Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Stranger Visions

Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg wins my award of the year for simultaneously being a classy, poised, creative genius and a weird, invasive, street creeper.  You see, D-H has found a way to create realistic 3D renderings of people all around the state of New York by simply gathering cigarette butts and chewed gum off the streets and sidewalks.

How, you might ask?  Or better yet, WHY?  Well, let's go back to the beginning.

D-H's creepy foray into scavenging for discarded items began in a public bathroom in Penn Station where she collected hairs from the sink of a bathroom. [Gagging already.] Her collection expanded shortly thereafter to fingernails, cigg butts, and best of all, already chewed and spit out bubble gum.  D-H is a PhD student studying electronic arts at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute.  She is able to extract DNA from the items she collects and sequences their genomic regions into a computer program, creating a model of the person who the discarded item once belonged to.  But D-H takes it one step further.  Instead of just being creepy on her computer in her own time, she creates actual sculptures of these people's faces using a 3D printer.

And thus was born "Stranger Visions."  Each creepy floating head is hung on a gallery wall, often accompanied with a wooden box holding the original sample that was collected and a photograph of the street or alley in which it was discovered.  If you are truly interested in the specific scientific process that D-H uses to analyze the DNA, I will link below an article from which has a few paragraphs detailing it.  If you're like me, however, you want to see the creepy pictures.  So, let's get to it.

D-H has even created a DNA derived self-portrait.  Judge for yourself its accuracy.  I think it's not too shabby.  D-H is quoted as saying, "It came from this place of noticing that we are leaving genetic material everywhere.  That, combined with the increasing accessibility to molecular biology and these techniques means that this kind of science fiction future is here now.  It is available to us today.  The question really is what are we going to do with that?"

The overarching problem I have with this is, um, this whole concept of, you know, CONSENT.  I mean, really, I am guilty of launching a piece of chewed gum in the air to see how far it can go.  I'm damn sure every smoker doesn't religiously deposit his/her butt into the designated ashtray.  And if every time your fingernail breaks off, you run to the nearest trashcan to properly dispose of it rather than letting it fall to the earth, I am going to sit here and silently judge you.  That being said, the gift D-H leaves with us all is now we have to be super paranoid that someone out there is collecting these items and, for all we know, a 3D model of our head could be plastered on the wall of an art gallery somewhere.  WTF.  Could you imagine if you happened to be in New York and wanted to check out some cool new art shows and, BOOM, there's your face looking back at you, soulless, unblinking, staring.  I mean, really, I'm sure there would be a way for her to identify these people based on their DNA to go ask their permission and this could even have a great forensic link for solving criminal cases if she were to hone her craft, but D-H isn't in this for the science.  She's in it for the art which makes her both cool as hell but (Disregard the terrible art pun.)


Reference Article #1

Monday, June 22, 2015

Emily Davison's Gruesome Death

When I first drafted this post, I began with "in today's internet age..."  I wanted to talk about the prevalence and availability of gruesome, hideous death footage.  Not just life-scarring videos available on youtube, but the worst kind of images only a Google-search away.  The Dnepropetrovsk maniacs video, the Station House Fire - the internet has made watching the moment of death easier than ever.

But then I realized this isn't a symptom of the darker corners of internet:  The Walter Scott video played on every major news station for days.  Sure, Mr. Scott wasn't tortured to death up close with a hammer, but his violent death was shown over and over and over and over again, every hour for countless hours as news anchors gave stern-faced warnings about "graphic content."  

This set me to thinking: when did this phenomenon begin?  When did this habit we have of turning snuff into news start?  The Vietnam Conflict saw it being leveraged for a good cause, revolutionizing how war-time reporting was conducted.  But it had to be earlier than that...

Then, one night as I was watching the updated documentary series Time to Remember on Netflix (a BBC production filled with earliest newreels), I witnessed the sudden, brutal injury of Emily Davison.  

In 1913, the British Suffragette movement was in full swing.  And, mind you, this wasn't just some Girl-Scout-cookie, chanting-with-signs affair.  Suffragettes were routinely beaten, imprisoned, and, when they went on hunger strikes, were force-fed gruel to ensure they didn't 'become martyrs'.  Physical brawls weren't uncommon between the police and the women, leading some to take up martial arts for self-defense.  And, not all suffragettes were angels: there was definite militant sect to the movement, responsible for things like arson and bombings.

Emily Davison, for example, was of the militant variety.  She was jailed 9 times, and force-fed an astounding 49 TIMES.  While I can't attest to how many fires she set in her time, she's better known for her last act of protest: stepping onto the track at the Epsom Derby on June 4th, 1913.  

