Aug 31, 2011

JOHN CARPENTER'S OTHER HALLOWEEN

The Ghost Maker: A Halloween Tale
By John Carpenter

I live my days in silence, behind the barred in windows of this asylum, in a cell of shadows. Until this moment I have spoken to no living person of the events of that Halloween night five years ago - because I could neither ask for nor expect belief.

But today, my doctor has given me paper and a pen, as he hopes I shall be compelled to write out my tale of horror and madness - once and for all expelling the demons that hold me in their catatonic embrace. I know this horror shall never leave me.

So my purpose, Dear Reader, is to finally put before the world the events of Oct. 31, five years past, as I experienced them, that no man may follow me to this hideous darkness in which I dwell, awaiting the only mercy I shall ever know - my release - the moment of death.

It was a bitterly cold night and I welcomed the warmth of the hearth in Howard Necron's study that All Hallow's Eve five years ago. I settled myself comfortably into an armchair by the crackling fireplace and waited as Necron poured two large snifters of brandy. He then turned to me with the oddest smile...

"I suppose, William, that you wonder why I have asked you here this evening," Necron said as he poured the amber liquid.

I admitted that I had been somewhat curious, as for the last 15 years we had been bitter professional rivals. We had once been partners in science and the closest of friends as well, but a dark schism had developed over our opposing research ethics. Necron had always wanted to prove that which should have, to my mind at least, remained in the ephemeral world of mathematics and theory. Disagreement had turned to debate, which in turn had become cold enmity.

"What would you say, William, if I told you that using universally accepted scientific principles, I could create a ghost?"

"I would say, Necron, that you were as mad as a March hare." My smile of derision must have been obvious, for he turned quickly away, pausing for a moment with his back to me before he slowly crossed the study to hand me the brandy snifter.

"To science, eh, William?" As he raised his glass to mine, his gaze seemed to burn into me, as if a shrewd smokey secret passed behind his eyes. I nodded and took a sip of the brandy. It had a sharp undertaste, and as I started to mention something about it, Necron settled himself closer to me on the ottoman at my feet.

"What is Schrodinger's cat?" he asked in a whisper.

"There's no need for this. We both know what it is." I suddenly felt unfocused. Drowsy. Probably the heat from the fire, making me sleepy. "It is a... a... thought experiment used to demonstrate the paradox of observer-created reality," I answered.

Necron seemed unbearably close to me now, his face but inches from my own.

"Yes," he said, "Nothing is real until you observe it."

Necron now stood, staring down at me with triumph and ice, the fire flickering on his face, shadows squirming like mad, devouring insects. A wave of dizziness washed through me.

Necron continued: "Imagine a box. The size of a coffin. Inside it is a radioactive particle with a 50-50 chance of decaying in, say, one minute. Also in the box is a glass bottle containing cyanide gas, and a Geiger counter. And, finally, into the box, is placed - an unconscious man."

"A cat, wasn't it?" I broke in. I was having a difficult time maintaining any line of reasoning, but there was a chill to his words.

His eyes began to drift strangely above me, as I sipped once again from my drink. That metallic undertaste assaulted me again. What had he put in my brandy? Could Necron be that insane? I tried to focus on his face. His features seemed to melt in the heat of the fire.

"If the radioactive particle decays, the Geiger counter so records it, trips a hammer, smashes the glass bottle, thus allowing the cyanide gas to escape and kill the man."

Necron's words were running all together.

"You mean... the cat," I mumbled weakly.

"Or," he said, "if the particle does not decay, the Geiger counter is silent, the hammer not tripped, the man allowed to live."

The room was spinning like a child's music box. The heat from the fireplace... Necron looming above me... My eyes bobbed open, closed. "What did you put... in my drink?"

But Necron ignored my slurred question.

"Don't you see, William? I could be either a murderer or a savior, because until human eyes see inside the box, the man inside is both dead and alive at the same time - a complex, linear combination of the two. The man in the box is a ghost of all possibilities of dead and alive, condemned to live in a limbo until the box is opened and he is observed by human eyes." His voice had dropped to a sibilant rasp, eyes glowing with a fury.

The snifter of brandy suddenly fell from my fingers. As I lost consciousness Necron's face was the last thing I saw.

"I am the ghost maker," he said, grinning. Then there was nothing. Blackness. Silence.

I awoke. I was lying down. Enclosed. Trapped. I couldn't move. Listening. Trying to breath. Then suddenly I threw up my arms. Touched a solid surface above me, no more than a foot away from my face. A lid. I was buried. In a coffin. A box.

I pushed up the lid a fraction of an inch.

A sliver of morning sunlight appeared as the lid opened, illuminating the inside of the box.

I suddenly saw the thing above me. It was hovering, just a foot away. Its body prone, it was staring down at me. Fuzzy. Indistinct. Its arms reached for me and at the same time another pair of arms lay at its side.

It was a blurred composite. A living transition. A contradiction. All possibilities, dead and alive. It undulated. Gazing eyes. Dead eyes. Living eyes. Blue decaying flesh.

In the fraction of a second before it disappeared I saw the creature's shape crawling, diffracting - indefinite, exploding anew out of rippling flesh.

A leering death's head began to scream down at me, disintegrating, crumbling and decomposing, growing and rejuvenating, humanity degraded and corrupted, dead and alive, revealed in an instant.

And then it was over. The thing disappeared. Its features settled, collapsed into definition. I looked around - the glass bottle at my feet was unbroken, the cyanide gas contained. The Geiger counter at my side was silent.

My mind raced frantically. Dead plus alive. Alive minus dead. Dead plus the square root of minus alive.

And then, as I continued to push upward, the impact of Necron's experiment hit me. As my fingers lifted the underside of the lid, the thing made man stared back at me in horror, screaming a long, sustained shriek of utter annihilation. Touching the unfeeling surface of a mirror - I realized the hideous image had been a reflection.

It was I.

 









© 1988, John Carpenter and The New York Times

Aug 25, 2011

KEYHOLE

A professor was working late one wintry night when a sudden storm came, dropping over a foot of snow on the ground in record time. The professor, seeing that he had been essentially snowed into the building, readied himself to spend the night.

