Human Obsession With Horrific Possession

Or, How Wanting to be Full of Awe Brings Us to the Awful.

O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart
Cannot conceive nor name thee!
--MacDuff: Macbeth Act 3, Scene III

☠ Halloween is almost as big as Christmas, (and Tim Burton found a way to make that frightening) and it has beaten out Easter. Instead of green and red, or pink and yellow pastels, there's black, lots of it, and though the other color is traditionally orange, it should be viscerally stinking blood red. From tots to Senior citizens, many folks want to get involved with getting or giving out treats. (The Druids' "...or tricks" were to burn your house down!) Especially vaunted is the wearing of costumes; Most prefer to don scary personages on this night before All Saints' Day, or All Hallows' Eve. It seems to be a special time set aside for skeletons and witches, with the odd Superman and Pirate thrown in, but all year long books, TV and movies laud the stuff that we also dread, even in bad dreams: Episodes and chapters and whatnot of pain and dismemberment, heart pounding fright, fear of the unseen world: boogeymen, wraiths and banshees, phantoms and demons, Succubi, Incubi and goblins, suspense leading to breath sucking shocks, blood and guts, Yeti and Sasquatch, strangeness of alien worlds and creatures, Voodoo curses, torture and then death: the final horror. Today's entertainment is just about overloaded with zombies, vampires, and werewolves; but still sprinkled with ghosts (forget Casper), serial (cereal too, if you add in Count Chocula) killers, diseases and malevolent aliens.

Where did this preoccupation start? Is it even healthy? Many conservative Christian Evangelicals, including this one, prefer not to participate in what one might consider actually an unholy day. But, I think there is some deep seated purpose for the macabre, perhaps to prepare us for our inevitable demise. I would like to dig deeper (I'm stopping when I hit the skull or coffin, though) and further back (though space and time constraints will have me slight many examples), examining this endearing/revolting relationship with things that terrorize us, the things that go bump in the night, and might be found under our very bed!

Doctors of the Demented

Philosopher and Distinguished City of New York University Professor, Noel Carrol, investigated this grisly arena, especially pertaining to film, in his 1990 book, The Philosophy of Horror or Paradoxes of the Heart. (New York: Routledge). He aptly opines: "Humans are born with a kind of fear of the unknown which verges on awe." Daniel Shaw breaks down Carrol's Aristotelian antecedents with some, (to quote Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, "very heavy"), ideas of his own.

Through the catharsis of the emotions of pity and fear, otherwise unpleasant affective states are valuable as outlets for excess emotions which build up due to the pressures of daily life. Getting them out relieves one of an excess of such emotions, like opening a steam valve on a pressure cooker. Freud's catharsis theory offers an account with similar, and perhaps richer, virtues.
Shaw also refers to another peer, who died in 2009: "The most promising answer to the paradox of horror has come from psychoanalytic critics like Robin Wood."   He spits out Wood's contribution thus: "The Freudian stress on ambivalence embraces both horns of the paradox: our conscious mind is disgusted by the monster while our id would love to rampage, rape, pillage and destroy with the kind of power monsters wield." He concludes that there is that paradoxical mechanism going on, but I found it significant that he mentions the physiological rush from these portrayed potential unhealthy events. (Just look how folks are willing to get on roller coasters, or maybe fast motorcycles, even jump out of perfectly fine airplanes, for that dangerous thrill). We will discuss another observer of the suspense film, Charles Derry, Emeritus at Wright State University, further along. Moving pictures with special ability to imprint images in our memory need a special section, yet they are the most written about in regards to examining horror. Interestingly, many have commented, including aforementioned Noel Carrol, about the early 20th Century's famous supernatural writer, H.P. Lovecraft, and his "Cosmic Awe" not transforming to screen. The magazine, The Economist notes, "...that Lovecraft himself hated films and walked out of a showing of Dracula (and would have left Frankenstein but for the respect he had for Mary Shelly)."

Avoir une Peur Bleue

Hume considers also comments by Abbe Jean Baptiste Dubos, who was a late 17th Century man of letters who influenced those coming later in the Enlightenment. In his Réflexions critiques, Dubos scrutinized those same puzzling aspects of "negative" potential in art, yet at the same time their having desired acceptance, in "the heart." Another of Hume's sources the 17th Century was penseur and writer Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle; who was so self-critical (he was known as heartless) as to say, "Il faut avoir de l'âme pour avoir du goût." And David Hume, another thinker, albeit an 18th Century Englishman, looks to Fontenelle in regards to this fascination with tragedy. Some buck-two-fifty words of Fontenelle quoted by Hume regarding how we react to this aesthetic are pertinent:

