I’ve often wondered why, in Western culture, ghosts mainly haunt places, specific places that have some kind of connection to them when they were alive. But in Eastern culture – Japan, for instance (where they are equally if not even more fond of ghost stories!) – ghosts tend to target and haunt specific people.
Mr. Takahiro Hamano, a Japanese Television executive producer of an anthology series of ghost stories that ran on NHK, their public TV network, explained to me that ghosts in Japanese folklore usually pick on a person who wronged them or was responsible for their deaths. Once a ghost has a grudge, the person they have a grudge against can run, but they can’t hide. The ghost will catch up with them, even if they have to track them down in a Holiday Inn hotel room a thousand miles away. Ghosts can do that in Japan.
But in our culture, ghost stories are more likely to focus on a very specific location. It’s almost as if the ghost “lives” in a particular spot, a woods, a graveyard, a shack, and most likely of all, a big old house. Our ghosts tend to be house-bound, and can’t leave it even if they wanted to. They’re shut-ins. The good news here is that, often, if you run out the front door and down the road, the ghost may not follow you past the front gate. If you hitch a bus out of town, chances are that you are totally out of danger. But if you choose to spend the night, well, then you’re just asking for trouble.
Sometimes, the “haunted house” genre goes so far that it’s as if the house itself is haunted, as if the house is the ghost. It’s alive, well, in the way a ghost is ‘alive’. A good example is in the classic ghost story film “The Haunting” (the original and not the crappy remake) where the very walls seem to breathe and buckle and bang in the dead of night.
And how often do those classic ghost stories end with the haunted house burning down? As if the house itself is cursed and the very building has to be destroyed in order to exorcise the evil spirits: The House of Usher, The Haunting, The Changeling – haunted houses always seem to end up in ashes.
I’ll be honest. I’m not a big fan of contemporary movies about ghosts. I don’t like gratuitous gore, torture, and sexualized violence, and I don’t enjoy being frightened so badly that I can’t sleep at night. (That already happens to me too often.) I did appreciate The Blair Witch Project, though I wouldn’t want to watch its sequel. And I’ve avoided all the usual poltergeist horror movies with fixed cameras etc. I’m just too chicken. But if you have a ghost story to recommend that’s thoughtful and not just disturbing – I mean apart from The Sixth Sense or The Others, which were great – please let me know!!!