THOUGHTS & REVERIES ARCHIVES

MAY
2016

 

I'd first written this essay back in May of 2014. I was always quite proud of it, and due to recent events (as I discuss on my MENU Page) I thought it might be appropriate to repeat it again this month. I hope those that enjoyed it the first time won't feel terribly short-changed at this bit of recycling.


This time we're going to be quite serious, and rather heavy emotionally; you may want to read in bits and pieces to offset being overwhelmed. I say this not to entice or intrigue, but quite sincerely, as Harlan Ellison did with his introductory remarks regarding his collection of tales “Deathbird Stories”:

“CAVEAT LECTOR

It is suggested that the reader not attempt to read this book at one sitting. The emotional content of these stories, taken without break, may be extremely upsetting. This note is intended most sincerely, and not as hyperbole. H. E.”

For as with the title of Mr. Ellison's work, we are concerned this time with Death; death as an end of existence, death as a personification of the unknown, death as a doorway into other realities, and death as a reality in and of itself.

For more than some time now, I've noticed a recurring motif on the Internet; an almost hesitant yet definite broaching of the subject in popular art and polite conversation. It's become very rare for a week to go by on Facebook without someone asking for kind thoughts or prayers for a family member or friend who is wrestling with a health issue, or actually on the decline and facing their death. There are also notices of the passing of one beloved individual or another, either someone famous known by all, or a person who means a great deal to a small circle of individuals.

This is certainly to be expected; the term is ‘social media' or ‘community', and as with other communities in the past, news of a passing is an opportunity to share in communal grief, to offer comfort to those in need, and to ruminate and examine one's own existence.

There's also been, through popular media, an acknowledgment of death and grieving to a degree that I'd not previously noticed. For example, here is a heartbreaking piece of art inspired by the Disney film LILO & STITCH. For those who've not seen the movie (and I recommend it highly), it concerns a young girl in Hawaii who befriends an alien fugitive and teaches him about humanity.



This artwork was in turn inspired by a work of fan fiction, a short tale titled “The Only Thing Worse Than Dying” by WatsonSword. (You can read that story HERE.) Within the story is an enlightening discussion of the nature of mortality, and its consequences:

"Hey! Wouldn't it be cool to live forever?"

"Gaba?"

"I mean, you never grow old, you never die, at least not of old age."


Stitch frowned,  “ growing old, naga botifa!”

"But then again ,"  Lilo suddenly got a somber look on her face,  ‘ I remember once, I told dad that I wanted to live forever, and he said I shouldn't. I asked him why, and he said the only thing worse than dying is living forever, because you'll outlive everyone you know, and then you'll miss them for all eternity.”

Here is another work, this time inspired by the Pokemon phenomenon, depicting again the emotionally devastating consequences of friendship between a human being and a supernatural creature possibly immortal:



In truth, it isn't terribly surprising to me that there has been a tentative focus on loss and passing; the Baby Boom generation is steadily growing older en mass, and is now considering their places in the vastness of time and the cosmos. It shouldn't be surprising they are looking hard and somewhat fearfully or ruefully at their eventually collective demise. Many, particularly those without any particular belief system or faith are no doubt wrestling with the questions and concerns of what may or may not come after this veil of tears. (And please believe that there is no judgment at all in that statement; I simply feel that those with a system of faith have probably wrestled with these issues throughout their lives, not merely as the light begins to grow dim.)

These concerns seep down to the next generation as well, as thoughts of the passings of loved ones of the previous generation hit home. One of my human companions in Pennsylvania posted these musings online not long ago:

Tonight my eldest had a moment where he realized that in 50 years I will likely be dead. He burst into tears. It was the most sobering, sweet moment. He said that the loss of his grandfather and the illness of his grandmother these past few months has really been wearing on him. How do you try to explain to your child that as bad as it gets, and even when you wish it wouldn't....when we lose people we love, life simply goes on - without making him even more depressed. Life is so freaking grueling sometimes.”

All this can be very unsettling and melancholy; I'm certain more than a few hearts were tightened and tears stung by the images above. Yet death is genuine; it is the one experience that all of humanity shares along with fear. People may not ever have known love (which is tragedy in itself), but all have been afraid and all will die. As far as it's known, humans are the only species that have a deep understanding of their own approaching mortalities, making them unique from dolphins, apes or other similarly social creatures.

With this in mind, let's talk for a moment or two about death, or more precisely, Death, as it's been presented in popular culture, in mythology, and in everyday practice. And hopefully by the time we're finished, the heartache may lesson, and an understanding and truce will be achieved.



The image of Death personified by my Cousin as the Grim Reaper can be traced to the 15 th century. No one can say precisely who first conceived this, but in my mind it's tied deeply into the agrarian communities and early pagan practices; the seasons change, and the earth goes through its natural cycle of birth and rebirth from spring through winter and back again. The planting and the harvesting become entwined deeply with society's dependence on food for its growth and survival, and it's not a far leap from harvesting the grain at the end of autumn to harvesting souls at the end of existence.

Thus the Grim Reaper carries the same scythe that those tilling the fields carry, and he sweeps the landscape clean with a single stroke. (And there may be some connection with Atropos, one of the Three Fates, the woman with her scissors who snips the thread at the end of life.) He is often seen in a long black robe, which may symbolize the end of life (black being a stark color that absorbs all the other ones in the spectrum) or may have nuanced connections to the Black Plague of Europe where Death was always present. In many instances Death is seen as simply a man, but more and more he's portrayed as having skeletal features, for reasons I'll speculate on later.

Of course, the Grim Reaper is popular from Western mythology; there have been and are many Angels of Death, and he represents only one. Every culture has their own representations, each with their own methods of collection.

There is Azrael, the name of my Cousin's wife and an Eternal herself, whose name comes from Islamic culture. The Greeks referred to Death as Thanatos; the Irish regarded Death as a race of beings known collectively as the Dullahan. Lithuania named Death Giltine and saw her as a woman. Indeed, in many traditions Death was not male but female, most notably the sacred figure of La Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, in Mexican culture. She is also know as La Catrina or Lady Catrina, and is a skeletal figure dressed in regal, exquisite finery. The Chinese refer to Death as Yanluo, the ruler of Di Ya, the Underworld.


In the Hebrew faith there was not a Reaper, but the Angel of Death was commonly called “The Destroyer”, striking down with a drawn sword. They (for there were many) were also known as the Memitim. Some have named the angel Samael as the Angel of Death, while others consider Michael to be the one who carries the souls to Heaven; this has transposed over into Christian beliefs.

Depending on his culture, the Grim Reaper was either seen as benevolent, fulfilling the final task of existence and guiding the passed souls into their next life, as malevolent, tearing the living from this world and snatching them off beyond the curtain between the worlds (and many of these sort are considered very unsociable, tormenting the living that become aware of them and leaving portents on who was the next to die) or neutral, simply doing his job.

If I speak of the Reaper as ‘he', be aware that, as stated before, Death is often considered as female and has a similar range of viewpoints; sometimes seductive and beautiful, calming those recently passed and nurturing them, or ugly and spiteful, cursing those who were to die. In many beliefs the Reaper can appear as either male or female, depending on how the departing soul feels most comfortable with communing.

(For those who want to learn more about the variations and guises of Death, I highly recommend THIS Wikipedia article, well researched and documented, and a fine starting point.)



In folklore, Death can be bargained with, and he can be tricked.

Perhaps the most famous example is from the Ingmar Bergman film THE SEVENTH SEAL (a marvelous work that I hope you've all seen or will see). Max Von Sydow is a knight, Antonius Block, returned weary from the bloody Crusades, who discovers that Death has been walking with him for a long time. When Death comes for his soul, Block challenges him to a game of chess; the rules being that while they are playing, however long it may take, Death will not take him. (This is actually based on old woodcuts and tapestries showing Death playing chess with mortal men; where this first became an iconic trope is a mystery.)

Initially the confrontation seems to be between Death and Block, but it's revealed that Block has other reasons and plans for his gamble. The famous conclusion sees Block and other members of Deaths party walking in silhouette over a twilight hill, engaged in the ‘danse macabre', arms linked together in a long line. This image and theme has been used and parodied many times, probably most sharply in BILL & TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY, where Death (with a thick Swedish accent) loses challenge after challenge of Twister, Clue, and Electric Football. (“Best three out of five! ”)



In the Russian folktale “The Soldier & Death”, Death is tricked by a soldier slated for dying into a magic sack whose material can hold the spirit prisoner, and hung from a high tree, leaving the soldier to become immortal. But when he grows tied of this life and releases Death so that he will take the soldier's soul, Death flees from him, leaving the soldier to wander the world undying and alone. (A variation of this is heard in my own tale “The Story Of Jack O' Lantern”, with the Devil replacing Death as being tricked up into a tree that he can't depart from, keeping him from taking Jack's soul to Hell.)

In a similar vein, the film ON BORROWED TIME depicts an old man who tricks death into climbing a magic tree from which he can' escape unless freed by his captor. Initially proud of his cleverness in outwitting the Reaper, the old man sees a world where no one dies, and suffering and starvation become rampant. Realizing that, for some, death is merciful, the old man releases death and is carried away to an afterlife that is welcoming and not fearful.



Why does humanity fear Death? After all, humans have been passing from this world for literally millions of years, and billions have gone on to their Great Reward. Why should it be so troubling? Why isn't it regarded as a natural process, like breathing, eating or sleeping?

Most probably because it is a great mystery; a terrible ‘what if?' that cannot be answered in a logical, satisfactory manner. Nobody truly knows what lies beyond, despite many who have claimed to have died and experienced a portion of the afterlife. (The current film HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, supposedly based on a true account, is an example.) By the time the mystery is solved, it's too late for anything to be done; there is no turning back, no change of mind or do-over. And it's safe to say that a lot of anxiety is produced simply because of the usual refrain; “This is different! This isn't happening to anyone else, this is happening to me!

During Hamlet's famous “To be, or not to be…” soliloquy contemplating ending his own life, Shakespeare makes the strongest case for humanity's fear. Comparing death to sleep and respite from the weariness of the world's troubles, Hamlet suddenly realizes:

“To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;”
 

Later in the soliloquy:  

“But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?”
 

As long as there is life, as terrible and tragic as it may be, there is a sure knowledge of the parameters of existence; what is to come can be more or less deduced, and remains comforting. But Death…that undiscovered country…there's nothing known, and nothing assured. What if it's far worse than anything life can offer? What if it's agony unending? There's no turning back!  

But why should it be terrible? Why should it be agony? There's no logical reason; it's the very fact of its unknowing that makes humanity hesitate in its face. 



