Tag Archive: Winchester

Review by C.J. Bunce

I love ghost stories at the movies.  Whether it’s lighter faire like Joseph Cotton and Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jennie, a favorite version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, or the Disney favorite The Watcher in the Woods, or darker stories, like Guillermo del Toro taking on the Gothic mystery genre in Crimson Peak, count me in.  We’ve reviewed some good ghost stories here at, including The Woman in Black, the aforementioned Portrait of Jennie and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and television series like Marchlands, Lightfields, and Wynonna Earp From the ghost pirates and pirate ghosts in the Pirates of the Caribbean series to the ghost army in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, a good ghost story must have a believable visual take on the actual spectres, but it also needs to provide an appropriate level of spooks and an interesting story.   Ghosts have been featured in romps like R.I.P.D., Ghost Rider, Beetlejuice, and Ghostbusters, darker ghost tales like The Crow and The Others, and even romances like Always, and City of Angels.  Some great, some only good, I count all of these worth watching.  Critics rarely give credit to the genre, with M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense as an exception.  But count Winchester, now in theaters, as one of the good ones.

Although the ghost story is a subgenre of horror, if you lean more toward slasher flicks, monster gore, and terror (think Saw or Scream series), if you want to scream out loud in the theater, and true ghost stories aren’t really your thing, Winchester may not be for you.  But if you want a nicely creepy setting, a throwback style ghost story movie, and a cast of excellently realized characters, Helen Mirren’s Sarah Lancaster, Jason Clarke’s Dr. Price, Sarah Snook’s Marian Marriott, and Eamon Farren’s Ben Block make the cut.  This is not just a pile-on of gotchas you’d find in a typical teen slasher film, but it’s peppered with jumps and starts.  Its setting, its costumes, and its roots in reality will keep you on the edge of your seat, but it also flows at a steady pace.  A simple tale with a few twists, Winchester is most on par with The Woman in Black, but it also dabbles in the realm that will appeal to many fans of The Sixth Sense–even the plots share some similarities.

Do you like haunted houses?  The famed real-life Winchester haunted house in San Jose is the right place for the ultimate haunted house tale.  The truth of Winchester only adds to the suspense and intrigue:  Heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, Sarah Winchester became one of the world’s wealthiest women of the 19th century.  Her husband died in 1881 and she then proceeded to spend her fortune on a sprawling mansion over the next 38 years, a mansion that was never finished.  And why?  Some evidence indicates it’s because Sarah Winchester thought the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles were haunting her.  Lore of the house is that she built extra rooms onto her mansion to trick the ghosts.  She was a bit of a recluse and known by those near her to be superstitious, and this is evident with the number 13 appearing throughout the house windows, such as rooms with 13 panes of glass, ceilings with 13 panels, and staircases with only 13 steps.  And workers removed and added new rooms to the mansion until her death in 1922.  Where there are gaps in the story, the directors–the Spierig Brothers–fill in the blanks visualizing the mythos of Sarah Winchester’s supposed vision of the truth, asking the question: If her superstitions are related to her strange house design, what story could explain this unique house?  Despite the inclusion of ghosts, nearly everything can be explained by science, and much can be left to the viewer to make his/her own call.  But if you’re game, couple an heiress who truly believes she is cursed and a doctor whose own past demons and drug use make him susceptible to some suggestions of a supernatural nature, and you’ll find an intriguing ghost story.

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For “truth is stranger than fiction” it’s difficult not to stumble over the story of Sarah Winchester.  Mysteries of the Museum, America’s Castles, and every series that has ever taken viewers on an excursion to America’s supposedly haunted houses has covered the story.  Heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, Sarah Winchester became one of the world’s wealthiest women of the 19th century.  Her husband died in 1881 and she then proceeded to spend her fortune on a sprawling mansion over the next 38 years, a mansion that was never finished.  And why?  Because Sarah Winchester thought the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles were haunting her.  She built extra room after room on her mansion to trick them into not finding her.  And she had new rooms added to the mansion until she died.  And this story is all true.