In the same instant we comfort ourselves by reflecting that it is nothing but a fiction; and it is precisely that mixture of sentiments which composes an agreeable sorrow, and tears that delight us. But as that affliction which is caused by exterior and sensible objects is stronger than the consolation which arises from an internal reflection, they are the effects and symptoms of sorrow that ought to predominate in the composition.
So Hume pedantically comments on the Frenchman with:
This solution seems just and convincing, but perhaps it wants still some new addition in order to make it answer fully the phenomenon which we here examine. All the passions, excited by eloquence, are agreeable in the highest degree, as well as those which are moved by painting and the theatre. The epilogues of Cicero are, on this account chiefly, the delight of every reader of taste; and it is difficult to read some of them without the deepest sympathy and sorrow. His merit as an orator, no doubt, depends much on his success in this particular. When he had raised tears in his judges and all his audience, they were then the most highly delighted, and expressed the greatest satisfaction with the pleader. The pathetic description of the butchery made by Verres of the Sicilian captains is a masterpiece of this kind; but I believe none will affirm that the being present at a melancholy scene of that nature would afford any entertainment. Neither is the sorrow here softened by fiction, for the audience were convinced of the reality of every circumstance. What is it then which in this case raises a pleasure from the bosom of uneasiness, so to speak; and a pleasure which still retains all the features and outward symptoms of distress and sorrow?
One might ask then, if great art can present this fascination/repulsion effectively, why does the pulp novel and the 'B' movie still have appeal? Hume further tries to help (take a deep breath and read it slowly) get a better perspective on this apparent dilemma noting:
The same inversion of that principle which is here insisted on displays itself in common life, as in the effects of oratory and poetry. Raise so the subordinate passion that it becomes the predominant, it swallows up that affection which it before nourished and increased. Too much jealousy extinguishes love; too much difficulty renders us indifferent; too much sickness and infirmity disgusts a selfish and unkind parent.
What so disagreeable as the dismal, gloomy, disastrous stories with which melancholy people entertain their companions? The uneasy passion being there raised alone, unaccompanied with any spirit, genius, or eloquence, conveys a pure uneasiness, and is attended with nothing that can soften it into pleasure or satisfaction.
David Hume also, in his time, found there were only a handful that examined this kind of art. Indeed, this writer has found it is not as an abundantly researched as he thought.

In the Beginning, There Was Horror

Mankind's first murder is recorded in the Fourth Chapter of Genesis, where Adam's son, farmer Cain (please, not to be confused with Presidential candidate Herman Cain) was jealous of sibling cattleman Able, and he had motive, and then opportunity; and calmly and calculatingly clobbered his brother upside his head, dead. Preceding fictional Hannibal Lecter, and the real Jeffrey Dahmer by 10,000 years, he responded to his Creator's inquiry to Able's whereabouts with a psychopathic, "Am I my brother's keeper?" And after he was found out and banished, he cried the blues that everybody was going to do a vendetta on him, so he got the famous protective mark so he could do easy time: lifting weights, watching events, rehabilitate.

There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. --Genesis 6:4

The Sumerians have the oldest civilization with recorded history that we found left in artifacts in the world, and they tell of the same twisted semi-human forms, that are also known as Nephilim in the Torah (Hebrew: נפלים). They have other nomenclatures in the Old Testament Bible: Anak, Anakim, Anakites, Arba, and Rephaites --or mighty men of old. David was the only one not afraid of 10 foot tall Goliath (probably descended from those cited), and this troubled adolescent with his slingshot was ready to rumble. They were also called Watchers,  monsters and demons by those Middle Easterners who were also known as Akkadians. They had Zu, a demon god, and Namtar, who was Fate or Death. Things were so terrible with this assortment co-mingling with mankind, that the flood was brought on, which was  also verified in in the parallel to Noah's story, The Epic of Gilgamesh. Noah's family, and most of the animals were rescued as a remnant of mankind in an ark. Abraham was called out of Ur in this same area where Iraq is today because he uniquely heard the voice of that One called the Lord of Hosts. This Elohim concept hints of the idea of many powerful entities, that fortunately for us are under a Sole Sovereign. These, when seen, though rarely, by mere humans, are overwhelming creatures beyond our comprehension.If there have been visits by aliens, they were what the ancients called all of those other names. There have been a number of books relating the similarity of UFO type encounters with other supernatural ones: "coldness", "foul smells" and theologically confusing and unorthodox messages.

Pleased to Meet You, Hope You Guessed My Name

Indeed Angels when confronting humans (i.e. Ezekiel, Daniel, John) usually had the effect of the mortals falling flat on their faces. Later ten out of the twelve that spied out the Promised Land for Moses were terrified of the "Giants in the land." It's been passed down to us that there are fallen angels, and these beings of immense power, headed by Lucifer (lighted one) a.k.a. Satan (adversary) are not really mankind's friends. That wise and kind, but misunderstood Galilean, Yeshua said he saw that third of heaven fall from that lofty place. That old Dragon we are told was that same serpent in the tree that sold that first woman (and the man) that lying Bill of Goods (actually The Knowledge of Good and Evil) and having this divine wisdom wouldn't kill us. Oops, from dust we came, and now that's where we'll return. This really is the primordial horror, and not just the deceasing mortally, but deep concern about the soul's immortality. So many inhabitants of this shrinking planet still live like quadrillions before them in superstition and fear. (Fortunately there is Good News that a second Adam has redeemed us from an eternal death on a First Century Roman cross).  The gruesome way Mel Gibson brought this atoning death and suffering to the screen in Passion of the Christ, main lead, Jim Carziel, was really a horror movie, with a dubious scripturally sound androgynous Devil.  This is in contrast to either the 1965 one where Jesus was played by Max Von Sydow (also The Exorcist's geriatric Catholic Father)" ; or in George Steven's The Greatest Story Ever Told, or the 1961 King of Kings featuring Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus directed by Rebel Without a Cause genius, Nicholas Ray.