He alerted the university's security guard that due to the weather he was going to be spending the night. The security guard nodded, but then warned him of the things  he might experience during the night, such as knocking and footsteps, as well as the ghostly figure of a girl who is sometimes spotted roaming the halls late at night.

The professor found the security guard's claims dubious at best, but eager to get back to work, merely said he would keep an eye out.

After several more hours of grading papers, the professor saw that it was approaching three a.m. and decided it was time to turn in for the night. He stretched out on a couch in his office and had just fallen asleep when he was woken up by the sound of someone knocking at his door. The professor, remembering the security guard's warnings, became frightened and tried to ignore the sounds. 

As he tried to go back to sleep, the knocking came again. Wondering if maybe it was the security guard himself, he got up. To make sure it was the guard before opening, he peaked through the keyhole of the door. All he saw was the color red, and assuming that a person wearing that color was standing in the hallway, he opened the door.

No one was there.

He closed the door and went back to bed, tossing and turning for the remainder of the night.

When morning came, the professor located the security guard and told him of his strange experience, and how he had peered through the keyhole and saw a close-up of red - what he had assumed was someone's clothing. The security guard merely nodded, not surprised by the professor's description. The guard went on to explain that the spirit said to haunt the university was of a young girl - a former student - who had been ritualistically killed several years earlier. 

Her eyes had been carved out of her skull, leaving behind red, bloody holes.



Aug 19, 2011

THE HANDS RESIST HIM

In March of 2000, the below painting, officially titled "The Hands Resist Him," was sold on eBay with the description "The Haunted Painting." 


The original auction description (edited for clarity) is below:
When we received this painting, we thought it was really good art.  A "picker" had found it abandoned behind an old brewery. At the time we wondered a little why a seemingly perfectly fine painting would be discarded like that. (Today we don't !!! ) One morning, our four-and-a-half-year-old daughter claimed that the children in the picture were fighting and coming into the room during the night. Now, I don't believe in UFOs, or Elvis being alive, but my husband was alarmed. To my amusement, he set up a motion-triggered camera. After three nights, there were pictures. The last two pictures shown are from that 'stakeout'.

After seeing the boy seemingly exiting the painting under threat, we decided: the painting has to go.
[Wikipedia also states: "Included with the listing were a series of photographs that were said to be evidence of an incident in which the female doll character threatened the male character with a gun that she was holding, causing him to attempt to leave the painting."]

The original ad continues:
Please judge for yourself. Before you do, please read the following warning and disclaimer. 
WARNING: 

Do not bid on this painting if you are susceptible to stress-related disease, faint of heart, or are unfamiliar with supernatural events. By bidding on this painting, you agree to release the owners of all liability in relation to the sale or any events happening after the sale that might be [attributed] to this painting. This painting may or may not possess supernatural powers that could impact or change your life. However, by bidding, you agree to exclusively bid on the value of the artwork, with disregard to the last two photos featured in this auction, and hold the owners harmless in regards to them and their impact - expressed, or implied.

Now that we got this out of the way, one question to you eBayers: we want our house to be blessed after the painting is gone; does anybody know who is qualified to do that?
The size of the painting is 24 by 36 inches, so it is rather large. As I have had several questions, here the following answers.
  • There was no odor left behind in the room.
  • There were no voices, or the smell of gunpowder; no [footprints] or strange fluids on the wall.
  • To deter questions in this direction, there are no ghosts in this world - no supernatural powers - this is just a painting, and [mostly] these things have an explanation; in this case, [it was] probably a fluke light effect.
I encourage you to bid on the artwork, and consider the last two photographs as pure entertainment; please do not take them into consideration when bidding.

As we think it is a good idea to bless any house, we still welcome input into that procedure.
 
 

After the posting of the auction, which attracted thousands of visitors, many people who saw the painting began to experience strange auditory/aural hallucinations and bouts of hypochondria...or genuine hauntings:
  • One claimed to have heard a demonic voice speaking directly to them - a voice they claimed was quite similar to one used for the possessed Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist. They also claimed to have felt a blast of hot air in their face.
  • Another reported that the mere site of the painting caused them to fall instantly ill and even went as far as burning white sage to cleanse their house.
  • Yet another person claimed to have suffered "blackout/mind control experiences."
  • One person claimed that when they attempted to print their own pictures of the painting, their printer malfunctioned, as if refusing to print the image of the painting. 

The painting's artist, Bill Stoneham, explains the inspiration and origin of the painting:

"When I painted the Hands Resist Him in 1972, I used an old photo of myself at age five in a Chicago apartment. The hands are the 'other lives.' The glass door, that thin veil between waking and dreaming. The girl/doll is the imagined companion, or guide through this realm.

Both the owner of the Gallery where 'Hands' was displayed and the Los Angeles Times art critic who reviewed my show were dead within a year of the show.


I'm sure it was coincidence, but some of what I paint resonates in other people, opening the inner door, or basement. By the way, I still have no idea what happened to the character actor who bought the painting at the show (editor note: it was John Marley*, who died in 1984), or how it ended up abandoned in a building, though I could speculate." 


* The unfortunate movie producer from The Godfather who denied Johnny Fontane a part in his movie and got a horse head in his bed for his troubles.

Prints of "The Hands Resist Him" are available on Bill's official site.

Feeling brave?


Aug 18, 2011

DUDE, BRO! GHOSTS!

Possessions. Voodoo. Ghost sex.

It's all in a day's work for the hosts of Ghost Adventures, a highly entertaining ghost hunting show enigmatically featured on the Travel Channel.

While I am immensely interested in the paranormal, I consider myself a skeptic. I've never seen a ghost, nor ever personally encountered any strong evidence that would convince me of their existence. I have listened to several EVPs captured by someone very close I absolutely trust, and the voices caught on them certainly made me raise an eyebrow. But at the same time...that's not enough. Still, I remain open-minded to the possibility. To so assuredly proclaim that ghosts don't exist reeks of arrogance to me, because really, how do you know? Science unearths discoveries every day that sometimes contradict earlier findings. It's the nature of the thing. Who is to say what doesn't exist today will become otherwise tomorrow? But that's best saved for another debate between folks far more brained than I.