Next month the great Helen Mirren (RED, Hitchcock, The Queen) steps into the shoes of Sarah Winchester in the new drama horror film, Winchester.  One of genredom’s pervasive actors, Jason Clarke (Terminator: Genesys, Farscape, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Everest) plays a doctor looking into Winchester’s outlandish claims for the Winchester business.

The mansion still exists and is now a tourist attraction called the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California.  Check out the website here.  For fans of Supernatural–show creator Eric Kripke gave Sam and Dean their last name because of Kripke’s interest in the Mystery House.

The film adaptation appears to take the ghost story into the realm of Guillermo del Toro’s ghost story Crimson Peak.  Check out previews for the new movie, Winchester, after the cut:

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Merry Christmas!

It’s that time of year again, time to take a look forward at what movies should be on your radar for 2018.  Are you going to see them all?  Heck no.  These are the genre films we think readers will want to know about to make their own checklists for the coming year.  We pulled 55 of the hundreds of films that have been finalized or are in varying stages of final production for next year’s movie calendar.

What looks that it may top the list of most fanboys and fangirls?  How about Ready Player One in March?  Solo: A Star Wars Story and Avengers: Infinity War in May?  Sequels to Deadpool and The Incredibles in June?  X-Men: Dark Phoenix in November?  But don’t over look other films that look promising, like Winchester in February, Tomb Raider in March, and The Predator and The Equalizer sequels in August.

So grab your calendar and start making your plans for next year–here is the list of the movies you’ll want to see in 2018:

The Commuter – January 12 — Liam Neeson’s next action thriller finds him on a train with an offer he can’t refuse.  Co-starring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson.

Proud Mary – January 12 — A hitwoman played by Teraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures, Empire) has her life go sideways when a mob hit goes bad.  With Neal McDonough and Danny Glover.

Ophelia – January 22 — Daisy Ridley stars as Ophelia in a twist on Shakepseare’s Hamlet told from her perspective.  Co-starring Naomi Watts and Tom Felton.

Please Stand By – January 26 — Dakota Fanning, Toni Collette, and Alice Eve star in a story about a young woman with autism who sets her sights on winning a Star Trek writing competition.

Winchester – February 2 — Inspired by true events, the story of the heir to the Winchester firearms fortune finds herself haunted by the deaths of all killed by the weapons, leaving her to try to avoid them in an incredible mansion.  Starring Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke.

Cloverfield 3 (yet to be titled) –  February 2 — A crew of astronauts fight for survival on a space station.  Starring Elizabeth Debicki, Daniel Brühl, and David Oyelowo.

Peter Rabbit – February 9 — Fox Studios brings a great cast of voice talent to their adaptation of the classic Beatrix Potter story.  With Daisy Ridley, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Rose Byrne, and Domhnall Gleeson.

Monster Family – February 9 — A family is turned into monsters in this animated romp.  Starring the voices of Jason Isaacs, Emily Watson, Nick Frost, and Catherine Tate.

Black Panther – February 16 — Ryan Coogler directs Marvel Comics’ king cat superhero Black Panther in his own standalone movie.  Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, with a reunion of The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis.

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The TV Land network and their addictive marathon of M*A*S*H holiday episodes sucked me in once again.

First of all, my all time favorite character in any TV show or movie is Major Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce, played by Alan Alda.  Hawkeye has the toughest job in the toughest place in the toughest time period.  He lives and breathes tough decisions and his job is triage, discriminating between life and death realities, between saving this guy’s life over that guy’s life.  Dealing every day with friendly and unfriendly comrades he is just stuck with.  And yet, except for the last episode of the series (which I pretend does not exist), Hawkeye brings humor and optimism into the equation whenever he can.  And thanks to some brilliant writing over the years (now decades ago) we got not only the best TV series ever, we got the best drama and comedy wrapped into one, and at that, each episode had only 20-some odd minutes to make us all become familiar with a war seemingly firsthand that we never otherwise would have had a personal affinity toward.