♫ Moses, Put Your Shoes On,
You're On Holy Ground

Moses and the Children of Israel heard their Lord tell them, besides the 10 Commandments on their way to the Promised Land, in Deuteronomy 32, a couple of things relating to this topic:


verse 16) They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger.
v. 17) They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.
v. 33) Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.
Demons seem to be the spirit element of these beings, whereby in one of the most frightening aspects, they can possess a human (or animals). We will discuss the movie, The Exorcist later. In Jesus of Nazareth's time, the Gadarene madman, though chained, ran around naked, and would tear you a new one -- or two, or ad infinitum. There were thousands of evil spirits in this poor soul, ("We are Legion" Mark Ch.5). They wanted to at least indwell the nearby pigs once Christ compelled them to leave. They caused quite a fright in that herd of swine, though, as they bolted off the cliff to perish. An unfortunate incident did happen to some who thought they could imitate the Apostle Paul's exorcism abilities: They found out the hard way that you have to have the right stuff as they were left bare and bleeding. As was written: to prevent a strongman from kicking down the door of your soul's dwelling to take it over, rob,  destroy, or kill, you need to have a Stronger One inside protecting it.

Mummy, I'm Scared!

The Egyptians, as evidenced in stone and gold, and whatever else they could bury with their "you can take it with you royals" showed a vivid imagination with things bizarre with half-human gods, and preoccupation with the after life. The preserved Pharaohs all wrapped up, and coming to life to execute the 'do not disturb' curse, have been a big player for decades. 8,000 years old, and still on the best seller list is the morbid travelogue, Book of the Dead. The Minoans, Greeks and Romans were not going to be outdone, with their pantheon of bigger than life treacherous incestual betrayals and murders. For a visual, see Peter Paul Reuben's painting of Cronus (agent of Chaos) devouring one of his children, Poseidon. Disorder, wow!, now THAT's scary, especially when he carries a sickle that's used for reaping private body parts...ouch! The Romans' counterpart, Saturn is not quite so bad, and he gave us Saturday!  But we'll look at Goya's pic of him below.

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Beowulf

Early man was appropriately afraid of deadly elements in their environment, the weather, seismic disasters, wild beasts, ("Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!") and the worst terrorists in the bunch: other humans. But, they might see those coming, and prepare for them by taking shelter, and finding safety in numbers. But to deal with those unseen things that they shared, they would sit around the campfire and vent those things in stories, legends and myths. They would be always aware of injury and disease leading to dying, and then they would wonder what is next. They also mixed other elements of nature like bats and wolves with the supernatural. Those Norsemen in Europe had their tales, too, and from the British Isles, Beowulf, around 1100 AD is the earliest written English (unreadable to us, however) tale of creative creature killing, carried over from Scandinavia. Besides heroes, especially brave Beowulf, who was ready to fight the Dragon's monster (or some sources say from Cain) progeny, Grendel, they had some human villains, too, King Heremod and Queen Modthryth This ancient anecdote is still presented today for study and video entertainment. The Dragon is not only a Western symbol, but figures numerously in Asian civilization from antiquity, not scary but is seen as good luck. The Book of Revelation features the Dragon who gives power to the Beast a.k.a. The Anti-Christ. He's been in a few horror movies such as, The Omen, (and sequels) The Seventh Seal, and Ancient of Days. What gets me in these kinds of movie is that the heroes are always wasting their time trying to stop, usually in a futile secular way, the enevitable.

Bigger than Life in Death

Let's examine Vlad the Impaler in the historical background, that inspired Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula (1897), his most memorable out of his 18 novels. We will look at Hollywood's versions, a bit later. Middle class Dublin Irish born Stoker (1847) while an oft bedridden child heard his author-mother's kind entertainment -- horror stories! An obvious correlation to the later writer's repertoire. Who was this guy that inspired a story that had a man embody blood sucking evil?

Well, he was born in Transylvania 1431 (a part of Romania), a son of Vlad II, a governor and knight in the secret Order of the Dragon, (thus the name Dracul) appointed by the Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund. Dracula would mean son of the Dragon (or some say Devil). He had first a happy turn of events when Dad Vlad moved them into the Tirgoviste palace where he obtained the throne of Wallachia, another Romanian province. Then, traumatically the father handed over him and his brother Radu to the Turkish Sultan Marud II as a peace insurance ransom. Angry, some anti-Turk cousin, John Hunyadi (not to be confused with the South Korean car company), arranged to have Vlad II terminated in 1447. Radu stayed behind, Vlad III was set free, but not before he learned not only of his father's assassination, but that the Tirgoviste Boyars had gouged out the eyes of their other brother, Mircea. The clincher for the new Dracula's wanting vengeance, was Mircea was also buried alive. Hmm, how to go about this retrieval of his rightful crown, get the Turks as allies. And indeed with the Pasha Mustafa Hassan's cavalry, he defeated the Boyars. A nice happy ending, huh? No, wait a minute, Hunyadi was able to quickly reinstate Vladislav II to that throne, and Vlad III tried to make a deal to vie to be ruler, but, in 1456 threw Vladislay II out, and paid back his father's killer in kind. All was warm and fuzzy now in the kingdom we guess, wrong! On Easter Day, 1459 if you were too old, too weak to build the new Poenari Castle, I bet you can guess what sticky situation you would be in, er, I mean on. Okay, so you are strong, you will work, but working night and day if you did not die laboring, you probably would be working naked like others whose clothes literally fell off them. Later, those subjects that survived under his rule would have a love/hate fondness/ repulsion for him. You see, crime (except for his) was 0%. He deliberately left a valuable gold cup out in the open daring any and all to steal it, what? No stakers, I mean takers?