Art by William Basso


One of the most famous personifications of the Reaper is from the classic film DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY. (It was remade both as a made-for-television film, which wasn't bad, and a feature film titled MEET JOE BLACK, which was dreadful.) Death, portrayed by Fredrick March (who would win an Oscar as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) grows weary of his task of collecting souls, and wishes for relief. Cold and aloof, he becomes human and assumes the persona of Prince Sirki. While in disguise he meets and falls in love with a woman and begins to understand and appreciate humanity. As in ON BORROWED TIME, while human nobody on earth dies, and there is much sorrow and suffering. Realizing he must return to his vocation, he confides his true identity to the woman, who has grown to love him, and accompanies him to the next world. Death has become more human, and promises to be more compassionate in his work.

Rod Serling's THE TWILIGHT ZONE offered several versions of Death personified, all of them representing the varying aspects of the mythic archetype. These range from his delightful and sentimental “One For The Angels” (where Death is fussy bureaucrat, more concerned with his schedules being kept than with the individuals he is responsible for; he learns a great deal about his own failings when he encounters a street conman) to the adaptation of Lucille Fletcher's “The Hitchhiker” (where Death is a menacing figure stalking a woman traveler on a cross-country trip) to George Clayton Johnson's wonderful “Nothing In The Dark” ( with its most sympathetic portrayal meeting a woman shut away and terrified of dying).

Interestingly enough, all of the personifications of Death on THE TWILIGHT ZONE were male; a truly outstanding representation of Death as female occurred in Neil Gaiman's superb “Sandman” comics. Death is a young Goth woman, simultaneously flirtatious, giddy, and wise beyond her years. She is always kind to those in need, respectful of her charges, and they to a man (or woman) found her a comforting companion. So popular did she become that she was spun off into her own series.

Prior to Mr. Gaiman's creation, one of the most vivid representations came from the movie ALL THAT JAZZ, directed by Bob Fosse and written by Mr. Fosse and Robert Alan Aurthur. Jessica Lange was the mysterious woman clad in white, intent on an otherworldly flirtation with song-and-dance man Roy Scheider, a self-destructive individual obsessed with Death from a young age. (In a telling moment, the protagonist's mother's ghost speaks cheerfully to the woman, “My boy has always been fascinated by you!”) Alternately alluring and disquieting, her presence becomes increasingly ominous as the film moves towards its grim denouement.

Why is there a need to personify the Reaper? What is it that has drawn artists, authors, filmmakers, playwrights and storytellers as far back as the ancients to put a human face on Death? It is precisely for that, I believe; to put a recognizable face on what is essentially one of the greatest unknowns conceivable, and thereby arrive at a greater perception and report. When presented in human terms, even if those terms are far from benevolent, Death becomes more understandable, more identifiable, and less frightful.



Of the many reasons given for the popularity of Horror and Dark Fantasy, one of the most persuasive arguments is that it's a rehearsal for death, and a way, through allegory and literary elusion, to touch upon the metaphysical. Steven King, among many, has argued this, and indeed believes that many of the more exuberant thrill rides at most amusement parks hold the same fascination; it's a way to test the limits of one's mortality in a safe environment. Mr. King notes, “…Horror movies, like roller coasters, have always been the special province of the young; by the time one turns forty or fifty, one's appetite for double-twists of 360 degree loops may be considerably depleted.”

So the Horror story explores the ‘bad death'; ageing and decrepitude via “The Picture of Dorian Grey”, being buried alive per “A Cask of Amontillado”, being devoured by rats as in “Willard” (also known as “Ratman's Notebooks”), and so on. It even explores the concept of being cursed and troubled beyond death; of the spirit being held and possessed, doomed to haunt this life for past transgressions (“The Haunting of Hill House” and “Hell House”), having your soulless corpse return to walk the night to corrupt others (as in “Dracula” and the other vampire myths) or stumble as a mindless reanimation filled with an insatiable reflex of hunger (as in any of Mr. Romero's DEAD films and their countless imitators).

What is death? I quote Mr. King again, from his novel “‘ Salem 's Lot ”: in the words of young protagonist Mark Petrie, “Death is when the monsters get you.” That may be the essence of death reduced to its simplest terms.

And yet…is the alternative any better?

One of the finest modern tales of Dark Fantasy is Anne Rice's “Interview With A Vampire”. Her books have a loyalty worthy of Mr. Lucas and his STAR WARS endeavors or the most ferverent STAR TREK devotees. All well and good, but it was her original tome that has remained with me all these years since I've first devoured it. I also think the film version is magnificent, not only for its artistry (which is impressive) but because it captures faithfully the foremost theme of the novel.


And that theme is this: no matter what your belief system or lack of one, the simple truth is that through the eons of time that history has carved, man was not meant to live forever.

The years, the decades, march along, and it wears down mountains and civilizations with the same inexorable footfalls; anything that doesn't change stagnates. The family and companions you've known age and turn to dust; even social mores fade and evolve. If a time traveler from the 1900s were to walk the streets of a modern city, what madness could he comprehend? How could equal rights be explained, or immigration, let alone something as relatively simple as cell phones or jet airliners? The technological advances in medicine alone would be astonishing, with transplanted organs and reattached limbs.

Living through those changes would be extraordinary, but that would be a mere century. Now imagine living through age after age, and constantly having to readjust your frame of references. You remain young, unchanging, a curse in itself while the world goes on around you, either rushing past or sweeping you along like driftwood caught in a riptide.

After millennium, wouldn't one grow much more than weary? How much longer would one be expected to take up their arms against a sea of troubles, as the Danish Prince might put it? When would one long for that sleep, no matter what dreams may await?



Art by Paul Delvaux


This has been pretty sobering so far, I'll grant you. But consider this:

One of the things that Horror and Dark Fantasy state implicitly in their very nature is this: there is something beyond this realm. This is something more than just this plane of existence. This is something more than this simple veil of tears. Even at its most nihilistic and pessimistic, by its very nature it states that death is not the end of everything.

This is a famous story, which doesn't make it any less amusing or pertinent, but you may have heard it before; if so forgive me.

When he was preparing to make THE SHINING, the late Stanley Kubrick called up Stephen King to discuss the movie, and he postulated that the tale of the haunted house, no matter how terrifying or horrific, was essentially an optimistic one, because it stated firmly that death was not the final curtain; that there were other worlds that souls would inhabit, even if that meant staying in one location and becoming malevolent. Therefore, no matter how downbeat the ending of the movie might be, it would be optimistic, because of these themes of life after death.

Mr. King was, shall we say, less than persuaded by this contention, and argued for a legitimately happy ending, or at least one where not everyone was dead by the conclusion. He had his way, but I find it fascinating that Mr. Kubrick, an agnostic through his adult life, should consider these themes.



Years before THE SHINING, Mr. Kubrick directed 2001: A SPACE ODDYSSEY, which contained its own vision of transcendence and deliverance. It should be noted that while Mr. Kubrick was agnostic in nature, the principal author of 2001, Arthur C. Clarke, was decidedly atheistic; yet the two of them wrote and filmed one of the most persuasive finales celebrating life beyond the mortal realm. (And I'm going to discuss this in detail, so if you haven't yet seen the film – and why haven't you?!? – consider yourself warned through the next three paragraphs.)

After journeying to Jupiter and discovering a gateway from our universe to another, where host aliens are waiting to see if their cosmic invitation has been accepted by another species, astronaut David Bowman pilots a small spacecraft through the interspatial tunnel to the aliens' homeworld. After a psychedelic and sensory-expanding trip, he finds himself and his craft inside what appears to be a vintage hotel room, decorated entirely in white. The room literally glows with a strange luminescence, and we can hear the quiet chattering of otherworldly voices watching.

Astronaut Bowman begins to experience his life in acceleration, viewing it in a series of stages. He sees himself growing older, then older still, enjoying a fine meal at a small dining table. He drops his wine glass and sees himself at another stage, incredibly old, lying in bed. As he lays there the alien presence, a huge black monolith, stands in the room and communicates with him. He stretches out his hand to the form, and he is transformed again into a glowing shape: a small, infantile being, his huge eyes filled with patience and wisdom. The monolith becomes a doorway, and the child, Bowman reborn into another existence, finds himself returned to Earth. He orbits the planet, the backdrop of stars his cradle, and he looks down upon the new dawn.

Is it any wonder that many saw this as religious allegory? (It certainly caught Mr. Clarke by surprise, although I can't imagine why.) Yes, there is a scientific explanation for all these events, but couldn't there be a scientific explanation for any afterlife experience? I think as a filmed realization of the transient, 2001 remains a high water mark. The monolith, evocative of the Pagan stones of Stonehenge (always denied as an influence by Mr. Kubrick) adds an ancient layer of relevance to the final imagery. And what is the beautiful White Room, filled with white light so familiar to life after death experiences, but Heaven?



One of my favorite, and one of the most powerful films of Dark Fantasy in the past decade or two is JACOB'S LADDER, superbly directed and visualized by Adrian Lyne and written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who also wrote the lighter (but no less thought-provoking) treatment of the afterlife GHOST. In JACOB'S LADDER, Jacob Singer (wonderfully portrayed by Tim Robbins, who shoulders the movie in a very difficult role and carries it effortlessly) has flashbacks to his service in Vietnam , particularly to a battle where he was severely wounded. At this time in his life he's also having visions of demons invading New York City , first in the landscape around him, and finally threatening him directly.

He learns that members of his former unit are also being plagued with demons, and there is a government cover-up regarding an experimental drug that was used during his training. As he digs deeper into the twin mysteries, Jacob discovers that his past, present and possible future have worked themselves loose from linear structure, and he may be caught in a cataclysmic, apocalyptic struggle between the forces of light and dark.

I won't spoil the film, for much of its impact is derived from unraveling the puzzles surrounding Jacob Singer. (And what a wonderful name for a character, Biblical and evocative of the voice crying out in the wilderness or raised in praise; the film is filled with metaphor such as this, which gives it much of its potency.) But I am going to reveal some of the secrets of the finale, so you may want to skip the next nine paragraphs if you haven't seen the movie as of yet.

The demons are marvelously realized; when Mr. Rubin first wrote the script he relied on traditional religious imagery in their depiction. Mr. Lyne wanted something more visceral and less clichéd, and came up with a contemporary portrayal that seems to me terribly authentic. Using the idea of deformity and thalidomide crippling to portray the physical corruption of the soul, the demons (and its depiction of Hell, where Mr. Singer briefly finds himself) are harsh, garish and clinically plausible to a modern society, as well as utterly terrifying.



But as there are forces of darkness in the film, they are counterbalanced by forces of light, most ably realized by Danny Aiello as Louis, obstensively Jacob's chiropractor. He is a smiling gentle figure with an air of mystery and not some menace. (After all, angels are powerful forces of supernatural wonder, and even with their inerrant goodness, can be extremely frightening. As C. S. Lewis pointed out in his essay on angels and devils, the first words spoken in the Bible when an angel appears are usually, “Fear not.”)

At one point while looking up from the chiropractic table, Jacob sees Louis smiling down at him, haloed by a soft light from across the room. “You know, you look like an angel, Louis, an overgrown cherub,” says Jacob; Louis just smiles down at him.

