Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Saw Series - Movie Review

My apologies for this post appearing a day late.  Hope you enjoy this on a Scary Saturday instead of a Film-Review Friday.

The Saw Series
Released 2004-2010
Directed by James Wan (Saw), Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw 2-4), David Hackl (Saw 5), Kevin Greutert (Saw 6, Saw-3D).
Written by Leigh Whannell (Saw - Saw 3), Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan (Saw 4- Saw-3D)
CONTAINS SPOILERS.  All the spoilers.

Do you want to play a game?  These are the rules: I watched all seven Saw movies.  You're going to give me money, or possibly a cupcake, and I'll tell you about them.  I get a cupcake, and you don't have to watch ALL SEVEN SAW MOVIES.  It's a win-win.

Seriously, though, the horror genre is the true breeding ground of long-running series.  Even before the greats from the 80's (Freddie, Jason, Mike Meyers), we had Christopher Lee's Dracula and Dr. Mabuse popping up again and again in movies of varying continuity.

The issue is that many of these movies are made for money, and not necessarily out of... shall we say, artistic vision.  Jason X works better as a gory comedy than as nightmare-fuel.  Thus, they're pretty far down on the watch-list.

Up until this point, I've gotten by on watching the first, or possibly second, entry in these massive series.  It works enough to be passingly literate.  But, now's the time to bite the bullet and get actually literate.  I've decided to watch through these massive series.  Yup, every single last one.  One of these days I'll get to Hallowen H2O, and you'll be able to hear my screams two counties over.  But for now, I'm just going to write a lengthy, textbook-type article encapsulating my thoughts of the series as a whole, with short vignettes for each feature.


What is Contrapasso?

The Saw series follows the late career of John Kramer, a.k.a. Jigsaw, a former industrial engineer who kidnaps people and traps them in ironic torture scenarios.  These experiences are supposed to make them reconsider their priorities and treasure life.  This turns out to be an unfortunate goal because most of them die horribly before they get the chance to make good on their revelations.  The series is characterized by graphic, gizmo-powered death scenes and twist endings intended to recapture the magic of the first film.

While the Saw series may have taken the gruesomeness of its death scenes to the next level, at its heart, it's in the business of telling a very old tale.  What you do will come back to haunt you.  Your sins will be punished accordingly.  Justice will be served, and it won't be pretty.

For centuries, audiences have been captivated by tales of ironic punishment. Possibly the most well-known is that journey to the very bowels of hell: Dante's Inferno.  In the second circle of Hell, those guilty of Lust are whipped about in a ceaseless, hail-laced whirlwind, representative of how these "carnal malefactors" were blown about aimlessly by their appetites.  In the seventh circle of Hell, those who were violent toward others are immersed in a lake of boiling blood.  In the eighth circle, there's a section devoted to sorcerers, astrologers, and false prophets, wherein their heads are twisted backwards on their body.  These souls are now doomed for all eternity to look backward and stumble forward blindly, in perfect punishment for their attempts at future-telling.

Looking for a catchy word to sum up this rather heavy-handed device?  Well, we've already got one!  Contrapasso, from the Latin contra and patior, meaning to "suffer the opposite", describes punishment via a process that closely resembles, or is directly opposite to the sin itself.  Dante seems to have taken this to heart, as contrapasso is clearly a guiding principal in his imaginings of Hell.  For example, in one of the Bolgia of the eighth circle, Dante meets Bertran de Born, who has now been decapitated- a contrapasso for his involvement in the rebellion against King Henry II of England. He attempted to undermine the 'head of state', so guess what happened to his own head....

Them's the breaks.

Now, all this talk of sins has probably got you thinking about one of the best contrapasso-based movies of all time: Se7en.  A film where Gluttony is forced to eat himself to death and Vanity has her face mutilated would certainly make Dante proud.  I'm not going to review Se7en here, but do want to mention it as a star in this thematic constellation.  Not just because it brought contrapasso roaring back into the American' consciousness, but because the Saw series is heavily influenced by Se7en, even unto details like scene framing and cinematography techniques.

Contrapasso, however, is not always as elegant as it is in Se7en.  How do you punish someone who, say, poisons neighborhood dogs?  I would safely say poisoning dogs for fun is pretty evil, but how does one make a device (figurative or, as Jigsaw likes it, literal) to punish such a person?  Have a dog poison them?  How would that even work?  I suppose you could have him torn apart by drugged up dogs, but that doesn't seem to fit.  The best I can think of is a device that measures the saliva a dog produces, and inserts an equal quantity of poison into the person's veins.  As you can see, sometimes contrapasso has to get pretty unfocused and weird to work for every scenario.  Sadly, this diffusion plagues the later Saw movies.

Part 1

Saw - the creation of a monster

In 2004 an indie horror flick hit theaters just in time for Halloween.  Met with mixed reviews from critics, it soon gained a cult following, eventually grossing over $100 million worldwide.  By the end of the opening weekend, a sequel had been greenlit, and Saw was on its way to becoming a Halloween staple for the next six years.

With a budget of $1 million, this debut by director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, is at heart more a mystery-thriller than torture-porn.

It begins with two men chained to opposite corners of a huge, crumbling bathroom.  In the center of the floor is a dead body, an apparent suicide.  As they investigate the room around them, they discover micro-cassette tapes that instruct them on their individual missions.  Adam, a photographer, must use the hacksaw to cut off his foot and escape.  Dr. Gordon, an oncologist, must kill Adam by 6 o'clock, or he, his wife and child will all be killed.  At this point, Dr. Gordon announces that they've been captured by the Jigsaw killer.

Turns out the Jigsaw killer has a habit of kidnapping people and placing them in contrapasso traps, each with a possible escape. Only one person made it out: Amanda Young.  Detectives on the trail of the Jigsaw killer accosted Dr. Gordon, one in particular (Tapp) believing Dr. Gordon to be the killer himself.

As the movie unfolds, Adam and Gordon recount the moments before their kidnapping, and we follow the detectives as they track Jigsaw.  Gordon's family is held hostage, and as the plot-lines mingle and converge, it rises to a climax of Dr. Gordon making good on that saw.  With minutes left, he hacks off his foot, and shoots Adam, then struggles to the door to make his escape and save his family.  A few moments afterward, the hostage-taker arrives to kill Gordon, but is attacked and killed by Adam (with the toilet tank cover, in the dirty bathroom).

Upon searching the body, Adam discovers another tape, which shows the hostage-taker to only be a pawn in the game.  This is when the body in the middle of the room gets up, and John Kramer, the real Jigsaw, is revealed.  He walks out of the bathroom, slamming the door behind him, dooming Adam to death.  Fin.

Say what?!

Jigsaw is a blunt but apropos thing to name a killer in a movie so twisty-turny.  It's a cliche that a movie "keeps the audience guessing", but I think Saw actually accomplished this in its day.  It's clear that a part of Saw's success was the twist-ending and accompanying montage.  Unlike the Sixth Sense whose twist montage consisted of "See!  Proof!" segments, the montage in Saw feels like snapping down that last piece in a puzzle, and the full image finally clicking into focus.  Two things make this work.  First, Saw kept enough secrets and its pace so rapid, that the audience didn't have time to linger on theories.  Secondly, the movie has enough characters and story strings that it's difficult to even begin formulating coherent theories when you're simply trying to keep up with events.  It's this controlled release of information that makes the ending surprising and not janky.  Sadly, this buck stopped here, and despite the best efforts of six more movies, none of them had an ending that didn't seem pathetically contrived.

Another sad thing is how dated Saw appears.  The grimy green aesthetic makes it look like they snuck onto a CSI set for any scene shot outside the bathroom.  The torture scenes, in particular, suffer from the super-sped-up thrashing technique.  I remember the first time I saw this technique in Jacob's Ladder and it Freaked Me Out.  But since then, it's been used as a short-cut to terror so frequently that it's lost its kinetic energy.  Sorta the same way that ghosts who tilt their head to the right aren't as scary anymore.