Ghost Adventures is a ghost hunting show like no other. It is not hosted by a drab old British man, or a couple of plumbers. It is hosted by three of the most entertaining frat guys you have ever met.

Your main host is Zak Bagans. His impetuous dynamism and intensity would almost be contagious if it weren't almost constantly teetering on absurdity. He religiously performs over the top monologues and speaks with HALTING. TONES. RIGHT. AT. YOU. Regularly dressed in paint-splatter crest t-shirts and black jeans, and with his hair seemingly its own living entity, one gets the feeling that his penchant for ghost hunting just about overshadows his penchant for male modeling. I once asked a fellow paranormal enthusiast what they thought of Ghost Adventures. They replied, "It's decent - but that main guy is kind of a tool." That's a pretty accurate summation of Zak Bagans, what with his macho-ism and bulging tattooed biceps. While an official label for Zak would be metro-sexual, I prefer the term Baganism. He truly is in a class by himself.

Zak Bagans.
Leader. Macho. Moe.
 
Next in the line-up is Nick Groff, certainly the least dynamic of the hosts, but probably the  bravest. He's usually the one getting locked into morgue drawers and sitting in rooms by himself. He is the Dean Martin of the duo, playing the straight man against Zak's Jerry Lewis. He comes across as fairly level-headed and not nearly as brutish as Zak. He is like a tabletop diner jukebox, or Vice-President Biden. He's just kind of there.

Nick Groff.
Zak's Number Two. Straight Man. Larry.

Last, but certainly not least, we have Aaron Goodwin. This lovable goofball is the heart of the show. He takes the most abuse and does whatever he is ordered to do, like sit in rooms by himself and ask taunting questions he really doesn't want to ask, or crawl under antique death wagons as Zak and Nick watch him on their monitors and snicker. If the Ghost Adventures crew were The Three Stooges, Aaron would be Curly. He has a charisma that goes beyond playing third fiddle on a reality television show. As tremendously entertaining as he is on the show, you just know the man is ten times as such off camera. He is definitely a guy with whom you wish you were friends. He also makes the best scared face in existence.

Aaron Goodwin.
Whipping Boy. Lovable. Curly.

The three men make for enormous entertainment - and the show is both intentionally and unintentionally funny. When each of them encounters something unexplainable, they are sure to shout, "Dude!", "Man!", or "Bro!" In one specific episode, Nick feels a cold burst pass through him, and he holds up his hands in surrender and shouts, "Whoa, dude!" It comes so close to bordering on self-parody that you have to wonder how aware the Ghost Adventure guys are of their own legacy.

While most of the intentional humor comes from Aaron, Zak manages to climb out from under his haze of self-serious theatre-delivery dialogue and make an occasional joke. Especially entertaining is when he demands a spirit to produce a sign of its presence, and when it does, he shrieks and hops out of the room in terror.

Because the investigations are shot entirely in full dark, there are many scenes of our hosts literally poking each other in the eye, walking into doors, stepping in puddles, and bonking their heads against something. They really, truly are The Three Stooges. But the real humor comes when the investigation begins...

The episodes are structured much like any other ghost hunting show: first, the story of the location; second, the eyewitness accounts; third, the plan; and then fourth, the investigation - your bread and butter of the episodes. This allows for Zak to practice his technique of literally pissing off the ghosts so that they will perform for him. And while this is essentially him wandering around empty rooms and demanding the entities make their presence known, the commands he delivers are often improvised (which at least lends credence to the notion that this show is definitely not scripted, and if it is, the guys are terrible at remembering their lines). They all literally stumble through phrases that are meant to incite a response from whatever entities may be around them, but instead, their output sounds awkward and instantly amusing. In the Scotland Edinburgh Vaults episode, a place in which the entities allegedly target pregnant women, Nick wanders around with his digital recorder and stutters, "Is it true... that you hate... pregnant... woman?" In the Ohio Reformatory episode, Aaron sits in the middle of the prison showers where one prisoner was once "gang-raped" to death. In an effort to reach out to the dead prisoner's spirit, Aaron states, "I'm sorry about how you were killed. That was a lousy thing for them to done." He then goes on to add, "No one should die naked."

The best line-flubs come from Zak, because he speaks with immense authority. He reaches Will Ferrell levels of unearned arrogance with some of the broken phrases he spits out. I wish I had an example for you, but they are just too numerous; however, there is one quirk of Zak's about which I can be specific, and one I find tremendously entertaining: his habit of going off on mini-tirades after having just witnessed something spooky, but then screaming at his counterparts to shut up the minute they open their mouths.
ZAK: Did you hear that? Did you hear that? I just heard something down that hallway! I swear, dudes, I heard it! I heard it!
AARON: I heard--
ZAK: SHUT UP SSHHH SHUT THE FUCK UP!!
It's something that never fails to bring me joy.

OMG!

Nine times out of ten (like any other ghost hunting show), the evidence the guys enthusiastically collect is not terribly interesting and is very inkblot-ish in nature. They'll record an EVP that they translate to be "I hate you" but in reality sounds like "...feh..." And while interviewees will describe eerie sightings of full-body entities in historical dress floating down hallways and beckoning to them; phantom dogs and children; the smell of nonexistent foods or perfumes; and the sounds of ghostly flute music or entire country songs, the evidence the guys collect with their arsenal of cameras never manage to reach these impressive levels. At most they capture garbled audio, wisps of something passing in front of the camera, or lights way off in the distance. They also show their arms to the camera so we can see their goosebumps or hair standing on end, something they attribute to the presence of spirits (but can also happen when your favorite song comes on the radio, or during Bill Pullman's riveting Independence Day monologue). Yes, in terms of evidence, the guys have never really caught something that is both entirely unexplainable and knock-your-socks-off insane (the thrown brick from their original documentary notwithstanding - I find that extremely suspicious).

