2006 was a fun year considering lots of people thought the world was ending on 6/6/06; I remember that day. It was deeply uneventful but interesting because of how many thought that. I’d already been through this with Y2K, so I was like, “Probably won’t end”.
At first, I thought the hospital in this movie was a maze for psychics where the building feeds off of them the deeper into the place they go; I was wrong-it’s both somehow more interesting and less interesting than that at the same time. This is a place where the living can be pulled into a sort of hell-limbo; hospitals are no picnic–they can be places of sickness/death, but this movie takes that fear further. What if this was a place you couldn’t escape? It takes from you (your blood specifically), dries you up, then disposes of you. The fact that this isn’t just a place for the dead but that anyone could be taken there, too, is terrifying. This limbo is happenstance, not punishment which is somehow worse. It’s also a time-warp, with outdated language like “merry prankster” and the nurses are wearing outfits closer to Halloween costumes of nurses rather than scrubs. Not only are you trapped in this place/sucked dry, your family can’t find you, so you very literally disappear. Add the “we know you’re awake” during surgery scene and it’s the scariest sentence in the world for someone like me who has a fear of surgery. Clearly, this is a place of pain and suffering.
This is a great setup for a horror movie, and yet, it’s overcome with Christian gaze, which is what I call when it seems like a movie is catering only to Christian belief. This was 2006, so not the most progressive year in the world; gay marriage is still not legal and “gay” was still being used as a slur to insult others. So when you come upon the lesbian blood-drinking monster-women having the orgy, it can be pieced together that this act (the lesbian orgy) is being condemned. Sex here is being equated with hedonism, and with lesbians being so out of the norm, it’s just another indicator of their “badness” and monstrosity. I feel this is a male-focused scene because other than the blood-drinking, most men would be interested in what they’re seeing (since all the nurses are attractive) instead of taken aback and clearly disgusted as Nick is. The blood is totally gross but it’s the only giveaway that something’s wrong. Sure, maybe not the best place to have an orgy but again, this isn’t a real hospital. Otherwise, mind your own business and quit judging, Nick! Whatever these women are, demons maybe (even though the lore makes them something completely different), them being lesbians is being judged. Not cool, 2006. If you think about it, this scene didn’t really need to be there because there were other ways to denote the weirdness of the nurses-drinking blood alone would have qualified that but no, 2006 had to condemn gay people, too.
We also see the Christian gaze again with the church scene, where the main character goes to get help and demons end up tormenting her in a vision. We also see many terrible visions of death/hideous creatures/disfigurement, which happens early on, making me think Amy is some type of psychic. The true psychic is a tiny Chloe Grace Moretz who helps Amy find Nick. Taking Nick in the first place is clearly a trap to lure Amy there and it’s revealed that it’s because she escaped them and is “one of them”, according to the demon folk anyway.
Now, if you’ve seen my other work at all, you’d know that whatever demons are (we’re not really sure), they aren’t human and never were. Sometimes in Christian-led storylines, people become demons if they’re bad enough and that isn’t true at all. Demons have abilities that far transcend humans in death, so it’s unlikely they’re very similar to us at all–another point reinforcing this is that when a demon is around a human, they cause irreparable damage to the person. Even their presence breaks us down, as does the body when they possess people in demonic folklore.
When we get into the lore of how this place came to be, it’s unfortunately riddled with Satanic Panic, which is a phenomenon that started in the 80s in the U.S., where the media became obsessed with protecting their children from ritual abuse by Satanists that was supposedly happening. The FBI even investigated it and found nothing; people went to jail who didn’t commit crimes because a new form of witch hunt began happening if you wore black and were a little weird (look it up; people went to prison who didn’t commit crimes). Satanic Panic can be recognized in movies by a clear dichotomy of good (Christianity) versus evil (Satanic). Evil exists in many forms and in humans, so it can be irritating to watch the same narrative, especially when sex abuse exists in churches.
So I became impatient with the tired “oh it’s because they were Satanists” explanation of villany. The employees of St. Rosemary’s hospital burned the place purposefully to the ground and stayed inside to burn because get this: “devil worship” and “eternal youth rituals”. Essentially, they gave the hospital to Satan as sacrifice? Because that sounds remotely possible that people wouldn’t run out of a burning building as a survival reflex; this act cements these people as the monsters Christianity is painting them as. Now, sacrificing people and draining blood is monstrous–but Satanists, real ones, don’t do this sort of thing. They don’t believe in hurting other people (I’ve read their Bible, too). So Satanic Panic, at its core, is an overinflated fear of what Christians think Satanists are doing in the dark instead of what they actually do. I guess the hospital cult’s reward is that they get to stay in limbo-Hell forever? Shows again Christianity’s view of how Satan rewards people for their worship. I can’t speak for Satanists, since I’m not one, but I’m certain that isn’t how they view anything of their religion.
