Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan



When I lived in the Haight-Ashbury, oh these many years ago, we used to load the family into the old rustbucket and drive down the peninsula to one of half a dozen drive-in movies. Alas, all gone, all gone. It was always a double feature, and in the intermission in addition to the admonitions from dancing popcorn boxes and bubbling cups of Coke to “Let’s all go to the lobby!” there were commercials for local businesses. They were full of streaks and pops and gaps, having been spliced a hundred times. One was always for the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. Stairways to nowhere! 161 rooms! Under construction round the clock for 38 years! Built by heiress Sarah Winchester when the voices of the thousands of people killed by Winchester rifles commanded her to Build! Build! Build!

I never got to the place when I lived down there, but I’ve been there twice since. It’s actually worth your money. Some of the claims are exaggerations, or have been thrown into doubt, but it is a weird and wonderful place. Only three or four room are classy and furnished with quality furniture. The rest of the mansion is like a cheap motel. But it winds all over the place, and they actually don’t know if they have located all the rooms!

I was excited when I heard that Helen Mirren was starring as Sarah in this movie. It got terrible reviews, and this time they were right. It is just a bunch of ho-hum noise. They take the position that there actually were angry spirits in the house, so the last half is all smashing cabinets, exploding glass, and people being hurled around like rag dolls. What a missed opportunity. Sarah was a really interesting character, and a good writer could have made an interesting story that was about her, not about silly spooks.