But then in a complete 180, the guys will make some pretty outrageous claims: that they used the services of a witch to call forth a succubus (incubus? succubus? incubus?); that each of them have received scratches from angry spirits; that they used a voodoo priestess named Bloody Mary to call for spirits of slaves long dead; that both Zak and Nick were "possessed" at certain points during season two (the latter making what a friend has termed "the angry Facebook photo face").

And this is where I have issues with the show. As I stated earlier, I do not believe in ghosts, but I do believe their existence is a possibility. I want to watch a show like Ghost Adventures, or any of the other shows, and think, "This could be real." When the guys claim possession, or that voodoo and witchcraft calls forth spirits or demons at their own whim, or that ghosts of cowboys and prostitutes are fucking in an unseen netherworld - sorry guys, you've lost me.That's when the show strays into bullshit territory.

All of this makes me sound like I am picking on the guys - especially Zak - and the show itself, but that's really not my intention. I heart all three of these fellows, and I hope they never stop doing what they do. Their show has brought me immense entertainment - whether intentional or not - and I would never change a single thing about their investigations. Exaggerated - or even downright fake - the show is too entertaining to dismiss.

The show has many fans (1.7 million on Facebook), and they range from the casual, to the dedicated, to the fucking horrifying. Despite the subject matter of the show - ghosts, bloody murders, institutional abuse, child death - there is still one thing truly scarier than all of that put together, but yet still directly associated with Zak Bagans himself:

Fan fiction.

Yes, because of Zak's rippling muscles and shellacked hair, he has become a god amongst the Twilight teen crowd. Girls (and most assuredly some boys) dream of Zak holding them tightly in the night and protecting them from ghosts, all the while pointing directly into their faces and shouting that the kissing about to go down will be the MOST. EXTREME. KISSING. EVER.

GET. READY. FOR. MY. HUG.

This little bit, stolen from an online journal entitled "Zak Bagans - In the Flesh" gives me an extra dose of the willies:
“OOOHHHH ZAK…. OOOO YEA…. OOOO BABE, HARDER” i screamed.

“uuuuhhhhh” zak grunted as we both came.

an hour later we were cleaned up and sitting on the beach together.

“are you happy” zak asked.

“of course, more than ever” i smiled.

“me too babe” he said kissing me.


i apologize for how short the story is. i just got my daughter a puppy, and its been a lot of work, please forgive me, i promise you all i will post tomorrow and it will be a full chapter.
Dude...

I take great solace in the fact that somewhere out there, our three beloved frat brothers are wandering around an abandoned silo with flashlights, demanding in authoritative voices that the hiding ghost materialize in front of them...so when it does, they can shriek in the night and run for safety - tripping, falling, and saying, "why I oughta...."

Enter the world of Ghost Adventures. Your life will be all the better for it.

Aug 13, 2011

REVIEW: EVIL THINGS


As of 2011, remakes are out, and found footage is in. And that's fine with me.

Found footage movies are my jam. 

As previously stated, there are over 30 found footage movies currently in various stages of production. Thanks to recent heavy hitters like Paranormal Activity and The Last Exorcism, movie studios both major and minor have learned that found footage movies cost very little money to finance, but yield great potential for easy profit. And if filmmakers know what they're doing, they can make the gimmick effective.

Does Dominic Perez, writer/director of Evil Things, know what he is doing?

Basically. (Minor spoilers follow.)

The movie begins and we meet our cast: a group of twenty-somethings on their way to a remote house to celebrate Miriam's birthday. Along the way they run afoul of a strange dark-colored van with tinted windows which seems to have randomly chosen the kids to harass. They routinely "escape" the tyranny of the van, only to periodically cross paths with it later.

Soon the kids make it to the house for some teen hijinks, pop culture references, and fun times had out in the snowy woods. However, the fun soon stops when they hear odd noises out in the woods - and this on top of the fact that they have somehow become turned around and found themselves lost. They eventually find their way home, relieved to be out of harm's way.

Until the phone begins to incessantly ring, and the knocks at the door ring out, and the mysterious package a la Lost Highway ends up on the front porch...


PROS
The director has assembled a talented group of actors - almost unheard of when dealing with a young cast and a low budget. The actors are fresh-faced (with a dash of acne), and look like realistic, average kids. They all share a believable rapport on screen and for the most part seem to genuinely enjoy each other's company.

The natural progression of the story allows for the sight of the van to become threatening, but without beating you over the head. Its presence is subtle and tastefully done, and the movie doesn't try to cheat by giving the vehicle a purposely garish appearance. The van itself is quite bland and nondescript - the type of vehicle that could follow you for miles and you would be none the wiser...

The set dressing at the kids' house is actually quite clever, if you noticed one minor detail: throughout the entire house, no curtains or shades adorn the windows - of which there are many. The kids cross from room to room with blackness just beyond the many windows. Later on in the film, when shit hits the fan, this detail truly helps to add unease to the mix. The kids literally have nowhere to go without being easily visible from outside the house - they are like fish stuck in a tank, parading themselves around for their attacker who sits outside in the idling van. (See also: CONS.)

"Cassy's" impression of "Leo's" Brooklyn-accented mother kinda made me fall in love with her a little bit. I was literally grinning from ear-to-ear during this scene. Just sayin'.

The movie definitely gets points for exploring a seldom utilized sub-genre: the slasher film. Nine times out of ten today, when a found footage movie is announced, it is about ghosts, or zombies, or aliens, or other not-quite-so realistic villains. Besides for The Last Horror Movie, Man Bites Dog, and the dreadful The Last Broadcast, it's simply an under-explored sub-genre, and I'm glad Perez chose it for his film.

The scene where "Mark" follows the chirping of his WalkieTalkie into another room was very well executed. I'll leave it at that.