But when Jacob is at his lowest, imprisoned in Hell (in his visions a hospital where he is in traction after being injured) it is Louis that comes charging in, shouting at the top of his not inconsiderable lungs and brandishing a crutch to swing at anyone who gets in his way. He releases Jacob from the traction harnesses and pushes him out of the facility in a wheelchair. As an avenging, righteous force of good, Louis is exactly the kind of angel most people would want watching over them.

Then, in his office, correcting Jacob's injuries, they talk about what Jacob's experienced.
“I was in Hell. I've been there,” says Jacob. “It's horrible. I don't want to die, Louis…I've seen it. It's all pain.”

And Louis speaks kindly. “You ever read Meister Eckart? How did you ever get your Doctorate without reading Eckart?...Eckart saw Hell too. You know what he said? The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won't let go of your life; your memories, your attachments. They're burning them all away. But they're not punishing you, he said. They're freeing your soul…So the way he sees it, if you're frightened of dying and holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. But if you've made your peace then the devils are really angels freeing you from the earth. It's just a matter of how you look at it.” (And I will interrupt briefly to point out, as C. S. Lewis did, that angels and devils are not species, but political terms for the same supernatural entities.)

Then Louis sets the table upright and tells Jacob to walk forward. Jacob protests; he's still injured, but Louis holds out his hands and beckons almost as a faith healer. After a tentative moment, Jacob steps forward without pain, and Louis smiles and whispers quietly, “Halleluiah.” I still shiver thinking about this breathtaking scene.

Later, after further investigation, satisfying Jacob regarding the mysteries he's been pursuing, he takes a taxi to his old apartment, and is greeted by the doorman. “Hello, Dr. Singer. Welcome home.” (And isn't that the most common euphemism for dying? Being called home, or going home?) He enters the dark apartment, lies down on the couch and naps a bit. When he awakens he hears a sound by the stairs, and finds his dead son playing there. They are reunited, hug tenderly, and then the two climb the stairs into a bright light.

Initially JACOBS LADDER was to end cataclysmically with a huge battle between good and evil, but the special effects didn't look proper and it would have cost a great amount of money to redo them. Director Lyne decided to completely eliminate the battle, and went with this quiet conclusion. Perhaps it was a case of divine intervention, because I find this ending perfect for this adult exploration of the Dark Fantastic. (I understand the final battle has been restored to the movie by the studio for syndication; I urge you to avoid it at all costs and rent the original.)



Quite a lot to take in, I know. Still, I hope we're moving away from what is fearful about Death and touching on the mysterious without the malevolence; I hope that wonder can be a comfort in the face of the unknown.

Consider this:

One of the TWILIGHT ZONE episodes mentioned above, “Nothing In The Dark”, tells of an old woman shut away from the world because she's afraid of dying. She actually witnessed the Grim Reaper going about his business early in her life, and has become terrified of him. She knows he can take any form at all to trick her and move close to her, so she's locked herself away in a crumbling basement apartment to outwait him…forever? She can't say; all she knows is her fear.

One night a young policeman (well played by Robert Redford in one of his earliest film roles) is shot by a criminal he's been pursuing, and although she's terrified of exposing herself to a stranger, she carries him inside and tends to his wounds. As they talk, she explains her dilemma, and he listens with sympathy. He tells her he can't shut herself away; they're planning to tear down this building very soon, and she'll have to leave.

At that moment there's a knock on the door, and a burly stranger in overalls forces himself into the room. In terror the woman faints; when she comes to the stranger is standing over her. He speaks brusquely but with some kindness:


“You've got to understand, ma'am. I don't get no pleasure out of busting down doors, but you don't seem to savvy how important this is. I got a crew and equipment coming in an hour to pull this tenement down…” And the woman realizes that this isn't Death; it's a construction foreman.

Still, as he continues speaking, the man unwittingly makes the case for Death. “The building is old – run down. I can see how you could get attached to it and not want to see it destroyed, but when a building is old and unsafe it's got to come down to make room for new buildings. That's life, lady. The old has to make room for the new. People ask me why I do what I do – destroy things, but in a way I'm not a destroyer at all. I just clear the ground so other people can create. In a way I help them do it. Look around. It's the way things are. Trees fall and new ones grow out of the same ground. Animals give way to new animals and even people step aside when it's time.”

He tells her if she isn't ready to leave when he returns, he'll have to call the police – and the old woman realizes the foreman can't see the policeman sitting on her sofa. The policeman himself is Death; she's been talking to him all this time. “But why?” she asks. “Once I let you inside you could have taken me anytime and yet you didn't. You acted – nice. You made me trust you.”

“I had to make you understand,”
says Death. “Am I really so frightening? Am I really so bad? You talked with me, confided in me. Have I taken advantage of you? Have I tried to hurt you? It's not me you're frightened of – you understand me. What frightens you is the unknown. What frightens you is the land from which no traveler returns. You needn't be afraid.”

The woman protests she doesn't want to die, and Death responds, “And you didn't want to live. You struggled against it till you were blue and the doctor had to slap you firmly to make you breathe. And you did. You grew accustomed to it and found it good. It was natural and right and now it is done. Trust me.”

He holds out his hand, and tentatively the old woman takes it. And there's nothing. Death smiles. “You see? No shock. No engulfment. No tearing asunder. What you feared would come like an explosion is like a whisper. What you thought was the end – is the beginning.” And the old woman sees herself lying dead, peacefully on her bed. Taking Death's arm in hers, she smiles, and the two walk out her broken door into the sunlight.

Like a starchild returning, born anew from a million light years to begin a new life…



Art by Michael Whelan


Of course, what's really mourned in death is the loss of those still loved by the living; those left behind to mourn and grieve and sorrow. Look again at the artwork at the top; it isn't Lilo or Ash that are sad, it's those who loved them and will miss them and be without them, at least until they're reunited in another place.

And that's fine. It's good to mourn, and be sad, and be angry. Angry is perfectly fine; if you have faith in God he can certainly handle any of your understandable anger, and if you have no faith anger is cathartic and releasing in and of itself. Life certainly isn't fair; neither is death, and being livid at the unfairness is natural. Remember: Do not go gently into that good night; Rage! Rage against the dying of the light...!

But remember also that the grief and sorrow and anger is in itself selfish and self-centered; it's for yourself and those left behind, not for those who've departed and begun their incredible journey. The grief is for your loss, and in time it will abate. But that doesn't make the life mourned worth any less simply because time and the world go on without them.

Listen:

In the Hispanic culture, the holiday Dia De Los Muertos is often mistakenly called “The Mexican Halloween”, because of its skeletal imagery and its relationship to the end of October. And there is some truth in that; there's always room for a touch of the macabre and a little spookiness. (It is, after all, one way humanity deals with its mortality.)

But the celebration is much more than that; it's a communing with the Spirits of the Dead, and the Souls of the Departed. It's the conceit that those who've passed are with us always, and remain part of the living family. Although referred to as ‘The Day of the Dead', the event actually takes place over three complete days.



The days before the event, the house is cleaned to make it presentable and welcoming to the spirits. Food is prepared, and a picnic banquet is planned. Candy skulls are made for the children, and flowers decorate the house. Sometimes calacas are placed about; these are the small statues and decorations you recognize as being finely dressed skeletal figures; more about these in a moment.

An altar is prepared in a corner of the home; on it are placed items familiar and precious to those who've passed on. Small toys are left for the dead children, and photos, flowers and food are placed on the altar to honor the adults.

On the second day of the event there is music and dancing and celebration, for it is believed that the Dead are now among the living, visiting and partaking in the celebration. Sometimes the children go from house to house and are giving small pieces of candy or coins; this is similar to our trick-or-treat tradition. The food on the altar is placed for the Dead to eat; some believe they partake of the ‘spiritual essence' of the meal, so the food is left for any visitors to eat and join the revelry.

Costumes and masks are worn; this is also similar to Halloween. Often faces themselves are painted in skull designs made more fanciful by beads and flowers. Because the skeleton is representative of the holiday, some wear costumes with shells attached so they rattle when they dance: clak-a-clik-a-clak! Others rattle and shake sticks or musical bones to invite the spirits to join the dancing. Clak-a-clik-a-clak! Bread is baked in the shape of skulls and twisted and frosted to look like bones.

Why the skeletons, you may ask? Because the calacas remind everyone that, no matter your station in life, Death is the great equalizer. You may be a politician, a banker, a musician, a beggar, or a thief, but under the skin and trappings of the living lies the skeleton, and all are equal once they've passed beyond the threshold. This is also no doubt why the Grim Reaper began to wear his skull features as he performed his tasks; to remind all that all are skeletons, all are the same, and all will be joining in the Dance in due time. Clik-a-clak-a-clik!



On the third day the families go to the graves themselves. They have a picnic feast on the actual gravesites and decorate the gravestones; they share stories of their loved ones, and laugh and enjoy la familia with those still hovering on this earthly plane. They will even leave a trail of bread crumbs from the village back to the cemeteries so that the Dead, weary and worn from the celebration, will be able to find their way back to their resting places without difficulty. Sometimes they also leave small altars and mementos at the gravesite itself in honor.

This is not a time of sorrow; this is a time of joy. All the celebration and festivities remind the participants that the veils between the worlds can be very thin indeed; that those who've left them are always with them in their hearts and memories; that someday all will be meeting again in a joyous reunion in another place and time. That life is brief, but good, and the time apart will be merely temporary. Every year the festivities repeat, every year more join the dance on both planes, and every year brings the loved ones closer to the final reuniting. Clik-a-clak-a-clik!



Some time ago I presented this wonderful short animated film
on my Parting Glass Page. I offer it to you again for your enjoyment
as a tribute to Dia De Los Muertos! Click on the image above.


I hope some of this has been intriguing and fascinating; I hope in some way it has been a comfort as well. I haven't even touched on the wonderful book and film of WHAT DREAMS MAY COME by Richard Matheson; it was recommended by Roger Ebert as a work to share with someone in the throes of grief, and it represents Mr. Matheson's sincere beliefs about what occurs on the other side. The film and book have differences, but both are worthy efforts that I commend to your attention. (You can learn about them on my SUBMITTED FOR YOUR APPROVAL Page.)

At the end of Thorton Wilder's classic play “Our Town”, the ghost of Emily, the young heroine, visits her home one final time and finds everyone engaged in their everyday rituals. She cries out: “Let's really look at one another!...It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed... Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners....Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking....and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths....and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”

Then she speaks to the Stage Manager, the narrator and guide (and, I suppose, surrogate God figure) and asks, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?”

And the Stage Manager replies, “No. Saints and poets maybe...they do some.”

Here's a final secret regarding death; whatever the mystery may be, in this world life is for the living, and to be lived. The mysteries will wait, whatever awaits may well be completely different from what is around you. This is where the focus needs be and remains. Life is for living, as simple and silly as that may sound put into words. Death will wait.



