Monday, March 30, 2015

The Hugag - Cryptids of the American Frontier

I don't know about you, but sometimes I get a little tired of the usual cryptids.  You know: Bigfoot, the Mothman, and Chupacabras.  Every so often I just want to sit back in my flannel, pretend to be a lumberjack (that's why I'm wearing flannel), and hear a tall tale about a fearsome critter.  If you're with me, then I've got a treat for you today.  Tonight's the night I let you in on the secret of the Hugag.

What's a Hugag, you say?

Nothin' less than one of the most fearsome and dangerous critters ever to stalk the hinterlands of the lumberwoods, that's all.

Pictured above in a highly accurate illustration from the 1910 edition of Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods, With a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts, the Hugag (Rythmopes inarticulatus) is a large mammal of the Lake States.  It's territory includes northern Minnesota and western Wisconsin, but is also known to thrive throughout the forests of Canada, even unto the Hudson bay.

There are lots of similarities between the Hugag and your common moose, but DON'T BE MISTAKEN.  There are several extremely important differences that will allow you to spot a dangerous Hugag rather than the totally harmless and safe wild bull moose.

First off, you'll notice that the Hugag has no knees or leg joints of any kind.  Indeed, its long legs prevent it from bending over and force it to remain standing at all times.  Further, the Hugag is possessed of an extremely long upper lip, which keeps it from grazing.  If it were to stand by a grassy hillock steep enough to reach with its stiff legs, it would merely scrape that big upper lip across the ground, and never manage to get any fodder in its mouth.

Other features of the Hugag include a hairless head and neck, "strangely-corrugated ears" that droop downward, four-toed feet, and bushy tail.  Overall, witnesses of the Hugag consider it to have a downright prehistoric appearance.

The behavior and habits of the Hugag have luckily been recorded for posterity.

The diet of the Hugag consists largely of twigs or the bark of trees.  The creature is known to flop its big old lip around trees and strip the bark clean off.  This accounts for the bare patches on trees you might see as you hike.

It's said that the Hugag has a veritable "mania for travelling", and is capable of moving for an entire day without stopping.  Thus, few hunters who have taken up the trail of the Hugag have ever returned to camp with a head to show for their troubles.  At night, though, the Hugag does pause for sleep and refreshment.  It does so by leaning its weight against a tree, as it cannot bend its legs to lay down.  So, the next time you're camping and you hear a tree suddenly crash to the ground in the middle of the night, that would definitely be a Hugag. Successful Hugag hunters have been known to lay traps for their quarry by sawing notches in trees, such that when the Hugag goes to lean against them, they topple.  The Hugag then, in its helpless state, is easily dispatched.

The last known Hugag to be killed was on the Turtle River in northern Minnesota.  It was reported to be a young Hugag, weighing 1800 pounds, and was found stuck in the mud of the riverbank.  It was knocked in the head by Mike Flynn of Cass Lake.

And there ya have it.  I hope now you're all educated so that if you're ever wandering the woods and secret parts of the frosty Midwest, you'll know to look out for this most fearsome of American cryptids.


Friday, March 27, 2015

We Are What We Are - Movie Review

We Are What We Are
Directed by Jim Mickle

Spoilers Ahead

In the history of the Hand of Jessee blog, I've reviewed slashers, thrillers, paranormal, found footage, '80s films, and B movies.  I felt it was only appropriate to review a film topic I'd never touched on before: cannibalism.  So, there's that.

We Are What We Are could've gone one of two ways.  It could've been an all out nasty, bloody, meaty, chunky, gorefest from start to finish or it could've been what it actually was, a slow burner, leaving more to the imagination than the eye. Until the end, that is.

Our film centers around the Parker family, Frank, Emma, Iris, Rose, and Rory.  The film begins with Emma Parker staring solemnly out the door on the last day of her life.  Upon walking home from the store, Emma sees a sign posting of a missing girl and immediately starts bleeding from the mouth, faints and dings her head on a pipe, falling in a shallow fountain and drowning.

We are then introduced to the rest of the Parker family, your typical portrait of a down-home, southern, conservative, plaited-hair, ruffled dress, and suspender wearing family.  We are made aware that the Parker family is on a very strict fast imposed by Frank, leaving his two daughters, Iris and Rose, and young son, Rory, starving.  We are treated to a pretty gross autopsy scene of the mother, Emma, where we learn that she had early onset Parkinson's.

As the film progresses, we learn that there has been a string of missing girls around town and bones have been turning up in the creek and nearby forests and trails.  Frank eerily spends a lot of time out in his shed, the sounds of whimpering and crying muffled underground.  Rory makes the mistake one day of going down in the basement and we get our sole jump scare of the movie when a hand shoots out from under a crack in a door, grasping at Rory.  He is caught by Frank and sternly reprimanded.

We later see Rose reading their family history from a diary that has been passed down generation to generation.  Apparently in previous eras, to survive their family had to rely on "eating meat."  We're not talking about cows or pigs here, people.  Iris frequently expresses that she wishes her family wasn't the way they were but Frank is sure to let them know that God chose them to be that way and if they are not, they get sick from "the poision" and die one by one.  Clearly, this dude is not firing on all cylinders.  Oh yeah and Frank has started to suffer from frequent nosebleeds and hand tremors.

The biggest point of tension in the movie comes when Iris, as the eldest daughter, is forced to replace her mother's role in preparing dinner.  She must go down to the basement with a scythe and after uttering, "It is with love that I do this.  God's will be done", kills one of the chained up women and then traces the meaty parts of her body with lipstick and drains her of blood.  Meanwhile, the nosy neighbor, Marge, hears the screams coming from below the Parker house.

We see the Parker family having a super meaty stew and are forced to endure close-ups of Frank's slurping and chewing and stew-stained beard for much longer than necessary.  All this time, the town sheriffs have been investigating the disappearances and start to put two and two together and suspect the Parkers.  The town doctor also sheds some light on the subject as we learn that Emma had not Parkinson's but Kuru Disease.  The main cause of Kuru Disease is dun, dun, dun cannibalism.  After catching Iris having sex with the youngest sheriff out in the woods, Frank decides it's time to punish his evil smite-worthy daughter and bring down the whole family by poisoning their stew with arsenic.  Well, let's just say the girls do not go down without a fight.

After an epic chase scene, a shoot-out with the doctor, Marge getting her throat slit, Frank convinces all the children to reconvene at the dinner table and finish their meal.  He lets them know, "All is forgiven in the eyes of the lord" and kisses them on the mouth.  Well, Rose decides to break bad and legit chomps into Frank's neck while Iris stabs him in the hand and starts eating his hand and arm.  We then basically have a five to ten minute scene of the girls eating their father to death and then driving out of town with their little brother and the family diary to live happily ever after (?) 

We Are What We Are had its fair share of pros and cons for me. 

- The cinematography was beautiful.  The film was awash with shades of blue, gray, beige, and other neutral colors.  There was not a single bright color in the film.  Everything was muted, pale, and rainy.  The nature shots of the town were fabulous, especially the shots of the forest and streams during rainstorms.
- In conjunction, the sounds are great as well.  We hear trickling water, crickets chirping, ticking clocks, but never jump scare shrieks, tension-building drums or violins, or harsh noises of any kind.
- The acting is done very well.  The girls, Iris and Rose, are very convincing in their roles as young intelligent girls wanting to break free but restrained under the harsh rule of their father.  Frank is a convincingly creepy and intimidating, soft-spoken, slow-moving dictator.

- I appreciate a good slow burn and build-up but We Are What We Are was almost a bit TOO slow-moving at certain points.  With about 45 minutes left to go in the movie, I started to lose interest and had to pause and come back to it.
- I would've liked them to explore a little more of the family history of how they became cannibals and why the tradition was so strongly upheld over time and also more about the Kuru Disease and its effects on the body.
- It's always a little gross to watch someone get eaten, but I guess that's a subjective con.