Permit Me To Introduce Myself

Vlad Dracula was a fastidious, prosperity minded, and Fine Arts kind of despot. One day he finally had enough of the riff-Raff, which included, not just too old or weak, or poor, but also the infirmed and handicapped, in his kingdom. His benevolent solution: stop the hungry. He invited all those who wanted to attend his free banquet to the great hall in Tirgoviste. There, after they were inebriated and satiated, asked them if they wanted a permanent end to their agonizing starving ways. After they acclaimed yelling in the affirmative, he sealed all the doors, and burned them all up in the place.

I wish you'd stop being so good to me, Boss.

If that is how he treated his own subjects, how much worse could he do to enemies, well, Vlad was nothing if not creative. Are 30,000 merchants breaking his trade laws too many to serve justice on? Nah, everyone of the violators were impaled outside of the city walls, and remained there to decompose for all to be reminded. Now, if you had some rank, you would be treated special, you would be impaled in a special part of his sometimes circular pattern, showing Vlad fairly showed no favorites. If you did not admire Dracula's punitive craft going by it, you could become part of it. Impalement through the mouth was too quick a death, so it was done at the other end, where the sun don't shine, if you know what I mean, and it took excruciatingly several hours until reaching blessed relief from leaving those mortal coils. I know, and he knew sometimes this jamming poles up and through these Homo Sapiens flotsam kind of business is boring, so he would mix it up a bit with plain old decapitation, ocular removal, boiling, skinning, disemboweling, dismembering, and just garden variety disfiguring prisoners--alive (well, for a while). He was especially enamored with women, well at least he was loving their special suffering that he would inflict on their unique fleshly members (like impalement through that other orifice.) His own wife (a 15th Century version of a shotgun wedding?) got his ultimate punishment for lying about her pregnancy. (Probably fear served as a stressful birth control, to her dismay.) Mothers supposedly (let's give the benefit of the doubt) would be made to eat their own infants. The Turkish envoys who answered to Vlad that they could not, for religious and customary reasons, remove their Phrygian hats were helped in securing them to their heads nailing them to their skull!

And So It's True Pride Comes Before a Fall

In 1461, Vlad got a little too cocky, and lost to Sultan Mehmed II's larger army at the Danube. It got worse after the nighttime raid on the Sultan's camp got the wrong man; so when re-attacked by a very ticked off Sultan, Vlad used an extreme form of burnt earth policy, destroying several towns, and poisoning the wells. The real reason Mehmed gave up this retaliatory incursion was seeing the arboreal setting that was comprised of thousands of decomposing Turkish prisoners. If the sight of it didn't disgust them, the stench sure did!

Turkish Blood Bath

The last straw for Dracula came when Radu, his own brother, led the Turkish army to finally cause Vlad to flee, leaving his freaked-out wife to jump from the ramparts. He lived a not too bad life in asylum in Transylvania at King Matthias Corvinus' residence after first being incarcerated at Visegrad, Hungary. He eventually got back in good graces enough to marry the kings's cousin, Countess Ilona Szilagy, who bore him two progeny. I guess this is where the part of the tale it's hard to kill this guy. 9 years after being away, Radu, to cozy with the Turks was falling out of favor with his countrymen and King Matthias, so Vlad was helped by him and his 5000 men to retake his old throne. But not from Radu, who died from syphilis, but Prince Basarab the Old, and they prevailed. Now, you think that the story has to be finally over, but the Boyars, contrary to Hungary's Prince Stefan's wishes, wanted to help Sultan Mehmed reinstate Basarab, and without Stefan's promised troops, and no Boyar help, Vlad lost. He died, but nobody knows the exact details how to this day. Finally, finis.

Just Let Me Leave a Good Looking Corpse

Certainly you realize, that Vlad in his heyday did not try to squelch the rumors going about that he ate the flesh of his multitudinous victims. But, his ego wasn't able to benefit from being called Tepes, (the Impaler) in his lifetime. It certainly helped many sell books and movies later. (Dracula has the Guinness record as the most filmed character, and thus, why I delved into this so deeply. Plus Stephanie Meyers' Twilight series is so predominate.) This real Dracula most likely held the Guinness record for people he was personally responsible for killing, more than a hundred thousand, until Hitler, Stalin and Idi Amin came along. The latter also having a reputation for cannibalism. Hmm, too bad no barbequed wings.

Ach der Lieber!