What M*A*S*H probably did best was remind us that even though we may have our own issues that approached or even sometimes surpassed the trials of the characters of this wartime mobile surgical hospital crew, more often than not you could be reminded that whatever you were going through was not really that bad–that things will get better if you can just keep your head up and march through it all.

Many main and supporting characters came and went over the years, from Major “Trapper” John MacIntyre to Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly, to Colonel Henry Blake, to Major Frank Burns.  Some of these characters we were supposed to love and others we were supposed to hate.  Colonel Sherman T. Potter was one of the best of the cast, the elder traditional soldier with a sense of both nostalgia for the golden days and humor for his young medical staff.  Potter was played by Henry Morgan, who passed away two weeks ago at the awesome age of 96.  Some great acting can be found in his list of films and TV series, from The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) with Henry Fonda, to State Fair (1945) with Dana Andrews, to Yellow Sky (1948) with Gregory Peck, to Bend of the River (1952) with Jimmy Stewart, and High Noon (1952) with Gary Cooper, to The Glenn Miller Story (1954) with Jimmy Stewart, to Strategic Air Command (1955) with Jimmy Stewart, to Inherit the Wind (1960) with Spencer Tracy, to How the West was Won (1962) with a who’s who of Hollywood, to his co-starring role as Officer Gannon with Jack Webb from 1967-1970 on the TV series Dragnet, and several supporting roles between and after, Morgan may not have been the leading man, but as a character actor he gave credibility to dozens of productions.

One of the often overlooked supporting characters of M*A*S*H was Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, played by David Ogden Stiers, who went on to be a guest character in hundreds of shows, including a guest role on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and a memorable role as Reverend Purdy in the TV series The Dead Zone.  A snooty doctor of a old-money wealth, Winchester was typically a foil for the show’s own dynamic duo of Hawkeye and B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell).  With a long run like M*A*S*H, which aired from 1972-1983, we were able to share a number of holidays, and holiday episodes, with the cast of M*A*S*H.  If you saw the series, you probably remember this key secondary plot from the ninth season’s Christmas episode “Death Takes a Holiday.”  If you haven’t or even if you have seen it, track down a copy from your library or video source.

The army outfit has invited local refugees to the 4077th for Christmas.  Turkey dinners are being transported in, but Colonel Potter learns that the trucks aren’t going to make it.  Each key character had received care packages from their loved ones, from fruitcake from Hawkeye’s aunt, to fudge from B.J.’s wife, to ham from the Colonel’s sister.  Nurse Margaret Houlihan steps forward first to say she will offer up her care package of cookies to the refugee children and soon everyone joins in to plan a big party.  Everyone except Winchester.  Winchester will only offer up a small sardine-sized can of oysters, saying “it’s not the thought that counts, it’s the price.”  Corporal Max Klinger points out that Winchester received several packages labeled “perishable” so the other officers ask “what gives?”  Winchester is Scrooge once again.

And then the change-up occurs, that illustrates why this series was so good.  Because it had a lot of heart–behind all the war drama and laugh out loud practical joke antics.  Actor Mike Farrell wrote this episode that some may brush off as simply sappy.

We see a dark night, and Winchester covertly approaches the orphanage with giant boxes of gifts, one labeled from a certain premium confectioner.  The man running the orphanage thanks him for the gifts and invites him inside so the children can thank him, which Winchester immediately says “no” to.  Winchester recounts that his family has a tradition, going back every year since he was a child, and it only matters if it is done anonymously.  Winchester shares with the man a story of waiting inside a running car with his sister in an earlier winter from far long ago, excited as they waited for his father to run back to the car to drive away after quietly, sneakily leaving gifts on some needy person’s doorstep.  From the seemingly greedy and abrasive fellow, came an act of kindness and charity.  A touching scene, that seems to affect even the actor as he tells the story.

Sappy?  Maybe just a little.  But great actors and great writing made for a great series, and a nice Christmas story.

C.J. Bunce

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