As a clump of horses barreled past, Miss Davison stepped out, reaching for King George V's horse, Anmer.  As she grabbed at the reins, the horse struck her, then trampled her.  The horse tripped, sending its jockey flying as Miss Davison tumbled, crushed under the flying hooves of the massive animal.  She was immediately knocked unconscious and rushed to the hospital.  She never regained consciousness. 

She died four days later.

The race was being filmed that day for posterity, and captured the moment.  If you'd like, you can watch below.  

At the time there was some confusion as to why Miss Davison stepped out onto the track.  Some believed it was a suicide, others a martyrdom.  What we do know is that Miss Davison had purchased a return ticket from the race, as well as a ticket to a suffragette event later that evening.  It appears death was not on her mind.  Close inspection of the footage corroborates the narrative that Davison was merely attempting to attach a suffragette ribbon to the King's Horse: a risky and high-profile act of protest.

What can't be disputed is that as long as humanity has been filming itself, it's been capturing all aspects of life.  Even unto death.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Art of Edvard Munch

This is Edvard Munch.

This is the painting you all have seen and know him best for.

HOWEVER, there are so many more paintings by Munch that are creepy, intriguing, unsettling, beautiful, sad, and downright chilling.  Munch was born in December of 1863 in Norway.  His mother died of tuberculosis when he was only five years old.  Edvard was often sick and kept out of school for much of the winters, during which he developed his drawing skills to keep himself occupied.  His father was obsessively religious to the point of psychoneurosis and often sternly reprimanded his children saying their mother was watching them from heaven and grieving over their misbehavior.  Munch's persistent illness combined with his father's temper helped inspire many of his nightmarish and melancholy paintings.  He felt that death was constantly advancing on him.

Later in life, Munch left college to become a painter, much to the chagrin of his father.  He experimented with naturalism and impressionism but didn't feel a true connection with these art styles.  Munch began a period of reflection and self-examination and recorded his thoughts in his "soul's diary."  His most famous work The Scream, first painted in 1893, exists in four versions, two pastels and two paintings.  The Scream has been widely interpreted as representing the anxiety of modern man.  Here is Munch's description of how The Scream originated: "I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature."  So...that's creepy.

Inheritance (1897-1899)
Munch witnessed an event in Paris that led to the creation of this painting.  A mother in a hospital waiting room held her dying child on her lap as she cried.  The child had contracted syphilis and is depicted with an abnormal-sized head, gaunt limbs, and rashes.  The falling leaves on the mother's skirt represent death.  This picture provoked much backlash in Munch's day.  Sexuality and venereal diseases were seen as taboo subjects and many felt Munch had crossed the line with his depiction of a harsh reality in this painting.

Self Portrait in Hell (1903)
Munch's peculiar self-portrait depicts himself naked in the garden of his summer home.  This unnerving painting indicates how troubled Munch was and how he perceived his position as a man and an artist, figuratively in hell.  The large black mass to the left forms a threatening shadow believed to be either the grave or a giant black wing.  However, Munch has not painted himself succumbing to his demons.  He poses strongly, confidently, as though he is the dark ruler of his own private hell.

Death of Marat (1907)
Based off of the painting by Jacques-Louis David of the murdered French revolutionary leader, Jean-Paul Marat.  Munch's style is erratic, agitated, and heavy.  This was said to reflect his disturbed mental state at the time, as this was painted shortly before his mental breakdown and resulting therapeutic treatment.  Munch stated with this painting, he had an urge to "break the areas and lines."

Workers On Their Way Home (1913-1915)
"Under a cloudy, winter evening sky, a gaunt column of workers, an unstoppable human tide, flows ‘through the cold blue shadows’ of a sunless, treeless, Nordic street. The central figures challenge us with their dark, hollowed-out eyes, their upright posture and clenched fists conveying a sense of determination, solidarity and defiance. They sport beards, soft hats and blue jackets with brown trousers and dark vests. One has a distinctive white face—from dust or disease?"

Shown below are more works from Munch I find to be particularly unnerving and sad, though beautifully executed.

Golgotha (1900)

Jealousy (1895)

Agony (1895)

Throughout the course of his career and life, Munch suffered from crippling anxiety coupled with excessive drinking and brawling.  Munch entered therapy in 1908 and was treated with "electrification."  Interestingly, in the 1930s and 1940s, Nazis labeled Munch's art as "degenerate art" and removed 82 of his pieces from German museums.  Munch died at the age of 80 in his home near Oslo but not without having left his mark on the world in both pop culture and to us creepy aficionados who always like to dig a little deeper.