The other major flaw of Saw is its ham-handed script.  Not the story, not the acting.  But purely the script: the words that have to come out of the actors mouths.  Now, I don't mean to rake Whannell over the coals for the cracks in his debut, however, I think this is a point worth making clear.  A lot of people panned Saw because of 'bad-acting'.  I don't think this is fair.  Honestly, I felt like the actors were doing the best with what they had to say.  There's only so much you can do with dialogue that belongs in a mid-century short story magazine.  Laughably mechanical transitions, melodrama, and TELLING THE AUDIENCE THE OBVIOUS THING JUST TO MAKE IT CLEAR, are all faults that can be fixed with experience.  So, just when you're laughing at how dumb Cary Elwes' Dr. Gordon seems, just remember, he's doing the best he can.

However, despite these flaws in aesthetic and wording, I thought that Saw actually stands up well as a really entertaining movie.  It's got all the yummy tropes that I love seeing in horror/thrillers.  Danny Glover's Tapp character goes crazy, so of course he makes The Crazy Wall full of notes and photos lined with string.  Characters are kidnapped by the shadowy, cloaked figure with a pig-face.  Of course, the piece de resistance is how Jigsaw uses a creepy ventriloquist dummy on a tricycle to recite instructions to his victims.  It took me right back to second grade, reading Goosebumps.

So doll. Much spoopy.

Part 2

Saw II through Saw 3D:  All those other ones

This is the part where my academic aspirations fall apart.  Honestly, only Saw II and Saw III are even worth watching, and they're painful at that.  All of the others should just... never be watched.  I don't care what the score for Saw VI is on Rotten Tomatoes, it's bad.  So, I'm just going to snarkily summarize everything you need to know about all these other Saw movies.

It is disappointing how these all split into two sections where the original film blended them nicely.  The sections being: people being tortured, and what's going on with Jigsaw's personal life.  In the original Saw, the people being tortured were intimately intertwined with Jigsaw.  Dr. Gordon was his oncologist who delivered the news that Kramer only had a short time to live.  This diagnosis, in turn, was the impetus for Kramer to start his second career as Jigsaw.  Adam was a photographer who helped Jigsaw stalk his victims.  The brief section of torture scenes were included to set the stage for what kind of madman Jigsaw is.  In all the other movies, though, there's a gulf  between torture victims and Jigsaw, The Man Himself.  Since this is how the Saw franchise is inflicted on its audience, so too shall I inflict my summaries upon you.

Saw II - the one in a house

Waaaah.  Why did I put both hands in?

In people getting tortured news:  A bunch of ex-cons are locked in a house.  Amanda, the survivor, is among them.  They've all been injected with a poison that will kill them if they don't take an antidote.  Syringes of the antidote are sprinkled throughout the house in various torturous puzzles.  The convicts murder each other, kill themselves, or accidentally get shot in the face until it's down to Xavier the brute, Amanda the survivor, and Daniel the plot-device.

In Jigsaw's personal life: His secret lair has been found by a real asshole of a detective named Matthews (played by Donnie Wahlberg).  Jigsaw's lair is outfitted with an array of closed-circuit tvs, all showing what goes on in the ex-con house.  Matthews sees his son, Daniel, and proceeds to interrogate Jigsaw in an attempt to locate the house and save his plot-device.  By the end of the movie, Daniel is threatened by Xavier, and Matthews forces Jigsaw to take him to where the torture-drama is playing out.

Twists:  Amanda was working with Jigsaw ALL ALONG.  The footage on the cctvs had been taped days before.  Daniel was sitting in a safe in Jigsaw's lair, ALL ALONG.  When Matthews gets to the house he's attacked by Amanda wearing the pig-cultist garb and thrown in the bathroom where Adam died in Saw.

Summation:  Speed as directed by Foucault.

Saw III - the one with the doctor

Hippocratic oath, my ass...

In tortured-people news:  A man named Jeff whose son was recently killed in a hit and run accident is put through a series of tests to get him to let go of his vengeful feelings.  He comes face to face with the people tangentially involved in the death of his son, and has to make the choice for them to live or die.  Some of them he saves, some he lets die via contraption.  By the end, he's made it to the heart of Jigsaw's second lair.

In Jigsaw news:  Jigsaw is dying.  Dr. Denlon has been kidnapped to care for him.  Of course, she needs some incentivization, so Amanda wraps a collar around her neck which is connected to Jigsaw's heart monitor.  If Jigsaw dies, or Dr. Denlon moves out of range, it will explode her head.  Unfortunately, Dr. Denlon doesn't want to participate, and even when she does, Jigsaw's lair is woefully under-supplied (and Amanda is quite the inept nurse).

Twists:  The tortured man is actually Dr. Denlon's husband!!!  Amanda gets very upset and shoots Dr. Denlon, just in time for Jeff to shoot Amanda in return.  Jeff says he forgives Jigsaw and summarily bone-saws through his throat.  Dr. Denlon's collar goes off, the doors lock, and Jeff is trapped in a room with 3 corpses.

Summation:  More frustrating, pointless, and confusing than my Heidegger seminar.

Saw IV - the one with a black detective

Sweet jacket, poor interior decorating.
In torture headlines: Riggs, a detective featured briefly in previous movies, is led on a goosechase to teach him the true meaning of "saving a life".  Riggs is put in room after room with "foul, irredeemable" criminals, and compelled to do nothing, letting their own contrapassos play out.  This is a heavy-handed attempt at evangelism by Jigsaw, trying to get Riggs to see that the Saw method of rehabilitation is truly the only way to save a life.  Bummer that a bunch of these people die anyways.

In Jigsaw news:  Jill, Jigsaw's ex-wife, is brought in for questioning.  During the interview, she reveals the long, tear-jerking backstory of John Kramer.  Years ago, John was a civil engineer heavily involved in property development (makes sense of why he knows about ALL the abandoned buildings), and Jill had been pregnant, working at a clinic for drug addicts.  One night the clinic is robbed by an addict, who in the process bashed a door handle against Jill's pregnant stomach, causing a miscarriage.  That addict turned out to be Jigsaw's first victim.

Twists:  This whole movie takes place AT THE SAME TIME as Saw III.  Riggs bursts into the room with Jeff and the 3 corpses.  I flipped the table and officially cast a pox upon this franchise.  

Summation: Libertarianism 101 as written by people who hate Libertarians and spend too much time on Facebook.

Saw V - the one with a new Amanda

It's my head in a box!
In tortured souls:  Five people who are known for their ruthlessness awake in a room with collars around their necks.  They're implored to do the opposite of their instincts and work together instead of looking out for numero uno.  Each room is on a timer, and when the timer expires, a nail-based IED will kill anyone left within.  One by one, the people are killed, as it is slowly revealed they were all involved in a dirty real estate deal.  They burned down a building full of squatters to make room for a fancy new development.  By the last room, there are only two people left, and they realize all of the traps could have been escaped with a healthy dose of teamwork.  Wah- wamp.

Meanwhile, back at the Jigsaw:  A detective with a natural pout named Hoffman rescues the daughter of the Denlons.  He's hailed as a hero, until one other, other survivor is found: Strahm, the guy with his head in a box.  Strahm is suspicious of Hoffman, and with good reason.  Turns out Hoffman has somehow also been Jigsaw's apprentice ALL ALONG?  In one of the most epic semi-ret-cons and undercuttings in film history, Amanda is thrown under the bus and characterized as a mere nursemaid and floundering secretary while Hoffman gets all kinds of pouty, black glove, Man-work done.  Strahm digs around and finds out that Hoffman is the new Amanda.  Strahm is then tricked into a trash-compactor where he chooses not to lie down in a coffin full of glass.  Hoffman duck-faces as the glass coffin lowers him to safety.