Anyway, overall I give We Are What We Are a positive rating for its unique take on the horror genre and its risk-taking.  This film serves as proof that you don't need to see every grimy gory detail in order to be left with an unnerved and unsettling feeling as you complete a film, impressed with its execution but never really wanting to watch it again.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Benny Kusnoto - Artist Review

Snail Jester by BennyKusnoto

Vivid and translucent, BennyKusnoto's art is vibrant enough to be alive.  Which is particularly disturbing once you see some of the horrifying configurations of his monsters.

On his Deviantart page (linked near the bottom), you'll find insane, grotesque mishmashes of human parts that juxtapose beautiful ladies' legs, raw red maws, and fiendish insectoid hooks.  These monsters are so detailed and the light so delicately rendered as it falls over them that they are elevated from being merely scary, to being real.  This is what sets BennyKusnoto apart from your typical tentacled-horror scrawler.  His work doesn't rely on blood and guts to get a point across.  Rather, it leverages the texture of pallid flesh, the glistening of mucous.

However, this is just his latest work.  As you explore the page, you'll see that the artist is quite varied and that his style can shift dramatically.  There is definite quality in the earliest submissions to deviantart, that include a lot of really badass Batman fan art.  Later, there's a series of artfully smudged black and white pieces that remind me of Stephen Gammell's nightmare-inducing illustrations for "Scary Stories to Read in the Dark".   Then, there are moody, dramatic portraits of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster and the Mummy.  As you scroll on, you'll pass glossy background textures, and a steampunk beagle.  A STEAMPUNK BEAGLE.

My personal favorites are his horror creatures, though.  I'm glad that the artist seems to find the Joker inspiring because it brought about some of the most amazing scary-clown art I've ever seen.  And I'm not talking Killer Clowns with Big Teeth, I'm talking this:

Tears of a Clown by BennyKusnoto
Those tiny eyes....  (shudder).

Finally, some of the monsters are a bit more conventionally built, but extremely well-designed.  They capture something otherworldly, but in their execution are deeply plausible. There are squid-bats that look like David Attenborough should be narrating them, and aliens that might well skitter under distant foliage, if not the hull of one's spaceship.

Creatura by BennyKusnoto
This sense of reality is, in my opinion, what makes horror art really compelling.  The ability to create an image that suggests a fully-realized, if sinister, world is a talent not many possess.   BennyKusnoto, with his wrinkles and glimmers, creates such worlds.

If you're looking for some extremely high-quality horror illustrations, or just want to check out a super-cool looking redesign of Darth Vader, I will gladly point you to the link below.  

Check out more of his awesome artwork here:


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ivanova and Olga Tamarin - Serial Killing Ogresses!

St. Petersburg, 1912.

A lone news article is printed that soon circulates around the world, telling of the unspeakable crimes done in a place called "Kurdia".

On July 20, 1912, Ivanova Tamarin, and her 17 year-old daughter, Olga were seized at Kurdia.  In the weeks leading up to their capture, there had been reports that men and women enticed to the Tamarin house were never seen again.  Thus, a search was made of the nearby woods.  An unknown number of corpses, mutilated beyond all recognition, were discovered there.

The murders were so brutal that a force of gendarmes led by a Colonel surrounded the Tamarin household.  Ivanova and Olga did no go quietly, though.  Once the officers had subdued the women, after "violent resistance", a search of the house revealed it to be a slaughterhouse.

27 corpses were found in a storehouse, along with a great many personal possessions including watches, purses, and male and female clothing.  It seemed the Tamarins' motive was clear, that is, until the eating room was found.

The eating room had a trapdoor to the cellar.  In the cellar were "murderous instruments and fetters of [text illegible] sorts."  It seems the women not only stripped and robbed their victims, but used them as a unique protein source.  It isn't clear whether they tortured their victims or simply bound them in the darkened cellar until they butchered them.

The women confessed to leading a gang of 30 other peasants who, over the course of recent months, robbed and murdered 40 people.  The rest of the murderers were rounded up, but nine escaped.

And here the story ends.

Sadly, this is all we know of the horrifying events surrounding the Tamarin household.  Short of diving into a Russian archive, there are no other news articles about these heinous crimes.  After this, one suspects the women were summarily convicted and executed.  Perhaps their house, with its "eating room", was demolished.

Research is further impeded by the confusion surrounding where these crimes took place.  Kurdia isn't a place that exists, at least in this day and age.  It might refer to anything from a selection of small villages in Estonia, or possibly to a section of Russia occupied by ethnic Kurds.

I wish that more information was available.  I wish we knew what the Tamarins were like.  Were they beautiful, or beguiling?  Were they upstanding members of the town or were they outcasts living on the edges of society?  How were they able to kill for so long before being found out?

Perhaps someday more will be uncovered, but until then the Tamarins will remain a bloody footnote, an oddity, of serial killing history.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Killer Mermaid - Movie Review

Killer Mermaid
(Originally titled Mamula, also branded as Nymph for overseas release)
Directed by Milan Todorovic

Just in case you were laboring under the delusion that Amanda and I only watch seriously serious horror movies, I've got a delicious, fresh-caught review for you today!

I, for one, believe that in order to know what is truly good and truly bad, you have to sample the whole gamut.  For horror movies, this means exploring outside the bounds of your conventionally passable horror movies like Paranomal Whatistface, and watch things like Nosferatu and Mansquito back to back.  Therefore, I LOVE ME a good SyFy Original.

The best thing about SyFy Original-type movies is that they're a neat showcase of green directors learning how to find their ass with both hands, and over-the-top monster-movie insanity.  I've rarely met a SyFy original that took itself too seriously, and there's a comfort in that.  I don't need everything I watch to be gritty, serious, and compelling.  Sometimes I really like to sit back, munch popcorn, and laugh as robot-Hitler has a hard time flying his spaceship to the Falkland Islands.  Getting familiar with how something is done badly then helps with knowing when something is done goodly.

Now, here's your buried lead!  Killer Mermaid aka Nymph aka Mamula is AWESOME.

I decided to watch Killer Mermaid entirely because of it's obvious value-proposition: Killer Mermaids.  And that is essentially what you get.  You've already seen the bones of this movie a hundred times. The plot is the same, the script is copied and pasted from a secret database in SyFy's headquarters (with a couple exceptions), and all the action goes down by the book.

What makes Killer Mermaid a treat, though, is how astoundingly GOOD some of it is.  It includes remarkable acting, jaw-droppingly gorgeous cinematography, and a few moments where the script shines through as something poetic and marvelous.

It's so Pretty!

Killer Mermaid was shot on location in Montenegro.  In case you're not aware, Montenegro is beautiful.  And the cinematographer, Dimitrije Jokovic, makes sure you know this is the loveliest place in the world.  Bright, sunny Mediterranean seas, soft-lit nighttime parties, Instagram-worthy sunset escapades.  Over and over again, I was struck with how Killer Mermaid just looks so damn pretty!

Of course, the second half of the movie is all about hand-held shaky cam and darkness lit with flashlights, but there are still bits where the cinematographer manages to make something that could look cheap look rich instead.  Also, there were several shots that I'm pretty positive were taken on GoPros and I'm still mulling over how I feel about it.

Those people are so Pretty!

This movie is so glamorous, you guys. This isn't just a feature of location-based establishing shots, it's also a matter of how flawless and glam the characters are.  They're ridiculously hot.  I mean... between the luxe locations and how fab the characters are, this movie ends up looking like Conde Nast Traveller: The Horror Movie.

But, wait!  They're also amazing actors.

Double-take.  Yeah, through sheer force of acting, the cast takes characters that might be bland and makes them subtle, human, and fascinating.  I honestly was a little disappointed when they got around to being killed by the mermaid because I was really engaged in the interpersonal drama of their lives.  

Which led me to a super-sad thought:  How in the hell are Americans doing it so wrong?  The people in this low-buidget Serbian monster-movie are both more gorgeous and far better actors than those in the highest-grossing American flicks.  What the hell, Twilight?  What the hell, Avengers?  (dodges bricks)

But in seriousness, this unserious movie packs in a huge amount of character and personal drama through the magic of actors doing their jobs.

