WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Fee, Faw, Fum

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Fee, Faw, Fum

I really enjoy a spooky story. Not gross, just good, old fashioned, huddle-under-the-covers-so-the-thing-under-the-bed-doesn’t-get-you scary.

Most of the time, the movies that give me chills are those that could happen in real life: the determined killer (the original Halloween, Psycho), the vulnerability of being alone (The Strangers), the isolation and fear of the unknown in the woods (Deliverance), and natural circumstances beyond your control (The Birds). I can even stomach a bit of blood when it’s relieved by comedy, like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland (and it’s usually pretty easy to know when to hide your eyes).

Occasionally a thriller with supernatural overtones will give me the heebie jeebies, even though I’m 99.9% sure it could never happen: The Ring, Event Horizon, Insidious, the original Night of the Living Dead. And my personal favorite, Nosferatu (Max Schreck is unnerving and terrifying). Seriously, if you haven’t see this movie because it was made in 1922 and it’s silent, treat yourself. Watch it alone, in the dark. I dare you.

To the rest of the movies – like Saw, Cabin Fever, or Night of 1000 Corpses – I turn a blind eye (and don’t do links). There’s nothing frightening to me in gore, just shock. There’s no scare; it’s pure nausea. It’s to those movies I apply the Word of the Week.

Fee, Faw, Fum

Nonsensical words, supposed in childish story-books to be spoken by giants. I am not to be frighted by fee, faw, fum; I am not to be scared by nonsense.

The entire Georgian era has many fearful stories to recommend, but I especially love the tale of the Wynyard Ghost. The story concerns four English officers encamped at Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, during the American War of Independence. Like the cliché portends, it was a dark and stormy night . . . and a brother of one of the gentlemen was soon to make an unexplainable visit. You really should read the whole story, and historian and author Geri Walton tells it much better than I ever could in her blog post Wynyard Ghost Story.

If you’d like to get your seasonal, Halloween-y historical chills via the small screen, I recommend two period dramas to keep you wide awake. The first has a truly awful trailer, nothing like the mini-motion picture teasers we have come to expect – but don’t let that put you off. The film is nothing like its cheesy promo: Director Martin Scorsese ranks this film as one of the top ten horror movies of all time. Creepy setting, creepy music, and creepy children: what more could you ask for?

The Innocents (1961)
An adaptation of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw

And from the long list of “Don’t Trust Your Husband” films of the 1940s, like Rebecca, Jane Eyre, and Notorious, comes my favorite. It’s the story of a woman whose husband is trying to slowly drive her mad. Another sad little trailer, but Ingrid Berman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, and Angela Lansbury will make it worth your while.

Gaslight (1944)
Based on the stage play of the same name, Gas Light


  • Slang term definition found in the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
  • The BBC released an another adaptation of The Turn of the Screw at Christmas in 2009. It’s well shot and very well acted (you’ll see Matthew, Mary, and Denker from Downton Abbey), but some critics took exception to the fact that the setting was changed from 1840 to Edwardian England, and that it was much more sexualized than the novel. Personally, I thought it had way too many horror movie clichés, spilling the plot over into the predictable rather than the disturbing. And this story should definitely disturb. Find the trailer here.
The Regency Era Horror Movie

The Regency Era Horror Movie

Although still half a century from the inception of the moving picture, the Regency did have its own visual amusement: the Phantasmagoria. People gathered in parlors and drawing rooms with only a few candles barely preventing the space from being entirely pitch. Mysterious noises without source began: rattling, scratching, whispering. The level of excitement and fear grew with each sound. Suddenly, a ghost swooped across the room while a skeleton gamboled in a corner. The crowd gasped and some screamed or swooned.

Les Fantasmagories d'Etienne-Gaspard Roberston

The Phantasmagoria owed its attraction and success to two things: the magic lantern and Étienne-Gaspard Robert. The magic lantern had been around since the late 15th-early 16th century. It consisted of a box holding a concave mirror situated in front of a candle; the gathered light then passed through a decorated glass slide.

phantasmagoria lantern peep

This lighted image was then reckoned through a lens, and a larger version of the likeness could be projected anywhere in the room. The darker, more menacing the image, the bigger the scare.

Étienne-Gaspard Robert was a Belgian physicist and stage magician (in addition to being one of the foremost balloonists of his day). He elevated the magic lantern to sublimity by turning a relatively simple parlor trick into an encompassing performance.

 A Phantasmagoria Scene Conjuring Up An Armed Skeleton, James Gillray, 1803

A Phantasmagoria Scene Conjuring Up An Armed Skeleton, James Gillray, 1803


He wrote scripts with multiple scenes and employed actors to dd to the realism. He used smoke, multiple light sources, and even rear-projection magic lanterns to create a lifelike production that immersed attendees in the horror, and he loved to stage his events in abandoned buildings. By 1801, the Phantasmagoria was well-known in England, as theatres began projecting Banquo’s and Hamelt’s ghosts about the stage.

The concepts of the Phantasmagoria are alive and well – so to speak – at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion attraction. A group of strangers are locked in a room whose walls promptly begin “stretching,” with the seemingly benign photos on the wall revealing tragiocomic and sinister aspects as they “grow.”

haunted mansion stretching room

Strolling deeper into the mansion reveals more creepy pictures…haunted mansion lantern effect medusa

and a talking head inside a crystal ball.

haunted mansion talking head crystal ball

Undead dancers waltz away their eternities…

haunted mansion dancers

while an eerie coachman can’t decide the best place for his head.

haunted mansion hatbox ghost

The usually somber graveyard has turned into a “lively” playground.

ghosts in the graveyard

Just remember not to pick up any hitchhikers on your way home.

haunted mansion hitchikers


Information on the Phantasmagoria and Étienne-Gaspard Robert compiled from J.A. Beard’s Unnecessary Musings, Metal on Metal, and Skulls in the Stars. I was in no way compensated for profiling a Disneyland attraction in this post; I am simply inordinately fond of the amusement park. My family has always explained my obsession love for Disneyland as the result for being born so near the park. Literally, my mom could look out her hospital window and see Space Mountain, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, and the Matterhorn. And I’ve been there over 50 times. Some things are just fated.