And you thought I was joking.  Quack.
Twists:  Shoulda laid in that glass coffin, yo.

Summation:  What did any of this have to do with anything?  Who are all these people?  I need to make a Crazy Wall.

Saw VI - the one about healthcare

I don't need insurance, I'm only sixteeeeeeeeen!
Once there was a point to this:  A health insurance executive is put through the old Jigsaw sausage-machine.  He has to make choices about peoples' lives, and it's super boring because it's hard to believe he has any concern for these people AT ALL.   There's one scene where his pool of cracker-jack proteges are tied to a merry-go-round (I shit you not), and he has to push a button to give two of them a pass.  I.e. let them not be shot in the chest with a shotgun.  The foley artist had a lot of fun with bacon sound-effects.  There's also some device with acid.

No, really, I swear there was a point this:  More people investigate Hoffman.  Jill, Jigsaw's ex, gives him five envelopes of people Jigsaw wanted Hoffman to kill.  It is revealed through a flashback that the health insurance guy denied Jigsaw coverage for an experimental Norwegian cancer treatment.  At the end, Jill puts a reverse bear-trap device on Hoffman's head but he escapes it because he's sooooo much cooler than Amanda, you guys.  No seriously, we need you to love him.  Our self-esteem depends on it.

Twists:  Jill is apparently the new-new-Amanda.  You spent 90 minutes watching this thing.

Summation: Seriously, nobody cares about Hoffman.  Where is Amanda?  I miss her.

Saw 3D - the one where Cary Elwes comes back

In a three-piece suit, no less.

Torture IN 3D!:  A self-help guru who claims to have escaped a Jigsaw device is on a book tour.  Unfortunately, he's a bit of a liar.  After going to a support group for Jigsaw survivors [Sidenote: I have to respect this because it really lampshades how many Saw movies there are, and how high the body-count is.], the guru is kidnapped and put through a series of tests.  He has to save the team of publicists, lawyers, et. al. that helped him get famous on his pretense that makes a mockery of Jigsaw's life's work (snort).  At the end, he has to save his wife.

Jigsaw IN 3D!: Jill turns herself in to the police for protection from Hoffman.  Hoffman kills a bunch of people to get to her and eventually does.  He kills HER via reverse bear trap this time, then sets his lair on fire, considering his work to be complete.  As he leaves, three goons wearing pig-cultist garb attack him and leave him for dead in the original bathroom.

Twists:  One of the goons is Dr. Gordon!  HE WAS WORKING WITH JIGSAW ALL ALONG!!!!  He's the new-new-new-Amanda.

Summation:  Where is all the Saw/Princess Bride cross-over fanfic?!?!


So there you have it folks.  A super tl;dr post that hopefully contains enough humor to make the topic of all seven Saw movies palatable.  At this point, I think you owe me a cupcake.  I am so done.  


*Cue Hello Zepp music*


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The King in Yellow - Book Review

The King in Yellow
by Robert W. Chambers
written 1895

If you're into anything Cthulhu-related you've probably heard about The King in Yellow.  Though Lovecraft did not create The King in Yellow, the King has since been thoroughly folded into the Cthulhu mythos, taking his place in the eldritch pantheon alongside Nyarlathotep and Azathoth.  Having read through all of Lovecraft, I decided it was time I finally found out what the King in Yellow is all about.

Turns out, it's a pretty good read, if not a particularly scary one.

Let's start with a bit of background.  Robert W. Chambers spent most of his career writing topical, popular fiction for the masses.  Shopgirl romances, upper-crust scandals, thrillers, historical epics written for easy-reading and money-making, it seems Chambers was quite the James Patterson of the late Victorian era.  This context, then, makes The King in Yellow even more unusual.  The 4 main stories of the work are strange and soaked in madness.  Later entries involve time-travel and a cycle of poetry.  Overall, for its time and considering Chambers' previous works, The King in Yellow is far-out.

I want a Pallid Mask.

Sadly, though, I don't think today's audiences would think it so.  Perhaps because in the past century our weird fiction has gotten extremely weird, The King is most enjoyable as a Victorian artifact.  Many of the stories have plots that modern audiences would feel like they've heard a thousand times by now.  For example, The Yellow Sign (possibly the most well-known story from the collection) is about a woman haunted by dreams of her impending death, and a man followed around by... wait for it... a zombie.  Just one zombie.  And it doesn't eat him, it just punches him in the face then kinda turns to dust at the end. The reveal of the man with the face of a "plump, white, grave worm" being dead all along was probably super creepy in 1895.  Nowadays... it's not quite the stuff of nightmares.

But I only talk about this to explain why so many reviews of The King in Yellow say it "isn't scary", is "boring" or "cliche", and "doesn't hold up well".  Of course it doesn't hold up well!  If Shakespeare was written in language closer to our modern tongue so that it lacked the exoticism of iambic pentameter and Early Modern English, we'd have people complaining all over Goodreads about how it's "so unoriginal" too!  You know, because appreciating something for being original in its time is hard and involves thinky-thoughts.

The rub is that when I read Lovecraft, I did get spooked.  The Dunwich Horror and The Colour Out of Space in particular kept me up at night.  Upon learning that Lovecraft was influenced by The King in Yellow and included bits from it in his mythos, I went in expecting to be creeped out.  In all honesty, it took me a few stories to readjust my settings to be able to enjoy Chambers' book.

Image much creepier than actual King in Yellow content.

However, once you have your mindset straight, The King in Yellow opens up as a solid read.  It's not bogged down by weighty prose like Lovecraft's tales.  There are no pain-staking descriptions of sagging gambrel roofs.  Though not as lively as, say, William Hope Hodgson, it's quite devourable for Victoriana.

Further, the stories are really fun.  The first-person protagonist in The Repairer of Reputations is BATSHIT INSANE.  I genuinely would love to read a whole novel featuring that guy.  The Mask runs the myth of Pygmalion backwards, with added rabbits.  In the Court of the Dragon capitalizes on everything unnerving about being followed by a stranger through city streets.  The ending to that one is ambiguous and a touch creepy.  The Yellow Sign I described above, and rounds out the 'original collection' (I don't feel like getting into an in-depth discussion of editions here).

If you follow this link to Project Gutenberg, where you can read the whole yummy text, you'll find 6 other pieces that fit the overarching theme of The King in Yellow.  My personal favorites are The Prophet's Paradise and The Demoiselle D'Ys.  D'Ys is your age-old Outlander-type time-travel tale, only it's all about French Falconry!

So what ties such disparate stories together into a collection?  What is The King in Yellow, really?  It's a mythical play- a text that drives all who read it insane!  Excerpts from the play are given at the beginnings of stories, and oftentimes the text will appear to tempt characters into reading it.  Sometimes, as the characters tip over the brink, plunging into madness, they will recount knowledge about "Carcosa where black stars hang in the heavens; where the shadows of men's thoughts lengthen in the afternoon, when the twin suns sink into the lake of Hali; and my mind will bear for ever the memory of the Pallid Mask."  Good stuff.

The King in Yellow, himself, is not explained in the text.  Later additions to the mythos have spun him as an avatar of Hastur.  He is a figure who appears in tattered yellow rags wearing the Pallid Mask.  He is a mad deity to be feared and worshiped for the short time you have left.  Beware the Yellow Sign!

Now, I really enjoyed The King in Yellow.  But this is a horror blog.  Thus, if you're not sold on Chamber's book, I'd like to point you in the direction of the thing I bet you wanted The King to be all along.

May I present to you my all-time favorite: SCP-701 or "The Hanged King's Tragedy."

