Return of the Restless Spirits 2008

As regular readers know, we were delightfully spooked by last year's presentation of the House of Restless Spirits, a yard haunt in Santa Monica, defined by darkness and shadowy illusions that may elude the impatient eye. Inevitably, we made a return visit this season, in anticipation of seeing even more ectoplasmic phenomena. Although, from the street, the House looks very much the same as it did in 2007, we observed several manifestations that were new to our eyes - either because we had missed them last year or because they had newly materialized for 2008. The overall sensation remained the same: a subtle sense of an uncanny brush with the supernatural.

This year, Eric Maurin, the illusionist who conjures up the Restless Spirits, took us on a our personal tour, to ensure that no ghost escaped our eager eyes. Like the old Hallowed Haunting Grounds, the House of Restless Spirits is intended for those who desire to slowly savor the terrors within: one could walk around the House in five minutes and miss half of the phantoms; far better to wait patiently at each observation point, before moving on to the next.

Our first new observation started out on the sidewalk, before even approaching the House. Atop the roof, near the broken window the exudes ectoplasm, flashing lightening seems to set a weather vane spinning. By the front porch is the rain water bucket wherein the old sea captain - who buried his family in the back yard - first manifests as a glowing face rising from the darkness. There is also a glimpse of fairy dust from the front window, preceding the ghostly footprints that walk down the path to the front gate.

Advancing down the driveway brings you to the window looking into the room of the ghost child, whose presence draws the interest of her doll. For the first time we saw that the spirit is depicted in a portrait on the wall - which goes blank as the ghost appears, implying that she is somehow manifesting out of the painting. This year we also noted that the room contains an empty birdcage - empty of a visible bird, that is, for movement and whistling indicates an unseen presence.

An angry black cat, silhouetted against a window
An angry black cat, silhouetted against a window

Moving to the back of the house, one sees the tilting tombstones as before, but this year there is one ghost who wishes his slumber were not observed: a glowing, spectral skull seems to rise from the ground and blow out the candle lighting his grave; then the skeleton sinks back down below the earth. The ghostly harpist is still in residence within the house, seen through a large window, and so is the old sea captain -now seen as a restless spirit walking by an upper window, and again as a face in a mirror. Upon leaving, you pass the angry black cat, and once again is seen the small statue reciting moody poetry by Emily Dickson ("Because I could not stop for death/He kindly stopped for me..."), but this year there is a large, black spider slinking up and down a thread

One impression that emerged from this slow circuit of the House's perimeter is that, although the phenomena repeat, most are not a rigid cycle. The front gate rattled by an unseen spirit is sometimes preceeded by ghostly glowing footsteps, sometimes not. The tomb lid that slides open does not simply slide back shut; it moves this way and that - left and right, back and forth - without any observable pattern, amplifying the illusion that you are seeing not a mechanical effect but the rumblings of an unhappy spirit within. (There is also a waft of noxious air from the depths of the tomb that would have sent even H. P. Lovecraft reeling for appropriate adjectives!)

Unfortunately, the darkness of the House of Restless Spirits, which features many dim, barely visible phantoms, is beyond our technical abilities to capture as still photographs or video. Fortunately, Maurin informed us that a Hollywood filmmakernot known for his horror output (although he did introduce Hannibal the Cannibal to the silver screen) was so impressed with the House that he sent his director of photography down to capture the haunt's eerie ambiance with top of the line equipment. We eagerly await the results.

As for next year, Maurin and cohorts cannot guarantee that the Restless Spirits will return, but he did describe one or two ideas he had for 2009. We imagine - and hope - that creative enthusiasm will overcome any ennui and ensure a return of the House in 2009.