12 October 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 70

It was either the best thing I could have done or the worst thing I could have done . . . As usual, I was the last person to leave the office last night, and I decided to take advantage of the solitude by turning nearly all the lights off and listening to the next radio episode on our schedule--a play which was quite freaky. When I was finally done, I looked up and saw that I had less than twenty minutes before 3:00 am. And my mother's warning never to travel during "the witching hour" seeped into my memory like the [Spoiler redacted] which the characters see coming out of their [Spoiler redacted] in our latest radio play. To understand why the taxi ride home was the most harrowing I've ever had, you have to hear the episode as well . . .

The House in Cypress Canyon is something else! It's definitely a much bigger production than the first two we've heard, with what seems to be an original score and excellent sound mixing. There were times when I thought I was listening to a 1940s movie! And not just because of Robert Taylor!

There was also more thought put into the writing. As Angie pointed out during the last meeting, it isn't very realistic to have the characters describing what they see to each other when they are both already looking at it; and she suggested that a narrator might do better. I guess the writer of this play agreed. =) Who knew that a narrator could be so effective at showing rather than telling? The scenes which freaked me out the most--namely, Jim finding Ellen in the closet and Jim writing the final words to the manuscript while sensing something behind him--have really strong visual components.

I confess that I wasn't too keen on that idea myself, thinking that "voice overs" would pull me out of the story. But the technique was excellent! On the other hand, do you know what did have that jarring effect?

Does it pull you out of this post? =P
(Yes, children, that's Lucille Ball, who also did her own Suspense play)

Yet it's hard to begrudge the commercialism when you remember that high-quality productions often have big budgets backing them. (Right, Noel? LOL!) Now where was I . . .

When I analyse a Horror story involving a romantic relationship, I look at the horror elements as reflections of the couple's relationship demons. This is why it's important to note that the couple in Paranormal Activity (See my Twelve Things!) are just "shacking up" in a home designed for a real family, that the couple in Amityville (I've got another Twelve Things!) have both left their first spouses and are raising the children of a previous marriage together, and the couple in Sharknado (Now it's Thirteen Things!) broke up a family with one of those modern no-fault divorces. At first, there doesn't seem to be anything equally bad about the couple in The House in Cypress Canyon for a priest to shake his censer at. But that's only if you forget that the respectable, bourgeois sorts are the creepiest of all.

I'd say that Jim and Ellen Woods's dark sin is an abortion. A child sacrificed to the Hollywood dream. Face it: if they hadn't been childless, they probably wouldn't have been able to move across the country together and to reside indefinitely in a motel. Jim has clearly received no help finding accommodations from his firm, and if they were parents of even one small child, Ellen would have had to remain back East. We could say that they were motivated by materialism, moving to an expensive city and buying a house they don't need. But all that nice stuff can't stop the guilt over their lost child from consuming them, as we see from the blood from the locked closet and the murdered milkman.

It's easy to blame Ellen for this. We expect the mother to fight harder for her baby--and she certainly seems the more materialistic of the two. Perhaps that is how Jim rationalises it too, despite his own culpability, which is why their marriage ends in his acts of revenge and despair.

The final twist in the play, in which the Woods (and the real estate agent???) are revealed to be ghosts of some kind, reenacting a tragedy, shows us why the Hollywood setting is essential. This isn't the first time a couple has sacrificed a child to an affluent lifestyle--and as long as there are aspirational places like Hollywood, it won't be the last.

What are your thoughts on The House in Cypress Canyon?

1. What would you say the demons in the Woods's marriage are?
2. Why would a husband decide not to tell his wife that she had seemingly been possessed the night before and then decide to leave her alone in a house that gives him the creeps?
3. If Roma wines were still available, would this show have made you more inclined or less inclined to get yourself a bottle? (ROFL!!!)

Our next radio discussion will be on the play "Behind the Locked Door" from The Mysterious Traveler. Listen to the YouTube upload, the Relic Radio podcast, the Old Time Radio Mystery Theatre podcast, or the Internet Archive recording (Track #46).

Image Source: Roma wines ad


Brandon said...

There does seem to be something about their marriage, doesn't it? It's such an odd thing that Jim goes out of his way right at the beginning, before we've learned almost anything else about them, to insist that they have a perfectly normal marriage just like millions of reasonably happy marriages. To deny that there's anything special about it, he puts it front and center as if it were an especially important point. Given the repeated imagery of blood on the hands (which Ellen can still feel even when it is not visible), and the imagery of the closet itself, and perhaps also the strange infection, there almost has to be some dark secret, and it really wouldn't be surprising if there were a death in their past. Abortion is a possibility, but perhaps an 'accident' is possible as well -- they seem to have moved rather suddenly, and Jim seems to me to be awfully coldblooded about everything -- quick to go to his gun, and his first reaction on being bitten is not to push or to run but to hit. It's very difficult not to see it as following inevitably on something, and difficult not to see at least Jim as responding to it as inevitable.

And I think this sense is strengthened by the doubling of the story. I didn't interpret it so much as their being ghosts as that they are following a script that has already been written.

I think the ad would have made me less inclined to buy Roma wines! But advertisers supporting suspense series are in a tough spot -- comedies can easily accommodate commercialism because they don't have to take it seriously (and Jack Benny or Burns & Allen have many shows in which the advertisements are a key part of the comedy, as someone starts hawking Jello or Swan soap at the most inappropriate times). But the only suspenseful shows where the advertisements aren't an impediment are those (like Inner Sanctum) which already take a fairly light approach to their material.