I like to think that The Hanged King is directly influenced by Salome (an Oscar Wilde play that inspired Chambers, but that's another blog post), and The King itself.  And actual Carolinian plays, of course, which are their own pot o' crazy awesomeness.

The SCP is really well-written, and the cherry on top is that grainy picture.  I had trouble sleeping for two weeks because I kept hallucinating that thing standing in my bedroom doorway.  Hope you have better luck than I did.  But, I guess that's what I get for LOOKING UPON THE PALLID MASK!!

The end.


Monday, January 26, 2015

The Disappearance of Brandon Swanson

In 2008, 19 year old Brandon Swanson was driving home when he crashed his car into a ditch at 2:00AM.  Slightly panicked, on a dark street at night, Brandon called his parents hoping for assistance.  His parents set out to look for him, but to no avail.  They continued a 45 minute phone call with Brandon trying desperately to find him on the wooded streets of Canby, Minnesota.  At one point, Swanson claimed he could see lights and started to head towards the nearby town.  Out of nowhere, his parents heard Brandon exclaim, "Oh shit!" and the call cut off.

This is the last Brandon's parents heard from him.  Now almost seven years later, Brandon still has not come home.  After an intense search with hundreds of volunteers and 34 dogs, Brandon's car was found 120 days after his disappearance, but nothing else was ever found.  Upon finding Brandon's car, there was no evidence of foul play and his family stated that he had no reason to dissapear.  It is widely believed that Brandon slipped and fell into a nearby river but for two days after his disappearance, his phone rang, meaning if Brandon fell into the river, his phone did not fall with him.  It is also odd that the phone records show he was incorrect about his location and was actually 20 minutes away from the town he claimed he could see the lights of.

The tragedy of Brandon's disappearance is felt every day in his parent's home.  They still leave the porch light on for him, though after such a period of time with over 75 tips given to the police department but no strong leads on his whereabouts, his parents were quoted on the 5th anniversary of his disappearance as saying  "It's not that we've forgotten Brandon or anything like that.  It's just that we've searched extensively for 3 to 4 years.  It hurts."

Granted, there is a plethora of missing persons cases filed on a regular basis, none any less sad than the other, but often surrounded by a whirlwind of attention at first and then quickly forgotten when replaced by the next big news story.  It is less often that people stop to think about the families involved in these cases and how when it seems as though everyone else has forgotten about their loved one, they are reminded of them every single day without fail.  What was it that caused Brandon to exclaim "Oh shit!" that night?  Was it as simple as falling into a river (though a body was never recovered from any nearby rivers)?  Was it a criminal taking advantage of the situation?  Was there a supernatural force at play?  Was a wildlife attack possible?  There are endless questions, the answer to which we may never know.


Friday, January 23, 2015

The Host - Movie Review

The Host
Released 2006
Directed by Bong Joon-ho

In the very first scene of The Host, we watch an American mortician order his reluctant Korean assistant to pour 200 bottles of formaldehyde down the drain, into the river.  This scene makes me sad, not because of what it actually is, but for what it seems to have done to people's perceptions about The Host.  This is another brilliant film I put off watching for far too long, mostly because I listened to what other people were saying about it.  Almost everything that mentions The Host name-drops it for its environmental message.  Which is a HUGE DISSERVICE!  Environmentalism probably fifth or sixth down on the list of 'Things This Movie is About'.  Let us list the others:

The Host is about:
American-Korean relations
The Futility of the Individual when struggling against The System
and then we get to Environmentalism...

Environmentalism and monsters go hand in hand. I get it; I understand. I mean, look at Godzilla.  Not just Godzilla the franchise, but Godzilla the institution.  For much of the 20th century filmmakers have used giant monsters to investigate the public's fears about nuclear weapons, pollution, and even genetic manipulation.  Bearing this in mind, it makes sense that The Host is usually name-dropped due to its heavy-handed environmentalist message.  But, to do this is to really miss so much of what makes The Host, truly, one of the best monster movies of all time.

The story is that a mutant monstrosity lopes up the banks of the Han river that runs through Seoul, causing chaos, death, and destruction.  In the midst of popcorn-munching Godzilla-brand crowd-panic, the monster kidnaps Hyun-seo, the daughter of Park Gang-Doo.  Thinking Hyun-seo is dead, the Park family gathers to grieve when they get whisked away to a decontamination hospital.  While going through the boring and confusing bureaucratic process of decon, Gang-doo gets a phone call from Hyun-seo.  She's still alive!  The monster has deposited her in its lair somewhere in the sewers.  So, what is the family going to do?  BREAK OUT AND RESCUE HER, THAT'S WHAT.

Hyun-seo and Gang-Doo, two of our heroes.
From here, The Host is part rollicking adventure, part hilarious satire, and part heartbreaking tragedy.  And I mean heartbreaking.  It has honestly been years since I've seen something that made me cry so hard and genuinely, only to turn around and make me laugh and cheer.  I did not go into this expecting an emotional roller coaster.  But, that's what I got.  This may explain why The Host is the highest grossing South Korean film of all time.  Just sayin'.  And mind you, this is not how I normally interact with movies.  I'm not swayed by emotional pandering- usually because the characters aren't developed enough for me to care.  But not here... not with The Host.

I wish I could tell you how much I love each and every one of the characters in this movie.  Even bit parts are fascinating.  The Host is one of those movies that I hope has a tiny fandom somewhere because I want to join it and look at fan-art cartoons and nerd-out because I ended up loving these people SO. MUCH.  I hope you will too.  Instead of rambling on and on about them, I suggest you just watch the movie- it'll be more elegant and concise anyways.

Need to go back and count the bullets in this movie.
Aside from how emotionally engaging The Host is, it's also a smart movie.  It refuses to satisfy tropes that make no sense.  Like tropes relating to bullets (*sob*).  Or tropes about how pretty, young girls interact with animals (*double-sob*).  Further, The Host knows how to balance on a knife's edge to make its satire very clearly understood without feeling didactic, or distracting from all the other things it's doing with tone and story.

Oh yeah, and let's not forget there are parts of The Host where you remember you're watching a horror movie.  Notably, the section of the film where American military scientists capture Gang-Doo and attempt to lobotomize him.  He calmly tries to bargain with the doctors in a scene so quietly dreadful it makes the ending of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest look justified in comparison.  Or maybe that's just because I like Gang-Doo at lot more than I do McMurphy.

"No guys, really, this is all a misunderstanding.  I gotta find my daughter."
This is usually the part of the review where I try to warn you so your expectations will not betray you, but to me this is difficult.  There's nothing I dislike about this movie.  The CG holds up beautifully, the pacing is spot on, the themes are up my alley.  Even that opening scene that caused so many to file The Host under "Enviromentalist Propaganda" and forget about it.  In context, the opening is actually very funny.  It's more about how laughably ridiculous and dumb American arrogance is than how formaldehyde makes a monster.

To stretch, I'm sure there are things others wouldn't like about this movie, but they're really a matter of taste.  Perhaps you won't like the characters like I do.  They reminded me a lot of the Bluths from Arrested Development, and I know that plenty of people find the Bluths "unlikeable".  The Park family is kind of like that.  Dysfunctional, but still loyal to one another.  Deeply flawed, but trying to be noble.  But also mean, or stupid, or cold, or drunk at times.

You might also dislike how The Host plays three games at once: Action-Thriller, Comedy, Tragedy.  It swirls between them quickly in a way I find delectable.  But this also means that the movie inserts humor in its darkest moments, and insecurity into scenes where you want the heroes to be invincible.  I love this so much, but I know others may think it scatterbrained or inappropriate (but I snub those opinions, anyway- snub, snub).