The big reveal is that Amy pulled the plug on her dying father because he asked her to and my reaction: what kind of shit is this!? She was a child; she doesn’t belong with the Death “Demon” Brigade when her father manipulated her into pulling the plug. Amy didn’t murder him–he essentially killed himself and permanently traumatized his daughter as well. If anything, he belongs there according to the Christian gaze and the assisted suicide question: is it suicide? Is it murder? Many countries including the U.S. still don’t let people do assisted suicide or “assisted dying” as it’s now called. I just think it’s particularly tasteless to bring a child into that debate; what father would do that? It’s horribly selfish.
Then Amy and Nick leave and he really asks her, “Are you sure?” What could she possibly not be sure of? Staying in a hellfire (the limbo-Hell somehow goes up in flames again) with blood-drinking demons? No Nick, let’s not leave. And then she just DIES. After all of that; we also find out the little psychic girl is her guardian angel (and didn’t do the greatest job there). Again, we have a purely Christian message: don’t be afraid of death since something better is waiting for you on the other side.
I think this was a great premise that went wayward and devolved into a purely Christian (and often inaccurate) narrative. If you’re going to use that narrative, spice it up a little like The Matrix did (Neo is very similar to Jesus; think about it). I think it’s lazy writing to blame everything on Satanists who more likely than not, aren’t doing much to take down Christianity. Atrocities are often done in the name of God while they point their fingers at other religions, like it somehow justifies anything. I wanted to like this one, but things got very weird very quick. It probably sounds like I hate Christians/Christianity, which isn’t the case as long as they aren’t being judgy or hateful towards others. Jesus wouldn’t have liked that and God loves everyone. Lots of condemnation of difference and not a lot of loving thy neighbor. What I really hate is Satanic Panic, hatred of others, and lazy writing.
I don’t normally go to haunted places on purpose; I’m clairaudient (clear hearing), claircognizant (clear knowing), clairsentient (clear feeling), and a geomantic (feeling the energy of cities/the earth) psychic with a little mind reading on the side. I’ve had it my whole life, passed down from my mother who has the same abilites, but in different intensities and also is a little clairvoyant (clear seeing), so she can see things I can’t. A newer one was realizing I could feel the energy of cities/places specifically (I don’t really feel the energy of the earth as a whole though when there’s immense public outrage, the ground hums with it). Anyway, I had been offered the chance to stay in the Lizzie Borden House with the wonderful women of the Feminine Macabre (an all-female/nonbinary journal of the paranormal) because of Amanda Woomer, who is a paranormal author/historian. A very special thanks to Amanda for making this happen for all of us; it was a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (and if you’re interested, look up the Feminine Macabre to read or even become one of the writers. Volume 5 is now open; look it up if you have an interest or background in researching something spooky!)
I live in Wyoming, in a place with a dead core; whatever energy once existed here feels like it has crusted over/fallen asleep almost. It isn’t an active place. South Carolina, when I visited earlier this year, was completely different. I felt earth magic; something mystical that keeps the place growing, a place that did not mind my presence (whatever lived in Logan, UT while I was going to grad school wanted me to leave. It was like it was allergic to me.) The dead might be numerous but were not going to bother me there: I got “the dead do sleep here” through my clairaudience. Just to give you some examples of how my abilities work.
While driving to Fall River, I listened to music and zoned out a little, listening to this place. It told me about itself through my own voice in my head (that’s how my clairaudience works; things come to me in my own inside-my-head voice that I wasn’t thinking about but a few times there has been something that wasn’t in my voice that has come through). Here’s what it said:
Dark things deep in the trees
Blood in the water
This land is angry
It doesn’t mind that I’m here
Magic here is of another variety
Blood, moon, wild woods, runes
Not of earth, of fire
Fire, iron, bone
This is a liminal place
What a strange fate
I’m not a poet; these words popped in my mind as I zoned out during the drive. South Carolina revealed itself to me in much the same way. Fall River, MA, is a fascinating town; we went on the Lizzie Borden tour earlier in the day because my mom and I wanted to make sure it was safe for me to sleep there. Sometimes places are too dark for me to be in for too long.
Anyway, we had a tour of the place when all the ladies got there (which was actually boring for me since I’d gotten the gist of it earlier that day). I instead focused on the place itself and how I was feeling in certain rooms; the most I felt was in the room where Mr. Borden died, not because of the area he died (earlier in the day, I’d felt an intense electrical-like concentration of energy there) but because something was drifting in and out of the surrounding rooms. It was interested in us, what we were doing there and peeking in. I felt this so intensely as electrical and it became a little uncomfortable but I was sort of stuck in the room listening to the tour with the rest of the ladies, but ultimately the presence moved away from us. Then I felt more concentrated energy in the room where Mrs. Borden died; I felt intense sadness and confusion but also a very real sense of dread that I tested by walking in and out of the room. I didn’t want my knowledge of what had happened there to color my experience too much, but sadly, it happens accidentally sometimes.