For example, the final girl, Kelly, is deathly afraid of water after watching her brother drown as a child.  She took swimming lessons but hates the possibility of getting in the water.  This facet of Kelly's personality is brought up again and again, even when it's inconvenient.  This is not the "Yeah.. sharks killed my family," that is stated and then never cashed-in on.  This is a real feature of Kelly's character that doesn't just go away for the sake of convenient pacing.  

Further, because the movie is so consistent about this, it makes Kelly's act of bravery near the end deeply genuine.  What should be a simple matter is transformed into heroism.  And that's really tasty.

What about that mermaid, tho?  

Pretty good, I say.  It's a mixture of obvious cg and practical effects.  While the cg looks like what you'd see on a SyFy original, the make-up effects are actually pretty good.  The mermaid oscillates between total babedom and super-ugly-monsterdom, but that's to be expected.  Other reviews complain that there's not enough mermaid in this movie and they are dumb.  There is just the right amount of mermaid in this movie.  

The thing that impressed me the most was one shot of the monster-mermaid swimming underwater, where air bubbles are streaming out of her mouth.  This was neat because, Miroslav Lakobrija, the designer in charge of creature effects, apparently took the time to make an appliance that didn't just look good underwater, but also released air in a realistic way instead of through leaky seams in the neck or not at all.


But really, aside from how pretty the movie is, and how good the acting is, what you really should come for is the comforting snuggle it provides.  It's got everything you want and need in a killer mermaid movie.  It's got a grizzled old fisherman who quotes Homer.  It's got a spooky abandoned fort atop a lonesome island.  It's got dudes stumbling toward their deaths in a mermaid-induced trance.  It's got a hot mermaid that turns into an ugly mermaid.  It's got a dorky, spoopy theme that sounds like the whistle from The Hunger Games had a baby with the theme of The X-Files. It's got love stories and boobs and people jumping through the air with tridents while screaming.

And best of all.... it sets itself up perfectly for the sequel!!!!  

Killer Mermaid II:  Sisterhood.



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hamburger Lady by Throbbing Gristle

So, burn victims.

Here is possibly the most well-known song by British group Throbbing Gristle.  Along with Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle is frequently credited with creating the industrial genre in the late '70s.  Composed of 4 members, and fronted by a gent named Genesis P-Orridge, Throbbing Gristle started as a performance art troupe by the name of COUM Transmissions.  In 1976, they gave their final performance as COUM, and debuted as Throbbing Gristle.  For five more years, they tore a bloody swath through the underground music scene.

Throbbing Gristle focused on creating grating and hateful soundscapes using tapes, synthesizers, and traditional instruments.  Add on the horrifically weird spoken-word lyrics that Genesis P-Orridge moaned out, and you had something that made the punk movement look safe and manageable.

Most of the lyrics for Hamburger Lady are obscured by the oscillating filter applied to the vocals.  Swirling around with the undulating droning and alien synth-squeals, the only words I tend to pick out are the sing-song "Hamburger Laaaaady" and "burned from the waist up."  Thus, I didn't immediately gather how horrible the content of this song was until looking up the lyrics.  According to the internet, many of them were taken from an actual doctor's notebook wherein he detailed caring for a woman burned so terribly that she made the attendant nurses ill.  The severity of her injuries has caused her to look like raw hamburger.  In reality, they are a little extra-nutty.

Here are the lyrics for your edification:

By far worse is the hamburger lady.
We must heal them for the qualified technicians,
Alternating nights are automatic
She's lying there,

Hamburger Lady
Hamburger Lady

She's dying,
She is burned from the waist up,
On her arm,
Her ear is burned,
Her eyelashes are burned,
She can't hold things up,
And even with medical advances,
There's no end in sight,
For hamburger lady,
She wants me to tell you of her calm mind
From which the double play laying,
The propping chair,
Leave her,
She's burned from the waist down,
Has to eat her life through tubes.

Hamburger Lady 
Hamburger Lady

She's okay if you change the tubes,
Tubes in her legs,
The tubes in her arms,
She's okay,
Then it came out and saw the burn net,
Indeed in the account of killing,
And it flashed on the carpet,
And it flashed on the floor,
The hamburger lady,
She came to rest,
Because of the burn she needs relief, 
From the medication,
The qualified technician.

Hamburger Lady
Hamburger Lady.

Right now, you're either very creeped out by listening to the song and reading the lyrics, or you're underwhelmed.  If you're underwhelmed I imagine you're asking 'Joanna, what is the point of this?  Why did I even bother listening and reading to something so sad and gross?"

Well, let me explain.  Hamburger Lady is indeed horrific.  But, in a way, the fact that it still reads as disturbing today is a testament to how light-years far-out Throbbing Gristle was at the time.  This was before Slayer shrieked about worshiping Satan, or later metal musicians wallowed in songs about having angry sex with demon pigs (I'm not sure that this song actually exists, but I'm not gonna bet against it).  This was a time long before NIN or Marilyn Manson's The Beautiful People music video.  In terms of experimental madness, this was even before Nurse with Wound got going.

These days we find Slipknot cute enough to mash-up with Justin Bieber.  Yeah, there's still really hardcore stuff out there, but one could say that the naive days where parents were willing to sue Judas Priest for corrupting the youth are over.

Considering this cynical age we live in, I think Throbbing Gristle's Hamburger Lady, then, deserves some respect for still pushing boundaries.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Genu Recurvatum and the brief story of Ella Harper

Upside-down people, spider-crawls, twisted limbs.  Body-horror is one of the mainstays of the genre.

However, for the 1 individual in 100,000 born with the rare disorder genu recurvatum, walking on all fours could be a matter of everyday life.

Genu recurvatum, which loosely translates to "backward bending-knee", and also known as congenital dislocation of the knee (CDK, an acronym I'll use here on out), is a condition wherein the subject's knee joints are capable of hyper-extension.  There are other facets to the disorder, including the permanent dislocation of the patella, as well as subluxation (dislocation and rearrangement) of the tibia (shinbone) on the femur (thighbone).  There's also a slew of comorbidities which present with the condition.

In mild cases, the knee is capable of a greater range of motion, and might need extra support.  In severe cases, the knee may bend backwards entirely, creating a bird or insect-like appearance.  Individuals with severe CDK are often seen moving about on all fours as that is the easier way to get around.

So what causes this?!  Sadly, we're not sure exactly what causes CDK, but there are several factors that doctors believe contribute to the condition. It is broadly associated with breech births, and occurs in women more than men.  It is also said to occur in people where ligamentous laxity (loose ligaments) runs in the family.  There have also been a few cases of multi-generational families featuring the condition being passed down, but this is not the norm.  Usually CDK is isolated.

These days CDK is diagnosed early, and there are a variety of treatment options including serial casting, skeletal traction, and surgery.  For a disease that is rare in the first place, it is even more exceptional that a CDK case is allowed to develop without treatment to the severity which we see in individuals such as Ella Harper.

In the Victorian era, CDK was virtually unknown to medicine, with only a handful of cases being reported prior to 1880.  Diagnosis of the disorder increased after 1900, but by then Ella Harper had quit her career in showbiz, and hopefully settled down to a lovely family life.

Sadly, little is known about Ella Harper, but here are all the facts I could find (graciously curated by J. Tithonus Pernaud of The Human Marvels).

Ella Harper was born approximately around 1870, in Hendersonville, Tennessee.  By the age of 16, in 1886, Ella was the star of W. H. Harris's Nickel Plate Circus (a name so amazingly Victorian I can barely handle it).  She toured with the circus making fat stacks of $200 a week and getting featured in the papers of each town she visited.  When Ella performed, she would often be accompanied by an actual camel, because circuses aren't particularly subtle.

Her pitch card stated on the back that:

"I am called the camel girl because my knees turn backward.  I can walk best on my hands and feet as you see me in the picture.  I have traveled considerably in the show business for the past four years and now, this is 1886 and I intend to quit the show business and go to school and fit myself for another occupation."
You go, Ella Harper!  Hell yeah.