Source #1
Source #2
Source #3

Monday, June 15, 2015

La Mancha Negra - The Black Blob of Venezuela

In 1992, a news article originally published in the Chicago Tribune by Gary Marx swept across America.  It described the strange case of a mysterious black blob oozing from the roads in Venezuela.  Multiple theories have been put forward to explain the substance, but let us begin with the facts of La Mancha Negra, The Black Stain.

La Mancha Negra first appeared in 1987.  A mere smudge 50 yards long, it was noticed by work crews as they patched the 30-year-old asphalt on a highway between Caracas and its airport.  They didn't think much of it at the time, but soon the blob spread.  100 meters, a mile, soon 8 miles of highway were covered with an unknown material that contracted and expanded with the weather.  It grew when conditions were hot and wet, yet shrunk when cold and dry.  It seemed to prefer tunnels and the uphill slopes outside the airport.

Venezuelans described driving on La Mancha Negra as "a grand prix" that required extreme caution, turning the roads "slick as ice".  It seems that despite its gummy texture, the blob rendered the roadway extraordinarily unsafe, causing vehicles to crash into one another or run off the road.  But, come on, we've never heard of this!  It seems like just a big, out-dated nuisance, right?  Wrong.

By the time the article came out in 1992, there were 1,800 DEATHS attributed to La Mancha Negra over the past five years.

Obviously, somebody had to do something.  So, the government stepped in, claiming that it devoted "millions of dollars" to investigating the problem, even consulting experts in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.  They tried spraying the stain away with pressurized water, but this didn't work.  They tried scrubbing it away with detergents to no avail.  They even repeatedly scraped away the top layer of the roads, resurfacing it, only to watch La Mancha Negra reappear.

Finally, the government poured tons of pulverized limestone over the stain to 'dry it up'.  This seemed to work for a while, but created a different problem.  The roads then became so dusty that drivers and local residents complained that the air was unbreathable.

And, as far as I can dig on the internet, that is where the story ends...

There are various theories as to what the blob is and who created it.  The most common theory was that La Mancha Negra is oil that's seeping from sub-standard asphalt.  Somebody in Venezuela got rich, in other words, by providing poor quality materials to the road company.  Par for the course for a government many thought to be hopelessly corrupt.  Others believe that La Mancha Negra was the result of countless leaky, old cars spraying their fluids over the roadway.  Still others believe that the blob was a concerted effort on the part of President Carlos Andres Perez's enemies to ruin his cabinet's reputation.  Finally, some believed that raw sewage from nearby slums was running downhill, under the asphalt, and causing a chemical reaction that broke the roads down.

And then, of course, there are people who believe it's aliens.

"Note to self: Never visit Caracas in the summer..."  -Tasha Yar
From some cursory internet-investigation into asphalt, it was difficult to find any industry sources that could comment on exactly what La Mancha Negra might have been.  At best, asphalt providers remind the public to properly seal their surfaces, and that oil and brake fluid can cause the binders in asphalt to deteriorate.  So, it does seem like the "leaky cars" theory might hold a bit of water.

However, I think the most disturbing things about La Mancha Negra are all the other problems it indicates, but bypasses.  Firstly, it's incredibly difficult to get any recent information about La Mancha Negra.  There is a short blog post by a tourist in 2008 who noted how a taxi driver refused to take a particular route, citing fears of La Mancha Negra.  And then there's an article in Mundo Esoterico y Paranormal which mostly rephrases the original Chicago Tribune article, even going so far as to cite the events of La Mancha Negra as beginning "five years ago", which cashes out to mean 2007 instead of 1987.  The comments on the MEP article are very interesting though, with some Venezuelans exclaiming that they'd never heard of La Mancha Negra.

The point being: for a phenomenon that has killed 1,800 people (and that's only in 1992, God only knows what the count is today), why do we know so little about it?  Is this just something that the people of Venezuela have gotten used to?  Has it been solved?  If the Venezuelan government spent millions of bucks on it, then why didn't they issue a press release letting anybody know they figured out the cause?!  Even worse: how horrible are the slums that they melt the roads?!

I wish I had a means of learning more about this strange phenomenon, but short of visiting Caracas myself, I'm not sure whether that'll ever happen.  Suffice to say, the world is a strange place.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Altered -Movie Review

Directed by Eduardo Sanchez/2006/1hr 27min
Originally published November 25, 2013.