An important note on Hitler, director Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark used for fiction something that was authentic. Der Fuehrer really was obsessed with collection occult paraphernalia to help him launch his version of the thousand year reign of the New David called also the Millennium, the thousand year Third Reich.  One book published in 1973 Trevor Ravenscrof's Spear of Destiny makes the case that Hitler sought to acquire the lance that pierced Christ's side.  It has a history of giving bearers of this weapon unbelievable power.  Hitler deliberately wanted to create at Nuremberg an aura and his torch carrying parades featured other worldly lighting. A Berlin museum housed the Pergamon Altar of Zeus, or a.k.a. the Seat of Satan, (Rev.2:13) that Albert Speer emulated for those events on an even larger scale allowing this national Hellish channeling.

Books with more than Cobwebs

We touched on Stoker, and everybody, I hope, certainly knows of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, a science ethics morality play apropos today. Maybe we should investigate Hawthorne and Poe to help us understand a bit more. Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem witch hunt country, wrote several significant novels and short stories, and his brooding The House of Seven Gables seems destined to be something that should have been under those aforementioned scholars' microscopes. Edgar Allen Poe has been called the first Mystery writer, and he is well-known as a horror writer even to younger school kids. Psychological as well as physical terrors await the victims and the reader. Even his poems weren't the usual lovey-dovey variety. Living in Baltimore, MD before they opened up Harbor Place probably contributed a lot to his sense of foreboding, even after a visit to "the Block."

Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha-Ha Hah! If There's No Bread, Let Them Eat Cake!

Honors have to be given to Frenchmen, those fine folks who gave us the Bastille and the Guillotine, Victor Hugo, (Les Miserables) and Jules Verne (Island of Dr. Moreaux, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) From across the Channel, we want some black ribbons handed out to Samuel Taylor Coleridge,(Tale of the Ancient Mariner) Thomas de Quincy,(Confessions of an Opium Eater) Jonathan Swift, (Gulliver's Travels, with more Giants etc.) and Lewis Carrol. (Alice in Wonderland, "Off with their heads!") I must find a space for another more American homegrown artiste, Washington Irving: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, "The Headless Horseman" rides on! Of modern writers, besides the mentioned elsewhere Roald Dahl, I would be very negligent if I didn't give props to hugely successful (47 novels, not to mention screenplays and 147 short stories) Steven King, and similarly styled writer, Dean Koonz with 76 books (some with pseudonyms).  There was a writer before Stephanie Meyers of the Twilight series of 6 books who is still considered the better author..  And even preceding the female writer who is in the top 25 or higher list of richest women in the world, J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter (7 books) fame.  That would be Anne Rice, best known for the one Tom Cruise starred for the big screen,  Interview With the Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles, #1) with 28 popular books.  However, if I was to list all the books in this genre .....well, this thing's been long enough!

Brothers Grimm, and Tales so Grim

Okay, we know the G-rated version of fairy tales like Cinderella, but Jacob and Wilhelm were language specialists who became enamored with all the folktales floating about Europe, whose stories had been passed down for ages; and they had many that dealt with death and devils. They collected these and published them through the years starting with 1812 up until 1856. Some are with titles like: "Death's Messengers", "The Devil and his Grandmother", "The Devil with the Three golden Hairs" (that reminds me of a dirty joke) "The Devil's Sooty Brother", "Godfather Death", "The Grave-mound, Poor Boy in the Grave", and "The Peasant and the Devil."

The Silver Screen

For the most famous live shock entertainment we had the Montmartre Paris tourist attraction, playing from 1897 until 1962, Oscar Méténier's Le Théâtre du Grand Guignol. These interactive shows that starred, Paula Maxa, "the most assassinated woman in the world," only came to end because of the superfluous gruesome brutality following WWII in Europe. But, we see that as film became a source of profitable entertainment before and at the very beginning of the 20th Century, horror was right there and proliferating with it. The first one was the French short in 1896 by Georges Melies, Le Manoir Du Diable: (translated as either The Devil's Castle or The Haunted Castle).

But, the first full length feature was La Esmeralda, the fittingly French adaptation of Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame by Alice Guy-Blaché and Victorin-Hippolyte Jassetin 1906. To point out another historic event: Madame Guy-Blaché was cinema's first female director. The Germans' penchant for bringing nightmares to the big screen gave us: Paul Wegener's The Golem (1915) -about that Yiddish clay figure come to life running havoc-, Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) -medical doctors were scary even before Obamacare, and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) -Twilight {get it?} of the vampire flick. Murnau had to use that name to avoid copyright infringement. With that vampire, if the fangs, or claws didn't get you, the nose would!

Fire Not Good!

A lot of horror movies, that we regard as classics, Frankenstein, making Boris Karloff a star, Tod Browning's Dracula starring the unforgettable Bela Lugosi, and The Werewolf with "Man of a Thousand Faces", Lon Chaney, came out after the First World War's horrors had been forgotten. These were mostly produced in the 30's and early 40's, then notice later in that war time span, this monster genre gave way to the less gory, and more psychologically and criminally involved wonderful movies known as Film Noir. The Wizard of Oz from 1939, in spite of being in color, featuring Judy Garland singing, and the cute, (Auntie Em, Auntie Em! You'll never see your Auntie Em again!...and your dog, too!), Toto; whoa! that Wicked Witch of the North was pretty scary for a kid's show, methinks. The 40's revealed too much veritable horror in the world, (Life magazine pictures of GI's dead on the beach, Holocaust documentaries, P.O.W. abuses, etc.): so comedy and romance, and Swing was king.