It seems like she made good on her word too, because after 1886, nothing more is heard of Ella Harper.  There is some evidence that she got married.  The name Ella Harper appears on a marriage certificate with a Robert L. Savely in Sumner County, Tennessee, in 1905.  The name appears again on a death certificate dated 1921.  However, we're not certain that this is the same Ella Harper of Camel Girl fame.  But I hope it is.  I hope she had a nice life.

In conclusion, so often horror movies use reversed joints to scare us.  I think the horror is based on how "wrong" most people consider backward-bending knees on an instinctive level.  However, I daresay this might be born out of a lack of exposure.

Useless anecdote time!  One day I was hanging out at a wedding reception, and we were talking about the wildest ideas that would change everyday life.  One guy said "What if all our knees bent backwards?!  Chairs and all our furniture would be completely different!"  I didn't know how to point out that backward bending knees weren't actually science fiction, that they actually happened already, but then I'm also clever enough to know that congenital birth defects and side-shows don't make for polite wedding reception banter.  Also, I didn't want to miss the couple with my fist-full of birdseed.  So I just let him ramble on about what pants would look like, and made a joke about Ikea, I think.

What I mean to say is that Ella Harper, like almost anyone from a "freak show", sounds like a really cool girl!  I would have loved to have had tea with her.  And as such, after all this research, I'm honestly wondering whether backwards joints will freak me out the next time I see them.

The more you know!


Friday, March 13, 2015

The Mrs. Voorhees Problem

Everyone's written about the classic Friday the 13th franchise about a bajillion times.  So, I'm not gonna do a film review today.  I'm here for something different- a rant.  No, a theory.  I call it "The Mrs. Voorhees Problem."

An unofficial Twitter poll taken by Candice Frederick, relayed in her article for BitchFlicks titled Friday the 13th: In Defense of Pamela Voorhees (see footnote 1 for link), shows the surprising consensus that Mrs. Voorhees is scarier than her son, Jason.  Despite the fact that Jason is the monster for 11 movies, and Mrs. Voorhees only rampages through the first, it seems that she still lingers in the mind as the greater bogeyman.

Frederick goes on in her article to make a case for Pamela Voorhees as a more emotionally complex, and therefore compelling, character.  I want to make very clear, up front, that this is a point with which I completely agree.  There's no doubt that Jason is only given the flimsiest of character definition in the films, while Mrs. Voorhees' madness is clearly laid out in a strange, if tedious, monologue.  I thoroughly consider Mrs. Voorhees to be the more interesting character, and think that she's played brilliantly by Betsy Palmer.  The fact that Pamela Voorhees is a good character is not the Caesar I come to bury.  Rather, it is the good to be interred with her bones.

No, I come to talk about her crappy fight with the final girl.

It's about to get tl;dr up in here.

1 - See, what ha' happened was....

If it's been a while since you watched the original Friday the 13th, let me refresh you.  A group of 7 teenagers and 1 slightly-older owner converge on Camp Crystal Lake to renovate it for a new opening.  20-some years earlier, a boy had died by drowning (Jason), and the camp had shut down. The plot then unfolds with 6 of the teens and the owner getting brutally murdered in a matter of hours.  One of the first Final Girls in horror history, Alice, is left to tussle with Mrs. Voorhees, and triumphs in the end by chopping off Mrs. Voorhees' head with a single whack of a machete.  Thus, the formula for a slasher movie was born.

What you probably remember is the creepy little-kid voice Pamela Voorhees talks to herself in, murmuring "Kill her mommy!  Killlllll herrrrrr!"  You probably remember the fact that the killer was Mrs. Voorhees AT ALL was a shocking twist.  What you probably don't remember is how deeply incongruous the last twenty minutes are to the rest of the film.  Specifically, how the physical prowess (or lack thereof) of Mrs. Voorhees is insane if you believe that she has been responsible for all the murders up to this point.

To make myself clear, let's go over how these murders went down.

  • The hitchhiker girl, Annie, that stops at Ye Olde Foreboding Gas-station is picked up by a silent and unseen driver.  They ride for a while until Annie realizes something is wrong and jumps from the vehicle.  She is then chased through the woods by the driver before having her throat slit in one neat slash with a hunting knife.
  • Ned, the class-clown, enters a cabin by himself.  Hours later, his dead body is shown on the top bunk under which two of the other teens have sex.  Since the two teens had no idea he was up there, I reason that Ned must've been dead for a while, or drained of most of his blood such that the two lovers weren't soaked.  Rather, Ned only leaks a single drop.
  • Jack (aka Young Kevin Bacon) gets arrowed through the neck.  This is probably the best kill in the movie, but let's go into detail.  As he wipes that single drop of blood off his forehead, a hand suddenly shoots out from under the bed and pins his head down to the pillow.  A moment later, the sharp point of an arrow protrudes through the top of his chest, barely south of his larynx, barely north of his sternum.  This means that the killer both held him to the bed with one hand, and stabbed an arrow through a mattress and the entirety of a young, athletic male's body with the other.
  • Marcie, the other lover, is killed instantly in the bathroom with a single overhead blow from an axe.  (The strategic use of a vertical swing in close quarters will be important later).
  • Steve, the owner, is stabbed in the torso with a machete of some sort.  He is later found when his body lolls out of a tree, upside down, as Final Girl Alice runs around panicking.
  • Bill (Alice's boyfriend) was shot through with multiple arrows, including one to the eye-socket. Their wild angle suggests they were shot from a bow, and not stabbed by hand as with Jack.  Bill is then lifted off the ground and pinned to a wooden door via the arrows.    
  • The body of Brenda, who wandered onto the archery range searching for the voice of a child, is tied to a set of boards and then thrown through a glass window.  Not catapulted or swung or dragged: thrown.  

So, what does it sound like we're dealing with here?  A BEAST, that's what.  Someone who is capable of tossing around a minimum of 125 pounds like it ain't no thang.  Someone who is so confident that they don't mind approaching their victims and letting them see their face (as seen with hitchhiker girl and Steve).  Someone who is patient enough to hide under a bed for the duration of a sex act, a snoozle, and some banter.  Someone who is also stealthy enough to completely avoid detection while running all over the freaking place, killing and planting bodies like Easter Eggs.  Someone who is so good at killing that they only need one swing to murder.

However, all of this mayhem is rendered at the hands of a silent, unseen killer.  One which the audience easily assumes is some hulking dude, possibly along the lines of the gorilla in a jumpsuit Jason turns out to be in the later films.  But, TWIST: It's Mrs. Voorhees, a middle-aged, average looking woman in a bulky sweater.  She looks like she ought to offer you cookies or maybe a hug.  Too soon, though, she begins her babbling monologue wherein we discover she's Jason's mom and has been on quite the killing spree this evening.

Voorhees then gets into the tussle/run/tussle/run cycle with the final girl that came to define the climax of slasher movies.  So what's so wrong with this?

Merely, the fact that the moment we observe Mrs. Voorhees as a woman and not a man, she looses all her previous strength and special-forces killing prowess.   


2. The Fight with Final Girl Alice

Oh my God, you guys.  I hope you're still with me, because I'm about to tell you all the reasons I am a sad panda.  Yeah, that thesis statement in extra big letters might look like a tough one to support but let me lay my facts on you.  The following is what we get to see Mrs. Voorhees do visibly as Mrs. Voorhees.

Bout #1:  Hunting Knife vs. Fireplace poker.

Uh-oh.  Looks like Mrs. Voorhees is the monster, especially now that she's drawn her hunting knife.  Alice wisely backs up and grabs an iron fireplace poker.  Alice is armed at all, which is a good thing.  However, we've seen Mrs. Voorhees straight slice someone in a very similar situation: Annie, the hitchhiker.  But what does Voorhees do in this scene?  Run at Alice with the knife over her head like a volunteer in a haunted-house.  Alice easily smacks the knife out of Mrs. Voorhees' hand.  

This act of getting hit in the hand causes Mrs. Voorhees to collapse onto the couch.  