But if you like your monster movies to be great films too, I highly recommend The Host.  Or if you like your action movies to be wish-fulfilling and epic, I highly recommend The Host.  Or if you like your family dramas full of broken, realistic people, I highly recommend The Host.  You get the point...


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

'The Writer' Automaton

In the 1770s, the little creeper shown in this video, The Writer, was created by Swiss clockmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz.  When wound up, the 6,000 tiny parts and cams within the little boy work in tandem to move his quill into the pot of ink and back to his paper to write a sentence of up to 40 characters.  The Writer is so significant because at the time, the ability to change and program the message that the boy writes was quite groundbreaking and even lauded as "the first computer."  Jaquet-Droz is also the creator of The Draughtsman and The Musician, pictured below.

While it can be agreed that these creations are very interesting and innovative, it also cannot be argued that these little creatures are creepy!  And in the video, WHY would BBC lay over such creepy music as it scans over The Writer's soulless little eyes rolling around in its head?  Perched at his table in a pitch black room, he casually writes a message about how he will eradicate all of humanity.

A couple of interesting side notes: The Musician "breathes" - movements of her chest can be seen as she plays, also balancing her torso as a real musician would.  Additionally, The Draughtsman (arguable The Writer's inferior little brother with only 2,000 parts) can draw four different pictures including a portrait of Louis XV and is sporting a lovely chipped manicure.  

The Writer inspired the design of the automaton in the 2011 film, Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese.  All three automatons are still functional today and can be seen in the Musee d'Art et d'Histoire in Switzerland.


Monday, January 19, 2015

The Moon-Eyed People

A request was made, once upon a time, that we include articles about lore, folk tales, and the extra disturbing ghost stories that our grandparents swore were true.  So, here we go with our first Matter-of-Fact Monday devoted to anthropology (of a sort)!

In the Appalachian mountains that range from Kentucky down to Georgia, there are strange formations in the rock.  Fortresses have been carved into the pre-existing features of the stone, and rocky walls dating back to 400 B.C. snake their way through the trees.  When Europeans began to sweep across the hills, they marveled at the ruins.  They asked the local Cherokee: Who built these structures?  The answer was not "We did." but rather "The Azgen.  The Moon-Eyed People."

The story goes that long ago, when the Cherokee first traveled to Southern Appalachia, they met a race already living among the mountains.  Their skin was the purest white, and their hair yellow.  They had beards, and large eyes that allowed them see well at night, but blinded them during the day.  They were so sensitive that they were even hurt by the glow of the full moon.  In some places, the story says it was the Creek that murdered the Moon-Eyed People, in others, the Cherokee themselves claim to have wiped them out.  The lone survivors were driven underground to live in subterranean tunnels, far from light and war.  The ghosts of the murdered still haunt the hills to this day.

In Ohio, the Shawnee refused to settle in Kentucky.  Despite it being prime hunting grounds, they claimed that if they set up their permanent dwellings there, they would be killed by the ghosts of the dead Azgen.

In Georgia, just over the North Carolina border, the Fort Mountain State Park preserves one of the most impressive ruins attributed to the Moon-Eyed People.  Massive stone fortifications towering several stories high have stood for thousands of years.  A historical marker is even dedicated to the 'legend' of the Moon-Eyed People.

It is said that on the darkest nights of the new moon, the Moon-Eyed People still venture out to steal livestock, property, or women and children.

There are several theories as to what may have inspired these tales.

1) The Welsh:

In 1810, John Sevier, former governor of Tennessee, wrote that he'd been told by the Cherokee leader Oconostota that the Moon-Eyed People were, in fact, Welsh.  There was a popular theory that noted how well the stories about the Moon-Eyed People lined up with the legend of Prince Madoc.  Madoc was said to have sailed across the ocean long before Columbus, and may well have settled in the New World with a band of his countrymen.  This would explain the pale skin and yellow beards.

Though this seems to be the most popular theory about the Moon-Eyed people on the internet, there is also the criticism that this account is more a testament to white colonial influence than historical fact.  Aside from these testimonials, and wild conjecture, there is no evidence that the Welsh traveled to North Carolina and became The Moon-Eyed People.

2) Albinos:

The Guna, an indigenous people of Panama, exhibit extremely high rates of albinism.  More common in males, albinos are treated as a different race and traditionally honored with a crucial task: protect the moon.  At night, they are sent out with special bows and arrows to shoot at the dragon that attempts to swallow the moon during lunar eclipses.  This keeps the moon safe and keeps the tides in check, a particularly important concern for people who live on an atoll.

It is not assumed that the Moon-Eyed People are a branch of the Guna.  But rather, the Guna are an excellent example of how an indigenous race could be a natural explanation for the Moon-Eyed People.  Through intertribal marriages, it is possible that a race of pale, yellow-haired people could have emerged organically, without an infusion of European genetics.

3) The Lost Tribes: 

After the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C., ten of the twelve tribes of Israel disappeared.  It is commonly assumed that they were assimilated into the surrounding nations.  However, there has long been the hope that the ten tribes would one day be rediscovered, and reunited.  A theory common among Mormons is that the Native Americans are, in fact, one of the lost tribes of Israel.

In this theory, the Moon-Eyed People are jews, instead of welshmen or indigenous albinos.

I personally ascribe to the albino theory.  The other two simply don't sit well with the accounts of the Azgen, or common sense.

If you'd like to read more about the Azgen, including multiple citations of primary sources, take a look at this snarky, in-depth article by a real anthropologist: The Moon in Your Eyes.


P.S. Hope you don't run into any Moon-People if you visit home, Laura.  Enlist a war-possum if you get in deep.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Den - Movie Review

The Den
Released 2013
Directed by Zachary Donahue

=Spoilers Contained in Review=

The basic premise of the film The Den is a young woman named Elizabeth has received a grant to conduct a study on human behavior on the internet, pledging to be connected online 24/7 to a video chat service called The Den, in hopes of interacting with as many people as possible and recording each and every conversation.  Sure, this sounds relevant in today's technology-driven society, with Skype, ChatRoulette, FaceTime, and all the other social media platforms with which today's youth can get themselves in trouble with.  We are all warned from an early age of the dangers of interacting with strangers on the internet, never knowing for sure who we're talking to or what their true intentions are.  Elizabeth herself encountered her fair share of weirdos on The Den ranging from naked old weirdos pleasuring themselves on camera to the age-old favorite, the Nigerian prince needing your bank account routing number in order to transfer you a million dollars or some such nonsense.

One night, Elizabeth and her best friend Jenni are having a beer and on The Den when they come across a still photo of a teenage girl smiling at the camera rather than a video feed, with the screen name Pyagrl*16.  When Elizabeth leaves the room, Pyagrl*16 sends Jenny all sorts of crude messages and signs off.  Later that night, a hacker logs into Elizabeth's computer and we hear muffled screaming in the background.  We are led to believe something real sketchy is up with this Pyagirl*16 chick.  All along, Elizabeth has been neglecting her boyfriend, Dominic, in order to focus on her project, but he decides to come over one night and the hacker records them having some 'adult time' and sends it in an email to the president of the organization that gave Elizabeth the grant, resulting in her funding being suspended.  Things take a turn for the worst when Elizabeth witnesses the girl in the Pyagirl*16 photo having her throat slit on camera by a mysterious burlap-sack headed man.

Later on, we see this same man lurking in the back of Dominic's car and kidnapping him as well as luring her best friend, Jenni, over to Elizabeth's house and then smashing her head into a desk. Elizabeth later finds Jenni in her bathtub with her wrists slit.  Probably the worst act of Burlap-Sack Head is when he breaks into Elizabeth's pregnant sister's house, tapes her mouth shut and holds a knife to her very pregnant stomach.  Thankfully though he does not kill her.  The police are called to help Elizabeth investigate this crazy asshole but they prove to not be very helpful.  Eventually Elizabeth herself gets in a fight with Burlap-Sack Head, stabbing him and all, but she still gets caught and dragged to a mysterious dungeon where she awakens with a camera attached to her head.

