[May 2004] - A23 Crash

The A23 at Pyecombe, W. Sussex, a section of road with a longstanding reputation for being haunted, became sadly newsworthy on the afternoon of 16 May when a major accident claimed the lives of eight people, one a two-year-old child.

The accident happened at 1630 BST when the A23, the main route out of Brighton, was busy with traffic heading away from the coast. According to Sussex police, a BMW appeared to have lost control on the section between Patcham and Pyecombe and crossed the central reservation into the path of a Land Rover Freelander. 

Five of the victims, aged between 17 and 20 and all from the Crawley area, were in the BMW. The other three victims, in the Freelander, were a couple in their thirties, from Godalming, and the two-year-old son of their passenger, the only survivor, who was recovering in hospital with a fractured leg.

Source(s): BBC NEWS England Southern Counties: Six die in four-vehicle pile-up (17 May 2004), Crash death toll rises to eight (17 May 2004), Eight crash death victims named (18 May 2004), Crash survivor still in hospital (19 May 2004), Crash families tell of their loss (20 May 2004).

 

[Spring 2004] - Road Ghosts on the Big Screen

Road ghosts feature in two Hollywood releases this Spring (UK)...

The Haunted Mansion (2003)

Gothika (2003)

First out was Disney's The Haunted Mansion (2003). Based on the popular theme park ride, and starring Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Tilly, Terence Stamp, Marsha Thomason and Nathaniel Parker, The Haunted Mansion is touted as a fun-filled, fright-packed supernatural comedy with incredible visual and special effects.

Murphy plays real estate agent Jim Evers who, in partnership with his wife Sara (Thomason), runs Evers & Evers Real Estate. But Jim is a workaholic who he doesn't seem able to put aside his obsession long enough to help raise their two children. The issue comes to a head one night when he blows off an anniversary dinner date with his wife to meet with some potential new clients.

To make it up to her, Jim promises to take her and the children on a weekend vacation. Meanwhile, Sara has received an invitation to meet with the owner of Gracie Mansion with a view to its sale. Sensing the biggest deal of their career, Jim just has to stop at the remote estate on their way out of town. And that, of course, is when things start to go wrong.

When, predictably, a violent thunderstorm strands them at the creepy and dilapidated mansion, they begin to realise that their host, Edward Gracie, and his staff are not all they seem. Worse still, Mr Gracie has his ghostly eyes fixed on Sara, convinced she is the reincarnation of his long lost love returned to end the curse that has trapped him and the mansion's other occupants in their earthbound state.

Three hitchhiking ghosts in Walt Disney's The Haunted Mansion (2003). Rated: PG. Photo © Copyright Walt Disney Pictures.Aided by a psychic, Madam Leota (Tilly), and three hitch-hiking ghosts, Jim and the children find themselves in a battle to discover the secret behind the curse and thus save Sara from her would-be phantom paramour.

Official site: The Haunted Mansion

 

Theatrical release: 26 November 2003 (US); 13 February 2004 (UK)

The Haunted Mansion: A Walt Disney Picture. Based on Walt Disney's The Haunted Mansion.  A Rob Minkoff film. Written by Davi Berenbaum. Directed by Rob Minkoff. Produced by Don Hahn Andrew Gunn. Music by Mark Mancina. Special Make-up Effects by Rick Baker. Visual Effects by Sony Pictures Imageworks Inc. Costume Designer Mona May. Editor Priscilla Nedd Friendly A.C.E. Production Designer John Myhre. Director of Photography Remi Adefarasin B.S.C. Executive Producers Barry Bernardi Rob Minkoff. 

Personally, I've not yet seen the film. However, critical reviews generally have not been favourable. On the www.rottentomatoes.com 'critics tomatometer', The Haunted Mansion rates as 'Rotten', with a score of 13% ('Fresh' = 60% or greater), based on 123 reviews counted. The consensus summary for the movie states: "Neither scary nor funny, The Haunted Mansion is as lifeless as the ghosts in the movie."

Next up, and currently showing in the UK (April) is Gothika.

Starring Halle Berry, Penélope Cruz, Robert Downey Jr., and Bernard Hill, Gothika is the story of Dr. Miranda Grey, a brilliant and respected psychologist who works with the dangerously disturbed patients of the psychiatric ward of Woodward Penitentiary for Women.

Dr. Grey's coolly detached rationality has no room for the fantastic, so when one of her patients, Chloe (Cruz), continues with her claims of brutal rape and torture by the devil, Grey confronts her with what she believes is the root cause - the very real abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather, and which led her to kill him.

But Miranda's own assured and comfortable life is about to be ripped apart. It begins when she is forced to divert from her usual route home by a police roadblock, and finds herself on a dark, rain-soaked back road. Emerging from a covered-span bridge, Miranda is startled by the sight of a young woman in the road right in front of her. Swerving to avoid the girl, she crashes her car into a ditch, and runs back to check if the girl is alright. She finds her hunched and whimpering in the road. Miranda reaches out to try to find out what is wrong...