CONS
Much like Jamie Kennedy explains in Scream - in the iconic scene that perfectly summed up the point of that movie - there are certain rules one must abide by to successfully create a found footage movie:

1.) Do not add music to your found footage movie. This is only acceptable in situations where your movie contains both the "found" footage and sit-down interviews reflecting on it (see: Lake Mungo, The Tunnel ). Otherwise, this is a cheap trick, and alludes to the notion that the filmmaker does not have enough faith in his movie to be scary without it. Yes, you can hire a composer to write you the most unnerving film score in history, but there will always be one thing scarier than creepy violins or a sustained piano key: complete silence. (Note: To be fair, this may or may not be a point of contention where Evil Things is concerned, as we find out at the end of the film that the footage we have been watching has been "prepared" for us by our unseen antagonist.)

2.) When your camera operator is also a member of the cast, his presence has to feel organic. He cannot feel like a cameraman - he must feel like a character undergoing the same conflicts as his fellow cast members. (SPOILER: During the scene where the kids discover that the videotape left on their porch actually contained footage - shot by their stalker - of the house's exterior, interior, and even of the kids sleeping, what could have been the most effective scene in the movie was ruined by the cameraman making sure to capture the horrified reactions of the cast. Put yourself in that situation: you are trapped in a house in the middle of nowhere, and you are seeing footage of YOU sleeping, taken by someone who intends to do you harm. Do you stare, transfixed at the television, your camera slightly off kilter, or do you focus more on your friends' reactions, being sure to cut from face to face to face?)

3.) Do not choreograph the camerawork in conjunction with the script. A character's dialogue should be impulsive and natural. There were far too many scenes in the film in which the camera whipped over to a focus on a specific character well before they started talking, as if the camera operator were anticipating this speaking part. If the gimmick behind found footage is for your events to feel as realistic as possible, filmmakers must take this into account.


Despite the fact that the movie's running time was barely 80 minutes, there are too many padding scenes. The drive to the house takes too long, and even the most monotonous scenes - such as the kids sitting around eating dinner and barely speaking - needed not be included (nor would ever realistically be filmed by our camera operator/character). It's always better to have a shorter and tighter film (example: [REC], with a running time of 78 minutes and not an ounce of fat in the film).
The kids tend to overreact to certain events in the film, as if already aware they are in a horror film. By the van's second appearance, the kids show genuine fear, whereas in reality, most people would pass it off as a minor annoyance. Same goes for when they become lost in the woods - panic seems to set in  bit too prematurely.

Earlier I mentioned the lack of curtains, and yes, it was effective in increasing the tension during the film's finale. But, on the flip-side...who doesn't hang curtains or shades in their windows, especially in a house which was clearly otherwise cared for by its owners? Sure, it's a minor quibble, but one line of dialogue would have made this a bit more palatable: "Sorry none of the windows have curtains - we just finished painting." Or, you know...something else.

The climax of the film felt rushed, which was a shame, given the amount of action taking place. I was hoping the film would build to unbearable levels of tension, but instead the movie seemed to go out with more of a whimper than a bang. (And the last shot inside the house owes quite a bit to the finale of The Silence of the Lambs .)

The end of the film introduces an interesting revelation - the unseen, van-driving stalker sets his sights on a new set of kids: a film crew wandering around Central Park. What is it about the presence of the camera that attracts our unseen antagonist? We've learned he likes to shoot his own raw footage, but what is Perez insinuating by showing us the stalker's attraction to video? That's a question you'll be wondering about as the credits roll.

Despite the cons, Evil Things was still a fun ride, with genuine moments of suspense and shock, and it was an admirable film debut by writer/director Perez. I look forward to seeing what he'll bring us in the future.

GRADE: B-

Aug 12, 2011

MEMENTO MORI: PART II

DEATH, to the dead for evermore
A King, a God, the last, the best of friends -
Whene'er this mortal journey ends
Death, like a host, comes smiling to the door;
Smiling, he greets us, on that tranquil shore
Where neither piping bird nor peeping dawn
Disturbs the eternal sleep,
But in the stillness far withdrawn
Our dreamless rest for evermore we keep.
 
- Robert Louis Stevenson






Aug 11, 2011

THE DARK HALF


You've been listening to Christopher Young's music for years, and you've never even realized it. Too often the effort that goes into any film score is disregarded by the general public in favor of what is occurring on the screen. Sure, every once in a while, scores like Titanic (yikes) or Inception (yes) are able to break that barrier and populate the mainstream. Examples like those, however, are few and far between. Film music is a largely dismissed medium - and audiences tend to take for granted that it even exists. Too often, to general audiences, the music is merely present; it affects the scene, and then it vanishes like a quiet wind. Instead of having its own life, it's there to simply service the story, like a badly timed joke.

Having provided the scores for such iconic movies as Hellraiser, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, and more recently the Spider-Man sequels, Young has always (and unfortunately) remained under the radar. Outside of the rabid horror movie fans or soundtrack collecting groups, Young never quite achieved the reputation and celebrity of his colleagues Hans Zimmer, Jerry Goldsmith, or John Williams. And maybe it's because Young has always leaned towards the dark side of the film medium - something else sadly dismissed.

Young's film debut would come in 1982, supplying his untested sound for the dubiously named The Dorm That Dripped Blood. Needless to say, the film was just another in the long line of "dead teenager movies" assaulting theaters following the one-two punch of 1978's Halloween and 1980's Friday the 13th. Young would begin to make a name for himself, however, and would work continuously until 1985. The previous year, Freddy Krueger had been given to the world, and Charles Bernstein had provided what would go on to be an iconic score, the main themes which later surfaced in every Nightmare sequel...except for Nightmare 2. Young, instead, wrote all new themes for the movie, recognizing that the sequel was straying away from the previous established mythology of the first film. Freddy was no longer a dream phantom who could haunt you while you slept - he now had the ability to possess you during your dreams and use your body as a vehicle (to go to gay bars, for some reason).

For this development, Young's new themes - built on sharp, quick jarring noises and eerie ethereal tones - helped to shape Nightmare 2, if not into the most successful sequel of the series, but certainly  into the darkest entry. Whalesong was layered behind the music whenever Freddy was on screen, making the mood that much more surreal and dreamlike.