Alice then gives her a good whack across the back with the poker and runs.

Round 1 goes to Alice.

As Mrs. Voorhees chases after Alice, she forgets to even pick up her knife.  She just fucking leaves it on the floor for no reason.

Bout #2:  Gun vs. Slaps

Alice runs into another building where they keep the guns.  She finds an unloaded rifle and begins rummaging through the desk for shells.  Sadly, the shells are in padlocked drawers and we have to watch Alice fail at landing a good blow on a non-sentient, immobile object.  

Knowing the gun is useless, Alice throws it at Mrs. Voorhees.  The impact of being hit with the gently thrown gun knocks Mrs. Voorhees back a step.  

Alice throws a large ball of twine and what may be a pencil at Mrs. Voorhees while backing herself into a corner.  Finally, Mrs. Voorhees has closed in and grabbed her.  What does she do?  Break Alice's jaw with closed-fist punches?  

No.  She slaps her.  She... just... slaps her.     

And then pushes her.

Alice gets away from the slapping that reads more like a prelude to kinky sex than danger and grabs the gun again.  She stuns Mrs. Voorhees with a shot to the groin?  It's... awkward to watch.  Then swinging the gun again, she smashes Mrs. Voorhees in the face and runs.  

Round 2 goes to Alice.

Bout #3:  Machete vs. Frying Pan

Alice hides in a pantry.  Mrs. Voorhees uses a machete to smash through the door Jack Torrence-style.  As Mrs. Voorhees unlocks the door (btw, why is there a lock on the inside of a pantry?), Alice grabs a cast-iron frying pan.  Mrs. Voorhees completely forgets how she killed Marcie with an axe and proceeds to swing her machete wildly side to side.  It gets stuck in the wood of the shelves.

But even worse: Mrs. Voorhees wields the machete with two hands like it weighs a million pounds.  As if it were a CLAYMORE FOR FUCKSAKE.  What the actual fuck?  A machete is a one-handed weapon I'm capable of wielding!  Mrs. Voorhees threw a girl through a window!  She impaled a guy through a mattress and his whole boney-muscley body with ONE HAND in the cramped, leverage-free space beneath a bed.  Why on Earth does she have to use two hands on a machete?  I can't...even.

Alice bonks Mrs. Voorhees on the head as she flails like a moron.  It looks like Mrs. Voorhees is bleeding from a head wound when Alice runs to the shore of the lake to quietly contemplate life and all the vagaries of fate.

Round 3 goes to Alice.

Bout #4: Machete vs. Boat Paddle

A concussed Mrs. Voorhees comes upon Alice again.  She has the chance to get a blow in while Alice has her back turned and is on her knees.  Alice can hear the soundtrack, though, and just before Mrs. Voorhees straight murders her, Alice turns like a ninja and holds up a boat paddle just in time for Voorhees to cut it in half.

Mrs. Voorhees is yet again gently disarmed, and proceeds to angrily snuggle Alice.  Mrs. Voorhees tries impaling Alice with the broken paddle, but Alice rolls out of the way.  Mrs. Voorhees is established as a biter.  They then proceed to mud-wrestle.

So, how does this all cash out, if you're just scrolling down to read the parts in big letters?

Mrs. Voorhees fights and dies like the chumpiest chump that ever fell on their own machete.

This is seriously the last face she makes.

3. Why?  There's got to be an explanation!  Please!

The following are rationalizations that don't hold water for me.

Mrs. Voorhees is more of a lay-in-wait kind of killer.  She's super-effective when she gets the jump on people.  She failed against Alice because she walked up to her and starting monologuing. 
  • Nope. It's actually well-established in 2 instances that Mrs. Voorhees has no problem walking up to people before she kills them.  This is shown when she drives around with Annie the hitchhiker for several minutes, and when she shows her face to Steve, the owner.  She doesn't lay in wait for them, but wrecks them just the same.  

She's a middle-aged woman who worked as a cook.  She not special forces or anything, and women aren't that strong or good at fighting or whatever.  I mean, she seems pretty evenly matched with Alice afterall.
  • Nope.  Were you even watching the movie?  She did things like hold a teenager up with one hand while pinning him to a door with arrows in the other.  She hoisted an adult man 10-15 feet up into a tree.  She moved bodies quickly like they were garbage bags full of leaves.  She kills with one hit in multiple scenes.  

What if Jason did some of it?  Jason's a big dude and could easily be helping his mom out.  Jason 4 LYFE WOOT!
  • Nope.  Jason is supposed to be dead in this first movie.  At best, he's a figment of Alice's addled imagination when he jumps out of the lake at the end.  And at that, he's presented as an adolescent boy.  In the sequel, Friday the 13th Part II, the movie postulates (read: tells the audience) that Jason has been driven to murder after witnessing the death of his mother.  If that is the canon explanation for why Jason be Jasoning, then how could he have been helping his mom the whole time?  Not a part of this explanation makes sense.

Mrs. Voorhees was tired/ spent all her killing spells earlier that day/ got cocky.
  • Nope.  I mean, what?  How is that even an explanation?  How can Mrs. Voorhees get up from THREE temporarily debilitating blows, but be "too tired" to fight correctly?  And cockiness doesn't account for why she completely forgets how to fight and kill.  It seems she genuinely wants to kill Alice, so then why does she forget everything she's shown us she can do in spades?

We shouldn't show violence against women.
  • Um... we already killed three women in this movie.  We saw their throats slit open and everything.

Final Girl Magic.  Movie Reasons.  Hand-Wavey Jedi Mindtrick.
  • So, what you're saying is that the writers needed a way to wrap up the story with a hero-girl at the end.  But they also really wanted their twist.  And they wanted the killing in the movie to look awesome and scary.  I understand these production concerns.  What's not cool with it is how they went about it.  Making the killer such a stupendous badass, only to take that badassery away because of how your twist works feels like a cheat.  I completely bought Mrs. Voorhees as being the killer.  In fact it had me cheering up until I watched her fight.  The complete and utter failitude of her on-screen combat was just so stark and stunning to me, it broke my suspended disbelief.  I belieeeeeved in Mrs. Voorhees, until I just couldn't.
  • Further, there are multiple good ways they could have resolved this problem.  They could have made Alice more of a rugged badass.  They could have made Alice really familiar with gadgets or traps or the woods or a distance-runner.  Alice could have legitimately out-smarted Mrs. Voorhees at any point.  They could have had Mrs. Voorhees be wounded previously, so that she shows up bleeding when she first meets Alice. I dare say that would have made the twist even more head-snapping!  A moment of two survivors commiserating turns into a predator/prey battle! And it would have explained Mrs. Voorhees' on-screen impotence.

4. So what's your explanation then?

That Mrs. Voorhees' only mistake was being seen by the audience.  Let me show you how (dons Philsopher's hat).

Both Jason and Mrs. Voorhees do most of their killing unobserved by the audience.  While unobserved, one could say that Jason and Mrs. Voorhees have comparable abilities/properties when it comes to massacring human beings.  They're both super-strong, incredibly stealthy, good at fighting, good at anticipating behavior patterns so they know when and where to lay in wait.  In fact, the twist of Mrs. Voorhees being Mrs. Voorhees at all is leveraged off our assumption that she is a Jason-type character in the first place.

However, there is always a point in these movies where Jason or Pamela will be observed by the audience (not necessarily the cast).  When Jason is observed, he is revealed to be facially disfigured in a manner intended to horrify the audience, and is slightly suggestible when it comes to his mom, but otherwise loses none of his abilities.  He is every bit as strong, canny, and terrifying as he was the entire movie.  It usually takes multiple people, at least one of which must be male, to even harm him, and pretty much nobody is able to outright kill him (you know, because he's some kind of undead water-demon but that's a different theory-paper).

Mrs. Voorhees on the other hand, completely falls apart once observed.  There is really no other explanation for this sudden tailspin of incompetence.  There is no other factor that the movie gives for why there would be such an incredible change.