...and finds herself in a security cell of her own prison psychiatric ward, under the watchful care of her erstwhile colleague Dr Pete Graham (Downey Jr.).

Graham has bad news: her husband (the ward's chief administrator, played by Charles S. Dutton) is dead; savagely murdered. Worse still, the evidence clearly points to Miranda herself as the killer. 

With no memory of the night in question - except for the abruptly truncated encounter with the girl in the road - Miranda cannot help feel that the two events are connected. To her former colleagues, however, it is further proof that she has lost her mind. 

It is a conclusion given credence as her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, with disturbing dreams, a sense of presence, and visions of the strange girl, which culminate in an episode of apparent self-harm. But Miranda still resolutely dismisses the prognosis and instead comes to believe that her experiences originate with a possessive supernatural force rather than within her deranged mind. Taking a leap of faith, she asks the presence to prove itself by releasing her from her cell - at which the door unlocks and swings ajar. 

Finally free also of the figurative cell of her prior worldview, Miranda follows the ghost's lead toward piecing together the clues that will lead to her identification and the reason she has chosen Miranda as the unwitting instrument in the murder of her own husband.

Official site: Gothika

Theatrical release: 21 November 2003 (US); 2 April 2004 (UK)

Gothika: Warner Bros. Pictures and Columbia Pictures. A Dark Castle Entertainment production. Written by Sebastian Gutierrez. Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. Produced by Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis, and Susan Levin. Co-producer: Richard Mirisch. Executive producers: Steve Richards, Gary Ungar, and Don Carmody. Music by John Ottman. Director of photography: Matthew Libatique, A.S.C. Production designer: Graham "Grace" Walker. Editor: Yannick Kergoat. 

As with The Haunted Mansion, critical reviews generally have not been highly favourable, the principle criticisms focusing on a somewhat predictable plot (a ghost story/murder mystery cross typical of the Hollywood conception*) and less than inspiring dialogue. The www.rottentomatoes.com 'critics tomatometer' gives Gothika a 'Rotten', with a score of 15% (perhaps a tad unfairly). The consensus summary for the movie states: "Berry's acting talents can't save Gothika from its preposterous plot and bad dialogue." 

On the plus side, French director Mathieu Kassovitz (winner of the César, the French Oscar for directing and acting) brings to Gothika a classy, visual styling, with his use of atmospheric photography and lighting. If only, say the critics, as much effort had been invested in the dialogue and plot as in the film's presentation and acting.

* See, for instance, What Lies Beneath (2000), and Ghost Story (1981) both of which include similar brief ghost-in-the-road sequences involving a revengeful female phantom that causes the vehicle to crash. What Lies Beneath (starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, and interestingly, directed by Robert Zemeckis (who is credited as a producer on Gothika)) reminded me strongly of Ghost Story in its entire finale and denouement, to the extent it was hard to believe that one had not influenced the other. Similarly, Gothika might be viewed as 'What Lies...' with a twist, in that the ghost's revenge victim is taken out much earlier in the plot.

Having seen the road ghost sequence on a trailer for Gothika, I was naturally curious as to where the inspiration for the scene may have come from. Having now seen the film, this is no clearer, but considering the overt similarities to What Lies... and Ghost Story, I think we need probably look no further.

Now, if Hollywood producers wish to break from the mould of the revengeful ghost and make an effective, original ghost movie, I invite them to get in touch!

Finally...Gothika, of course, is the movie on which Halle Berry broke her arm in filming (14 May 2004).

 

[April 2004] - Terrified by an equine phantom

Following the appearance of his own story in Richard Holland's Wales of the Unexpected, Mr A N Foulkes of Deganwy wrote to Mr Holland with an acquaintance's strange experience in a dip on a back road near Bryn-y-maen, some 3 miles south of Colwyn Bay.

The witness, who is not named (nor is the date or precise location given), but said by Mr Foulkes to be "very stoic and unimaginative" was going to work via the back roads on account that his car wasn't taxed. It was early; dawn was just breaking. As he drove into the dip in the road, "all of a sudden, this huge white horse flew straight over the hedge. I thought it must crash on my bonnet - it filled the windscreen! 

"I stood on the brake," he said. "The car spun around, facing the way I had come, the engine cut out, but there was no bang. Somehow it missed me - in the split second I had to brake, it vanished. I know not where it could have gone. I shook with fear..."

Later, Mr Foulkes heard a similar encounter from a former work colleague, whose son and his girlfriend had encountered the horse when on their way to Betws yn Rhos. As they entered the same dip, the large white horse leapt over the hedge before them, and seemed headed for a collision with their car. The girl screamed as her boyfriend slammed on the brakes, again slewing the car around. But there was no sign of an impact.