She is forced to watch her friend Max be smothered to death and then her boyfriend Damien be attacked.  Turns out there is a group of these burlap-sack head guys all working together to pick off Elizabeth's friends one by one.  Elizabeth is forced again to fight off the men and almost escapes completely but there proves to be too many fighting against one and she is caught and dragged back into the dungeon.

We see Elizabeth bloodied and hung from the ceiling of the dungeon and then shot in the head.  Just lovely.  The riveting (I use this word sarcastically) conclusion of this film actually shows a creeper purchasing a video of Elizabeth's death online.  Then we realize there is an entire website dedicated to these snuff films, where you can pay high dollar to watch the elaborate back stories leading up to people's actual murders.  Isn't humanity great?

So overall, I have to say I feel rather 'meh' about this film, borderlining on disappointment.  There was nothing truly scary about it, save for a jump or two that were mostly just cheap scares that added nothing to the plot.  It reminded me of a young adult version of the film Megan is Missing which is about a teenage girl talking to crazy men on the internet who end up kidnapping her and doing terrible things to her and her best friend.  It seems as though films like this have a very very smothered message of warning people about the dangers of creeps on the internet, but rather than portraying this message in a truly instructional or thought-provoking way, they just fill the films with as much gore, violence against women, rape, and torture as possible.  Yes, I understand there is a certain market for this type of film, but I would like to see someone go against the grain and create a horror film around the internet/video chatting that is maybe less violent and more truly scary and/or creepy.  I think it's totally possible.

Many people out there are aware of what's called the "dark side of the internet."  This can range from things as innocuous as blogs like ours that highlight creepy content and discuss it (at least hopefully) intelligently and creatively.  [Hey, we try :)]  Sites like Reddit and others have their fair share of creepy content as well.  Then there is the even darker side, which I can't say I'm too familiar with myself, but where apparently you can partake in all sorts of illegal and disturbing activity.  The internet is an odd concept and though it can be truly rewarding and allow you to create connections and relationships or maintain them with loved ones and friends, it can also open a portal for sad and disturbed individuals to do truly traumatizing things to people.  So all I can say, dear reader, is tread lightly and if it gets too bad, spend a few hours cleansing your mind on

Signing out,

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Rika Ezaki

The world is harmful
Rika Ezaki

Eyes, fingers, band-aids, bondage.  Rika Ezaki's art combines otherworldly repetitions with lush details to create images at once striking, eerie, and disturbing.  Gentle, faded color schemes and delicately curving lines impart a refinement that matches the considered composition and content of Ezaki's art.  It's fascinating.  It's beautiful.  And in its beauty it is seductive and dreadful.

Ezaki's nightmare pictures frequently echo the traditions of Japanese erotica and the Japanese expression of the grotesque.  Schoolboys are caught lounging, glancing out at the audience with heavy-lidded eyes, sometimes entangled with lascivious monsters.  Schoolgirls are bound like pin-ups, harassed by demons, or skewered on mega-pencils like St. Sebastian.  

While I wouldn't call this art Safe For Work, it isn't as graphic as you might imagine.  There are no exposed genitals or blood.  But this modesty is exactly what makes the erotic subtext of Ezaki's work so deeply disturbing to me.  Mind you, the subtext is extremely clear.  Themes of abuse, bondage, and all manner of emotionally twisted relationships are on display.  Oftentimes, they're softened to seem appealing, even romantic.  For example, in Your Gold Lotus, a youth is surrounded with slender female legs.  On the surface it seems like a classic foot-fetish image.  It is only upon closer inspection that one sees all the shoes are far too tiny, and that all the feet have been bound down into body-horror nubs inside those cute little boots.

Of course, there are two other areas that Ezaki explores exquisitely: lonesome ghost-stories, and super-kawaii, super-monstrous sticker sheets (And OMG I NEED SOME OF THOSE).  

Attempted Double Suicide shows a long-haired maiden clutching a skeleton in the moonlight.  It suggests a classic folktale, complete with kimono and moths.  There are kitsune priests and black flames and filters that would make you utterly certain you're looking at a blockprint on silk.  Other works include a schoolgirl whose hair is levitating.  It's an understated bit of insinuation that reminds me simultaneously of Alfred Gorey and Rene Magritte.

Then, Ezaki swings far into Western horror imagery with angels, horned devils, crosses, and goat legs.  And then there are the sticker-sheets.  You'll just have to see them to believe them.

In short, I think Ezaki is marvelous.  With a gorgeous style and strange ideas, Ezaki makes things for gazing, things for delving deep into mysterious nightmare worlds.  

I highly suggest you give the website some traffic, and perhaps even contact the artist if you see something you like!  Despite being in Japanese, don't fear: click on Pix, then the blue link, and you can wander through a complete album of Rika Ezaki's work.

Sweet Dreams!


Monday, January 12, 2015

The Silent Twins - June and Jennifer Gibbons

This is perhaps one of my favorite instances of real life creepy that I have come across in a long time, simply because there's no true way to know exactly what was going on in the psyche of these girls and what drove their actions.

June and Jennifer Gibbons were born in Wales in 1963.  Being the only African-American students in school, the girls were bullied from a young age.  After a while, they were so ostracized and traumatized, that they only communicated with each other, using a form of cryptophasia, a language developed by twins that only they can understand.  At the age of 14, the sisters were sent to separate schools in an attempt to "regulate their behavior" but this proved to be even more damaging, causing them to become completely catatonic and entirely withdrawn from others.

As the girls got older, they turned their interests towards creative writing, filling tons of journals and attempting to sell their short stories to several magazines but proved unsuccessful.  They did publish several books set in the United States through a self-publishing press, New Horizons, entitled Pepsi-Cola Addict and The Taxi-Driver's Son to name a few.  In the '80s, in their late teens, the twins' behavior started to take a turn, attacking each other physically, drinking heavily, smoking marijuana, and committing a string of crimes including arson and petty theft, resulting in their admittance to a high-security mental health hospital.  There, they lost all interest in creative writing and were placed on high doses of anti-psychotic medicine.

The girls had a longstanding agreement that if one were to die, the other would go on to live a normal life and resume speaking again.  They decided that while in the mental hospital, it was necessary for one of them to die.  Jennifer was decided to be the sacrifice.  In fact, she even told their only friend at the time, a journalist named Margie Wallace, simply "I'm going to die.  We've decided."  The girls were in the process of being transferred from one hospital to another when Jennifer fell unconscious.  In the hospital, she died of an acute myocarditis, inflammation of the heart.

After Jennifer's death, June gave interviews to several magazines and stated that she felt free at last and liberated.  She now lives a normal life, no longer needs psychiatric services, and is accepted by her community.

People say twins have an unspoken connection, a bond that no other set of siblings could imagine, a sharing of one soul in two bodies.  In some cases, this can be as innocent as finishing each other's sentences or wearing matching clothes.  In other cases, it can escalate to the withdrawn and odd behavior of the Gibbons sisters or even the violently dangerous behavior of the Eriksson twins, Ursula and Sabina, whose story is also highly intense and interesting.  (Note to self: May have to write blog post on them in the future.)

If you have time, I definitely recommend reading up more on this case, as there are far more twisted details than I include in this post.  All said and done, this is both a tragic story and a story of freedom rolled into one, leaving everyone who reads about it with a feeling of intense fascination but also an unsettling sadness.