♫ Oh No! There Goes Tokyo, Go, Go Godzilla! ♫

The 50's was preoccupied with aliens and radioactively mutated threats, after Japan was nuked, and the Russkies could aid in MAD-ness. Mutants and Martians might pose a bigger threat, even though I could see the zippers on the back of those beings from the Red Planet. I think every insect species got a role, and I really dig those iguanas with fins on their back, they are so cute!  Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra, well, they're just plain horrible.  Speaking of awful films that we love, there are those in this period from Ed Wood (not sure if he's related to Robin), Plan 9 From Outer Space and another charity employment for Bela Lugosi in Bride of the Monster.  They're so bad they're good, and to time travel ahead a bit: Tim Burton did a 1994 bio on him, Ed Wood with Johnny Depp up to the task of sleaze.

The 60's arrived with some of the first really good thrillers, starting exactly in 1960 with Alfred Hitchcock's, Psycho. Norman Bates (played excellently by Tony Perkins..{I met him in person}) runs a First Rate hotel. First as in Murder One. But, blame Momma for being a little too prudish concerning female guests (starring Janet Leigh shower scene victim, and mother of future Halloween horror star, Jamie Lee Curtis , father Tony was just terribly funny) who probably need to have their embezzling ways punished. A bit later in that decade we can thank George A. Romero for another black and white masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead. While observing the film we also watch and look around for loose material to board up our doors and windows. If you don't mind me jumping ahead, he later did the sequel in color, Dawn of the Dead (I wouldn't want to be the custodial staff at that Mall).   My fave, that came at the end of this decade is Carnival of Souls. The young woman survives a car wreck that kills her friends, only to find her new life in the town where she's stranded eventually becomes increasingly surreal. Even that job as a church organist can't make it right. The abandoned carnival nearby, somebody should have told her stay away! Another little film that became a campus cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show with a young Susan Sarandon and a great Count Frankinfurter, Tim Currey, was scary if you didn't know to bring an umbrella to the theater. ♫ Let's do the Time Warp again!


We'll Never Eat Pea Soup Again

The 70's took special effects to newer heights. Linda Blair played a sweet 12 year old Ouija playing girl who had someone, something controlling her, (and the furniture); I mean levitation with loop de loops and 360 degree head spins.  Add into this melange a Mesopotamian demonic artifact surfacing on some far away dig, one younger priest having faith doubts, and the other a very elderly priest with severe cardiac issues, and you know we're in for the long haul.  it is all the more creepier because it's based on a true story: Though the real case was not in Georgetown in the Nation's Capital, but was concerning a boy in nearby Mount Rainier.  He really did have to undergo the rite by which this movie's title, directed by  William Friedkin, went by: The Exorcist, (from William Blatty's book).

We must not forget to pay a visit to the cordial folks in the Texas Chainsaw Murders. For those men who love to hang around the Sears Craftsmen tools section, or Home Depot or Loew's, before Saw there was Killer Driller.  I'm not sure if they really need to do another The Thing, the original, though in sepia, was fine, (veggies' revenge) and John Carpenter did a great job on number two in technicolor, but the latest got thumbs down I believe. Also b&w Invasion of the Body Snatchers I guess needed chroma in the remake, and The Stepford Wives got re-done, too. Katherine Ross acted the part alright, maybe it was just to give that Aussie Nicole Kidman some work.

Werewolves of London

The 80's was a bonanza decade, where more and more gore flicks, with profuse blood-letting, had to be rated R (restricted). Worth mentioning now as we discussed the printed page previously, is the 1985 movie Re-Animator, remember how supposedly difficult it was to bring this author's style to celluloid. But this screen production might be the best adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story: its first read being "Herbert West–Reanimator," published in a humor magazine, now cinematically successful because director Stuart Gordon kept the original amusing tone.  However, the George Hamilton Jr. vehicle, Once Bitten should be buried alive.

Charles Derry, that college intellectual mentioned earlier, charted a convenient triad of horror sub-genres in movies, Armageddon, Demonic, and the Horror of Psychology. He especially liked the later, being an avid Alfred Hitchcock admirer. It seems in the very late 20th Century and a decade into the next there was a prodigious amount of the Armageddon type, earth quakes, Ice Ages, nuclear devastation, asteroids (sometimes hemorrhoids), alien invasions, whereas the Demonic with its hockey masked, or steel clawed and other evil incarnated characters is scattered throughout the years. I would like to add that many have mixed all three elements. I've lost track how many ]Friday the 13th\s, and multiple ]Nightmare on Elm Street\s have been done. And ]Scream\s, and ]Saw\s, and on and on and on. I like what Yahoo's Associated Content writer Duke Greenhill summed up about the more psychological thrillers, "...the 'monsters' of these films were not really the wrongdoers themselves, but the cataclysmic results of unfulfilled desire, of disenchantment." (I just sneezed Bullsh*t!) He also read Shaw and Wood to help him get a handle on our compulsion with the darker side of art. 