As so often is the case, a story quickly came to light to provide a possible 'explanation' for the apparition - and from Mr Foulkes himself. He said a large equine skull had been found some years back when nearby road repairs were carried out. "This," Mr Foulkes quite sensibly says, " I cannot confirm."

Richard Holland points out alternative 'explanations', in the stable of spectral horses of Welsh ghostlore - such as the white horse with blood clots on its shoulders said to haunt a lane near Llanymynech on the Shropshire border; and the Celtic tales of mysterious horses that would gallop across the landscape, - which in Wales was known as the Ceffyl Dćr.

Source(s): 'Terrified by an equine phantom', by Richard Holland, icNorthWalesTM, , , , , in association with the Daily Post, 8 April 2004.

In his article, Richard appeals for other Welsh accounts of the supernatural. You can send your story to: Richard Holland, Wales of the Unexpected, 2 Alyn Bank Cottages, Llong, Mold, Flintshire CH7 4JR - but, please, if any involve road ghosts of any kind,  please to email any information to Roadghosts.com.

 

[March 2003] - Folklore fans upset about burial of murder boulder

A Landowner who removed a historic stone which he had declared as dangerous has been ordered to return it to its former roadside position. 

But the stone, known locally as Carreg Ateb, whose removal had upset residents of Llandyrnog, near Denbigh, would have to stay where it now was - buried in a nearby field. The landowner, Bill Shaw, said: "We have tried to move it again, using the biggest earthmover we could get, and we have failed, so it will stay where it is. If anybody else wants to have a go they are welcome to do so, but it was a hazard in the first place, so it is better left where it is."

The news has left some villagers angry that the ancient stone - the size of a small car - formerly situated alongside the lane leading from Llandyrnog to Moel-y-Parc in the Clwydian hills, will no longer be viewable by the public.

Local legend attached to the stone has it that two brothers, of nearby Plas Ashpool, had an argument near the stone which resulted in one killing the other, whose ghost reputedly still haunted the spot.

However, Denbighshire archaeologist Fiona Gale has played down the importance of the stone, claiming it was of no archaeological interest.

Mr Shaw - ironically the current resident of Plas Ashpool - said the stone had been removed because it was a hazard. It had jutted into the road, causing damage to several vehicles. It had originally been placed in one of his fields, but was buried after another resident expressed concern that it might roll down the hill.

Peter Wilson, who first drew attention to the stone's removal in the parish magazine Village Voice, said: "A lot of people were very upset that it had gone and they will not be happy at the prospect of it staying in the field. It is seen as a piece of local history." 

Llandyrnog Community Council is to try once again to persuade the landowner to have another attempt at moving the stone.

Source(s): 'Folklore fans upset about burial of murder boulder', by Gareth Hughes, Daily Post Staff writer, icNorthWalesTM, , , in association with the Daily Post, 13 January 2003.

 

[March 2003] - Italian woman arrested for road crash 'dream'

An Italian woman was arrested after she told a road crash victim's family that she had dreamt about the accident. The 40-year-old woman gave Alfredo Baldeschi a vivid description of the accident which had killed his sister, Loredana Baldeschi. He told police about the meeting, and was advised to ask her to tell the dream again, which was secretly recorded.

After listening to the tape, police arrested the woman, questioned her, and finally charged on account that she knew too much about the crash, giving details known only to investigators at Latina (to the south of Rome)...or the person who caused the crash.

Loredana Baldeschi, 40, had been found dead in her overturned car, a Vauxhall Astra. Police could find no cause of the accident.

The woman was due in court later in March 2003, charged with manslaughter.

Source(s): Ananova.com: 'Italian woman arrested for road crash 'dream', 4 March 2003.

I have been unable to find out the outcome of the court appearance.

 

[December 2002] - A3 crash skeleton is 'wanted robber'

Police made a "spine-chilling" discovery in December 2002, after motorists reported seeing a car swerve off the A3 in Surrey with its headlights blazing. 

After receiving the reports of the 'accident' on 11 December, police officers investigating at the scene at Burpham, near Guildford, found a wrecked Vauxhall Astra buried in the undergrowth. The driver was dead - and, paradoxically, had clearly been so for some time. The body was badly decomposed, little more than a skeleton. 

Detectives were reported to be trying to unravel the mystery behind the reports of a car crash that led them to the discovery of the remains, which they were later able to identify as those of Christopher Chandler, 21, of Isleworth. Mr Chandler, who had been sought in connection with an alleged robbery, had been reported missing by his brother David after last being seen in London on 16 July.

Surrey Police believe the crash happened in July and that the body had lain undiscovered for five months, close to but invisible from the busy dual carriageway of the A3. 

Some motorists were now questioning whether they had seen a ghostly re-enactment of the original crash in July. 