Reading the Netflix synopsis of this movie, I was expecting an extraterrestrial sci-fi thriller rooted in revenge and justice.  I was not expecting a backwoods, beer-fueled, mulleted, old-fashioned ass kickin!

Our film begins with three, dare I say, "rednecks" barreling through the woods in a van chasing after an alien.  Otis, Duke, and Cody, armed with harpoons, guns, chains, and traps pursue the alien until finally it falls in a deep hole and they are able to capture it.  This opening scene also contained my favorite dialogue exchange of the whole movie: "Hey moron, you almost harpooned me."  "Suck it up, piss-pants."

I digress.  They load up the alien and bring it back to the home of Wyatt, a paranoid young man with a picture of a presumed dead relative and a claw-like "tracker" in a jar out in his garage.  Otis, Duke, and Cody bring the knocked-out alien into the garage and lay it on the table.  Wyatt checks to make sure the alien is still alive because apparently if you kill one, the rest will come and annihilate you.  Cody is a bit of an antagonist, giving Wyatt a hard time and revealing that the aliens had attacked before, killing Cody's brother, Timmy.  Upon their escape, Wyatt told all their family members and friends that the men were lying about the alien attack and that Cody had killed his own brother.  Cody's dad believed this story and the shame of the lie has been haunting Cody for 15 years.

Suddenly the alien wakes up, lets out a high frequency screech, leaving Wyatt grabbing his head in anguish.  Wyatt snaps and starts cutting the alien's midsection open.  The alien's arms get free and it starts to thrash as Cody jumps in and restrains it, getting bit in the process.  Wyatt is able to extract the tracker from the alien's intestines and steps on it, ensuring the other aliens will not be able to find them.  It is then revealed that Wyatt has a giant torso scar from when he was abducted many years ago and implanted with a tracker himself.

The alien is passed out again, so they glue it back together and duct tape it to the table - so rednecky - I love it!  Wyatt's wife/girlfriend, Hope, comes into the garage and starts freaking out, as anyone would upon seeing this laying on their table.  Otis had put a welder's helmet over the alien's face so they could all avoid eye contact, but in the tussle, the glass part of the helmet had cracked, and Hope and the alien engage in a stare-off.  Entranced, she grabs an exacto knife, turns it on the men, and then puts it to her own throat.  Cody tackles her, Wyatt screams, "LET GO" and the trance is broken.  They tie Hope to the bed to keep her out of the way while Cody realizes that his entire body is becoming infected from the alien bite.  His skin is turning grey and veiny and splotchy and overall gross.

The creature wakes up again and we go through the process again of knocking it out, this time with a shovel, I believe, and we see Cody's condition worsening.  This is what they believe killed Timmy, the contagious bites, eating from the inside out, their flesh peeling off in layers.  Yum!  They lock his ass in the bathroom because he's starting to trip out.  Out of nowhere, the creature is GONE FROM THE TABLE!  Those long fingernails it had came in handy for cutting the duct tape.  The lights magically go out as well and here comes the town sheriff to investigate after a disturbance call.  The sheriff pops a Yuengling as the alien is revealed hiding in a closet and then scrambling behind Hope's bed.  We get our first clear view of the alien at this moment, black, slimy, pointed teeth, wet black eyes, and what my husband thought was a vagina on its forehead.  Anyway.

The alien and Otis tussle, but the alien gets the better of him, stringing his intestines across the room and starting to chow down.  The other men barge in trying to help, somehow the sheriff gets shot, and Wyatt is able to saw off the alien's hand and fling it across the room.  The sheriff dies, thereby being the most useless character of the whole movie.  Thanks, officer.  Hope frees herself from the bed and threatens to kill the alien.  Instead they load it into the van to take it to "town."  Duke stays behind with Cody and Wyatt explains to Hope about how he was altered many years ago by the aliens and now they want him back.

Wyatt screeches to a halt in the road, sensing the aliens are surrounding them.  Hope walks off and Wyatt discovers, surprise, the sheriff's body is in the cage, not the alien!  Duke had done the old switcheroo and is back in the garage torturing the alien.  Duke's about to set it on fire when Cody's rotting ass crawls out of the bathroom, distracting him.  Upon Wyatt's arrival back home, we see Duke nailed up in the utility closet and implanted.  Wyatt finds the alien in the bathtub, fights it, gets bit and then tackled as the alien flies across the room.  BUT! Duke is still alive, though not for long, as he yells for the alien to "Get off him, you f*cker" but then has his throat ripped out.  Sigh, anyway.