Friday, January 9, 2015

The Descent - Movie Review

The Descent
Released 2005
Directed by Neil Marshall

Slow-burn buzz.  Possibly the slowest burning buzz I've ever seen for a horror movie.  Over the past decade, The Descent has been gradually clawing its way higher and higher up on my watch list.  When previews for it first came out in 2005, I laughed at how terrible it looked.  I mean, really, who wants to watch a bunch of babes mud-wrestle in a cave and get eaten by orcs?  Not me! 


The Descent is a remarkably good movie.  It sports a well-rounded all-female cast that’s exactly opposite your regular Werewolf in a Girl’s Dormitory babe-troop.  Aside from how satisfying the characters are, the movie is fast-paced and genuinely thrilling.  It takes the claustrophobia and unease implicit in spelunking, and ramps it up fast and hard.  Then, when you think the movie is glowing with adrenaline from scaling bottomless chasms, it hits you again with the grotesque cave monsters.  Which, I know, sounds dumb, but trust me on this: the cave monsters are good.  I’ll explain why in a bit.

So, about that cast of nothing but awesome women.  It’s got 6 actual women.  Not girls, not babes- women.  Women who are brave and have virtues and flaws.  Women who go hard-core caving for funsies.  They’re thrill-seekers.  They each have their own lives and careers.  There’s a delicate web of relationships between them of which, sadly, we only catch glimpses.  But even these glimpses are rich compared to the character-development we get for characters of any gender in most movies.

Not a duck-face in sight.

And the reason why they looked like they were mud-wrestling in the preview is because they kinda do- it’s just that they’re engaged in some of the most sloppy, brutal, true-to-life fighting I've seen for a while.  None of this prettily choreographed, laughably-unrealistic Black Widow bunk.  They slip and roll around in blood-mud with inbred mutants until they’re lucky enough to plunge their thumbs deep into said mutant’s eye-sockets.  It’s harsh.  And for someone who's looked up to Ellen Ripley since 4th grade, it’s also really satisfying.   

About those cave monsters.  Spoiler: they’re an ancient race of humans that have evolved underground.  They’re blind and use echolocation to hunt prey.  They crawl lots and it’s quite uncanny.  But they also have really bad senses of smell, and aren’t very good at knowing what’s in their bone-room.  Look… don’t worry about the logisitics.  This isn’t science-fiction.  This is a horror movie about The Moon-eyed People.  And while I was personally underwhelmed by The Moon-eyes as capital-M Monsters per se, I really loved them as a more subtly-shaded device: human-shaped animals.  The Descent shows you the monster lots.  And to be entirely fair, the make-up effects are gorgeous.  But once I got over the displeasure of how much I was looking the monsters in the face, the more they started to warp into something more interesting.  They began to seem less Other-y.  This coincides perfectly with the descent of the characters into primal survival states.

I'm considering investing in an climbing adze.

To make a note about cinematography/direction, there’s also a beautiful, lovely, gorgeous shot in this movie.  The lead has to scramble up a hill of bones to the surface.  She’s illuminated by a narrow shaft of light among the darkness.  She struggles, exhausted, covered in blood and death, up and up.  It’s one of the most heartbreaking expressions of grieving I’ve ever seen.  By the time you see it, it’ll make sense.  And, yes, a woman crawling up a bone-pile is very heavy-handed.  And I would happily call it silly in anything other than a horror movie that seems to have been crafted entirely around this gem of a shot.

Onto things that aren't great about this movie: the bad CG.  It’s mostly used for cave interiors that would be really unfeasible to construct or shoot on location, so just deal with it.  There are no CG monsters, and the movie makes use of practical effects for everything it wants to look good.  But, I know some people honestly just can’t stand older CG, especially on HD tvs, so if that’ll break your concentration- try to prepare yourself.

Also, the pacing is off, and I’m not sure whether it makes the movie better or worse.  The fight-scenes can seem a little sluggish.  They really wallow in the… well, wallowing.  There are parts that I think are drawn out just a touch too much in attempts milk every last sweet drop of tension and excitement out of a situation.  

Then again, the weird pacing of this movie made its jump-scares intense.  I have a bad habit of counting down to jump-scares in movies.  You know: “Jump-scare in 3, 2, 1…Rawr!”  Try it sometime, you’re probably better at it than you think.  But this movie is uncountable.  I’m having a hard time pinning down exactly why the scares are so effective, but suffice to say, I screamed “JESUS CHRIST!” more than once in alarm.

As an overall result, the pacing has some beneficial effects, but makes the movie feel loosey-goosey.  Preferably, it would be edited down into elegant perfection, but I know this isn’t always possible.  It’s just a touch disappointing when there are so many other yummy things going on.

In conclusion, if you love the idea of the Ted the Caver creepypasta but are too impatient to read all the way through it, have I got the movie for you!  While not the most subtle or psychological of horror tales, The Descent definitely hits all the good spots of a survival/monster movie.  Good characters, thrills, chills, and blood-mud.

Oh, and the best Apocalypse Now moment since… Apocalypse Now.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Lustmord: The Word as Power

Have you ever been sitting in your house, maybe trying to write a horror story, and think "Man, I need some music.  I need the darkest, deepest, doomiest music I can find, but if I listen to metal or noise music I'll get distracted.  Or worse, I'll get a migraine.  What I need the is the subtle soundtrack of abandoned demonic temples and vast unknown wastelands.  I need the music that they pipe into the malls in Rl'yeh."

Well look no further than the latest release by my favorite dark ambient artist: The Word as Power by Lustmord.  Brian Williams, the man behind Lustmord, has been producing the spookiest, tastiest dark ambient for decades, unspooling great swaths of bassy synthesizers and groaning guitars over his albums.

With The Word as Power, Lustmord introduces human vocals into his work for the first time.  But this isn't a matter of lyrics or spoken word.  Rather, the voices on this album echo lost and forlorn, wailing heinous incantations to the rising gloom.  They moan in made-up languages as tectonic sub-bass rumblings build and recede at a glacial pace.

Now, I will warn you, I do mean glacial.  Giving The Word as Power a listen can be a deeply rewarding experience if you've got a good sound system and a lot of time on your hands.  But it isn't exactly a speed-rap.  Several of the tracks run in excess of 15 minutes, evolving slowly and evoking a sense of eternal entrapment.  Which, if you're an impatient person, will be exactly what you think of the album: timeless purgatory.

However, I've found this to be one of my favorites, as it's difficult to come by good music to fit otherworldly hellscapes that don't involve lots of screaming.

The Word as Power is available on all the regular sources for music.  I highly recommend it, especially if you need to set the mood with sound that's deeply evocative, alien, yet eerily human.


I tried to think of a good thing to tie in with this album review.  Some piece of artwork or poetry.  I settled on these passages from one of my favorite books: House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson.  I think they capture well the scenes that come to mind when listening.  Enjoy!

Presently, I landed, and stood, surrounded by a great waste of loneliness. The place was lit with a gloomy twilight that gave an impression of indescribable desolation.
Afar to my right, within the sky, there burnt a gigantic ring of dull-red fire, from the outer edge of which were projected huge, writhing flames, darted and jagged. The interior of this ring was black, black as the gloom of the outer night. I comprehended, at once, that it was from this extraordinary sun that the place derived its doleful light.
From that strange source of light, I glanced down again to my surroundings. Everywhere I looked, I saw nothing but the same flat weariness of interminable plain. Nowhere could I descry any signs of life; not even the ruins of some ancient habitation.
And so, after a time, I came to the mountains. Then, the course of my journey was altered, and I began to move along their bases, until, all at once, I saw that I had come opposite to a vast rift, opening into the mountains. Through this, I was borne, moving at no great speed. On either side of me, huge, scarped walls of rocklike substance rose sheer. Far overhead, I discerned a thin ribbon of red, where the mouth of the chasm opened, among inaccessible peaks. Within, was gloom, deep and somber, and chilly silence. For a while, I went onward steadily, and then, at last, I saw, ahead, a deep, red glow, that told me I was near upon the further opening of the gorge.
A minute came and went, and I was at the exit of the chasm, staring out upon an enormous amphitheatre of mountains. Yet, of the mountains, and the terrible grandeur of the place, I recked nothing; for I was confounded with amazement to behold, at a distance of several miles and occupying the center of the arena, a stupendous structure built apparently of green jade. 

