Before I talk about the short story I read this weekend (actually another reread), I have to share with you a movie that I watched last night. It fits in well with the RIP Challenge and an earlier discussion about scary stories (hard to achieve) vs. scary movies. I've yet to come across any stories that have been really frightening, though I think I am contented with atmosphere and a good twist at the end. Now movies are another thing entirely, and The Broken directed by Sean Ellis, literally scared the socks off me. I am probably every horror film director's dream as I have a vivid imagination and any movie that provides just enough story and leaves it up to the viewer to fill in the rest, well I'm happy to provide the rest. I came across this movie purely by chance. If you're familiar with Netflix, when you add a movie to your queue a box pops up that gives more movie suggestions, and this was one of those suggestions. I was messing about with my queue and this ended up at the top, but I had no real idea what it was about--other than a story of suspense.
I won't give away the ending of the movie, but in order to talk about it, I will have to give away a little of the plot, so you might want to skip this paragraph and go to the next if you think you might watch it. The Broken is a movie that doesn't give a concrete explanation of the events that occur and the ending is pretty ambivalent. (Possible Spoilers). This is a story of doppelgangers, which I find really fascinating, but I wouldn't want to meet a doppelganger like the ones in this movie. On a busy London street a woman spots someone driving a car who is her absolute twin. She follows this woman back to the woman's apartment and discovers a photo there of her and her father, but she has no recollection of it ever being taken and doesn't understand why it is in the woman's apartment. Later when she is driving home she has a head on collision with another car and loses her memory. She becomes confused and disoriented believing that the people around her aren't their real selves. They look the same but don't act the same. I should mention a scene at the beginning where Gina, the woman who spots her twin, is celebrating her father's retirement. During the party a large mirror falls from the wall and shatters, and the guests joke about seven years bad luck. The sort of luck they're going to have is worse than bad. Shattered mirrors are a motif in this story and they are a precursor of bad things to come. (End of spoilers).
The London in this movie is not one that I am familiar with in my normal movie watching. It's dark and dank, almost monochromatic, and devoid of crowds. Every office and room, even hospitals seem to be only partially lit. From the first scene, and certainly when you see Gina watching her twin drive by you feel nothing but menace. Nearly the whole movie is shadowy and Gina is alone in this surreal place trying to understand the world around her. Maybe what a ghost story needs is a scary soundtrack. Music helps set the tone and mood, escalating when the action does. For as frightening as I found this, there was not an excessive use of violence and only a very few very disturbing scenes to give away just what was happening when a mirror breaks. I'm not even sure how much of the movie I actually saw as I had to turn my face away as the atmosphere would get so intense and creepy I couldn't bear to see what was happening. I should have watched this in the middle of the afternoon rather than late at night when everyone else was in bed and asleep. It was very nightmarish and I had to watch some documentary on Gothic cathedrals on PBS after in order to clear my mind of the images. I don't watch many movies of this sort, so I can't say just how good it was, but if the goal was to give a good scare, well, they succeeded in freaking me out. You can see the trailer here, but be prepared to be spooked.
As for stories, I decided to read one that I recall sent shivers down my spine the first time around. A few years ago I read Marghanita Laski's The Victorian Chaise Longue. It was creepy verging on the macabre in a "what if" sort of way, much like her ghost story, " The Tower". This is another story set in Italy--this time in Florence. The story begins:
"The road begins to rise in a series of gentle curves, passing through pleasing groves of olives and vines. 5 km. on the left is the fork for Florence. To the right may be seen the Tower of Sacrifice (470 steps) built in 1535 by Niccolo di Ferramano; superstitious fear left the tower intact when, in 1549, the surrounding village was completely destroyed."
This is the description in Caroline's guide book. She's recently moved to Italy to be with her husband, Neville, who works for the British Council. Caroline had hoped to appease her husband by dutifully making the museum rounds so later she could concentrate on the shops, but he has a particular fascination with Italian art. His position gives him entree into private art collections in Florence. It is in one of these that Caroline sees a portrait of a lovely young woman who died very young, Giovanna di Ferramano. Next to this portrait is an unnamed work of a sinister looking young man--it's assumed he is Giovanna's husband, Niccolo, about whom it's been whispered about whom it's been whispered that he dabbled in the dark arts.
While Caroline's husband is off to his meetings, Caroline visits places in her guide book. It's her intention to not be an ordinary tourist. She hopes to discover a unique Italian landmark that her husband has not yet found. Di Ferramano's Tower seems just the ticket. The Tower is barren, however. She decides to undertake the long climb up all 470 steps to the top, but it is a harrowing experience. I'm not going to share the twist but will only say the journey down those 470 steps seems endless to Caroline. I really liked this story and recommend it. While it is not overtly frightening, what is chilling is what you fill in with your mind. There are just enough details given to give you a visual image, and it is creepier the more you think about it.