A final, personal anecdote:

For many years the Patient Creatures and I were mainstays at the MONSTER BASH convention outside Pittsburgh , PA. The event is family friendly, and focuses on the classic Universal and Hammer films. It was always a splendid time; I miss attending very much. Because we were regular attendees, we grew quite close with the staff, and always looked forward to seeing them each year.

One year, as I arrived at the start of the first day's festivities, I met one of the young ladies running the information booth, and we talked of how she'd been since we'd last seen each other. She told me that things had been well until the beginning of the year (MONSTER BASH is traditionally held in June) but that she'd been through some difficult times. “My mother had been very sick for a while; she passed away earlier this year.”

I told her I was very sorry to hear about her loss, and offered any help I could during her grief. She smiled and thanked me, and then said something quite astonishing. “Yes, it was challenging at first; I had a hard time with her leaving. But when I was feeling very sad, I thought to myself: Carpathian is from the other side, and Grim and Kuzibah and the others. And I thought that these were such wonderful people, and if souls like them exist there, then it must be a pretty wonderful place to be.”

I'd always strived, both with the Creatures and in my own wanderings, to put a face on the unknown, and have it be warm, kindly and reflective of humanity. I was happy and gratified, in this small instance, to have succeeded.



Art by Stephen Mackey


Author David Gerrold, of STAR TREK's “The Trouble With Troubles” and the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novel “The Martian Child”, wrote a series of short, elliptical proverbs in the manner of Robert Heinlein's “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long”, the collective wisdom of an immortal. Mr. Gerrold called his creation, with tongue firmly in cheek, “The Notebooks of Solomon Short”. And one of those proverbs is presented herewith, as a final word on this subject:

“Maybe death is the very best part of life; that's why God saves it for last.”



FROM MY PARTING GLASS PAGE OF MAY 2014:



Artwork by Hannes Bok ; from “Famous Fantastic Mysteries”,
October 1947

 

THOUGHTS & REVERIES ARCHIVES

APRIL
2016

 

The impetus is THE WITCH, an extraordinary new film. The subject is Why We Can't Have Nice Things. The subtext is Sometimes People Don't Know When They're Well Off.

I wasn't planning on discussing this; it's been covered quite thoroughly on the Internet by various pundits and genre publications. But since seeing the film several thoughts occur, and although I've addressed some of this in the past, I decided to tackle this at least one more time. In the words of Andre Gide, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said, but, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”



THE WITCH


Place two or more genre fans in an enclosed space together, and arguments (or debates, or impassioned discussions) will ensue. Voices will raise, opinions will fly, and tempers will occasionally flare. Who was the better Dracula, Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee? Which John Carpenter (or Wes Craven or Tobe Hooper) film is the best? Who's the most beautiful Scream Queen? When did George Romero's (or David Cronenberg's, or Eli Roth's) career begin to falter.

Much of this energy is exerted in the name of pure silliness, but I suppose it's the same for all genres. Quite probably there are groups of Western fans who proclaim Gene Autry as superior to Roy Rogers, or Mystery fans that contend Sherlock Holmes can't hold a candle to Nero Wolfe or Miss Marple. For the most part it can be fun and harmless, although with the advent of cyberspace and the advantage of anonymity, civility is often tested in the extreme.

Some debates are more serious in nature, and define the foundations of the genre itself. As an example, there is a current rethinking in Dark Fantasy over Howard Phillips Lovecraft and some of his more distasteful personal opinions. Can he be excused as a product of his time? Do his prejudices cancel his extraordinary talent and place as a father of modern Celestial Horror? Much of your perspective may depend on where you are in Mr. Lovecraft's view of humanity; many genre writers of color and different sexual persuasions are coming out against his deification.



H. P. Lovecraft


Certainly many of his views on races and religions are troubling, and I can sympathize and concur with many that find his viewpoints beyond the pale in modern society. On the other hand, as troubling as I find some of his thoughts, they were very common in the times when he lived, with only the truly enlightened looking beyond what most believed. I don't think him an exception, and I don't think those views dilute his impact on the literature…but I'm not personally affected by those views, so I have a luxury.

(Much the same discussion ensued some years ago when certain authors spoke out against same-sex marriages. Now that they have become more commonplace and no apocalypse has befallen humanity, much of those debates have been forgotten…but at the time, the heat generated by the controversy was intense.)

Another popular debate topic is the Gaming and Comics Communities, of which Horror is a general subset. There is a deeply divided fandom that decries the casual misogyny that so often is found in both the products (where women are victims to be killed or trollops to be used for male pleasure) and the artists that create them, and a hardened male boys club mentality that pushes back with vitriol and vileness against any perceived criticism from ‘feminazi' corners, to the mortification of many. (And it shows little sign of diminishing anytime in the immediate future.

During the 1980s, when HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH paved the way for the Slasher subgenre in Horror, many critics and fans , most notably Harlan Ellison, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, decried the cheapening of the field with stories that were all basically the same and focused on carnage instead of characterization. Naturally these critiques were greeted with howls of protest from those who enjoyed the Slasher format, and much hand-wringing and cat-calling commenced. To this day, Siskel and Ebert are synonymous in the minds of many fans with general genre-hating, Horror-bashing critics, even though both these gentleman sang the praises of such classic as HALLOWEEN, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, SCANNERS, ALTERED STATES, BLUE VELVET and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, none of which mollified the defenders of the blood-spilling.



FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH


Among the many complaints about Slasher films were their suggested (and often defiantly up-front) misogyny, with the victims being primarily female, often in sexually-submissive positions. The protests have continued today with the advent of Torture Porn, where the horror is derived from the pain and suffering caused to the individuals (again, primarily female, and often targeted by forms of sexual humiliation and brutality) rather than a coherent narrative. Apologists have defended these films as ‘realistic', ‘honest', ‘uncompromising' and ‘mirroring today's world events'. Others scoff at their contentions and maintain that these films lower the bar for subject matter already unpleasant and increasingly dismal.

Some of the fiercest debates concern the very nature of the genre itself. They may, on the surface, appear silly and picayune to the mainstream, but they are often fought as if the existence of the field were at stake. (And I suppose, to the combatants, it often is.) Usually they emerge when a new type of story or subgenre appears, either to be embraced or denigrated by the establishment, or quite often both. When the so-called “splatterpunk” movement briefly reared its head, readers and authors took to the pages of periodicals to defend or condemn its practice.

(For those too young to remember, “splatterpunk” was a style that emphasized extreme and graphic violence and situations, practiced by writers such as John Skipp, Craig Spector and Rex Miller; it was seen at odds with the more cerebral efforts of M. R. James and Edgar Allen Poe, as two examples.)

Again, such arguments aren't relegated simply to the Dark Fantastic; when the “New Wave” of the 1960s was born, many of the SF community reacted with revulsion at the sudden influx of sex, violence and experimental writing. The same occurred when the “cyperpunk” movement of the 1980s emerged. And mystery fans have long discussed the relative merits of the Drawing Room Mystery, the Police Procedural, and the influx of Horror-themed Serial Killer tales in their particular field.

The latest skirmish, similar to the “splatterpunk” controversies, is the debate of R-rated Horror versus PG-Horror. These, of course, refer to the film rating system. The argument is that PG and PG-13 movies are hamstrung and cocooned by the regulations that require a film's material be more family appropriate, and that R-rated Horror is much more unencumbered by censorship and free to explore the dark and often taboo domain that Dark Fantasy excels in. Many fans have gone so far as to proclaim that they'll never view a PG or PG-13 Horror film, and that those films can't really be considered Horror.



DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)


There is, I suppose, some small merit to their theory, if they didn't overlook certain realities. First, the criteria for what determines what is or is not PG or R can be extremely arbitrary from one film to another; critics of the ratings system have decried this for literally decades. (In the most famous instance, George Romero refused to submit his masterpiece DAWN OF THE DEAD to the rating board because he knew it would be rated X for its violent context, despite the fact that in many filmgoers minds, the X rating referred to graphic sexual content instead of violence. He released the film unrated – which meant it couldn't be viewed in many theater chains – and instead created his own parental warning : "There is no explicit sex in this picture. However, there are scenes of violence that may be considered shocking. No one under 17 will be admitted." Which was not only accurate, but much more specifically helpful to parents.)

Another issue is that many filmmakers will include scenes of shocking graphic violence in their films, even though those scenes are not required by the storyline , just to achieve an R rating. Note the italicized phrase in that last statement. I have no argument with graphic violence if the story actually requires it; as an example I offer THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, a film I admire. (Although it is actually much more subtle and less graphic than its title suggests and many critics assume.) But to add footage to achieve a rating is pandering to the audience, and just as I wouldn't want a filmmaker to delete scenes simply to get a lower rating, I find it reprehensible that they add such scenes to raise the rating. The story should determine what's in the film; nothing more or less.

(An example of this is the first SAW film; although I think Mr. Wan an extraordinary director and am a huge fan of his movies, I'm still troubled by this and find his actions there rather distasteful.)

The final argument against this is the number of classic Horror and Dark Fantasy films that have been rated PG. These include JAWS, POLTERGEIST (the original), TOURIST TRAP, NOSFERATU (the 1979 remake), THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, BURNT OFFERINGS, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (both the 1956 and 1978 versions), ASYLUM, TALES FROM THE CRYPT and THE STEPFORD WIVES (the original). Looking over this (very partial) list where the creators didn't feel a need to push the envelope greater than what the story itself demanded, I rest my case.

Along these same lines is the matter of what constitutes unnecessary or gratuitous violence. As with everything else discussed above, much of this can come down to personal opinion and taste. Even professionals in the filed can disagree about any or all of these debates.



THE OMEN (1976)


When the original film version of THE OMEN was released (as well as its sequels), there was much talk about the shocking violence and deaths that occurred in the films. Award-winning author Harlan Ellison wrote a long essay decrying the carnage as well as the audience's enthusiastic response to it as appalling, excessive and needless. Celebrated author and critic Gahan Wilson, on the other hand, saw the violence as symptomatic of the theme – this was the Antichrist making his presence known, and the excess of the violence lent credence to the satanic powers inherent in the story. While I admire both these gentlemen immensely, I tilt more towards Mr. Wilson's interpretation of the events than Mr. Ellison's in this case. The violence in these films has never bothered me as much as in some others that I found offensive.

I, as with many, enjoy personal preferences in the Dark Fantastic. There are authors and directors – King, Barker, Matheson, Ellison, Lovecraft, Poe, Jackson, Lansdale, Serling, Kubrick, Cronenberg, Romero, Wan, Argento, Whale – that I admire and seek out, while there are others that leave me cold. I enjoy most literary adaptations, and also have an extreme distaste for needless remakes. (This last I've regaled my companions with to the point of weariness.) I have little patience for excessive gore for the sake of gore, and have matured beyond the need to simply enjoy bloody special effects for their own sake. I demand stories that move or intrigue me, and three-dimensional characters that do the same. I have no interest in Slasher or Serial Killer movies (relegating them to the Suspense or Thriller genre instead of permeating the Dark Fantastic with their presence, as has been the case in the last two decades) and abhor the Torture Porn and Rape Revenge subgenres for their nihilistic cynicism and adamant misogyny. (And no, I don't care to argue the point.)