Eventually Cody harpoons the alien across the room into the wall and they have an epic staredown.  The alien mind controls Cody making him beat Wyatt's ass even though all his bones are breaking and his flesh is rotting off and finally Hope busts back in and shoots the alien in the head.  Wyatt puts Cody out of his misery, shooting him in the head, but then ALL the aliens start to break in.  It's pandemonium!!  Wyatt and Hope run to the basement in a little bunker Wyatt has created and they blow the whole freakin' house up.  We see an exterior shot of the UFO lingering over the house and then escaping up into the atmosphere.  Oh yeah, the UFO looks like a giant damn frog.  Disappointed.  Wyatt and Hope are alive and although they blew up their entire house, somehow the body of the original alien is still within a couple feet.  Our final scene ends with them leaving the charred alien body on the doorstep of a man named "Towne" (this was never really explained) and they drive off in their van.

Alright, so this movie was utterly ridiculous, perhaps only remotely scary due to Cody's flesh rotting off, but overall hilariously entertaining, whether intentional or not.  My husband even sat down halfway through to watch it and didn't leave til the end, even though he has Assassins Creed 4 to play downstairs, so that's got to tell you something.  Anyway, on sheer terror factor alone, I have to give it a thumbs down, but being from Virginia and having spent my fair share of time around guys just like those in this movie, it almost reminds you of home in an odd...way...

Anyway, if you have an hour and a half to kill and a beer or two to drink, I'd definitely suggest watching this movie with a group of friends.  It's got just enough suspense to keep you interested and enough humor that you'll be quoting for the next few days.  Thumbs up from me!


Monday, June 8, 2015

Cotard's Delusion: Walking Corpse Syndrome

In 1880, French neurologist Jules Cotard treated a middle-aged woman now known only as Mademoiselle X.  She claimed she was missing several vital body parts.  No brain, no nerves, no chest, no stomach, and no intestines, she said.  She didn't believe there was a God or a Devil, and yet believed she was condemned to eternal damnation - and thus couldn't die a 'natural' death.  She also claimed she was "eternal and would live forever."  As such, Mademoiselle X didn't see the point in eating and soon starved to death.

Cotard published his description of this delire des negations, and it was widely circulated, eventually leading to the disorder being named after him.  However, delusions of missing organs and immortality are only two of the ways in which Cotard's delusion may manifest itself.

Patients suffering from Cotard's delusion may believe:
-They are already dead, do not exist, or self-identify as a dead body or zombie.
-That they are missing any number of organs or body parts (or deny the existence of those parts).
-That the things around them are dead (animals or trees).
-That the world will soon be destroyed.
-That they have been taken to Hell.
-Patients may have an increased fascination with death and the macabre, frequently wishing to visit graveyards so they do not feel so alone.
-That doctors or other medical professionals are deceiving them with regard to their non-existent parts.  (A woman who didn't believe she possessed blood, would accuse her doctors of this when they took blood samples or checked her blood pressure.)

 Cotard's delusion often presents alongside migraines, psychotic depression, hypochondria, and sometimes schizophrenia.

Unfortunately, Cotard's delusion is so rare that there has not been a large amount of study devoted to its pathophysiology.  However, the current theory is that it is caused by a misfiring in the fusiform gyrus and amygdalae.  The fusiform gyrus is thought to be responsible for facial recognition; the amygdalae, the emotions related to those faces.  When damaged or impaired, this can lead to not recognizing the people in one's life, oneself, and a sense of derealization about the world in general.  Capgras delusion (the notion that everybody in your life has been replaced by an exact replica) is another disorder associated with damage to these areas of the brain.  There is also some study that suggests Cotard's delusion is linked to lesions of the median frontal lobe.

As observed, Cotard's delusion goes through three stages.  The "Germination stage", where the patient first observes the feelings of the self-negating delusion, depression, or hypochondria; the "Blooming stage" wherein the disorder develops fully; and the "Chronic stage", characterized by ongoing delusions and depression.

These stages might be better described via examining the case of Haley Smith, an Alabama teen, who was diagnosed with Cotard's Delusion and found treatment through therapy and Disney movies.  According to Smith, she was having a hard time dealing with her parents' divorce, and in English class one day, she was struck with the sensation that she was dead.  The school nurse was unable to find anything wrong with her, and sent her home.  On her way, she wanted very much to stop by a graveyard, but was unable and continued home to sleep the feeling off.  It worked.  The sensation went away for several days.

Then, as Smith entered the Blooming stage, the sensation was not solved with sleep.  One day when out shopping, her whole body went numb and she ran home, reeling under the severity of the feeling.  It didn't go away this time.  It took her two years of coping with the syndrome before seeing a psychiatrist, who quickly diagnosed her.

