Let’s Talk Horror Movies: Winchester

Greetings, horror movie lovers. There’s a new movie out. Just this month, Winchester arrived in theaters.

2018 movie poster for Winchester

Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig and written by the Spierigs and Tom Vaughn, the story is inspired by  the legend of Sarah Winchester and the Winchester House.

Scene from the 2018 movie Winchester with Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester and Jason Clarke as Dr. Eric Price

Of course, I took myself to see it.


My fellow Midnighter The Davis Girl suggested I jot down my expectations or pre-viewing thoughts to compare with my thoughts post-viewing. I didn’t have a lot of expectations, going into a book or movie I am ready to accept what the writers want to give me, then react to what worked and didn’t work. As I sat in the theater waiting for Winchester to begin, I hoped for creepy, for a story that would draw me in, for some scary images that would stick in my head. Reasonable, right?

First question…I did like it! Well, I won’t be screaming at people to go to the theater right this second. But, if you have a moment, go. The movie is beautiful, and the house, haunting and spectacular, becomes a character in itself. The tone is creepy, but quiet. The main story unfolds nicely, the tale of a ghost, of pain turned to rage.

A ghost story, plain and simple. A tale of guilt, of righting wrongs. A story of letting go and of revenge. You know I love the emotions in horror!

Sarah Winchester owns part of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The board, who run the company, want her out, so they employ Dr. Eric Price, who has problems of his own *cough*laudanam*cough*, to evaluate her. Easy money to support those addictions…

Or maybe not.

The ghostly activity pops up pretty fast. The activity grows, and one spirit comes to the front to threaten Sarah’s life. Only who is it? What is their story?

The writers took the legend and put their own spin on it. Sarah’s shelves full of records of all the people killed by a Winchester rifle. The idea of a woman building, not only to keep spirits away, but to help them. Sarah Winchester is painted as a strong, respected, and smart woman. She knows what she is doing. She accepts it. She strives to heal. I enjoyed her character a lot. A woman everyone can look up to. And Helen Mirren…I love her.

Lost in his hurt, Dr. Price arrives at the house to do a job and has no idea the horrors he must face, is destined to face. Sarah brought him for a reason, the one revelation that made me all tingly, CAUSE DUDE THEY ARE CONNECTED. BUT SPOILERS! That storyline was marvelous, the character arc interesting, and the scene in the garden house…all the yes!

I liked the story lines, how they developed, how I always had a unanswered question in my head. I loved how, when I had answers, they linked. “Dude” reaction count was one. (for those who don’t know, I say “dude” out loud in a theater whenever something surprises, shocks, or sends my horror meter over the top)

Scary? Not for me. Creepy? YES! Intriguing? Yes. The jump scares were there, maybe the writers thought they needed to be. The ghosts in the house had a reason to be there, but didn’t serve much purpose beyond jump scares. The image of the hall of doors, ones nailed shut, holding possibly dangerous spirits that aren’t at rest, remains in my mind.

Though nothing terribly original and a bit predictable, people want to see Winchester because of the legends, of the lady who built a house for spirits, of the strange house that exists in San Jose, California. We are drawn to the weird, especially when it is based in reality. I would love to see the Winchester Mystery House in person. My dad went years ago and still calls it a “strange place”. (A man of few words, kids.)

You can learn about the house at its website.

I was happy to learn that some of the filming took place at the actual house, which is gorgeous! You get a feel for the place, a monstrous house that makes no sense, stairs to nowhere, doors and windows where they don’t belong.

The house is real. Someday I will go there.

Sarah Winchester was a real person. I know the story…the legend, but after seeing Winchester, I wondered about the person behind the legend. To be honest, it is difficult to separate the lore from reality, so many articles don’t go into anything more than a cursed woman and a haunted house.

What is true in the movie? Sarah married William Wirt Winchester in 1862. They had a little girl Annie, who was born and died in the summer of 1866 of a childhood disease. William’s father Oliver created the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, one that revolutionized the art of war, one that made a lot of money. Oliver died in 1880, leaving this company to William, who died in 1881, and the company passed to Sarah. She held 50% of the company, living off the profits (about $1,000 a day) for the rest of her life, which ended in 1922. She bought a little 8 room farmhouse on a large slice of land in what is now San Jose, California. Hiring builders to work 24/7 and 365 days of the year, Sarah Winchester designed room after room and the house grew to seven stories in some places and 500-600 rooms.

Why? There’s no solid answer. Her life isn’t documented in great detail. No one has found her answer to the question. Probably because she didn’t care to answer. She was a well-known woman, heir to a huge company, the rich/eccentric architect of a sprawling mansion. A maze. A place full of new ideas. A house where Sarah could experiment and create. And maybe ghosts, but I don’t think Sarah dwelled on them, if they were there with her at all.

I had a hard time finding articles that weren’t related to the legend, but here are a couple that focus more on reality.

The Truth About Sarah Winchester

Sarah Winchester-Wikipedia

So, the legend takes control. When people see something odd, when they don’t have information, they make up stories.

A woman who fears the retaliation of people killed by her family, who calls in a spiritualist, and who builds to keep the ghosts away. Stories without proof.

The movie plays with the stories. The idea of a widow, who suffers from the loss of her husband and child, who has inherited a company that makes weapons, instruments of death, who believes she is cursed, and who struggles to help those who hurt. Winchester adds a new bit to the legend, taking it a bit further. I liked that. They kept Sarah strong and smart, not some woman living in fear.

Many movies like to twist legends, give us great stories, and Winchester does that. It’s fun, but let’s not forget the real person behind the tales.

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