Young would continue to diligently work on little seen films until the year his career changed forever: 1987. His score for Hellraiser would make everyone - both industry members and general audiences - stand up and take notice. Pinhead, who would appear in consistently diminishing Hellraiser entries over the next twenty-five years, would never be on screen without the theme that Young had created. (Not even Michael Myers can say that, despite his arguably far more famous accompanying theme).   

Young would go on to score Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 - in which he would take the themes he had previously established and place them in the most deranged carnival setting this side of Hell. He would win numerous awards for the score, and it would go on to be considered his masterpiece. Not bad for a man only five years into his career.

And despite the A-list, high-profile movies he has worked on throughout his career (The Shipping News, Copycat, The Core), and all the while continuing to show his diversity (HBO's Something the Lord Made, Wonder Boys, Swordfish), he would never leave the horror genre behind. A self-proclaimed enthusiast for all things dark (he is an avid collector of jack-o-lanterns, horrific masks, and autographs from horror movie stars), he continues to work in the genre which birthed his career. Though the material he scores may be beneath him (Urban Legends and Species comes to mind), he never fails to produce exciting and engaging music.

One thing a fellow film score enthusiast will tell you - NEVER judge any film's score based on the film itself. (TRON: Legacy has gone on to be hailed as one of the greatest film scores of all time. Does the accompanying movie deserve that honor? Not quite.) Frankly speaking, Urban Legends is a piece of shit, and despite its successful box office take, it's a shame that Young's score was never officially released (though can be easily found by anyone with halfway decent Googling skills). It remains one of his absolute best - and would skillfully display one of Young's most famous trademarks - the ethereal choral of voices (later displayed in Drag Me to Hell, The Uninvited, and the Spider-Man sequels).

To date, Young's most recent release has been for the movie Priest, and has presented a new side of the ever-unpredictable composer: a sweeping score akin to Zimmer's work on Nolan's Batman films, but also featuring those Young trademarks fans have come to recognize - a sea of baritone voices; it has wowed not just his longtime fans, but new ones as well. It is being considered one of 2011's best scores, and ashamedly has only seen a digital release.

As a youth, and long before his expansive career, Christopher Young would one day be introduced to the work of another famous composer, known for his more horrific themes: Bernard Hermann (Psycho, Vertigo).  "Here was someone doing everything I wanted to do," Young said. "I fell in love with the music before I realized that it was written for movies." 

Essential Listening:

Drag Me To Hell
Track 01: Drag Me To Hell (Main Title)
2009


Hellbound: Hellraiser 2
Track 07: Hall of Mirrors
1988


Priest
Track 01: Priest (Main Title)
2011

Bonus: 

Music from Young's Copycat kicks in at the 1:00 mark. This has been utilized in several horror/thriller movie trailers. Here is just one of them:



BEDFELLOWS


More at:

Fewdio.com

Fewdio on Youtube

Aug 10, 2011

THE PORTRAITS


The Portraits

There was a hunter in the woods, who after a long day of hunting was in the middle of an immense forest. It was getting dark, and having lost his bearings, he decided to head in one direction until he was clear of the increasingly oppressive foliage. After what seemed like hours, he came across a cabin in a small clearing. Realizing how dark it had grown, he decided to see if he could stay there for the night. He approached and found the door ajar. Nobody was inside. The hunter flopped down on the single bed, deciding to explain himself to the owner in the morning.


As he looked around the inside of the cabin, he was surprised to see the walls adorned by several portraits, all painted in incredible detail. Without exception, they appeared to be staring down at him, their features twisted into looks of hatred and malice. Staring back, he grew increasingly uncomfortable. Making a concerted effort to ignore the many hateful faces, he turned to face the wall, and exhausted, he fell into a restless sleep.


The next morning, the hunter awoke - he turned, blinking in unexpected sunlight. Looking up, he discovered that the cabin had no portraits. 


Only windows.

Image courtesy of Mark Coatsworth.

Aug 9, 2011

THE DIONAEA HOUSE


"there was a crooked man
and he walked a crooked mile
he found a crooked sixpence
upon a crooked stile
he bought a crooked cat
who caught a crooked mouse
and they all lived together
in a crooked little house"


Follow the creepy online saga of The Dionaea House.

Aug 6, 2011

EL KHAIMAH DJINN

“This is a true story from Ras el Khaimah, United Arab Emerites. This picture has been released as police report evidence in the UAE. The story is that a young man went in the deserted caves of Ras el Khaimah to take pictures with a friend. He had been warned not to go. The person who had been with him called the police saying he had seen his friend’s flash go off and then his friend screamed. He called his friend but never got an answer and got scared that he’d fallen so went to the police. A few hours later they found the man in the cave dead and this single picture was in his camera.”

Aug 5, 2011

THE CRYING BOY


The Curse of 'The Crying Boy' was born in September, 1985, by infamous UK tabloid The Sun. In the article, "Blazing Curse of the Crying Boy," the author claimed that Ron and May Hall's home in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, had suffered severe fire damage, and the only object on the otherwise-decimated first floor that remained untouched by the flames was their framed painting of a young boy with tears streaming down his face - entitled The Crying Boy.
 
Things got weirder when Peter Hall, Ron's brother, and also a member of the Rotherham fire brigade, was informed by his station officer, Alan Wilkinson, that the Hall fire was not the first occurrence of a home burning down under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind an unharmed print of The Crying Boy. In fact, there had been "numerous" instances of the same set of circumstances. Wilkinson had allegedly and personally claimed to have filed fifty or so reports of home-destroying fires - some explained, some not - all of which had a print of The Crying Boy hanging somewhere in the structure. Panic ensued when the article's author provided one bit more of information: The Crying Boy was attributed to Spanish painter G. Bragolin (real name: Bruno Amadio; other aliases: Franchot Seville, Angelo (Giovanni) Bragolin, and J. Bragolin), and his painting had apparently been a popular piece at that time, selling 50,000 prints to families living in Northern England. 