Thankfully, with the help of her therapist, her boyfriend, and classic Disney movies, Haley's condition improved.  As she put it: "Watching Disney films gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling...  I asked my boyfriend, Jeremy, 'How can I be dead when Disney movies make me feel this good?'"  Thus, Smith was able to stave off the third stage: Chronic Cotard's delusion.

Certainly, not everyone gets such a happy ending.  Don't forget about poor Mlle. X.  But, compared to many other extremely rare disorders, those with Cotard's tend to respond very well to treatment.  However, this doesn't undo the creepiness of the experience.  With no markers for predisposition, anyone could be struck with Cotard's delusion.


Friday, June 5, 2015

I Saw the Devil - Movie Review

I Saw the Devil
Original Title: Ang-ma-reul bo-at-da
Dir. Jee-woon Kim

Spoiler Free!

Imagine a world in which Craven's Last House on the Left was subtly-made, compelling, beautiful, and ends up actually meaning something... Well, guess what: minus the famous 'biting' scene, you're in luck!  I Saw the Devil is your ticket.

This Korean horror-drama by Jee-woon Kim takes the cliche secret-agent revenge flick to a new level.  After only 53 minutes, this movie had the main characters in 'the final showdown', and I was baffled at what it was going to do with itself for the remaining hour and a half.  Well, it does plenty, weaving a plot so satisfying it had me clapping with sick glee.

A psychotic killer by the name of Kyung-chul (played by Min-sik Choi), kidnaps, rapes, and murders women.  One of those women was the fiancee of secret agent Soo-hyeon (played by the handsome Byung-hun Lee).  Taking two weeks off work, Soo-hyeon begins to track down her killer in the most badass way possible.  He doesn't faff around with investigating his suspects, he just sneaks up, assaults them, and gets them to confess about whether they're the killer.  Just so you know how serious he is, he smashes one rapist's junk with a hammer - just for good measure.  After two dead ends, he tracks down Kyung-chul and the real story begins.

There's a magnificent fight scene in a greenhouse that establishes Kyung-chul as physically intimidating and ruthless, but also establishes that Soo-hyeon is an unmitigated bad-ass.  Soo-hyeon WRECKS Kyung-chul.  But then, Kyung-chul wakes up with bruises, a broken wrist, and an envelope full of cash on his chest.  And this is where the movie takes off.

See, just killing Kyung-chul would be too easy, to simple for Soo-hyeon.  He wants that monster to suffer in pain and fear, just like Soo-hyeon's fiancee did in her final moments.  Thus I Saw the Devil takes us on a twisting ride that I can genuinely call cat-and-mouse without hating myself.  Kyung-chul goes about his serial-killing psychopathic business, stalked and repeatedly beaten by Soo-hyeon.  Along the way we meet all manner of strange low-lifes, cannibals, innocents, and diligent cops trying to tag along in Soo-hyeon's wake.

But do not mistake I Saw the Devil as a mere action-thriller.  There is no emotional triumph at the end for Soo-hyeon.  Justice is not served.  When all is said and done there is only blood and cold and despair.  And despite the fact that I Saw the Devil wallows heartily in all the great things about the horror movie psychopath (placing it squarely in the horror genre, I think), it maintains a steady, fundamental undercurrent of existential darkness.  It's the same theme that plenty of artsy movies try to get at, just without the wham-bang fight scenes and outstandingly rendered gore.  Sort of like if The Bicycle Thief were re-written by a Nebraskan teenager in a Cannibal Corpse t-shirt.  But then somebody with taste took it away and made sure it was good.

One of the best things about this movie is that, as it progresses, one isn't sure exactly who the Devil in it is.  At the mid-point, the perspective of the movie tilts toward Kyung-chul, the killer's, almost making him the protagonist as he bullies doctors and rapes a nurse.  This part, in particular, was where I felt the Last House on the Left resonance the most.  I was always put off by how LHotL seemed more concerned, even sympathetic, with the raping, murdering hooligans than the totally dorky, lame-o parents.  Perhaps it's the cynical part of me that knows there's countless douche-bags out there that agree.  Likewise, Kyung-chul runs around like an MRA's comic-book hero, not taking shit from old people, telling it like it is, complaining about how "the bitches are always out to get him", and generally being a huge prick.  But, a prick than has no compunctions about slitting your throat with a broken piece of glass.  This said, when Soo-hyeon begins to haunt him like a relentless spectre, I Saw the Devil almost seems to say that Soo-hyeon is the devil, and that's AWESOME.