But I like to believe I'm open to all experiences, and can find at least one or two examples of the above that I dislike that have found favor with me. I try very hard not to disparage anything without a valid argument or reason, and am delighted when a film or book that I feel has little to offer surprises me and causes me to reassess my own prejudices.

And for the most part, many of these so-called “controversies” can be relegated to simple differences of opinion and personal preferences – as they probably should be. And yet, in the past few years, in the minds of many fans (and sadly, some genre authorities and critics as well) they've become more. There are instances now where some are questioning the integrity of certain individuals and works, dividing the genre into what is “real” Horror and what isn't, and who is a “real” Horror fan.



TWILIGHT


Much of this seemed to come to the forefront regarding the popularity of the TWILIGHT series. Many long-time fans of the genre reacted with dismay when their beloved vampire icons became translated into sparkling romantic images of teenage angst and devotion. (There was a shadow of this when Anne Rice first published her “Interview with a Vampire” and began her “Lestat” series.) The hue and cry continued as the films were released, and many fans began appearing at Horror and Dark Fantasy conventions to share their enjoyment of the field – which centered on TWILIGHT. Other fans, resenting this invasion of an unwelcome subgenre, pushed back quite harshly in many instances, and the result was ill feeling all around.

This was saddening on so many levels. Excluding anyone from our genre limits us in a myriad of ways. Fresh insights should always be welcome to keep the templates of the field fresh and invigorated. New Blood should always be a sign of a healthy interest, of keeping the enthusiasm alive and growing instead of insulated and dying, even if you may not always agree with or appreciate as deeply these new-found enthusiasms. After all, someone who enjoyed the TWILIGHT films may turn towards some of the Hammer classic with Christopher Lee or some of the Universal oeuvre and become an even greater fan. And it's just mean to disparage, and meanness in this world has contributed to tensions and turmoil that are completely unnecessary.

(The best response to this, in my opinion, was that voiced by filmmaker Kevin Smith at a SF convention in 2009: "People will come to a convention, stand there in a Spock costume, look at someone in a Chewie costume, and say, 'Look at that…geek.' How dare you pass judgment on those 12-year-old girls who like vampires!"

Well spoken, Sir. Very well spoken.)

This mindset has again come to the forefront in recent years with self-proclaimed pundits loudly denouncing this film of that television series or comic with the exclamations That's not what real Horror is! I've been a lifelong fan, and I know Horror, and that'd not Horror, and anyone who likes this sort of thing isn't really a Horror fan!

Spare me. Please.

Just as an example, and as an individual with first and signed editions of several literary masters aligning my shelves, I rather resent the implication that because I don't fall down in supplication to the latest gorefest from a young Kubrick wannabe that I am somehow less than invested in my genre. And yes, I intended that to sound as snotty as it did.

As a wise philosopher once intoned, “That's why there's chocolate and vanilla.”

Differences of opinion can keep the field fresh and vital, if only because it forces people to completely examine and verbal the many facets of the genre that attract them to it, leaving things open for consideration by others. This is often the best defense of critics in any field; it allows others to experience a point of view other than their own. It's not by any means necessary to agree with everyone all the time; many opinions are indeed purely subjective.

Yet, although some will deny it, there are objective measurements to be made in any art form. You can argue the boundaries of these, but they do exist. Intent, experience, professionalism, presentation – in all or some of these delineations we can achieve objective standards. (And of course, there are exceptions that shake the definitions of these standards and redraw our boundaries, but I believe they happen far less frequently than some would have us believe.)



Ingmar Bergman's HOUR OF THE WOLF


We can acknowledge certain standards while indicating personal preferences. I can state emphatically that I prefer the musical stylings of Mozart and Bach over Rachmaninoff, or the painting styles of Picasso and Seurat over Monet, and not be accused of being less than a devotee of classical music and art. I can agree about the quality of the work of a filmmaker or author while stating that their style or subject matter may not appeal to me personally.

Our genre has a long and rich history that goes back to…well, to the dawn of storytelling itself. As I've stated many times, the first stories told were ghost stories; stories that explained the workings of the world and the mysteries of the cosmos. Tales of Horror and the Dark Fantastic can be traced back to the Greek and Roman legends, of Odysseus battling the Cyclops and Persephone in the Underworld.

Our field has attracted authors such as Shakespeare, Dickens, Hawthorne, Bierce, Poe, Lovecraft, Stoker, Twain, Updike, and Oates, and filmmakers as diverse as Hitchcock, Polanski, Antonioni, Bergman, Kubrick, Frankenheimer, and Fellini. It runs the gamut from “Dracula” and “Nosferatu” to “Varney the Vampire”, from “Hamlet” to THE HILLS HAVE EYES, from the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch to E. C. Comics.

Some works are consciously ‘literary' of ‘highbrow', and some ‘lowbrow' or ‘common'. This is not a judgment, simply a demarcation of the breadth of the landscape. Whichever form of entertainment you choose is your own. You can be enthralled both by the witches in “Macbeth” as by the giant creatures of GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER. It becomes a matter of personal preference, so long as respect is paid to all forms of the genre. Bear that last in mind.

I can, for example, acknowledge the work of the late Wes Craven and its influence on the field, even though my personal tastes may run towards his work on the TWILIGHT ZONE revival as opposed to his own films. I can admire the efforts of author Peter Straub, even though, with the exception of his masterpiece “Ghost Story”, his works leave me cold. I can acquiesce to the quality of the television series HANNIBAL even though the show itself holds little interest to me.

I would hope that others would be able to do the same. Yet even the most cursory examination of the Internet seems to indicate that isn't the case. One need only see the posts indicating that IT FOLLOWS, THE BABADOOK, and many other films are “not really Horror” to understand with eye-rolling exasperation that some of the cathedrals are overrun with gargoyles, mucking about and making a mess of things yet again.

Which brings us to THE WITCH, the new film written and directed by Robert Eggers.

I'll not mince words; as I stated earlier, this is an extraordinary movie. Superb in its recreation of colonial times, authentic to the point of the dialogue being spoken in Jacobean English, rich in its imagery and cinematography, flawlessly acted by the principals involved, most notably Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie and Harvey Scrimshaw, it is one of the finest works of the past several years, and a high-water mark in the filmography of the Dark Fantastic.



THE WITCH


Naturally enough, it's controversial.

Many if not most of the major genre periodicals both online and in print have endorsed the film, including “Rue Morgue”, “Bloody Disgusting”, and “Shock Till You Drop” as well as mainstream critics from “Newsday”, “The Guardian”, “USA Today” and NPR. And yet, there is still some rumbling in the Horror community. The film is “slow”; it's “boring”; there “weren't enough scares”; it “wasn't scary”; it was “more like an Art film”; it “wasn't really a Horror film at all”. And on and on.

The film is deliberately paced; I found that engrossing and unnerving in its slow build and careful delineation of things going terribly wrong. It evokes the period flawlessly (but many found the language hard to understand or silly) and things did move deliberately then. Who says that all Horror films have to fly like a wounded bat down a tight corridor anyway? Besides, it build soon enough into some genuine shocks that will leave you exhausted.

It does look like an Art film, and a gorgeous one at that. In many ways it reminded me of an Ingmar Berman film (and as the creator of THE SEVENTH SEAL, SHAME and HOUR OF THE WOLF, he is an artist very comfortable with creating period dramas filled with foreboding and the Dark Fantastic.) Why is that a detriment? Why must all Horror resemble the carnival or industrial nightmares of THE DEVIL'S REJECTS or NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET?

Personal preferences are one thing; they are all well and good. Yet if someone who truly loves the genre can't at least appreciate the artistry that goes into a handsome work such as THE WITCH (as, among other things, an astonishing first effort); if one can't say “Well, I didn't care for it myself, but it certainly looked amazing and I understand why many people enjoy it”…well, then I'm afraid I'm forced to questions their credentials in the genre, as loathe as I may be to do something like that.

For those who know my tastes, and even for those who see things differently yet respect my opinion, I say again: THE WITCH is an extraordinary movie. I urge you to see it, for I consider it a major work in the field.

And as for the naysayers…as someone remarked, “This is why we can't have nice things.” Too often the genre has been relegated to a ghetto of cheap exploitation and grim carnage. We're better than that, and it seems a shame not to acknowledge that once in a while.

A NOTE: Because of the enthusiastic word-of-mouth about the film, and the impressive box office, THE WITCH has been rereleased across the country as of April 1, 2016. Do try to see it in the theaters rather than online or through Netflix, so that you can capture the full experience.

Also beware of the new trailer for the film, which gives away many of the secrets. Click on the image below to see the original theatrical trailer.



 

THOUGHTS & REVERIES ARCHIVES

MARCH
2016

 

I don't recall who first put forward the proposition “A difference that makes no difference is no difference” (I suppose I could cheat and look it up online, but I won't do that…not yet, anyway) but whoever it was wasn't a Horror or, more specifically, a Science Fiction fan, because the difference between these two genres has been a subject for very heated debate throughout the decades. (It was William James.)

Partly out of a desire to be precise, but more likely out of pure defensiveness, fans have contended that there is an enormous difference between the two fields. Batting back against a mainstream audience that isn't able to (or just doesn't care to) see the difference, the voices of fandom have been raised in strident protest whenever someone opines, “Eh, it doesn't matter…all that far-out stuff is all the same…”



THE THING - 1982


I suppose their reaction is understandable. Science Fiction (or SF) is a respected literary genre that can be traced back to the writings of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, but because Hollywood is the place of the Least Common denominator, to many SF meant movies about giant monster rampaging due to radiation, or clawed aliens with huge brains invading Earth for their nefarious purposes. True, there were a few thoughtful and adult SF films throughout the age of film – FORBIDDEN PLANET, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, WAR OF THE WORLDS and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE come to mind, but for the most part, the pre- 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY mindset of moviedom equated SF with kiddie films filled with sputtering rocketships and Flash Gordon-like derring do.

(Not that there's anything wrong with Space Opera, a glorious subgenre of the field, but it's similar to judging all works of the Dark Fantastic – from Edgar Allen Poe to Stephen King, from Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO to Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING – under the same criteria as the latest FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH episode.



ALTERED STATES


So pervasive was this mindset that when Gene Roddenberry offered his new television series STAR TREK – one of the first examples of true SF on weekly television, adult and imaginative – to the CBS network, which was airing Irwin Allen's LOST IN SPACE – a show with little-to-no scientific elements butt filled with monsters, action and simple-minded space adventure – CBS turned it down politely by saying, “Thank you, but we already have a Science Fiction show – LOST IN SPACE.)