A police spokesman said: "We believe the car left the road and ended up in the ditch during July. It doesn't appear that any other vehicles were involved. The car was discovered as a result of a report from members of the public who thought they saw a car's headlights veering off the road."

Source(s): ThisisLondon.co.uk - News and city: 'A3 crash skeleton is 'wanted robber'', by Adam Blenford and Chris Millar, Evening Standard, 13 December 2002. 

 

[October 2002] - "'Ghost mystery' of accident black spot."

Villagers of a Herefordshire were said to be blaming a ghost for a series of accidents after as many as 26 drivers had crashed at the same spot on a country road within 18 months.

Locals of Bromyard lay the blame on a road accident victim who died on the A465 more than 60 years ago. Some motorists had reported losing control of their vehicles after feeling their steering wheels pulled from their grip. 

Checks on the road camber, speed checks, and improved road markings have have failed to stop the accidents. 

At a subsequent meeting at the Crown and Sceptre pub in Bromyard, County councillor Richard James was approached by a man who said he was a psychic. He told the councillor, "Don't worry, no-one will die there". He related that a woman had died on the road in the 1920s or 1930s after a struggle with the steering wheel.

Neil Redding, of Hereford, lost control of his car on the road and crashed through the fence in July 2002. "The wheels wouldn't react for a second or so," he said. "I don't know what it was as I wasn't going fast by any means - 99% of the time it would never have happened. I couldn't believe it. The farmer turned up and said 'not another one!' I wouldn't say it was anything weird though."

The clerk to the parish council in Stoke Lacy, Carole Surman, is reported to have called in Reverend Keith Crouch. She said, "'I can't understand it. There are no skid marks... people roll their cars but no one ever gets hurt and it's always in exactly the same place. Until we know what's causing these accidents we can't stop them from happening."

Source(s): BBC NEWS England: 'Ghost mystery' of accident black spot, Saturday 26 October 2002.

 

[April 2002] - 'A Ghost in the Motor - my Asp!'

Ulster couple Paul and Baneide Hull began to think their car was haunted. Repeatedly, on returning to their locked car, they found the rear-view mirror had been moved. "This went on for a month and we didn't know what to think," said Paul, 32. "My wife thought it was a ghost - someone who owned the car before us and died in it. I thought someone was trying to scare us. We got in the car and prayed to God to tell us what was causing the mirror to move. It was our last resort."

Three days later they were in the car and smelt something burning. Lifting the bonnet, they were shocked to see a snake coiled up there. Paul's wife, who is Brazilian, ironically, had never laid eyes on a real snake, and "went berserk" when she saw what it was.

It finally took eight police officers 20 minutes to bag the snake, after which it was taken to a vet for an examination. Finally it was taken to a pet shop that had reported a missing snake.

The couple believed the snake (which turned out to be non-venomous) had climbed aboard while they were parked outside the pet shop. When the vehicle stood empty, it evidently found its way into the car interior, where it wrapped itself around the rear-view mirror. 

Source(s): 'A Ghost in the Motor - my Asp!', by Joe Doran, The People, 7 April 2002.

 

[October 2001] - 'Cellphones spook ghosts, expert says'; 'It’s Official: Mobile Phones Scare Off Ghosts'

According to British ghost expert Tony Cornell of the Society for Psychical Research, mobile phones are killing off ghosts. Talking to the Sunday Express newspaper, he said that reports of ghost sightings had started to decline when mobile phones were introduced 15 years ago.

"Ghost sightings have remained consistent for centuries," said Tony, of Cambridge. "Until three years ago we'd receive reports of two new ghosts every week. But with the introduction of mobile phones 15 years ago, ghost sightings began to decline to the point where now we are receiving none."

According to the Express, haunted tourist attractions in Britain could be under threat from increasing numbers of mobile phones (which were put at 39 million in 2001).

Transmissions from mobile phones and masts, it is believed, might drown out the unusual electrical activity detected in association with some paranormal events.

Source(s): 'Cellphones spook ghosts, expert says', nzoom.com; 'It’s Official: Mobile Phones Scare Off Ghosts', by John Ashtead, Pravda.RU (London), 19 October 2001.

With mobile masts appearing at Blue Bell Hill since 2001, and no reporting sightings, perhaps there is something to Tony Cornell's theory?

 

ARCHIVE

May 2002 - "Traffic is the biggest single killer of 12-16 year olds. Think!"

A 'road ghost' theme carried the government's Think! campaign message to teenagers in a cinematically featured ad in May.

2002 - Road Ghosts in the News

January 2002 - Landscape Spirits; Body & Soul

November 2001 - Britain's Most Terrifying Ghost Stories

November 2001 - 'The ghost road' & Haunted Land

November 2001 - 'Welsh roads in haunted list'

 

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