Nothing is different except Mrs. Voorhees' status as 'observed'.  And, once Mrs. Voorhees is observed, her properties change drastically.  They revert from that of the unstoppable killing-machine we've come to expect to a thing called "Woman". 

And we all know that women can't fight, they're weak, they're impulsive and foolish, and above all else they AREN'T SCARY.  /sarcasm

But, this stupid nerfing doesn't just happen to Mrs. Voorhees, it happens to every mundane woman in a horror movie.  Like, seriously, all of them.

At least I'm not alone!

5. The Mrs. Voorhees Problem

Or, Witch.Ghost.Demon.Other.

I've spent weeks thinking about this.  Whenever a woman is depicted as a lead in a horror movie there seems to be a very strict flowchart for what kind of creature she can be.  

Is she a hero or a villain?  If she's a hero, she gets to be a badass all she likes because Final Girl Magic.  Also, heroes come in the forms of actual badasses like Ellen Ripley or the ladies in The Descent.  They also come in the "brutally-raped so now I shall have my revenge!" flavor a la I Spit on Your Grave.  Heroes get to be powerful by definition.  This even sometimes applies when they are women.

However, if your woman is the head villain or monster, she has to be supernatural to be physically intimidating.  Yes, female villains can be cruel and manipulative and dangerous in sneaky ways.  They can play mind games and be abusive.  This can be disturbing and spooky, yes.

However, they aren't depicted as coming-to-kill-you scary unless they literally break the laws of nature.

They tend to come in 4 broad flavors: Witch, Ghost, Demon, Other.

Witches include actual witches, gypsies, psychics like Carrie, casually racist depictions of voo-doo priestesses, or women with otherwise loosely defined supernatural powers.  Ghosts are ghosts: think Sadako from The Ring.  Demons include succubi, Regan from The Exorcist, Deborah Logan, and all those poor girls in these found-footage movies about possessions and exorcisms.  Other includes shape-shifters like Irena from Cat-People, aliens or wasp-women or 50-foot women or robot-women (re: Terminator III) or that harpy from VHS.  Every so often there's an exotic reason for why the woman can't possibly exist in real life, and I consider that grab-bag to be Other.

Of course, each of these old archetypes has been riffed on, but one fact remains.  They aren't mundane.

Which is to say, women can only be the source of fear if we are utterly sure we'll never come across them in real life.

This is when I sat down like the Grinch and thought and thought about what female villain broke the pattern.  What lead female monster was utterly mundane and realistic?

-Carrie's mom!  She was totally mundane, super-abusive, and crazy as a loon!

Yes, but were you really afraid of Carrie's mom hiding in your closet?  In my opinion, the mom served more as character development for Carrie than as the monster or villain.  Yes, she was disturbing, but I never really feared her.  Rather, I felt sympathy for Carrie.  Ultimately, so long as our mom was not like Carrie's mom, then we can sleep safely knowing it's not our problem, so to speak.  Which, to bring it down to real-talk level, is probably how most of us cope with the reality of child-abuse that is happening all the time in the real world.  Like, right now.

-But, what about Kathy Bates' Annie Wilkes in Misery?

Now, we're getting somewhere.  I LOVED Bates in Misery.  However, I would still like to point out that the writer is entirely crippled and almost dead when Annie nurses him back to health.  It still takes a dude to be at a rare and exceptional disadvantage to be at her mercy and threatened.  Not breaking the laws of nature, no, but still not really a fair fight.  It would be extremely rare to find ourselves in that kind of circumstance.

-What about Sherri Moon Zombie in House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects or Juliette Lewis from Natural Born Killers?

Yes, Sherri is a mundane psychopath, but I don't particularly credit her as being The Villain of these movies.  Sure, she kills, and can take a bit of a beating, but she's also part of a group- an ensemble.  She spends a lot of her time using her sexuality and interpersonal skills to manipulate victims or getting her brother and step-dad to do the muscle-work for her.  Note: Sexuality and interpersonal manipulation being the classical arsenal women are allowed to have in lieu of physical power.

The same can be said of Lewis in NBK.  While she does do horrible stuff on her own, she's also sharing the spotlight with Woody Harrelson.  And, one could easily argue the scariest character in that movie is played by Rodney Dangerfield.

I'd say that while these come pretty close, they still don't fit what I'm looking for.  They aren't monsters by themselves.

It makes me so sad when you forget about me, sempai.....

5. Yes, Joanna, there is an Asami...

But then I remembered Audition!  And my heart grew three sizes that day!

Oh, Asami!  How I love you so!  You are completely mundane.  You have no magical powers except for your other-worldly charm and ability to puke on command, which is to say none.  You are just super-crazy.  And yet you murder dudes that are hale and hearty!  You are so deliciously creepy with your cute little smile.

I would like to talk more about all the ways and means Asami has of being awesome and one of the rare glimmering stars in a dark, dark night- but I also don't want to spoil Audition for you.  If you don't know what I'm talking about I just recommend you go watch it when you're ready for a far-out, richly crafted movie.  I will, however, let you know that it's pretty intense, involves torture and vomit and stuff, so steel yourself.

Also, a little birdie on the internet tells me that Marie in Haute Tension breaks the Mrs. Voorhees Problem into tiny little pieces.  This has moved it up my watch-list considerably (I'm dragging my feet on watching all the French Extreme stuff because gore is usually boring to me).  Once I watch, I'll come back for an edit.

In conclusion: Tell me I'm wrong!  Recommend movies with women that are scary and strong without having to break the 'rules' to do so.  Show me more Asamis.

Comment on this post below with your thoughts and recommendations and sundry hate-mail.

Feminist-hat and Philosopher-hat back on the stand,


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Expressionless

The Expressionless written by Tom Lever is one of my favorite creepypastas.  I feel it's pretty well-known and widespread in the creepypasta community.  I have copied and pasted the entire story below, as it is relatively short and packs a punch.
"In June 1972, a woman appeared in Cedar Senai hospital in nothing but a white, blood-covered gown.  Now this, in itself, should not be too surprising as people often have accidents nearby and come to the nearest hospital for medical attention, but there were two things that caused people who saw her to vomit and flee in terror.  The first being that she wasn't exactly human. She resembled something close to a mannequin, but had the dexterity and fluidity of a normal human being. Her face was as flawless as a mannequins, devoid of eyebrows and smeared in make-up.  There was a kitten clamped in her jaws so unnaturally tight that no teeth could be seen, and the blood was still squirting out over her gown and onto the floor. She then pulled it out of her mouth, tossed it aside and collapsed.

From the moment she stepped through the entrance to when she was taken to a hospital room and cleaned up before being prepped for sedation, she was completely calm, expressionless and motionless. The doctors thought it best to restrain her until the authorities could arrive and she did not protest. They were unable to get any kind of response from her and most staff members felt too uncomfortable to look directly at her for more than a few seconds.  But the second the staff tried to sedate her, she fought back with extreme force. Two members of staff had to hold her down as her body rose up on the bed with that same, blank expression.

She turned her emotionless eyes towards the male doctor and did something unusual. She smiled.  As she did, the female doctor screamed and let go out of shock. In the woman's mouth were not human teeth, but long, sharp spikes. Too long for her mouth to close fully without causing any damage…The male doctor stared back at her for a moment before asking "What in the hell are you?"  She cracked her neck down to her shoulder to observe him, still smiling.  There was a long pause, the security had been alerted and could be heard coming down the hallway.

As he heard them approach, she darted forward, sinking her teeth into the front of his throat, ripping out his jugular and letting him fall to the floor, gasping for air as he choked on his own blood.  She stood up and leaned over him, her face coming dangerously close to his as the life faded from his eyes.  She leaned closer and whispered in his ear.  "I... am... God..."  The doctor's eyes filled with fear as he watched her calmly walk away to greet the security men. His last ever sight would be watching her feast on them one by one.  The female doctor who survived the incident named her "The Expressionless".  There was never a sighting of her again."