Needless to say, The Sun was inundated by "scores of horrified readers" claiming that they presently had a print of The Crying Boy hanging in their home: 
Typical of these additional stories was [one] told by Dora Mann, from Mitcham, Surrey, who claimed her house was gutted just six months after she bought a print of the painting. “All my paintings were destroyed – except the one of the Crying Boy,” she claimed.
Sandra Kaske, of Kilburn, North Yorkshire, said that she, her sister-in-law, and a friend had all suffered disastrous fires since they acquired copies.
Another family, from Nottingham, blamed the print for a blaze which had left them homeless.
Brian Parks, whose wife and three children needed treatment for smoke inhalation, said he had destroyed his copy after returning from hospital to find it hanging – undamaged, of course – on the blackened wall of his living room.

As the stories accumulated, new details emerged that encouraged the idea that possession of a print put owners at risk of fire or serious injury. One woman from London claimed she had seen her print “swing from side to side” on the wall, while another from Paignton said her 11-year-old son had “caught his private parts on a hook” after she bought the pict­ure. Mrs Rose Farrington of Preston, in a letter published by The Sun, wrote: “Since I bought it in 1959, my three sons and my husband have all died. I’ve often wondered if it had a curse.”
Another reader reported an attempt to destroy two of the prints by fire – only to find, to her horror, that they would not burn. Her claim was tested by security guard Paul Collier, who tossed one of his two prints onto a bonfire. Despite being left in the flames for an hour, it was not even scorched. “It was frightening – the fire wouldn’t even touch it,” he told The Sun. “I really believe it is jinxed. We feel doubly at risk with two of these in the house [and] we are determined to get rid of them.”
By this time, several different variations of The Crying Boy - all painted by different artists, and featuring different children, both boys and girls - began to share the burden of the so-called curse. Stories of The Crying Boy were continually published by not only The Sun, but other publications as well:


The Sun, 9th Sept 1985: Both The Sun and The Daily Star reported that Grace Murray (Oxford) ended up in Stoke Mandeville hospital with severe burns after a house fire, but her print of The Crying Boy was almost undamaged.

The Sun, 21st Oct 1985: The Parillo Pizza Palace (Great Yarmouth) was destroyed by fire, but the print of The Crying Boy was undamaged. The newspaper invited readers to send in their ‘cursed’ paintings for destruction. By now, this story had been picked up by local papers and by individuals keen to get their 5 minutes of fame.

Daily Mail, 24th Oct 1985: Kevin Godber's family (Herringthorpe, South Yorks) was made homeless by a fire; the print of The Crying Boy remained unscathed, but pictures on either side of it were destroyed.

The Sun, 12th November 1985: Malcolm Vaughn (Churchdown, Gloucestershire) destroyed a neighbor's print of The Crying Boy. Later, his living-room caught fire.

The Sun, 24th February 1986:
61-year-old William Armitage (Weston-super-Mare, Avon) died in a house fire. The room was gutted, but an unscathed The Crying Boy was found on the floor near the pensioner’s body. Fireman quoted as saying it was "odd."

The Sun, 25th Oct 1985: An explosion destroys the Amos' home (Heswall, Merseyside). Two prints of The Crying Boy (living-room and dining room) were retrieved unharmed. Mr. Amos destroys the jinxed paintings.

Shropshire Star, 26th October 1985: House in Telford is damaged by fire. The householder is Fred Trower, an ex-fireman, who refuses to believe the curse and said his print of The Crying Boy in the hallway would remain where it was unless there was a second fire.

Western Morning News, 26th October 1985: Six months after restaurant owner George Beer (Holsworthy) installed two prints of The Crying Boy, his business was severely damaged by separate fires 12 months apart. On both occasions, the prints were not even singed. Mr. Beer did not believe in the jinx and kept the paintings.

The Sun, 31st October 1985: Sandra Jane Moore's home had been flooded after she'd drawn punk hair on her friend’s The Crying Boy. Mrs. Woodward (Forest Hill) blamed The Crying Boy for death of her son, daughter, husband, and mother.

Investigators requested the aid of "witches" and other occult students, seeking their explanation on how or why the curse came to be. The suggested explanation was that the child model featured in the print may have been abused or mistreated by the painter in some way - or perhaps had succumbed to death by fire shortly after being painted - and hence the curse.


The Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, who had happily kept the story alive in the tabloid, invoked his readers: "If you are worried about a Crying Boy picture hanging in YOUR home, send it to us immediately. We will destroy it for you – and that should see the back of any curse." MacKenzie got his wish, and had soon amassed 2,500 copies of The Crying Boy - all ordered destroyed by their senders.

On Halloween of 1985, The Sun organized a massive burning of the paintings. Though several local fire brigades were encouraged to attend, they declined.

It was during this time that other staff at The Sun had begun to wonder just how much credence MacKenzie attached to this story. One of these staff members took a print of The Crying Boy and hung it on the office wall. MacKenzie ordered it taken down, citing the print was "bad luck."

Station office Alan Wilkinson, upon his retirement, received a print as a joke. He smiled blithely and declined to accept. 

Chief Officer Mick Riley, who had previously issued a statement explaining that The Crying Boy paintings were printed on very durable hardboard and made them very difficult to burn, also declined one as a gift, citing his wife would not approve of its presence in their home.

The story of The Crying Boy would soon spread to the Internet and achieve official urban legend status - and with it came new myths. If you treated The Crying Boy nicely and with respect, or if you owned both The Crying Boy and The Crying Girl and hung them together, you would be freed from the curse, and even granted good luck. But with these new myths also came the need for the origin of the curse.

Some such theories:
  • The soul of the child model had been trapped in the painting, and the only way to free themselves is to burn the house down and hopefully destroy the painting which binds them.
  • The painting itself is a beacon for spiritual activity, and instead of being haunted by the model featured, instead attracts whatever demonic spirits or poltergeist activity happens to be within close proximity. 
  • Previous misfortunes, either by the artist or the child model, had formed into negative energy and attached itself to the paintings.

In 2000, the "official" origin of the painting was finally revealed by George Mallory,  “a well respected researcher into occult matters, a retired schoolmaster."

Mallory traced the artist who had painted the original, “an old Spanish portrait artist named Franchot Seville, who lives in Madrid." Seville...was one of the pseudonyms used by Bruno Amadio, otherwise known as ‘G Bragolin’ whose signature appeared on some of the prints. 