Although both are long cherish literary traditions, Science Fiction concerns itself with examining possible future developments based on speculation about current events and technologies, postulating how technology will affect culture and society. It is, or should be, a logical extrapolation and commentary on the world that exists today. Horror, on the other hand, is interested in examining the darker aspects of our current society and culture, viewing humanity through a twisted mirror to emphasize the strange and unnatural taboos that plague mankind's thoughts. It is delving into deliberate nightmare, almost as a faerie tale, and doesn't necessarily concern itself with logic.

I realize that this is an incredibly simplified distinction between the genres, but for the purposes of our discussion I believe it will suffice. This doesn't preclude a SF tale from having horrific elements, or a Horror tale from developing logically, but I'll stand by my definitions for now. Because what I want to discuss this month is the melding of the two genres, the SF-Horror tale or film, of which there have been splendid examples since both these genres were birthed.



INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS - 1978


Let's begin with one of the first recognized classic novels of the genre; it was written in 1818 as a first effort by a young girl, and concern the terrible results of a scientists attempt to conquer life and death. The novel is, of course, Mary Shelley's “Frankenstein” and it was a SF/Horror tale.

“Frankenstein” is often acknowledged in both SF and Horror reference works; it comfortable straddles both genres. To be fair, there is very little actual science in “Frankenstein”; the advances in medicine and anatomy were the impetus for writing the book, but the details are never codified. For all his scientific background Victor Frankenstein may have been using alchemy to bring his creature to life. (All the sparks and electrical currents thrown by the vast machines are the product of Hollywood's adaptations.)

Still, the novel's terrors are based firmly enough in the scientific to make “Frankenstein” a tale of ambition and responsibility gone awry. Frankenstein's attempts to create a living being are in the logical, methodical studies of medical transplants and engineering, but the horrors brought forth come from the philosophical implications of man wrestling with forces that he barely understands, forces that could easily be supernatural in nature, and the ruthless justice meted out against one who would dare challenge God's domain.

It's also a story of isolation and abandonment, with the Creature the surrogate of humanity, bewildered by his very existence, and lost in a universe that has no place for him and no sympathy for his plight, and the very same intelligence that obsessed over his creation has disowned and turned his back on him. With themes as rich as these, is it any wonder that H. P. Lovecraft, who wrote of a similar uncaring cosmos, should have admired Ms. Shelley's work so greatly?



The two acknowledged forefathers of SF are Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. Both of these authors took different tacks as to their fiction, and both were responsible for modern SF in its various permutations. Verne was primarily interested in the technology of science, creating submarines, airships, and rockets to the Moon. With this emphasis, Verne inspired the authors of “Hard SF” fiction, where the wonders of the laws of the universe take precedent.

Wells, on the other hand, was more interested in society and how they would be affected by change. His was the sociological SF that would inspire works such as “1984”, “Brave New World”, “A Clockwork Orange” and others. Wells wanted to examine society under extraordinary circumstances, and although he used technology in such tales as “The War of the Worlds” and “The Time Machine” , he was more concerned with how humanity would react to political upheavals and moral metamorphosis, as found in tales such as “The Food of the Gods” (in which men literally become giants and spawn a fascistic society). Even the alien invasion of “The War of the Worlds” was a thinly disguised commentary on how British superiority impacted indigenous cultures less advanced that were conquered and forced under the flag of England.

(Of course this is oversimplification; Verne's “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” carries a very strong anti-war subtext. But I digress…)

Many of Mr. Wells' work tips over towards the horrific, but perhaps none so thoroughly as “The Island of Dr. Moreau”. Again, in this tale of a scientist who engineers animals into protohumans, the science is almost nil. The story is in fact a harsh critique of the medical community at the time, particularly concerning the practice of vivisection. It also comments on those powerless in society at the time, the poor, mad and disenfranchised, creating a microcosm where Moreau established as judge, governor, warden and religious icon, and thinks little of asserting his dominion over his subjects. The tale is a grim, brilliant one, the precursor of the Medical Experimentation/Body Horror school of the Dark Fantastic that inspired David Cronenberg, among others.



Although known today as a Master of Horror, H. P. Lovecraft has also been regarded as a SF writer because his mythology – the Old Ones and their offspring – are considered extraterrestrial creations of the cosmos, with law that apply to them from a science far beyond humanity's comprehension. Lovecraft insisted they were not supernatural in nature –he was very much an agnostic, and rarely wrote of mundane terrors such as ghosts, vampires or zombies – but were beings from other planets, dimensions and planes of existence with powers and abilities so profound and unfathomable that they may as well have been mystical.

One could make a very strong case that Mr. Lovecraft was the father of the entire subgenre of SF Horror. His most powerful tales – “The Colour Out of Space”, “The Call of Cthulhu”, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” – tell of cosmic encounters with beings and forces so profound they leave only devastation and destruction in their wake. Mankind is a speck of dust, an insignificant insect in the workings of the Universe. These forces aren't necessarily evil; they're above such petty human principles such as morality. Rather, they're apathetic to the point of utter indifference to humanity, and would no more consider the morality of wiping out the planet than a man would in swatting a gnat.

It's this clear vision of Man's place – or lack thereof – in the Universe that made such a great impression on his readers, and inspired so many others that followed. Stephen King, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, and others acknowledge their debt to Lovecraft, and his mythology can be found in modern works such as H. R. Giger's designs for ALIEN or John Campbell's novel “Who Goes There?”, which became John Carpenter's THE THING. (Which also owes much of its horror to the vampire myths.) There have also been numerous direct adaptations of Lovecraft's work, although not all of them are successful. Still, the best ones capture the sense of isolation and insignificance from the Universe that he understood so well.



Some SF Horror became classic of Science Fiction cinema, although again the science is almost an afterthought.

Richard Matheson's “The Shrinking Man” sets up a wonderfully paranoid situation (some of his finest work deals with the psychology of paranoia) and offers just the slightest scientific rationale for why Scott Carey, an average man, becomes infected with a radioactive substance that causes him to begin shrinking. The book, and the film based on it (scripted by Mr. Matheson himself) was marketed as SF, but the tensions are drawn straight from Horror, as what initially seems like an unpleasant and annoying situation grows into the nightmarish, both in psychological terrors (the shrinking cause a loss of potency and a literal loss of stature in Carey's community and society) to visceral ones (literally scrambling for survival against a huge Black Widow spider that invades Carey's miniature living space in his basement.)

The novel and film have been read as metaphors for dealing with a crippling and terminal illness, and there is certainly validity in that, but the story itself is concerned with the inexhaustible spirit of man in a hostile and oppressive world. Carey's perseverance against enormous odds is the same quality as those survivors of societal upheaval in a George Romero Living Dead film. When one has no choice in the matter, one can overcome almost anything.



Ironically, although “The Shrinking Man” was presented as SF, Mr. Matheson's other masterpiece, “I Am Legend” , was marketed as straight Horror, which seems appropriate for a tale concerning one lone human in a world overrun with vampires. But these vampires are the result of biological warfare unleashed, causing mutations of humans into something undead. Mr. Matheson put a lot or research into the novel regarding blood disorders and genetic mutation, and came up with some scientific explanation for the modern vampire legends.

Still, in the end, there is one man along in his boarded-up house, crosses and mirrors hung outside with garlic, and shuffling, decaying beings that used to be men and women call from the streets: “Neville! Come out!”



Jack Finney's “The Body Snatchers” (filmed at least twice as INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, so that in many subsequent editions the novel has been retitled) again offers the barest homage to science. Yes, it's possible alien life forms in the form of bacteria can be propelled through space on the solar wind. It's also feasible that they can scatter onto the surface of a planet and take root or infect the inhabitants. Once that scenario has been established, the story takes a dark, downward turn straight into the horrific.

Many have read various ‘meanings' into both the tales and the filmed versions. Some see it as a treatise on paranoia; others consider it a warning against conformity. Since it was first published during the 1950s when the Communist menace was foremost in the minds of Americans, it's been seen as a parable both of the Joseph McCarthy “Red Scare” hearings as well as a clarion call that political subversives are indeed attempting to destroy the United States from inside the system.

Mr. Finney has disparaged all attempts at reading any extra depth into the tale, maintaining that it's simply a story. But it's a grimly effective one, and the vision of the isolated community of Santa Mira slowly becoming soulless, unhuman creatures wearing the faces of its leading citizens again has as much to do with the vampire myth as any scientific postulation.

In both of the most famous film versions of the novel, 1956 and 1978, the emphasis had little to do with curiosity on the nature of these alien forms and emphasized more the shadowy, oppressive, slowly encroaching darkness threatening to engulf both the small town and urban environments. (As skillful as the remake was, I much prefer the original Don Siegel film for its faithfulness to the book.) Both offer their climactic moments of absolute terror, when the fourth wall is broken and the warning sounds directly to the audience: You're next! You're next!



John W. Campbell is well recognized as one of the fathers of modern SF; when he took over the reins of “Astounding” (later renamed “Analog” ) he insisted both the science and human characterizations be as believable as possible. Which makes it interesting that his novel, “Who Goes There?”, as well as being a landmark of SF is also strongly in the Horror tradition.

The story was filmed twice, both times as THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD). The first, in 1951 by Howard Hawks, presented the original opening of the novel but quickly abandoned it for a standard “monster on the loose” plot. The 1982 remake by John Carpenter is much more faithful to the source material, although I don't feel it's aged terribly well. (I realize this is a minority opinion; so be it. I wish Mr. Carpenter, a fine director, had concentrated more on the mood and atmosphere of the novel and less on the special effects and shocks. Where the film stays true to the original story is where it's at its best.)

Once again, the scientific background is vague but plausible. An isolated Antarctic military base finds the buried remains of an alien ship. The passenger has the ability to divide itself asexually like an amoeba, reproducing at will and mimicking the host body of whomever it infects. In no time the base is transformed into a doomed haunted house, with all wondering who among them is still human, and who is an extraterrestrial in masquerade. And what will become of humanity if the creature escapes into the general population?

The vampire myth again holds sway, as those closest to you may look and sound like their former personalities, but inside they've changed immeasurably into something beyond human. Yet, as mentioned earlier, much of the story also owes its effectiveness to Lovecraft's work. The isolated base, as haunted as any castle or fortress, the being from the stars with no regard for humanity, and especially the bleak, empty white landscape of Antarctica, recalling Lovecraft's novel “In the Mountains of Madness” . I believe Mr. Campbell would be the first to acknowledge the influence, and in his masterpiece of man against a very alien nature, I think Mr.  Lovecraft would have enjoyed the tale immensely.



