Tag Archives: Dreams

Paperhouse (1988)

When I was a little girl, my younger brother and I were convinced if we strapped enough household wires to each other and fell asleep in the same bed, we could meet each other in our dreams. Of course, my mom told us it was impossible, but that didn’t stop us from trying. Children with my wild imagination and faith in the impossible would love the concept of “Paperhouse.”

Of course, “Paperhouse” has a very adult angle that makes it, ultimately, best for grown-ups. 11-year-old Anna (Charlotte Burke,) who is at that age where kids mouth off to their elders and will pick a fight over absolutely anything, faints in school on her birthday and is discovered to have a raging fever.

Bizarrely, when Anna faints, she discovers that when she’s unconscious or asleep, she enters a world entirely unlike her own- to be precise, to a remote house she has drawn before her dizzy spells began. In the house she meets a boy, physically handicapped Marc (Elliot Speirs, who died at a tragically young age,) who bears startling similarities to a boy with muscular dystrophy who Anna’s doctor (Gemma Jones) is seeing, and who Anna has never met outside to dream world.

Anna’s unspoken issues with her well-meaning but hard-drinking father (Ben Cross) show up too when a fictional recreation of dad shows up at Anna and Marc’s secret hideaway, raging, evil, and wielding a hammer. Caught between wakefulness and forever sleep by her life-threatening fever, Anna must fight for her sanity and her life, as well as the life of her newfound friend.

Contrary to certain opinions, I found the acting in this to be quite effective, from most of the child players as well as the adults. The kids aren’t always the best, but what do you expect with newbies to the craft? Despite her brattiness, I didn’t find Anna to be an unlikable character- actually, I saw her as a bright and willful child struggling to cope with a childhood harder than most.

The psychological angle here is really fascinating- Anna’s mostly loving if distant father becomes a malformed monster in her dreams, while her mother (Glenne Headly) fails or refuses to see her husband’s alcoholism and the rift between him and their daughter. It resounded with me for entirely personal reasons, and I loved the entertaining yet insightful script.

The set pieces here are also magnificent, and this movie has one of the scariest and most memorable dream sequences I’ve ever seen, the kind of thing that haunts the nightmares of any children unfortunate enough to watch it. The score, however, is mediocre- mostly typical 80’s movie music.

“Paperhouse” is an entertaining and  underrated gem of the 80’s, and although it’s not full blood horror, it has enough unnerving moments to make it ‘light horror’ for people who don’t like really intense scary movies. Although it’s not available as yet on Netflix, it’s totally worth getting online if you have a DVD player that will play it. This is a great film about childhood dreams or fears around the lines of “Pan’s Labyrinth” or “Coraline,” and definitely worth checking out. 

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Nobody Nowhere: The Extraordinary Autobiography of an Autistic by Donna Williams

nobody nowhere

There are so few books about Autism Spectrum Disorders written from a female perspective, especially of those few published in the 80’s and 90’s, when Autism was still considered a mysterious malady and high-functioning ASD and Asperger’s had barely even entered the picture.

And although it would be unfair and inaccurate to apply autobiographer Donna Williams’ insights about her condition to all diagnosed youngsters (with all due respect, the diagnosis of Autism was barely skimming the surface of Williams’ issues,) “Nobody Nowhere” is an emotional roller-coaster with the heart-grabbing readability of the best fiction.

Donna was born to an abusive and negligent middle-class family and early into childhood it was apparent that something was very ‘off’ about the little girl. Donna records her attempts to be like ‘everyone else’ culminating in channeling the character of Carol, a mirthful but shallow persona; her struggles with her cruel mother and older brother and her painful school days.

She takes us through trials and failures, relationships with good men and bad, and her gradual journey to self-insight and recovery. At no point does Donna blame her fraught relationship with her mother as a ‘reason’ for her Autism Spectrum Disorder (Donna did not know she had Autism until her late twenties and merely feared she was ‘mad.’)

Instead she speculates that a world lacking warmth and a real sense of family taught her to be independent and took her on an important journey. In the meantime, the abused and dejected Donna dabbled in self-destructive behavior including self-mutilation and deliberate self-soiling, and was repeatedly treated like crap by guys who saw her as an easy target. However, she also recounts experiences with kind people, even complete strangers, who attempted to offer support to this wild troubled girl through her times of turmoil.

I you can get through the two introductions at the beginning (dry!,) “Nobody Nowhere” is actually a involving read. I helps if the reader has an interest in abnormal psychology and/or Autism, but author Donna Williams had a truly fascinating (if singularly unfortunate) early life. While many of her ‘symptoms’ are most definitely not typical for the majority of Autistic young people, one must remember that Donna is ultimately not representing anyone but herself in this intense life story.

I wouldn’t recommend this book as a manual for ‘understanding’ Autism (though I would not necessarily recommend any one book for understanding Autism,) but I would heartily suggest it for building upon what you know about the disorder and also early trauma as well as child psychology in general.

I was saddened to hear about Donna Williams’ breast cancer on her personal blog. I felt almost like I was hearing bad news about a friend, though of course I had never met her. I was also angry. How much bad luck can one person get? ( I am not referring chiefly to her Autism but instead to her  abusive upbringing and her emotional issues, which I consider related yet separate.)

On the other hand, she’s apparently married to a good man and feels content with her sense of self. I wish the best for Donna and I will read her other books (“Somebody Somewhere,” this book’s sequel, and “Like Color to the Blind”) when I get a chance.