The basement also felt a little creepy, but then again, it is a basement. They’re supposed be creepy; the house is in the process of renovating a room down there for people to stay/investigate and I just felt instinctively that I wouldn’t want to stay down there. There’s also a weird meat hook sort of hidden right now by furniture. Not a comfortable feeling about that.
I don’t think Lizbeth (I’m trying to call her by her preferred name, though when I refer to the Lizzie Borden House, it’s only so people know what I’m talking about) murdered anyone. I personally think (and felt) that this had something to do with money and Abby Borden’s past, who is sort of overlooked in the stories even though she was murdered first and much more gruesomely. All of us on this trip believed Lizbeth was innocent; my mom mentioned feeling great peace in her room. Make of that what you will.
The next day, I went to Salem and there is something about Salem (though even now in their off-season, it was still too full with people for my liking). First, it’s gorgeous-so many beautiful, unique buildings and houses that are picturesque. There’s some mystical energy there, something magical that’s hard to explain. Then we went to Proctor’s Ledge, which is a memorial to those who were persecuted and hanged during the Salem Witch Trials. I said their names to myself and felt deep sadness for these poor women. They must’ve been so frightened. I went a little to the left to the parking lot behind the Walgreen’s, where I learned Gallow’s Hill would have stood from my graduate-level supernatural folklore class (thanks, Jeannie!). I walked along a little with my parents and suddenly, me and my mom stopped. It felt gravitational, how we were stopped. The rock juts out a little and I just knew that that’s where Gallows Hill was. It was one of the stranger things I’ve ever felt. It was a completely sure, utterly solemn feeling that something terrible had happened here, which naturally everyone knows but it’s different to actually feel it. This place isn’t marked and it was so weird to have my mom feel it, too, but again: psychic. We’ve just never sought out haunted places before, so this was all a little new.
I also drove by Rebecca Nurse’s house in Danvers (it was sadly closed to the public), but it had very heavy energy even from a distance and was tucked away in this gorgeous hamlet. Fun fact: most of the original Salem was actually in today’s Danvers. I didn’t get a chance to see the Parris land (where Tituba and Abigail Parris lived), but I’ll be back!
Massachusetts is a fascinating, beautiful place I hope to go back to soon with my husband. I want to explore the East Coast a lot more since I’ve always lived in the West. Thanks for reading my psychic ramblings!
I’m skipping ahead with the story because, for me, it really picks up when they reach the witch’s house. This is a basic Hansel & Gretel story, but Gretel takes first billing. She’s older, the leader of their small expedition in the forest after their mom straight up loses it/makes them leave during a time of food scarcity. They come across the smell of cake, which they follow to the cannibal witch’s house. Alice Krige is dazzlingly frightening as the witch and steals the show in every scene she’s in. This is a witch who made choices: starve or eat, her children or her own power-these two choices feed into each other because when she let go of her attachments and gave herself to the darkness, she had plenty to eat from the mutilated bodies of her children. Then she lured more children to continue her abundance. When you make deals with darkness, you always lose and with that deal comes a terrible price that someone always pays; it took several years, but Gretel eventually burned the witch for trying to kill her brother.
The witch’s powers that we see are that she can shapeshift through liquid/transfigure body parts into food with her true form being a young/beautiful sylph, and multiple witch-associated symbols from all cultures on her body (unsure of that meaning). It could be that she is of all the magic in the world or they just didn’t want to leave anyone out. The magic they deal in is quite dark, just like with what happened to her own daughter (to save her from illness, they made a deal with “the darkness”)-no wonder she was cool with throwing Hansel into the forest; she did the same with her own daughter. Lovely woman. Hey, mom, want darkness powers? Cool, trust the dark and kill your remaining children, mmkay?
A Starving Time
The food is described as “only heaven”, which is an interesting choice of words considering what that food is made of: death, souls offered to feed the witch’s hunger for plenty.
Hansel saying Gretel’s words back to her: “there are no gifts in this world; that nothing is given without something taken away”, is unfortunately true but even truer in this grim world. What does the witch get out of teaching Gretel anyway? (The obvious answer is the brother to eat, probably-abandon him! Then we’ll feast.) Children as burdens on parents/siblings is a perspective not often shown in movies with their gaping mouths as a burden on the hungry. It’s pretty monstrous to just be eating the kids; witches tend to exist on the fringes, but this is a very negative view of them. The movie also implies adults neither care or notice that the children are gone. If anything, they are probably happy not to have the extra mouth to feed. Gave me The-VVitch-Black-Phillip: “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” vibes; indeed. It isn’t a perspective I agree with but then again, I’ve never lived through extreme poverty that could turn you against your own child. It really makes one think about the socioeconomic factors that go into such a hatred.
