For this movie, Sugar and Scream joined with the lovely Melanie from Grab the Lapels to watch a scary tale.
“Ensconced in her sprawling San Jose, California mansion, eccentric firearm heiress Sarah Winchester (Dame Helen Mirren) believes she is haunted by the souls of people killed by the Winchester repeating rifle.”
Dr. Price keeps saying, “Fear is only in the mind.” Do you agree?
Melanie: I completely disagree because I’m one of those people who gets loads of physical symptoms when I’m afraid. I’ll get the shakes, my heart rate skyrockets, and to make it stop, I have to go to a real zen space of my own creation. I mean, if fear were only in the mind and I could make the choice to be not afraid, then fear would basically be a non-factor, right? I remember when I got my wisdom teeth removed, and before the surgery I was crying because I was scared. The ol’ dentist dude kept saying I was only afraid in my head. LOL, that liar.
Sugar: To a degree. I mean, fear is pretty hardwired into any living creature for survival purposes so depending on the type of fear, I think we can only control it so much. Plus, if you add things into the mix like anxiety, even when someone is self-aware that the fear is “only in the mind”, it doesn’t change anything. In all fairness though, the movie DOES take place in the very early 20th century so we can pretty much bank on them not being great when it comes to matters of mental illness and mental health.
Scream: I think fear starts in the mind, but I don’t think it exists there solely. Now, if you were to take your mind out of the equation, would fear even exist? Does your body just get scared on its own? Probably not.
What is your opinion on the jump scares?
Melanie: Okay, I’m torn. There are three parts to this for me: 1) I think jump scares are cheap, especially when they’re done with loud music/sound effects, but 2) If I’m not scared while watching a horror movie, is it even fun? And 3) Jump scares are always what my horror friends and I talk about first. Like, “Where did you almost pee yourself? Let’s compare notes!”
Sugar: I think they tend to be overdone and that they’re best used in moderation. Jump scares aren’t “scary” so much as they are “startling”. If something was to startle me, that isn’t the kind of fear that is going to stick with me past the initial scare. For a movie to actually scare me, I feel like it has to leave the kind of impact where I think about it outside of the viewing experience and get creeped out and jump scares just don’t tend to do that. I never jumped during this movie at the jump scares, but I did feel my stomach do that weird tighten thing once that it can do when you’re startled. Maybe the jump scares didn’t get me because it seemed like you could feel when they were about to happen most of the time.
Scream: I agree with Sugar on this one. I think they’re overused. Especially in the case of this movie. In my opinion, you’re allowed one good jump scare per movie. If you exceed this, then you probably know your movie isn’t all that scary and you’re trying to make up for it.
How does Winchester compare to other haunted house movies?
Melanie: I noticed recently that there are not a lot of ghost movies in general! Everyone is obsessed with demons right now. Ghosts are people who died and didn’t move on, but demons were never alive and always malicious (or Insidious — ha!). The last haunted house movie I remember watching was Crimson Peak, and I was so focused on the incest stuff that I forgot about the ghosts. Some of my favorite haunted house movies are 13 Ghosts, Hell House, LLC., and House on Haunted Hill (sorry hard-core fans, but I love the remakes). In Winchester, we don’t see the ghosts for super long, but they scared me right away! I do prefer to be scared without a loud noise in haunted house movies, because there are lots of scares in store. So, some of them could be more nuanced. In Hell House, LLC. the scares are sometimes a distant noise, or something moved that shouldn’t be able to. As for the haunted house setting, Winchester refuses to be just spooky and instead creates a new cool premise (creating rooms and tearing them down over and over).
Sugar: I liked it. I enjoyed that it was based around real events, and you can tell that the filmmakers actually did their homework and learned about the real Sarah Winchester and her house. It wasn’t just a cash grab due to the name and the house’s notoriety. I think the fact that it has its foundations set in historical events (even though they obviously still took their fair share of artistic liberties) adds an extra level of intrigue. I mean, how many other haunted house movies can you actually go visit the haunted house in real life??
Scream: I was supposed to go visit the real Winchester house while we were in California this past April, but time ran out and I really regret it now. Another time, perhaps! I don’t watch a whole lot of ghost movies it turns out. I guess it’s just not my favorite horror genre. 13 Ghosts is a favorite however and this reminded me of that with the imprisoning ghosts in rooms angle.
Do you think Winchester is trying to add something to the gun debate today?
Melanie: The way the character Sarah Winchester, played by Helen Mirren, felt guilt over every death caused by a Winchester rifle made me think about people now suing gun companies after a mass shooting. The Sandyhook parents just won $73 million dollars against Remington Arms, and that sets a precedent for future lawsuits.
Sugar: You know, I’m honestly not sure. Maybe? But I think because the real Sarah Winchester honestly believed she was being haunted by the spirts of those killed by Winchester rifles way back when, that I didn’t look for any hints of modern commentary. My mind was fully set in the past while I was watching it. That may have been my loss though, because I was pretty burnt out from a stressful week when I put it on, so I was just going into it to relax and be entertained at the time.
Scream: It’s a real tale about a woman tormented by the deaths caused by guns her husband created so I don’t think they had to even try for commentary on current events. It just fits the times too many freaking years later.
Are the “rules” of the supernatural consistent in this movie?Melanie: LOL, NO! If the 13 nails are meant to keep the ghosts in a room, then why did the nails get pushed out supernaturally? If the rooms with only the malevolent spirits are nailed shut, why were they so damn helpful at the end? Once the last-built room was nailed shut at the end, how did the main ghost get out again? Why was the hole in the floor considered a “door.” Are windows also doors, then? Also, do the ghosts recognize the company board? If Sarah Winchester owns 51% of the Winchester company, why were the ghosts mad at her and not the rest of the board? Are these mathematically fair ghosts, and thus they have cursed her family and not the families of board members?
Sugar: I don’t recall any contradictions off the top of my head when I think about it, but like I said, I was pretty mentally zombified by the time I watched it at the end of the week. Maybe you guys noticed something I didn’t? I like to read the trivia section on IMDB after I watch a new movie and one thing I thought was interesting regarding the rules of the supernatural in the film, was this little tidbit: “In the movie, Sarah Winchester claims that thirteen nails are necessary to retain the ghosts in their respective rooms, nailing a wooden piece on the door. It is a nod to the real-life Sarah Winchester, who was obsessed with the number “13”: her house has thirteen candles and wall clothes hooks are in multiples of thirteen; a spider web-patterned stained-glass window contains thirteen colored stones; and the drain covers on the sinks have thirteen holes. In Sarah’s tribute, the house’s groundskeepers have created a topiary tree shaped like the numeral “13” and every Friday the 13th, the large bell on the property is rung thirteen times at “1300 hours” (13:00 PT, 1:00 p.m.) in tribute to her.”
Scream: I’m with Melanie in that I was confused on how the 13 nails were there to keep the ghosts in the room, yet they could just push them out when they felt like it? They just allowed themselves to be happily contained until they got cranky and wanted to go for a walk? Big plot hole. I did enjoy the movie overall though. It’s not one I will probably ever go back and watch again but it entertained me for an hour and 39 minutes and I can’t be mad at that. The only scene that gave me a squirm was when a ghost almost stuck their finger in the doctor’s ear. Ghost wet willies, no thank you!
Thank you, ladies, for this fun chat!
Have you seen Winchester? What were your opinions on it?