The reason I particularly love this story is it really makes no sense and you are pretty much left to your own devices to conjure up the image of this woman in your mind and try to understand who the hell is she and what...just...happened?  The "I am God" line, I have to say, is a little cliche and I would've rather she said something else or say nothing at all.  Of course, there is no explanation provided as to who the hell this woman could be or why she is eating a cat, but I almost like that it's vague.  If there were too many details or backstory, your brain would maybe be able to process this easier and you'd be left with less of an unsettling creepy feeling.

An expressionless face can be quite horror-inducing.  A dead, empty, non-blinking stare can send a chill down anyone's spine.  I love the line in the story that the staff members were uncomfortable to look directly at her for more than a few seconds.  It's quite off-putting to picture someone so calm yet obviously unstable and dangerous and to imagine their expressionless gaze directed your way, eyebrow-less and covered in blood. [shudder]

Michael Gallagher of YouTube and crappy B horror movie fame took it up himself to write and direct a short film depicting the story of The Expressionless and posted it near Halloween of 2013, generating around 370,000 YouTube views.  I can appreciate his adaptation of the story as the actress is terribly creepy looking and the jarring sound at 0:47 made me jump the first time I watched it.  I did have to laugh that everyone ran away once she passed out, which one would assume would be the least dangerous moment since she's, you know, unconscious.

Hell, the thumbnail itself is pretty creepy.  Check it out for yourselves and leave a comment below on your opinion on this creepypasta and its adaptation.  Is it creepy?  Cliche?  Unsettling?  Confusing?  Should Joanna and I film our own version? [You hear that, sis? :)]


Monday, March 9, 2015

Mellified Man

While listening to Mary Roach's amazing book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, I came across a story so strange I had a hard time believing it wasn't an excerpt from some Victorian weird fantasy: The Mellified Man.

According to our only source, Li Shizhen, a Chinese pharmacologist of the 1500s, mellified man was a legendary medicine made from the honey-steeped mummy of a human being.  In his book, Bencao Gangmu, Li relates an account given by Tao Jiucheng.  That's right.  Our only source of the legend is based on secondhand hearsay.  In fact, Li is diligent enough to add at the end of the entry that he "does not know whether it is true so he is recording it for others to verify."  I have to confess, I'm really sad that nobody got around to verifying it.

So, on to the good stuff: how does one make a Mellified Man?

Well, you start with an old guy.  According to Tao (via Li) a volunteer, usually a man between the ages of 70 and 80, forgoes all food and water and subsists entirely on honey for the remainder of his life.  He bathes in honey, and honey is his only food.  It is said that after a month of this process, the man will begin to excrete nothing but honey.  Meaning his sweat, urine, and feces are nothing but the thick, golden substance.  Death follows soon after.

Then, the body is put into a honey-filled coffin for a hundred years until the body has completely mummfied, preserved by the antibacterial properties of the honey.  They even write the month and year of entombment on the coffin.  Which is a detail that makes me feel really weird about my strawberry jam canning practices.

Once the necessary century had passed, the seals was opened and the body was portioned out.  Pieces were sold in Arabian markets at jaw-dropping prices.  It is stated in the Bencao Gangmu that this confection was used to cure broken and wounded limbs.  When a small amount is taken internally, it will instantly cure any complaint.  It's also said to be extremely rare.

Now, whether or not this practice is true or just a really good story is unclear.  I dearly wish that there were ANY source other than Li, because it sounds like a practice weird enough to be true.  In fact, Burmese priests were known to preserve their chief abbots in coffins full of honey, though they did not eat them.  Further, Chinese medicine of the time did make use of human milk and urine.  And, the medicinal use of 'dry' mummies is well documented in chemistry books of Europe in the 16th and 18th centuries.  However, the combination of transforming a human body into a mummy that is also a confection is novel.

For most people, the horror of this legend is in the cannibalism of it, but I'm not in that camp.  Honestly, the notion of swallowing a tiny lump of sweet-mummy-jerky isn't nearly so disturbing as what it must have looked like to watch this supposed process take place.  I love honey, and the thought of taking care of an elderly man as he starves to death, dripping honey into his puckered mouth, is enough to make me swear off of it forever.  Not to mention the image of pure honey excrement.  It's just such a vile juxtaposition of one of my favorite pleasures with slow, aged, oozing death.

Anyways, Happy Monday everybody!


Friday, March 6, 2015

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

The Town That Dreaded Sundown
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Produced by Ryan Murphy
Released 2014
NO killer reveal spoilers ahead

The Town That Dreaded Sundown is loosely based upon the original film of the same name released in 1976 which is loosely based around actual events.  This updated version actually puts a new spin on remakes, which I quite enjoyed.  Rather than just rehashing the same characters, plot, and scenes of the original film, Gomez-Rejon's modern day version weaves the existence of the original film into the 2014 version as a catalyst for a new string of murders.  I was slightly hesitant about this film, seeing as it's produced by Ryan Murphy, better known for Glee and American Horror Story fame.  Murphy's work is questionable - Glee started off great and went downhill very quickly and American Horror Story is teetering on the edge, especially after the disaster that was the most recent season "Freak Show."

I digress.  'Sundown' is based in a town on the border of Texas and Arkansas, aptly named Texarkana.  In 1946, there was a string of horrific murders over the course of three months committed by someone known only as the 'Phantom Killer', who would follow young couples into isolated areas to murder them.  In reality, the killer's identity was never discovered, but the movie has a slightly different take on it.  I also have to disclose that I have not seen the original 1976 version of the film, so I cannot give a comprehensive view of how both films bounce off of each other, but I will do my best based solely on the 2014 version.  Every year in Texarkana, the original film is screened at the drive-in on Halloween night (this actually happens in real life) and this is where our 2014 movie begins.

Our main couple in the film is introduced at the drive-in, Jami and Corey.  They leave the showing to sneak off and make out in the woods in their car.  They are quickly approached by a creeper with what looks like an ace bandage on his head who bashes in their car window, chases them for a bit, then kills Corey.  He tackles Jami as she tries to run and tells her, "This is for Mary.  Make them remember" and then lets her live, as she crawls back to safety under the drive-in movie screen, causing the crowd to scream and run to aide her.  As a funny side note, Gary Cole and Anthony Anderson play the deputy and ranger in the town, which is pretty hilarious to me.  Jami's grandma gives her some history of the Phantom Killer from the '70s and we learn that the aforementioned Mary was one of the original victims.

The movie then progresses through a series of murders of different couples, one being a veteran coming home and reuniting with his girlfriend in a hotel room, another being a gay high school couple.  The murders are definitely unique, I will say.  The vet gets his head cut off and smashed through a window and one of the high school boys gets a knife to the back of the head attached to a trombone.  Why, I don't know, but it was kind of funny in a WTF type of way.  I feel like I might've had to have seen the original to fully grasp that one.

Anyway, Jami does some research in the archives and makes a little boyfriend out of one of the workers there and receives a creepy Zodiac-esque manifesto but through email rather than news bulletins, since this is 2014 and all.  The police aren't very receptive to her concerns, so Jami decides to take matters into her own hands.  She and her boyfriend, Nick, go visit the son of the director of the original film, Chuck Pierce Jr. and he tells them the story of a man, Hank McCreedy, a victim of the Phantom Killer whose body was found on the train tracks cut up into pieces.  We discover Mary was Hank's pregnant wife and Pierce thinks the new Phantom Killer may be the grandson of the McCreedys, angry that his grandfather's death is not remembered and honored by the town of Texarkana.  After a few more deaths in the town, Jami's grandma freaks out and says she and Jami are going to move to California to get away from it all.

But of course, before they can make it to California, there's a good old fashioned shoot-out and chase scene at the town gas station at the conclusion of the movie.  Jami is chased by the Phantom Killer and quite literally takes an arrow to the knee (a Skyrim nod, I'm presuming) and an arrow to the chest before finding out the TWIST identity of the killer.  I will tell you though, it's somewhat of a letdown.