The View of Witchcraft
There’s also a really low view of marriage as being a ball and chain, responsibilities to others as something to be cast off; witchcraft is freedom-in this, it seems like one becomes a servant to the darkness of what you’re doing instead of a man. In general, men are viewed negatively, which is fair if you’re a witch. Men suck when they’re afraid or confronted with things they don’t understand; they go very quickly from being freaked out to murdering people. Witchcraft is also often seen as a monstrous thing and it’s not like there are no dark witches, but it left me feeling uncomfortable with how it painted them somehow though it was probably meant as “not all witches, just this one witch”. Witches unfortunately seem to get the short end of the stick, being painted as ugly and evil in most fairy tales and/or stories.
I think it’s strange how witchcraft in this movie encourages Gretel to abandon her small brother who is nowhere near teenage years to pursue her own path; he’s a kid and the world is pretty harsh. Sure, he isn’t her child and shouldn’t be her burden, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hers for the time being. Who else does he have? Kids can’t fend for themselves and this movie suggesting that seems very strange. As if hatred of children and their need to be fed = justification for leaving them to their own devices. This would make way more sense if he were older but as it is, this feels like a story about what it’s like to be selfish.
(Yes Gretel, eat poison! Always a good idea. Also same conversation: “he [her brother] is all I have in the world” and the witch threatening to turn her tongue into a flower because of how pretty/dumb/temporary Gretel has chosen to be; she can’t let him go because Hansel is her poison-let’s make him delicious instead! Her logic is terrifying.)
Ultimately, Gretel chooses her own path and doesn’t eat her brother, kills the witch by using her powers to choke her via broom-thing as she hangs over a blue-fire oven. It comes down to another choice: feed the darkness or give it light? (Side note: that bitch ate A LOT of kids and naturally, due to the gruesome nature of their death and possibly the reuse of their bodies, they were trapped. Her fingers turn black, too so it’s not a comment on darkness but magic.)
I also love this movie (the imagery, the feeling of mansion), but I’m first to point out how weird this movie deals with telling a racially-charged story. The movie opens with a story of a man and a woman; she’s writing a letter and we see her poison herself. The man is inconsolable and eventually kills himself too, which is why Gracey Mansion is haunted: the deaths of these two lovers. When all the other servants died, they were cursed to remain on the property as well.
In present day, we see a successful realtor black couple who are clearly living their best life, selling houses left and right. I love to see this kind of representation because there’s often a racist association of black people with poverty. Marginalized people are often living in poverty, but it isn’t the only story.
The realtor couple is offered this house to sell, which is an old multi-million dollar mansion in the heart of the bayou. It has its own private cemetary and stretches for acres. My main issue is the way the story of the ghosts is told. Edward Gracey tells his story as if it were his great-grandfather (Edward is a ghost) and says of his disastrous suicidal love affair: “They were from different worlds and couldn’t be together”. Then later, the butler reveals that he murdered Elizabeth because, “[they’re] union was unacceptable” and that if he hadn’t murdered her, Edward would have run away with her, from his honor as a wealthy man in society, etc.
Eight-year-old me did not understand these statements whatsoever; only as an adult revisiting the story do I realize that he’s talking about the fact that Elizabeth is black (she bears a striking resemblance to the present-day wife, Sarah, and that’s why they brought her there, thinking its her reincarnated) and Edward Gracey is white. Think about the time period; perhaps late 1880s to early turn of the century era. America is still soooo racist at that point in time and there’s no way authorities would have condoned an interracial marriage; it was illegal. Especially in Louisiana, where New Orleans was a slave port; Edward Gracey probably owned a ton of slaves to work what was most likely a plantation. This is probably how he met Elizabeth; it sounds like a Sally Hemings/Thomas Jefferson narrative (which has been romanticized but it was essentially the guy who owned her raping her since was still a child; she might have had a Stockholm Syndrome love for him. Maybe she really did, but we don’t have her side of the story-only his.)
I know that it was 2003 and most likely, Disney didn’t want to be divisive at all or show the real horrors of slavery in a kids’ movie, but kids are taught about slavery. I don’t think completely hiding history of our despicable past helps anyone, especially when you have to dig through layers and layers of subtext to find the real story they are telling. If we forget the past, it will repeat.
And while we’re at it, what was up with that drag-me-to-hell sequence with Ramsley? Eight-year-old me was not ready for that imagery and yet, it was in there, so I’m just saying, Disney: tell the real story.