From House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgeson.


Monday, January 5, 2015

"of the wants, of Tarrare."

From The London Medical and Physical Journal (Oxford University) 1819. p. 204
Read the full text on Google Books.  The account of Tarrare begins on p. 203.

He could eat a meal for 15 laborers.  He ate live snakes and dead bodies.

He may have consumed a living child.

Welcome to our first Matter-of-Fact Monday!  The day of the week where everything we talk about is true!  Or at least based in reality of some sort.  While the rest of the blog is dedicated to creative work in our favorite genre, you can always rest assured that Mondays will give you a dose of true-life horror.  So, let's get on with learning about one of the most bizarre and creepy individuals ever to wander through France.

There are many articles dedicated to the man known as Tarrare.  Most begin with his humble birth in the French countryside around 1772.  Then they cover his stints as a travelling geek, swallowing corks, rocks, and live animals as the warm-up act to a "charlatan".  And there was his brief service as a spy for the French Revolutionary Army (they made him swallow messages, of course).  But most stories about Tarrare focus on one thing: his insatiable hunger.

What more can I add?

Other authors state the facts clearly and simply, as if to emphasize the reality of the account.  Which isn't really a bad idea, considering that the story of Tarrare is so deeply unbelievable.  The mind cringes away from it, dismisses it as a work of macabre fiction.  It can't possibly be true.  But M. le Baron Percy, Tarrare's doctor and author of the account, was a well-respected military doctor of the time.  An overview of his other reports show that he was not given to flights of fancy.  If Tarrare was a hoax, it would be quite out of character for M. Percy to perpetrate such a thing.  This leaves us with an uncomfortable notion.

Tarrare was real.

My intent is to do the opposite of these previous articles.  Where Wikipedia and the beloved Fortean Times treat Tarrare as a curiosity, albeit a disgusting one, I plan to retell the tale of Tarrare in all its horrible glory.  Tarrare was hideous and scary.  Understatement may inspire respectability and a slow-burn sort of dread.  There is an argument to be made for rendering Tarrare as a sympathic, human oddity.

But, remember, he probably ate a child.

Let's begin with how he looked, his physical existence.

Tarrare was a medium-sized man, perhaps 5'6", slender and meek.  It is said that he was "almost devoid of force or ideas."  Save eating, of course.  At the age of 17, even after years of gluttony, he weighed only 100 pounds.  He was balding: "the little hair he had preserved, although very young, was very fair and extremely fine."  His teeth were streaked "like marble."  His cheeks were sunken, wrinkled, and hung limp from his face.  This was a direct result of Tarrare's ability to open his mouth and fill it with a dozen eggs or apples at a time.  His lips were barely visible, but his mouth was very wide.

Tarrare could open his mouth so wide, in fact, that a cylinder a foot around in circumference could be placed inside without touching the roof of his palate.

At his autopsy, it was found that when Tarrare's head was tilted back, a straight canal was formed down his enlarged esophagus directly to his stomach.  The doctors were able to look in his mouth, down a tunnel of flesh the width of a softball, and see his stomach.

Tarrare's stomach was capable of distending to such a massive, bloated form, that when he was not full of food, the skin of his abdomen fell saggy.  There was such an excess of it that he could wrap the flap of skin most of the way around his body.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself that Tarrare may have been a sufferer of any number of syndromes that attack the connective tissue in the body.  He must have had a genetic defect that caused his joints, skin, and tissues to stretch and unhinge in such a manner.  But, no.  According to the account, Tarrare had no loosened skin, no joint-trouble, no sprains or unusual flexibility, aside from those related to his constant eating.  His mouth, jaw, esophagus, and distended stomach were the result, not of a medical abnormality, but of constant strain and stretching.

But the disturbing truth of Tarrare's body doesn't end there.

He constantly sweated and was burning-hot to the touch.  Tarrare literally steamed.  M. Percy, his doctor, described that from Tarrare "a vapour arose, sensible to the sight, and still more so to the smell."  In fact, Tarrare smelled so bad that people had a hard time getting within twenty paces of him.  His excrement was described as "fetid beyond all conception."

And the stinking vapour got worse after he'd fed.  During his rare times of extreme satiation, Tarrare's eyes would turn a vivid, blood-shot red, his cheeks would flush, and he would fall into a deep sleep to digest.  He would burp and move his jaw in chewing-swallowing motion, though M. Percy found no signs of actual rumination.

That's what Tarrare was.  Now, let's look at what he did.

Tarrare is known to have consumed the following:

-A quarter of a bullock in a day.
-a basket full of apples (basket included)
-a pocket watch and chain
-four bowls of curdled milk and two enormous hard puddings (the dinner for 15 German laborers)
-quadruple military rations
-kitchen trash
-other people's leftovers
-small boxes containing military messages.
-a golden fork

Not so bad.  Typical side-show fare.  But wait, there's more!

-living cats
-living snakes
-a living large eel without chewing (though he crushed its head in his molars)
-thirty pounds of raw liver and candles
-offal from slaughterhouses (he fought wild dogs over his findings)
-thirty pounds of raw beef lungs

So he liked his meat raw and kind of rotting... so?

Well, let's mention the things he consumed during his stay at M. Percy's hospital.

When he first arrived at a military hospital in Soultz, he ate 4 meals himself, the other patients leftovers, kitchen scraps, and turned to the apothecary's room.  Therein he ate all the poultices.  Poultices being a moistened, mashed mixture of plants, flowers, flour, mud, ash, or other ingredients.

Tarrare was later found sipping from bowls of blood from blood-letting patients.  The staff surprised him in the midst of his consumption and sent him back to his room.

Later, they found Tarrare in the morgue, eating parts of dead, rotting bodies.

He was allowed to wander the halls of the hospital at night, breaking into offices, sneaking into rooms to lap at half-coagulated bowls of diseased blood.  He crept into the morgue to eat corpses.

The last straw was when a 14-month-old child went missing.  Many accounts describe the victim as either a baby or, as I just did, a 14 month old.  But this misses the point.  Children routinely learn to walk by twelve months old, a year that is.  This was not a small, ten-pound swaddled baby, or a collection of months.  This was a toddler.  Sure, someone may have kidnapped the child, or it may have wandered out on its own.  But the staff immediately suspected Tarrare and threw him out as a result.  We do not know for sure, and the thought is beyond real conception.  But it's possible.

Tarrare ate a toddler.

A child that was heavy and could thrash its limbs about.  A child that was learning to talk.  A child that may have tried to run.

In a stroke of irony, Tarrare died at 26 from consumption (tuberculosis) and diarrhea.  Doctors had to work quickly as a strange corruption instantly began to decompose his body at an accelerated rate. When they autopsied his body they found his intestines were putrefied, tangled, and oozed pus.  His liver and gallbladder were enlarged and putrid.  His stomach was covered with ulcers and filled almost all of his abdominal cavity.  This was all they found, as the stench of his body rendered the doctors unable to continue.

Tarrare was a man made to consume.  He ate so much it warped his body into little more than bones surrounding a gullet and stomach.  He was a gaping mouth that swallowed contagion, rot, and living creatures.

"Let a person imagine," said M. Percy, "all that domestic and wild animals, the most filthy and ravenous, are capable of devouring, and they may form some idea of the appetite, as well as of the wants, of Tarrare."


P.S. Special Thanks to Caitlin.