But of course, nothing is so clear cut.  Later, as we see Soo-hyeon's broken condition, it is clearly Kyung-chul that was the devil.  Kyung-chul destroyed everything about Soo-hyeon's life, including his ability to be himself.

However, I don't mean to oversell the complexity of this movie.  What I'm trying to explain is that this movie deftly examines the most rudimentary blocks of morality and how our actions influence our identity.  It doesn't go very deep, so don't expect it to.  However, it goes deeper than I ever expected a movie like this to go.  Gory revenge flicks almost seem hard-coded to be mindless, pointless, and pornographic in the most boring of ways.  I Saw the Devil is not.  It's fun, exciting, scary, gruesome, but also puts the effort in to be good at all.

The reason why I react with such enthusiasm to this movie is that it's a bit of a rare bird.  It's an example of a horror movie that is splashy and satisfying enough to please the most plebeian audience, but is well-made enough to make stern critics shrug and admit it's not ALL BAD.  And this isn't just in the plotting or the excellence of the acting.  The editing (and subsequently, the pacing) is magnificent.  I Saw the Devil takes its time to show character development, while seamlessly advancing through the engrossing plot.  It's shot beautifully, in stern, wintry greys that are exploded apart by bright blood sprays.  Further the manner in which the camera conveys its action (even outside its color palate), is masterfully conducted.  If this convinces you: it's the first time I've ever seen the Michael-Bay-360 happen in a movie and actually BE GOOD.  Mindblowingly good.  Good because it makes the onscreen action claustrophobic, yet entirely visible in necessary ways.

In conclusion, I would recommend I Saw the Devil to anybody who likes a horror movie.  Because even if you don't go in for the splatter of serial killers, you can at least enjoy it for being a well-made film.  You can enjoy it for how it (might) make you cry, and (might) make you cheer or laugh.  You can enjoy it for how it doesn't turn away from its moral implications and inevitable personal repercussions.  But really, when you get down to it, it's just one of the hands-down best showings in the revenge-flick category you're likely to see.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Shain Erin - Artist Review*

Sorceress - Female Nude

*and genuine mystery... but I'll get to that later.

Shain Erin's Morbid Art dolls.  Where do I even begin on how amazing these are?

Since graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute with a BFA, Erin has used his sculpture skills to create terrifying figures that have been displayed in art shows around the world.  His collections have ranged from pale ghosts reminiscent of Victorian poppets, to small withered mummies swaddled tightly in their fetishistic bindings.  Erin boldly delves into grotequerie and monster-making, pushing the boundaries of what a "doll" is and can be.

In the bio from Erin's wordpress site, he states that these toys are not meant to be comforting.  Rather, they are "disturbing and enchanting, irrational and frightening, beautiful and sad."  And discomforting they are.  Some of the dolls are immediately spooky: the kind of thing a 13-year-old lingering outside a Hot Topic would enjoy.  Very quickly, though, his work veers into the horror of severe disfigurement and mutation.  Mouths gape with a snarl of huge, malformed teeth.  Extra eyes, uncomfortable goiters, unreasonable cleft palates, and swollen skulls grace these figures delicately sculpted in paperclay.  Eventually, the dolls, like those in the Fallen series, are reduced to vaguely humanoid lumps of scabrous flesh.

But, Erin is not in the business of making mere scary dolls.  His work is deeply rooted in world art and mythology.  As such, his works often aim to excavate and explore a personal mythology, creating "artifacts that never were."  In this vein, we see his series of mummies, reminiscent of real-life tiny  mummies or shrunken heads.  Instead of being dressed in child-like nightgowns, these mummies are given crude shifts and bead necklaces- or are tightly bound like a witch-doctor's doll.

When not riffing on the traditions of Western or international art, Erin subverts the human form to make monsters.  Some are genuinely bizarre like the Whispering Roots Woman, while others seem carefully constructed to inspire the most fear.  They'd fit right in to a Guillermo del Toro movie.  Erin will swap out heads for animal parts, tinker with misplaced anatomy, and distort the proportions of his dolls until they are perfect.

The Seer - Journeys of the Soul

The best place to view Erin's work outside of a Google image search is his deviantart gallery.  His blogs (on blogspot and wordpress), are still up as of this article's publication, but don't display as much of his work.  However, this does bring us nicely to the Mystery of Shain Erin!

If you thought you liked this guy because of his talent, craftsmanship, and twisted imagination, I've got one more course of dessert to put in front of you.

Shain Erin has completely disappeared.

