forest has reclaimed much of the old amusement park, leaving just barely a hint of the 100 years the park stood.

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31 Days of Horror Movies: Day 3

31 Days of Horror Movies

Day 3 | Grave Encounters 2 (2014)

There were some valid criticisms of the first movie–at least from the horror perspective–about it not having enough scares. They listened to that criticism with this movie, though. Even going so far as to splice in seemingly random scares from the first movie into the introduction scenes of the second one.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this movie, given that it is a sequel to a horror movie (and that usually never bodes well!) but this one used the same set up as The Human Centipede 2 (2011) and later on The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014); that is, that the original film was really just a movie in-universe in the sequel. So, in Grave Encounters 2, Grave Encounters was a movie that the main characters of the sequel thought might have actually been real. This leads them to go on an expedition to find the mental institute investigated in the first movie. Again, the team finds themselves lost the ever-changing asylum, even busting through a wall in one room only to fall from the ceiling into a hallway. This whole loop, like the building is alive, is reminiscent of  “The Navidson Record” portion from the 2000 book House of Leaves by  Mark Z. Danielewski (and honestly, this book is so interesting and bizarre I absolutely recommend it to all of you).

I will admit, there is definitely a fair amount more blood and violence in this one. We physically see three people murdered on camera–one of which is murdered by an invisible voice that breaks the girls back, seeming reminiscent of Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) where one of the parents has their back broken in a similar fashion. Another homage can be seen in the scene right before the next death where the boy (pictured above) talks to the camera and his family, crying just like in The Blair Witch Project. He’s subsequently strangled to death. The final death involves a face getting smashed in with one of the cameras…so:

This iteration of the narrative of “grave encounters” is not for the faint of heart.

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Atolia Tungsten Mine

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Abandoned mining towns can be found all over the United States. This one in particular is the Atolia Tungsten Mine in California. It was founded in 1905 and closed its doors when the mines dried up in the 1940s. Equipment and furniture was left behind, and some places still smell of the chemicals used in the mining process.

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31 Days of Horror Movies: Day 2

31 Days of Horror Movies

Day 2 | Grave Encounters (2011)

This movie starts out really hokey–just look at that screen shot!–and runs exactly like any other “ghost hunting” show out there (and trust me, I watch a lot of those!) at the beginning. Basically this team of ghost hunters pitched their show to a producer and they called it “Grave Encounters,” hence the name. I actually think this is pretty clever and a cool frame for the whole movie. It plays in to what a lot of us wish we were seeing when we’re watching those ghost hunting shows! This one does have some jump scares, but mostly everything is very subtle but still kinda creepy.

Spoilers! (if you’ve never seen it!)

A similar issue that happened in the Blair Witch Project (that we discussed on day 1) is the loop (sort of). The team gets stuck inside the mental institution they’re investigating and things heat up quickly. I think this concept is so cool and I can see why people have definitely been impressed by this movie. It does the found footage, just like Blair Witch, but the 12 years between the two movies made a lot of difference–Grave Encounters is much smoother and is much less likely to make you feel a little nauseous! There were some hokey bits (where they wake up with hospital bracelets with their names on them??), but the movie does borrow a lot from Blair Witch. Though, Grave Encounters does ramp it up a notch–they actually show the things menacing the characters (and some of those effects weren’t spectacular but they were still pretty good!). Towards the end, there was a lot of yelling and screaming and f-bombs, too. Just like in Blair Witch!

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31 Days of Horror Movies: Day 1

31 Days of Horror Movies 

Day 1 | The Blair Witch Project (1999)

This movie is a classic–or soon to be classic?–horror movie. It’s one of the pioneers of the “found-footage” genre made popular by films like Paranormal Activity and The Poughkeepsie Tapes. (We may talk about both of these movies later on!)

So, this movie–as we said–is an earlier film; it’s about 15 years old now, so not old in the horror genre but definitely for the found footage. It’s kind of funny because the main issue of the movie is that the three people get lost (and into the predicament in the first place!) because they’re deep in the woods with just a compass and a map (though I don’t know who has like super accurate maps of wooded areas in a nowhere part of Maryland??). It’s hard to imagine this being much of an issue now, you know with iPhones and satellite GPS devices. Also, I just don’t know how much people would actually want to go out into the woods like that (yes, I know about urbex-ing but also the word “urban” is in there so it mostly implies that the areas being explored aren’t super remote). Regardless, they go in to the woods and they get caught in what seems to be a loop. And that’s pretty terrifying, to be honest. Even though the little sculptures dangling from the trees aren’t really all that menacing, the movie does a very good job of building the tension since you never really know what you’re gonna see, if something’s going to pop up around the corner, and that’s a quality I love to see in horror films–a bit of that building tension, the “doom” horror that we’ve discussed before.

One of the main complaints about the movie is that it’s a little “too” realistic with how shaky the camera shots are; a lot of people say it makes them nauseous (there’s actually a line about that in Legally Blonde!) and I would have to agree with that. Tread lightly if you have motion sickness! My personal complaint about the movie was how much screaming and yelling went on. I guess I understand that that’s supposed to add to the “realism” of them freaking out and having break downs, but maybe a few less f-bombs would have been nice!

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The Bell Witch Cave

This creepy cave, which was formed through erosion of soft rocks, is now named after the Bell Witch who supposedly haunted the Bell family. It’s named as such because the cave is on the land in Adams, Tennessee, (population of only 628) that the Bell family used to own.

The witch (who supposedly manifested as a poltergeist) that haunted the family was named Kate Batts and the main victim of the haunting was the daughter of the family, Betsy Bell.

There are multiple, multiple stories about what happened with the family—some of which are incredibly far-fetched—but, in the end, it certainly makes for a creepy site to visit.

The story of the Bell Witch also inspired the movie The Blair Witch Project.

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