Perhaps no recent work of cinema fits into the SF Horror subgenre more comfortably that Ridley Scott's ALIEN. The story is nothing extraordinary; it's simply a rehashing of IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, with a monster running amuck through a spaceship instead of a haunted house. Yet under the wonderful production designs of Ron Cobb, Jean “Moebius” Girard, and especially H. R. Giger, the film conveys the details of a spacegoing culture fully through visual input. It's what SF cinema does best, from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and SILENT RUNNING through THE MARTIAN and GRAVITY.

Even more so, by showing the life-cycle of the alien form instead of engaging in long, expository lectures, the movie creates a truly extraterrestrial species that's never experience the Terran environment. In addition, the imagery of the derelict ship and the “Space Jockey” navigator implies an encounter with a cosmic culture completely unlike and far more advanced than anything produced by humanity. It's this believability that accounts for the scientific accuracy of the film.

But once the life cycle of the alien has begun SF slides over to Horror, as the crew is hunted through the claustrophobic corridors of their own vessel by something not only faster and more ruthless, but possibly more intuitive and intelligent. The spacecraft again is a haunted house, but this one offers no escape, even if the victims were able to breach the barricades “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream”, ran the ads for the movie. One might as well have said, “In Space, There Are No Safety Exits”

With the alien designs by Mr. Giger being so otherworldly, and with Mr. Giger's admitted admiration for the work of H. P. Lovecraft, we again feel the influence of the Master. Stephen King likes to think of ALIEN as humanity going into space and confronting the Old Ones on their own ground. He also notes that the simple blackness between star systems works very well for SF Horror, and suggests his own variation of the famous tagline: “In Space, It Is Always One Minute Past Midnight”.



This is, of course, a limited list. And there are certainly incidents of horror in many so-called ‘straight' SF. (Hal 9000 murdering the astronauts in 2001, the brutal gang attacks in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, the scenes of torture in 1984 – although that novel must count as much as allegory as SF – among others. Television too has its share of shock; the STAR TREK episode where Charlie, a superhuman child, grows annoyed at the laughter of crewmembers and removes their faces, leaving only blank flesh, and THE OUTER LIMITS where a prisoner of alien attack tells of the fate of his fellow soldier – “He had a big hole in his chest! They took his heart out!” ) But these are moments, and not the primary focus.



STAR TREK - "Charlie X"


There is also Horror with a SF setting that doesn't come close to being SF. These would include most of the ALIEN -inspired copies that followed that breakthrough film. Putting characters in spacesuits doesn't make something SF, and if the background isn't enough to sustain the story, it collapses like so much cheap drywall in a downpour.

But there are genuine hybrids, excellent ones, to be savored by fans of both genres. These would include THE BROOD, ALTERED STATES, and SCANNERS. I'd even place my vote for best film of the year, EX MACHINA, in this family, for although the scenario begins as straight SF it fast becomes dark and ominous as it approaches its uncompromising conclusion.



EX MACHINA


I would argue there's plenty of room for both genres to experiment and engage with the other; categories should not be stone walls keeping everything at bay, but simply a way of looking at a particular set of circumstances. And in the best SF Horror – indeed, n the best fiction – categories in the end mean nothing; only the tale is left. And a difference that makes no difference is no difference.

It may be that the fields of SF and Horror have much more in common than many may think. And I find that a tremendous pleasure.

 

THOUGHTS & REVERIES ARCHIVES

FEBRUARY
2016

 

I would speak of love.

Early in his career, after he'd written “'Salem's Lot”, Stephen King received a letter chastising him for authoring such a frightening novel. The woman's letter noted, “After reading your book, I was so scared I couldn't sleep for a week!” Stephen King replied to her letter, saying, “I wish you'd been so scared that you couldn't sleep for a month!

In William Castle's THE TINGLER, the title creature breaks loose from the laboratory and invades the local movie house. Vincent Price, the concerned and dedicated scientist, announces over the theater's loudspeakers, “The Tingler is loose in this theater! There's only one way to save your lives! Scream! Scream as loudly as you can!” And audiences did. (Mr. Castle's biography is titled “Step Right Up! I'm Gonna Scare The Pants Off You!”)



George Romero's MARTIN


In designing the makeup effects for George Romero's vampire film MARTIN, Tom Savini came up with an illusion of a dull razor blade and a hidden baby's ear squeeze dropper hidden in the palm of the hand, filled with fake blood. When the razor blade was drawn across the arm, the squeeze dropper was pressed and the fake blood flowed, drawing a simple line of blood across the skin, but the illusion was of the razor blade opening up the flesh. (With gravity making the blood line run down the arm in droplets, the illusion was uncomfortably complete and very effective.)

To add to the illusion, the blade was wrapped in thin cardboard, like a store-bought razor, and unwrapped on camera as though it were a fresh and sharp. When Mr. Savini demonstrated this effect to George Romero in his office before filming began, not warning him ahead of time what he was doing, Mr. Romero almost fainted.

I would speak of love.

Why do we enjoy scaring people?

Why do directors such as John Carpenter, Alfred Hitchcock, Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, Don Coscarelli, Adam Green, M. Night Shyamalan and George Romero find their eyes lighting up when regaling about a specific moment in their films where, after a carefully orchestrated buildup of tension and atmosphere, there was a startling, terrifying and unexpected moment that caused audiences to leap from their seats and shriek like five-year-olds on a playground?

Why do Mr. King, Clive Barker, Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury and other authors of macabre fiction speak with pride and joy over a particular passage in their works that reported caused people extreme anxiety and took on a legendary and infamous life of its own?

There is also the corollary to the original question: why do audiences enjoy being scared so much? What causes them to seek out those particular films that will make them gasp and writhe and scream and moan in despair, terror and an odd ecstasy?

Obviously I can't know for certain. I can only speak from personal experience, because I am one with all of you – I enjoy a good, well-constructed tale of fear, and am able to suspend my disbelief in the face of a skillful storyteller, whether in prose or on film, despite my vast experience in this same genre.

Some years ago, I was listening to a radio personality discussing with his coworkers the latest episode of the classic television series TWIN PEAKS (due for a revival later this year). Everyone was enthusing about how frightening the episode was, how they had trouble sleeping that night, how they were holding their breaths and twisting with anxiety while the episode unfolded.



David Lynch's TWIN PEAKS


One of the other personalities on the show (I believe the Weather Girl) obviously wasn't a fan of the Dark Fantastic, and asked everyone why they'd want to submit themselves to this, why they'd enjoy getting so worked up over a TV show, why they'd choose as entertainment something that made them uncomfortable and left them in such a state of fear. “Why in the world would you want to watch something that scares you so much?”

Hesitating not a wit, the Host replied, “For the same reason you keep hitting yourself in the head with a hammer; because it feels so good when you stop!”

Well, that's certainly one perspective, although I believe the Host was being more than a little facetious with his remark. But that is indeed one of the values offered in watching a good Horror movie or reading a fine macabre novel. You can experience vicarious pleasure in the most nightmarish of situations secure in the knowledge that in the end it is only a story or film, and you can safely close the book or walk from the theater and resume your lives without difficulty. (For the most part, of course…unless the book or video is cursed… Mwahahahahaha…!)

But why would you want to experience fear in the first place? And what makes you enjoy it so much?

Well, there are a number of good reasons that I've discussed before, not the least of which is the idea of catharsis. The world around humanity has so many genuine daily fears, what author Harlan Ellison calls “Mortal Dreads”: Terrorism, Global Warming, Political Corruption, Social and Societal Upheaval, Economic Uncertainty, and many more. How can the average individual, desperately trying to maintain order and sanity amid the chaos, simply going about his business, working to support himself or his family, deal with the dire consequences and overwhelming anxiety of modern living?

One way is to let off a bit of the tension with escapist entertainment, and a good Horror or Dark Fantasy film provides the same stress-relief valve emotionally that you'd fine on any high-pressure mechanical system. Of course the movies, books, plays and television episodes are scary, but compared to the temperature of the earth rising and the polar icecaps melting, a simple zombie apocalypse is a comforting sort of scare. Vampire invading a small New England community doesn't have the same horrific implications as a terrorist bomb threat, so the daily fears can be released through substitute stimuli.



James Wan's THE CONJURING


In much the same way the Horror film names the fears being deeply suppressed, and allows the viewer or reader to examine them symbolically rather than head-on. This certainly was true of the Giant Monster films of the 1950s, where the culprit was usually nuclear warfare or testing. (Godzilla is a prime example of how a culture – Japan, the only nation to have atomic weapons used on them – dealt symbolically with their plight. The original film's imagery is fire with references to Nagasaki and Hiroshima.)

Horror films can represent the shifting fears of its viewers as diversely as political uprisings (as symbolized by DAWN OF THE DEAD) or generational conflict (Regan in THE EXORCIST is a youth literally demonizing her family). David Cronenberg's “Body Horror” films have been read to represent everything from cancer to AIDS, and those who are suspicious of the political machinations of both major parties can find sympathy in the many government conspiracy films from THE CRAZIES to THE PARALEX VIEW. In this way the Horror or Dark Fantasy piece becomes allegory, examining issues that would seem too melodramatic or overpowering in a straight mainstream drama.

But there is another side to these tale that is often overlooked, so simple is its significance. The Dark Fantastic provides an adult fairy tale, a look into a world not as black-and-white as many insist reality be but one brimming over with magic and mystery.

Remember the classic TV series THE OUTER LIMITS? Most recall the opening narration: “There is nothing wrong with your television set, do not try to adjust it. We are controlling the transmission…” But many don't recall one simple phrase towards the end of the introduction: “You are about to participate in a great adventure.”

And that's the heart of it, as simple as that may sound. A Great Adventure. “The Haunting of Hill House” is a great adventure. So is “I Am Legend”, and “The Shining”. “The Pit & the Pendulum” certainly qualifies, as does “The Call of Cthulhu”. Mr. Kolchak and Agents Scully and Mulder took us on our share of great adventures, and Mr. Serling introduced many more. The list is endless: PAN'S LABYRINTH, THE BIRDS, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE BLAIR WITH PROJECT. Great adventures all. And a great adventure doesn't necessarily have to be pleasant, or have a happy ending.

Those of us who tell such tales are spinning out yarns of myth and magic, hoping to enthrall our audiences. If we're skillful enough they'll go along with us wherever we lead, whether the conclusion is just of terrible (in the best sense of that word). Standing in front of an audience there is no greater satisfaction than watching a sea of faces swept up in the narrative, living every moment as though it were reality happening around them, pausing and gauging their reactions to gain the maximum effect from a good start or surprise. Screams are the finest tributes a macabre performer can achieve. (Although fainting isn't bad either; in the Haunted Attraction industry it's referred to as a ‘horizontal ovation'.)



Richard Donner's original THE OMEN


Ofttimes when there is a particularly good jump or fright, there is laughter following the scream. It can happen after a particularly gruesome bit of business; a very gory kill or flash of extreme violence. When Harlan Ellison saw THE OMEN in a theater on its initial release, he was greatly disturbed by the laughter after the famous beheading of David Warner's character. He thought it inappropriate, and an indication of the sickness of society and the audience, with their need for brutality and blood for entertainment purposes.