Seville/Amadio/Bragolin told Mallory the subject of the paintings was a little street urchin he had found wandering around Madrid in 1969. He never spoke, and had a very sorrowful look in his eyes. Seville painted the boy, and a Catholic priest identified him as Don Bonillo, a child who had run away after seeing his parents die in a blaze.
“The priest told the artist to have nothing to do with the runaway, because wherever he settled, fires of unknown origin would mysteriously break out; the villagers called him ‘Diablo’ because of this.”
Nevertheless, the painter ignored the priest’s advice and adopted the boy. His portraits sold well but one day his studio was destroyed by fire and the artist was ruined. He accused the little boy of arson and Bonillo ran off – naturally in tears – and was never seen again.
The story continued:
“From all over Europe came the reports of the unlucky Crying Boy paintings causing blazes. Seville was also regarded as a jinx, and no one commissioned him to paint, or would even look at his paintings. In 1976, a car exploded into a fireball on the outskirts of Barcelona after crashing into a wall. The victim was charred beyond recog­nition, but part of the victim’s driving license in the glove compartment was only partly burned. The name on the license was one 19-year-old Don Bonillo.”
One thing has never been completely satisfied about The Crying Boy legend. Regardless of who the child featured in the painting was, what became of him, or what awful thing could have birthed the so-called curse, one question always remained: why, in the midst of horrendous infernos, were the paintings never destroyed?

As previously stated by Rotherham Fire Brigade Chief Officer Mick Riley, his official explanation for The Crying Boy's inability to burn was due to the hardboard material on which it was printed.

The wife of Rotherham Fire Brigade Station Officer Alan Wilkinson had her own theory:

“I always say it’s the tears that put the fire out.”


 


Now Available:
The world’s oldest celebration comes to life in The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween, an anthology that honors the darkest and strangest night of the year. Each story is designed to be intrinsically and intimately about Halloween—its traditions, its myths, and its effects—and they run the gamut from horrifying to heartbreaking. Halloween night is the tapestry through which a haunted house, a monstrous child, a late-night drive to a mysterious destination, and other tales are weaved. Demons are faced, death is defied, and love is tested. And not everyone makes it out alive. The End of Summer has arrived.

Aug 4, 2011

STRANGE AND SCARY THINGS

I'm pretty sure, as a kid, you had these books:


I certainly did. They were as essential to my youth as the Goosebumps series and Wacky Wednesday

The stories themselves were pretty basic and well-known urban legends. They were vague, to the point, and sometimes even silly (though trying not to be). And you can only read so many stories that end with "now jump at a nearby friend and scream" before you roll your eyes. Despite these seeming shortcomings, it was an added strength for the book. In most cases, illustrations are in place to serve the story. In the case of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, it was definitely the other way around.

But, at the same time - at a young age, and in the right frame of mind - the stories were chilling, and even sometimes disturbing, due in no small part to the incredibly strange and often surreal illustrations by Stephen Gammell. His approach to illustration was very nontraditional - especially for children's literature. To sound like an elitist hipster douche bag for a second, his work in the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark collection was very reminiscent of Dali, and Bosch before him. His interpretations of any particular story's monsters were horrifying enough, but even human beings depicted normally within the confines of the tale suddenly became misshapen characters born from a nightmare. Occasionally there would be an illustration that had so little to do with the events of the story that it made the happenings that much more off-putting and unnerving.

For instance, in one of the most famous stories not just in the book, but in folklore itself, a girl named Susanna returns home to her college apartment to see that her roommate, Jane (in their shared bedroom), is sleeping. Susanna quietly undresses in the dark and slips into bed, only to be jarred awake several times during the night to someone singing "Oh, Susanna." She repeatedly tells Jane to STFU. Yada yada yada, skip to the morning, and someone is still singing that song. Susanna flips out, jumps out of bed, and tears the covers off her roommate to see that she is dead.

End story.

And the illustration that accompanies this tale?


Yeah. What exactly is that? But...it somehow works. At the very end of this story, when the poor girl is assaulted with the sight of her mutilated friend on a bed only a few feet away, and the impossible sound of singing still fresh in her ears, perhaps Susanna has gone mad. And perhaps what you see is Gammell's interpretation of madness. Or perhaps he is suggesting that we're not in control of our own lives, and are helpless to defend ourselves against the dark forces that look down upon us from unseen places. 

Perhaps he is telling us there is only fate - not free will - that will determine our paths...and that we are doomed.

Either/or - the friggin' creeps.


Flipping through the pages of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the pictures you see before you could very well instead be hanging in a museum - and you would never think twice about their inclusion in artistic history, alongside other famous works by other famous artists. One of my personal favorite illustrations of Stephen Gammell is below - one which accompanies a story called "The Drum," perhaps the eeriest story in any of the three books. Two young children - a brother and sister - become terrible nuisances to their mother, at the behest of a young gypsy girl who possesses a strange drum for which the siblings yearn. Their mother threatens to abandoned them - to leave them with a strange woman, who has glass eyes and a wooden tail. The siblings, though fearful of this threat, continue to misbehave in order to finally possess the strange drum. At story's end, the gypsy girl explains that it was all just a game, and she never had any intention of giving up her drum. The siblings rush home...and see their new mother waiting for them in front of the roaring fireplace - their new mother with glass eyes and a wooden tail that thumps against the floor.

This illustration accompanies the story:


The painting below is entitled "Carnival Night" (1886) by Henri Rousseau.


The similarities, whether intentional or not, show that Gammell has not just a modern illustrator's mind, but a classic artist's.

As of 2011, Gammell still provides illustrations for childrens' books, and though Alvin Schwartz, who compiled the tales for the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, has long since passed on, perhaps a fourth book will some day come down the pike under new guidance. And with it will come nightmares for a new generation of dark-seeking children.

"I was four at the time, thinking that I really didn't want to go to school next year... I just want to do this -- just scare other children so bad it gives them nightmares for the rest of their lives."

- Stephen Gammell