But, He's So Handsome and He's Got Such a Nice Voice!?

Vincent Price, who died in 1993 made over a hundred movies, including a 4 star one, Laura.  His third movie in which he had a part, was the 1939 release of Tower of London (he was in it again in 1962).  Though born in Missouri in 1911, he seems more like an London actor, and indeed he appeared with Englishmen, Basil Rathbone (of Sherlock Holmes fame) and the one playing a club footed executioner, we should all know by now, Boris Karloff.  This monument of monstrosity's real (not scary) name was William Henry Pratt, and he died just 18 years shy of a century in 1969.  Getting back to Price, I especially remember 1953's House of Wax, which was ahead of it's time for not just being in 3 D (for Three Dimensional). Usually the eyeglasses utilized red and green lenses especially made black and white moving images so they would literally pop out at you with visual stereoscopic impact. The silent Harry K. Fairall anaglyph format, entitled, The Power of Love  was the first full featured moving picture in 3 D. Before the turn of that century the Victorian era had stills; and 1897 saw the work begin on stereoscopic moving images. (I saw one, title's forgotten (maybe Gorilla At Large, 1954), about a menacing Big Ape as a little kid; when the beast was ready to come out of the screen at me, I would yank the glasses off, freezing the threat right there!) This reminds me, there were lot's of very tall Gorillas in many movies, all named King Kong. We probably recall Fay Rae and Jessica Lange from them..

Eventually, also to stay in competition and for promotion purposes, some movies involved the audience, a little like the stage productions at the Grand Guignol. Most cleverly, perhaps was the 1959 movie, written by Robb White (Lion's Paw, Up Periscope, Deathwatch, 13Ghosts, House on Haunted Hill) and again, with Vincent Price, The Tingler. This 'tingler', that was discovered by pathologist Dr. Warner in an autopsy of a deaf-mute frightened to death, is a dormant creature in all of us and it is activated and grows larger by our negative emotions gone into overdrive. In selected theaters Army surplus military "joy" buzzers were place under seats, whereby a jolt was applied coinciding with whatever surprise terror popped on screen. They were brainstorms of director William Castle, (who also produced a story about you-know-who's Rosemary's Baby), starting with Macabre he issued a Lloyd's of London insurance policy for $1,000 on each who might of fright! Castle was the one to have plastic skeletons in his The House on Haunted Hill, and imagine theatergoers' panic at those at his 3-D, 13 Ghosts.

Televisions of Horror

TV Killed More than the Radio

This important historical fact must be mentioned:  theaters struggled to find ways to get people away from that other new craze, television. So besides CinemaScope, and even tried the even more dramatic huge curved screen Cinerama that used three cameras/projectors, (a dozen years before IMAX 3 D and LCD shutter glasses), they tried 3 D. And that's what they did making Warner Brothers a box office smash: House of Wax,  but additionally it was in color and with a glimpse to the future, featured a widescreen format of 1.66:1, and 6 track sound!  It used a technique called Natural Vision (It's done with mirrors).  (It also had future Death Wish star, Charles Bronson as Igor.) 3 D has come and gone through the years, it's back again now.  Fittingly to my endeavor here, many of Vincent Price's films were Nathaniel Hawthorne or Edgar Allen Poe adaptations.  Christopher Lee was also a Brit, and he did a Hammer production of Dracula in his home country, a member of the cast that included that other UK shadowy actor, Peter Cushing.

The kiddies aren't to be spared, as Roald Dahl knows, whether it's from the late 30's with Disney's Snow White, or all the way, and everything inbetween, to 2011 and E.I. Katz' Zombie Pet Shop.


♫ It Was a One Eyed, One Horned Flying Purple People Eater ♫

We learned that " space, no one can hear you scream..." from Alien. (I thought at first they said no ice cream --they do have Tang.) It was so successful, two more were made. But, none of the others can beat Bill Paxton's character's whiny line, "I hate to rain on your parade, man, but we're all gonna die!" The real scariness was that the Space Agency wanted the ship, even though it had blood for acid almost indestructible critters on board, wanted to hang around to study them. Many hapless individuals and groups have been trapped on islands with or without dinosaurs, stuck underground, sealed underwater, floating above water, in and out of spaceships, sometimes with things uninvited, on planets more hostile than even Crenshaw Avenue in L.A.; and space is vast, and so is the terror and horror, and did I mention monsters? Oh, and I almost forgot Robots and Computers gone awry. A fascinating factoid: there have been at least 8 movies made about Mars somewhat recently. Also, annotating every Horror movie, which obviously I didn't, couldn't, would take up the whole Cloud.