Enbrethiliel said...


An accidental death fits the story, too! And Jim does seem resigned to a lot of things which are out of the ordinary. Of course I prefer my own theory, but yours lets me look at the story in an equally interesting light. =)

I focussed so much on the town the Woods moved to that I didn't think about the town they moved from! And they wouldn't be the first couple to use a move in order to sweep history under the carpet. (One of my Literature teachers in uni said that New Zealand society has such a culture of "uprootedness" that any Gothic elements in homegrown literature usually hinge on a move to a new part of the country.)

The Roma wines commercial in the middle of the show was awfully jarring . . . but since I'm appreciating these radio dramas as artefacts as well as entertainment, I can also like the "authenticity" of the format. And I imagine that the original listeners would have known to anticipate a commercial, and to take it in stride the way we do our own TV commercials--and YouTube ads!

Sheila said...

I thought it was time travel -- the shoebox with the story in it traveled backward through time to the half-built house. Of course that brings to mind a sense of it not being inevitable. If you were the real estate agent, wouldn't you then NOT rent the house to that couple? I sure as heck wouldn't!

I thought the emphasis on ordinariness was meant to show you that it *isn't* their fault -- that it could happen to anyone .... perhaps to YOU! If there's some deep dark secret, it's because we add it.

I actually thought the Roma wines ad built the suspense. Leave us hanging while we wonder what happens next! Just like cliffhangers before ad breaks on TV.

But I'm annoyed yet again. No explanation! No nothing! Locked closet ... screaming ... blood leaking out ... she appears possessed and starts biting people. But what was in the closet before they opened it? Where was the blood coming from, and who was screaming? Was it another creature of the same kind?

Is this the point of horror? I hate it when stuff happens that never gets explained, not even with a supernatural explanation.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila, I can't tell you how much I love your comments! =D

Let me answer your last question first, in a roundabout way, if you don't mind. As I said in the main post, I see the horror elements as a kind of "living metaphor" of a person's or family's psychological demons. And I think they can be read as clues to what's really going on. So it makes sense to me that a couple with an abortion or an "accident" in their past would suddenly have a closet leaking blood. =P Just as it made sense to me, many years ago, when a girl I knew started believing that her faith in God was merely a delusion and then unexpectedly developed coeliac disease which made her sick whenever she received the Eucharist. (Or so she claimed.)

Granted, that is just my way of approaching Horror. I'm not sure what other "schools of interpretation" would have to say about The House in Cypress Canyon!

Now to disagree with you a bit . . . I don't think the takeaway is that the stuff that happens in Horror could happen to simply anyone, as if the world has its malicious spots and we have no protection against them. As a priest friend of mine once put it, "In Horror, religion is real"--and all the things the priests and nuns warned us about are true. And one thing we learned from them is that a habit of sin can weaken our defenses against demon attack.

But to be perfectly honest, there was one movie which scared the pants off me because it implied that the events in it could indeed happen to anyone, even ME! It was the Japanese Horror film Ringu. A few months after seeing it, I discussed it with a friend who loves Japanese culture and learned that Japan has traditional legends of malicious spirits being trapped in objects and anyone encountering those objects ending up cursed. And once cursed, you can't do anything to be redeemed again. That was precisely what was so awful to me about Ringu . . . and also why I've never had the courage to watch the reportedly scarier Japanese Horror film The Grudge.

Finally, based on what you've been saying, I think you'll find the next story on our schedule the least exasperating one so far! =)

mrsdarwin said...

I haven't had a chance to listen to this one again, so I'm working off memories of sitting around the tape player in the kitchen with my siblings, reeling off lines by memory ("Jim... it's blood").

Roma Wines never threw me out, nor the Maxwell House ads in Burns and Allen, nor any of the other advertisements. It's simply the style of the time, just as the methods of acting and styles of popular voice have changed over the years. (You know what throws me out? Snow White's singing voice, that's what.) But I never had any desire to drink Maxwell House coffee or Roma wines, just as commercials on the little bits of TV I see don't inspire me to buy their products. The wine was probably disgusting anyway. But I approve of their use of marketing budget.

You know who else had blood, real and imaginary, on her hands? Lady Macbeth. Perhaps Ellen has driven Jim to some deed in the past, and now they're atoning -- Ellen by her possession, and Jim by offering himself as victim in reparation for the crime. I think part of the horror element is imagining the awfulness rather than having it made explicit. My imagination is awfully expansive that way.

I always thought the recursive aspect of The House in Cypress Canyon was one of the creepier elements, again because it's unexplained. You want to shake the men and yell, "Whatever you're fixing to do, don't do it!" Of course, that's another trope of the horror genre...

Enbrethiliel said...


I confess that I wanted to try Roma wines after hearing this play--not because I thought they would be of good quality, but because I wanted a full vintage experience! LOL! (And now I realise I've made a pun, too. =P)

The real estate agent's actions at the end really confused me. You'd think he'd be more creeped out than he seems, right? The huge difference between his initial reaction to the story and his reaction to the couple who have walked in, not just from the street but from the manuscript, was what made me think that he, too, is trapped in the cycle. I don't totally buy it here, but it is true that real estate agents in Horror movies never seem to care that the houses they are hawking may be haunted or cursed.