As I dug into this artist, to gather information about how they produce their work, their background, and what themes they intend to play with, I found dead end after dead end.  Erin used to have an Etsy storefront where he sold his dolls.  It's not longer in service.  The domain name that he links to from his blogs as his official website ( is up for sale.  His still-standing blogs haven't been updated for four and a half years.  His facebook page hasn't shown any activity since October 1, 2011.  In fact, the facebook upload of a photo seems to be his last known communication with the rest of the world.

There's even a sad trail of recent messages on Erin's deviantart page asking where he's gone and hoping that he's okay.  Aside from the two blogs and the deviantart account, Shane Erin isn't on the internet anymore.  Despite the continued attention that his work receives, Erin hasn't come out of the woodwork to display more dolls at art shows, or sell any of his creations.

I'm not sure the question will ever be answered, but it must be asked: What happened to Shane Erin?


Monday, June 1, 2015

Creepy Twins - Part 2! The Eriksson Twins

Warning: Video footage below contains elements that may be disturbing.  View with caution.

Way back in January, I did the first installment of Creepy Twins with the Gibbons sisters.  Today I bring you part two, the even creepier, definitely more insane, Eriksson twins, Ursula and Sabina.  The documentary above "Madness in the Fast Lane" details the events that took place on May 17th, 2008 when Sabina and Ursula flung themselves into the busy traffic of the MG motorway.  Police were alerted when witnesses saw the sisters attempting to cross the motorway, acting strangely and erraticly.  Once stopped on the side of the road by officers, the twins spoke briefly to the police before Ursula, without warning, dashed and ran into the side of a 40 ton truck traveling 56 miles per hour.

Moments later, Sabina ran into traffic and was hit by a Volkswagen.  Amazingly, both women survived.  Ursula was immobilized as her legs had been crushed but after being unconcious for 15 minutes, Sabina began to fight paramedics and police officers screaming, "They're going to steal your organs" and "I recognize you - I know you're not real."  Sabina punched a female officer and ran into traffic again on the other side of the motorway.  She was finally caught and restrained by emergency workers and sedated in an ambulance.

This story takes a more ugly and disturbing turn a day later.  Sabina was released from police custody without a full psych evaluation.  She began to wander the streets of England before being stopped by two men, one of which was Glenn Hollinshead.  Sabina stopped to pet their dog and they had a brief conversation.  Although noticing her odd behavior, Hollinshead offered Sabina a room for the night.  Sadly, the next morning, Sabina stabbed Hollinshead five times and killed him.  Sabina then ran out of the house with a hammer, hitting herself in the head repeatedly.  The police were notified and Sabina was again chased before jumping off of a 40 foot bridge, breaking several bones in the fall.  She was charged with murder and gave no explanation for her behavior despite repeated questioning.

Folie a deux is a French term for "A madness shared by two."  In other words, a shared psychosis, a psychiatric syndrome in which symptoms of a delusional belief are transmitted from one individual to another.  The defense council in Sabina's trail claimed that she was a secondary sufferer of folie a deux, influenced by the presence of her sister Ursula, the primary sufferer.  The defense claimed Ursula had a history of mental illness which then transferred to the weaker personality of Sabina.  The defense also tried to assert that Sabina suffered a case of bouffe delirante or "puff of madness" where a perfectly sane person will lose their mind for a small time and then return to normal.  Sabina was sentenced to five years in prison on the plea of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

The most recent updates on the Eriksson twins is that Sabina was released from prison but her current whereabouts are unknown.  Ursula is thought to be living in America looking after Sabina's two children.  Ursula also underwent an exorcism at her local church to help drive away the demons that forced her onto the motorway back in 2008.

As strange and horrific as their actions were, we will never know the true reason the Eriksson twins ran across that motorway, what possessed them to fling their bodies into oncoming traffic, one right after the other.  Were they possessed by supernatural forces?  Did they suffer from undiagnosed mental illness?  Are folie a deux and bouffe delirante plausible excuses?  If Ursula's legs had not been crushed resulting in a multiple week hospital stay, would she have joined her sister in killing even more people?  If Sabina were truly suicidal, why did she not turn the knife on herself instead of killing an innocent man?  There are too many questions unanswered that I don't even believe Sabina and Ursula would be able to clarify themselves.  Unfortunately an innocent life was lost in this tragic and confusing story and Sabina and Ursula are both still out in the world today.  There have been no further widely known reports of criminal activity from the Eriksson twins, so perhaps they truly have been exorcised or healed of their psychosis.  Maybe a "puff of madness" truly can make an average day take a horrific turn.