Of course, the small screen is not devoid of murder, monsters and mayhem. When TV was first prevalent throughout homes in the 50's, those old 'B' movies and classic creature features would be n most often on Saturday afternoons and on special nights like Friday or Saturday with dressed up hosts, remember Vampira or Elvira? This writer remembers being a child looking forward to these presentations: we did not have much choice, and only a few truly were frightening as special effects and costumes seemed to be limited. As critic Roger Ebert said: "If you'd seen one you'd seen them all." The best shows came towards the 60's, Best known for children's books, Roald Dahl's Way Out, were half hour vignettes taken usually from his two books containing adult horror short stories, Someone Like You, and Kiss Kiss. His was creepier than Alfred Hitchcock Presents,, or Rod Serling's Twilight Zone. One has to give a nod to Gene Roddenberry's original Star Trek, with plenty of bizarreness (ooh, in color!), and one must never forget The Outer Limits. Still was full of weirdness even though it first came on (in black and white). I always thanked them when they returned control of my TV set to me. There was Serling's Night Gallery, and a vampire Gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows.  The Munsters, Bewitched, Charmed and The Addams Family: not frightening.  For documentary grossness, there is Cold Case Files, that will show actual photos of the murder victims, whose killers have been uncaught for sometimes decades.  And for BBC fiction on cold cases and graphic human remains, there is Waking the Dead. Now at home, one can watch videos on a huge screen, but in 3D.  Lot's of recent movies, especially horror, have been made with that in your face technology.   

Music Soothes (or maybe not) the Savage Beast

I remember as a pre-adolescent grooving to the 45 rpm, "Dinner with Drac" (see, Dracula lives art!); and the Boris Karloff sounding vocal by Robert George ("Boris" Pickett (d.2007), Number One in October, 1962, "The Monster Mash". He cashed in on different kind of gravy in the Mash Potatoes (a popular dance craze). It was banned by the BBC. Walt Disney's Fantasia featured a segment animating quite eerily Moussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" which I will dedicate as the theme music for this essay.  I guess I should mention morbid modern lyricists: Marilyn Manson, Ozzie Osborne (Black Sabbath), and Alice Kooper, as well as Slipknot, and MegaDeath, and a multifarious motley crew of dark side musicians and groups.  Not to forget Broadway, Andrew Lloyd Weber put the Phantom of the Opera there.

Hanging out (on the Scaffolding) in the Gallery where the Portrait of Dorian Grey Hangs

Here's where we have a segue from movies to Fine Art, but with comic books maybe just 'too fine'. Just before 1941 and the Pearl Harbor "Day to live in infamy", that movie was released depicting that fine gentlemen Dorian Grey. He enjoys, temporarily, the painting of himself aging, while he stays young. It's recognized is one of the best metaphysical oeuvres of all time. All those ancient myths, and their gods, demi-gods, devils, demons, etc. mentioned above, we know about the majority of them from their art on, or under impervious stone, because of their desire not to just teach and warn their generations, but thousands after them. This tradition was carried on by countless other cultures, but only the more recent artifacts remain, because of the fragility of paper and wood. Buddhist and Hindu art portray spirit entities as well as Western Christian art. Muslim art is abstract or as we say, Arabesque, no animal or human likeness are allowed to avoid idolatry. They did give us the Arabian Nights stories.

Blood Stained Glass Windows Into the Soul

Medieval art is very, well Gothic, that makes sense, since they started the gruesome tradition. Deliberately scare the Hell out of you, that's the idea. I'll put forth one strong example: early 16th Century Dutchman Hieronymus Bosch's triptych masterpiece, The Garden of Earthly Delights. As Dante's Inferno is to books, his is to oil. You'll get to share visually in the pleasures of sin, only to move to the other panel to find the torturous reward for it. Early 19th Century Spanish painter, Francisco Goya showed some wild scenes: Colossus confronts us with a mega-giant going berserk with his big meaty fist enveloping some pitiful person, Saturn Devouring his Son could have been worse, for the victim, who is half the size of the crazed-eyed Saturn chewing on the arm of the headless (maybe he didn't feel any pain) other white meat victim. The 19th Century had some angst, and its ultimate portrayal was via the Expressionists. I think everybody's seen Norwegian painter Edvard Munch's The Scream, but he had numerous other twisted and tormented topics, even one titled Vampire.

Deadly Games

What's left? Horror is in our books, movies, TV, art, and music. Oh, this is the 21st Century: with virtual reality, thanks to powerful computing processing, you can immerse yourself in scenarios of a variety of situations where you can do all of the above. If your heart's strong, you might survive. But, before Atari, (not to be mixed up with Mata Hari) there were card games, board games, and some of these parlor entertainments, like séances, that foolishly dabbled into the occult. Folks think they are maybe talking to deceased individuals, but it is written that their void is too great for them to bridge, even by voice or even thought. The Ouija board mentioned as a channel for demon possession in The Exorcist, might merely benignly allow the subconscious to activate movement, pointing letters and numbers, or maybe the harsh facts are they are those spirits with bad intent talked about earlier. It is my firm opinion that there is no White magic, or any good side of spiritualism or any kind of business that uses the occult arts. I will admit to having personal experience with these things, and blessedly heard and obeyed the warning of the only Spirit we should hear.

I share this about the Lutheran Herchurch of which I accidentally came across on the web:


Christian church teams up with high priestess of Isis—WND


A Protestant church in California is coming under fire from some Christians over its upcoming conference featuring "guided meditations" by a high priestess of the pagan fertility goddess Isis.


Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

In conclusion, scream now, while you can.


The Nodegel from Yuggoth: The 2011 Halloween Horrorquest

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