The remake of The Town that Dreaded Sundown received overall favorable reviews on Netflix and Rotten Tomatoes, but here I come to be a Debbie Downer.  I didn't really like it.  I didn't really hate it.  I'm basically indifferent about it for a few main reasons.  The movie, excluding credits, was only an hour and twenty minutes long and although it seemed to go by fast, it also felt like the entire storyline just dragged on with rare spurts of excitement that were here and gone far too soon.  The murder scenes were unique and gory but extremely quick and over in a flash before you could truly feel any build of anticipation.  There were no surprise death scenes - every one was lined up and predictable.  Essentially anytime you saw two people together that were in any various stage of undress or intimacy, you immediately knew they were going to die, the man first followed by the woman.

The thing I will say about this film is I enjoyed the incorporation of the original film and the nods given to it throughout the film.  There was even footage of the original movie spliced into certain scenes and the cops were able to trace where the deaths would be taking place based on the killer following the trajectory of the deaths in the original movie.  I liked that they incorporated the character of the director of the original film, weaving fiction and reality together quite seamlessly.  Overall, I would definitely say give this film a shot if you want something to do on a weeknight, but don't expect too much excitement or any actual fear to be gained from it.  It's a modern day twist on a vintage slasher that seems to hold the test of time and wasn't f'ed up too badly by Ryan Murphy but wasn't truly given the glory it maybe could have had.

But it does get ten points for killing someone with a knife attached to a trombone.  Really, that's pretty epic.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Pretty Polly

Go ahead, give it a listen, I'll wait.

Were you not the least bit creeped out by Bogg's slightly tinny slurry voice, the singular banjo picking, and the ever-present old vinyl-esque audio crackle?  The audio of the song is creepy enough in itself but once you actually listen to the lyrics, it gets worse.

I used to be a rambler, I stayed around this town
I used to be a rambler, I stayed around in town
I courted Pretty Polly and the beauty has never been found

Oh where is Pretty Polly, oh yonder she stands
Oh where is Pretty Polly, oh yonder she stands
With rings on her fingers and lily-white hands

Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly come take a walk with me
Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly come take a walk with me
When we get married some pleasure to see

He led her over hills and valleys so deep
He led her over hills and valleys so deep
At last Pretty Polly, she began to weep

Oh Willie oh Willie I'm 'fraid of your way
Willie oh Willie I'm 'fraid of your way
All minding to ramble and lead me astray

Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly you guessin' about right
Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly you guessin' about right
I dug on your grave two-thirds of last night

They went on a piece farther and what did they spy?
Went on up a piece farther and what did they spy?
A new-dug grave and a spade lying by

She threw her arms around him and began for to weep
She threw her arms around him and began for to weep
At last Pretty Polly, she fell asleep

He threw the dirt over her, and turned away to go
Threw the dirt over her, and turned away to go
Down to the river where the deep water flow

There have been at least 30 covers done of "Pretty Polly" ranging from Dock Boggs to The Byrds, The Dillards, Judy Collins, and even The String Cheese Incident.  Bob Dylan's chords, tune, and verse structure of "Ballad of Hollis Brown" is also based on "Pretty Polly."

Murder ballads made up a significant portion of traditional ballads dating back to the mid 17th century, originating in Scandinavia, England, and Scotland.  Interestingly American versions of murder ballads are often spun off of the Old World versions but with supernatural elements such as vengeant ghosts generally omitted.

The earliest known version of the Pretty Polly story, titled The Gosport Tragedy, was printed around 1750.  In essence, Willie, a ship's carpenter, has gotten Polly pregnant.  He bids her to take a walk with him to make plans for their wedding.  As they are walking, they stumble along a newly dug grave.  Willie kills Polly and buries her.  In the American version, Polly's pregnancy is often omitted.  Perhaps they feel it is too controversial for a man to kill his pregnant fiancee, but tossing her in a shallow grave while not pregnant is perfectly acceptable.  I digress...

Many American versions of the song also omit the second act of The Gosport Tragedy.  Willie went to sea, but was not left in peace for long. The ship was not far from land when a girl with a child in her arms appeared on board. The lookout, who was half-drunk, ran to embrace her, and found it was a ghost.  The captain seeks out the murderer, Willie, who goes mad and dies.  Some later versions of the ballad were shorter and more pointed. In these, Polly's ghost did not merely seek out Willie, but took it upon herself to avenge her death and carried him away from the ship or even tore him to pieces.

The website Planet Slade gives an amazing 15 page in-depth review of the song, its origins, its covers, and its various points of view throughout history.  There are alternate versions of the song performed that make Willie's murder of Polly appear more premeditated than the original version, singing such chilling lyrics as:

“Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly, your guess is just right,
Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly, your guess is just right,
I dug on your grave six long hours of last night.”


“Oh Polly, Pretty Polly, that never can be,
Polly, Pretty Polly that never can be,
Your past reputation’s been trouble to me.”

Pretty Polly In-Depth Review

For kicks and giggles, I've also included Kevin Spacey's/Francis Underwood's own spin on the tune from House of Cards, because who doesn't want to be serenaded with "Pretty Polly" as you share your nightly cigarette on the windowsill?

- Amanda

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Sodder Children - Unsolved Mystery

It is the most gut-wrenching fear of every parent - to lose your child.  On Christmas Eve 1945, George and Jennie Sodder had this fear come true not just once, but for five of their ten children.  A fire erupted in their Fayetteville, West Virginia home and their five children who slept upstairs, Maurice, Martha, Louis, Jennie, and Betty were not able to escape the fire.

But here's where the creepy part comes in - no body parts or bones linked to these five children were uncovered in the rubble.  And another thing, when George tried to drive his truck near the house to climb on top of it and reach the second floor, his engine wouldn't start.  And another thing - the phones lines to the house had been cut.  The head police chief, Chief Morris, claimed the fire must've been hot enough to cremate the bodies of the children.  The fire was officially chalked up to 'faulty wiring.'

Sadly, this story gets stranger and creepier.  Sometime before the fire broke out, the Sodder family was visited by two odd men posing as insurance salesmen on their doorstep.  Allegedly, one of the men told George (an Italian immigrant) that he would pay for the negative remarks about Mussolini that he had been making around town.  These strange men made very specific threats about their house burning down and their chidlren dying, and I quote, "Your goddamn house is going up in smoke and your children are going to be destroyed.  You are going to be paid for the dirty remarks you are making about Mussolini."  EVEN STRANGER - this exact same 'insurance salesman' served on the coronor's jury that demeed the fire an accident.

The more I read about this case, the more my mind is blown to tiny pieces.  There were several eyewitnesses that came forward saying they saw the insurance salesman around the Sodder house carrying a block and tackle, which could've been used to disable George's car.  They also found a strange plastic object in the Sodder yard, which George claimed could've been a Napalm bomb.  So is this truly a case of a mysterious disappearance, an intricately planned attack, an accident gone wrong?  In any case, what happened to the bodies of the five Sodder children?

After some time had passed since the fire, a waitress at a roadside diner and a woman in a hotel in Charleston claimed to have seen four of the five missing children sitting at a table surrounded by Italian-looking men and women who would not let them speak.  Jennie Sodder also received a mysterious photograph in the mail 20 years after the fire of a man alleged to be her son.  The letter was postmarked from Kentucky but had no return address.  On the back of the photograph was written, "Louis Sodder.  I love brother Frankie.  Ilil Boys.  A90132 or 35."  George and Jennie hired a private detective and sent him to Kentucky to investigate.  They never heard from him again.

George and Jennie erected a large billboard, seen below, that was amended over the years and remained standing for over 40 years.  George died in 1968, sending Jennie into a further spiral of depression.  She erected a fence around their property and began adding more and more rooms to their house, building layer and layer between her and the outside world.  Jennie wore black clothing exclusively since the fire and continued to do so until her own death in 1989.  Upon Jennie's death, the billboard came down.

Sylvia is the youngest and last surviving Sodder child.  At the age of 71, she still pores crime sleuthing websites and engages with those still interested in her family's mystery.  Sylvia doesn't believe her siblings perished in the fire of 1945.  Her first memories are of the fire at two years old and she has spent her life asking so many questions and getting very few answers.