I won't second-guess Mr. Ellison, a respected journalist and critic as well as an extremely insightful observer of popular culture and mores. And with the advent of more and more brutal ‘entertainment' in the form of Extreme Haunted Attractions and Torture Porn/Snuff films, I'd be hard-pressed to disagree with his premise. But I do want to offer a possible alternate explanation for the reaction of laughter following extreme scares.

When a magician performs one of his illusions – say, sawing the lady in half, or making doves appear out of thin air   - the reaction is usually a gasp of astonishment, followed by good-natured laughter. The implied reaction is Well done! You fooled us. For a moment we actually believed in the impossible.

I think the same can be said of the huge scare in Horror films. Good job! You caught us completely of guard! You manipulated us well, not in a cheap way, but through skill and misdirection. (Although cheap scares can be plentiful; the cat that leaps out ahead of the supposedly waiting killer, or the knock at the door that turns out to be simply the neighbor investigating a disturbance, when BAM! the genuine menace appears just from offscreen. Serious directors belittle the cheap jump scare, but that doesn't keep many from employing them.)

As to the gory effects or sudden death, the laughter is self-reassurance. Wow! For a moment there I really believed that dummy being dismembered was an actual person. Good going! You completely fooled me! I was so caught up in the story I accepted everything you showed me. Seen in this light, the reaction is less a pathological need for an audience to glut itself on violent images as much as appreciate for the skilled work of all the technicians involved, from makeup and lighting to camera and music.

At least, that's the hope.



John Carpenter's THE THING


And that seems to me to answer the question of why some of us like to inflict fear on others. It is a skill, a difficult one. To move someone to tears or make them bellow with laughter takes years of practice and refinement, and when brought to bear can have a salutatory effect on the audience. Terror is no less an Art. Manipulation is often derided, but all Art (yes, with the capital A) is manipulation.

Honest manipulation to achieve a desired affect begins from birth, smiling into the face of a wide-eyed infant and cooing gently to them to see if they'll smile back. The most skilled painters, singers, musicians and storytellers use it as best they can to take audiences on a journey that they've expressed a willingness to undertake. The reaction to the tale, song or sculpture is part of the contract between artist and audience: Put yourselves in my hands for an evening, a moment, a frame of mind, and I will reward you many times over.

Audiences want to be scared. And it's up to the creators and manipulators to make it worth their while. Seen in this light it's a valid artistic expression, not one of malice or cruelty. You want to be scared? I'm your man. Step right up; I'm gonna scare the pants off you!

Now: as a storyteller and fan of the Dark Fantastic, what are some of my favorite scares? There are far too many to enumerate completely, but here is a partial list of those moments that have moved even me to a spectral shout or shiver through the year. Many are hints only as to not spoil nor give away the secrets for those who have yet to experience the terrors described, but those au courant with the genre will no doubt smile and nod at these selections; many are beloved of most fans of the macabre.



Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO


PSYCHO contains many – the infamous shower scene, and the killing of the detective – but my choice is and will remain Lila Crane's discovery of Norman Bate's secret when she finally confronts Mrs. Bates in the fruit cellar.

JAWS also has some fine moments, including the “You're gonna need a bigger boat” revelation, but my favorite is the night exploration by Matt Hooper of the damaged boat of Ben Gardner, who's more present than initially believed.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE has some genuine jolts of fear, but perhaps none more than the sudden first appearance of Leatherface, surprising the intruder in his home, battering him with a sharp blow and then disappearing behind the slamming metal door with his victim.

Early in HALLOWEEN a group of children are teasing a younger boy, taunting him that “The Boogey Man's gonna get you!” The ringleader offers one final jeer, then turns to flee – right into the arms of Michael Myers, who steadies him with firm hands. The boy runs away, barely understanding that he's just met the Boogey Man.

THE CONJURING – The Clapping Game. I'll say no more.

THE BIRDS – Tippi Hedren is waiting outside the schoolhouse to pick up Mitch's daughter. Inside the children are singing a meandering, annoying song with a repeating chorus that grows increasingly wearisome. And in the background is a set of Monkey Bars…(This scene is referenced, very effectively, in a fine low-budget chiller named MESSIAH OF EVIL, as an unsuspecting woman sits in the front row of an empty movie house, watching the screen.)



Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz's MESSIAH OF EVIL


DEEP RED – The sudden appearance of the doll in the living room. My human friend Bob's heart almost stopped in terror…

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT – Many will remember the hurly-burly finale with Heather racing through the abandoned house to suddenly come upon Josh in the basement, but the moment that hit hardest for me was the discovery of what was inside the package left outside the tent.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY – Science Fiction instead of Horror, but that moment when Frank Poole is working outside the Discovery and the unmanned pod slowly turns towards him of its own accord still chills…

ALIEN – The dinner table scene is the most famous in SF/Horror, but I prefer earlier in the movie, when Kane is exploring the pit inside the derelict alien ship and the egg first opens like a moist, fleshy flower…and Kane leans over for a closer look…



Ridley Scott's ALIEN


THE EXORCIST III – The scene in the hospital corridor. Yes, that moment.

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON – So many moments to choose from, but I'll pick the third nightmare of the Nazi beats murdering David's family – and then he wakes up…

CARRIE – Sue Snell in the cemetery, of course…

DON'T LOOK NOW – Donald Sutherland's final discovery of the identity of the small girl in the red raincoat that he thought might be his lost daughter.

DELIVERENCE – The final shot just before the closing credits of the still lake water…then Drew awakes to his wife's comforting as the credits roll…the n he drifts off again…

THE THING – Kurt Russell administering the blood test to the other members of the expedition, and finding his theory on the alien's biology to be quite accurate…

THE SHINING – For much of the film the threat of the Overlook is deliberately ambiguous. Are the ghosts haunting the halls real? Or is it all part of the psychic disintegration of Jack Torrance. And then there is one final conversation with Grady, the dead groundskeeper, as Jack is locked in the hotel's kitchen freezer, begging to be released.

These are just a few of my favorite things…you no doubt will have your own selections.



Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING


I confess it freely; I like scaring my human friends. I recently completed a private performance for some high school students and was delighted when several jumped during some of my tales. To see an audience engrossed and on the edge of their seats is most satisfying.

But fortunately my human friends seem to enjoy being scared by me, so it's a healthy relationship with mutual benefits for all parties. It's trust in my promise to provide a fine, safe adventure filled with chills and delicious fear, and their willingness to follow where I'll lead. It's an affection for the macabre and those that celebrate and are fascinated by it. It's a sense of welcome familiarity and the pleasure of each other's frightful company.

Yes. I would speak of love.

 

THOUGHTS & REVERIES ARCHIVES

JANUARY
2016

 

“Fast Away the Old Year Passes;
Fa La La La La La La La La;
Haikl the New, ye Lads and Lasses;
Fa La La La La La La La La…”


The best part about this time of year is the anticipation of what lies ahead in the coming months, the hopes and desires and dreams that the year will surpass any year previous and be a time of extraordinary moments and encounters shared among humanity. The saddest part, alas, is the recognition of those who will not be joining us in 2016, who have left their mark on the world and left us as they begin new journeys of their own that most of us cannot follow.

We remember them as a tribute to all they've done and meant to us, and we realize that our sorrow is selfishness on our parts, for they have lived and done well, and our missing them is only a sense of our own personal loss, not theirs. Yet the world will be a bit sadder and emptier without their continued presence in our lives, and we pause, breath a small sigh and a prayer of both gratitude and farewell, and allow them to move into the spaces where our fondest memories are stored, keeping them alive in our hearts in the process.

One of the biggest losses came as the year was drawing to a close with the passing of writer GEORGE CLAYTON JOHNSON. It's not possible to overestimate the importance of his work in shaping the genre we love dearly. Besides his literary work, Mr. Johnson was one of the most creative talents behind the original TWILIGHT ZONE series.

For the five years it was on the air, THE TWILIGHT ZONE depended on a braintrust of four amazing men who shared a common vision for what modern Dark fantasy could and should accomplish. At the head was, of course, Rod Serling, creator of the series and author of over ninety episodes. Joining him from the beginning were good friends and occasional collaborators Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. Both understood well and had practiced previously in their own work Mr. Serling's desire for the short story with minimal players and one primary setting, using characterization and misdirection rather than blatant, graphic shocks to effect a magical, macabre atmosphere of dread and wonder.

But although his output was far less than these four gentlemen, Mr. Johnson's vision of what THE TWILIGHT ZONE was dovetailed nicely. He was a friend of Mr. Beaumont's, and two of his short stories were submitted to the show and adapted by Mr. Serling (“The Four of Us are Dying” and “Execution”). But beginning in the second season, Mr. Johnson began writing his own scripts, and they are recognized as milestones and classics of the series – “A Penny for Your Thoughts”, “A Game of Pool”, “Ninety Years Without Slumbering” (the weakest of his episodes because it was rewritten by the staff during the lesser-quality Fifth Season) and the beautiful and heartbreaking “Kick the Can” and “Nothing in the Dark”. His contribution to the show, and the quality he brought to its stories and legacy, is enormous.

Mr. Johnson would go on to pen the fifth episode of STAR TREK, “The Man Trap”, adapt Ray Bradbury's “Icarus Montgolfier Wright” into an award-winning short film, and write the screenplay for the original OCEAN'S ELEVEN, which spawned the newer franchise helmed by George Clooney.

But his other groundbreaking contribution to the genre was his novel (along with friend William F. Nolan, also one of the California Macabre Writer's Alliance with Misters Matheson and Beaumont) about a future society where nobody was allowed to live beyond the age of twenty-one years; anyone who attempted to do so was hunted down as a criminal by an elite squad of assassins called “Sandmen”. The novel, of course, is “Logan's Run”, which inspired a mediocre film in the 1970s and a short-lived television series some years later. But the novel is a grim, phantasmagorical, alternate world, satirical SF classic, one of the few novels I've read cover-to-cover in one sitting, and deserves all the accolades its drawn. Mr. Johnson was a singular talent, and he will be greatly missed.

As will so many that left us in 2016.

The following individuals also left their fingerprints on our beloved genre of the Dark Fantastic. Some made major contributions, others touched it only briefly, but all contributed something of importance to the field.  Unlike last year I'm not listing all their credits, but the major ones that earn their place on this memorial. Do be aware that they may have many, many more accomplishments that shaped the art form we admire so; you can learn more by looking them up online in places such as the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) or Wikipedia.

And, needless to say, we offer our deepest thanks for what they all have given us, and wish them well on their voyage to other planes and places. Rest in Peace, my Friends.

FIONA CUMMING - British television director of DOCTOR WHO, BLAKE'S 7 and THE OMEGA FACTOR

DONNA DOUGLAS –
Best known for playing Ellie May on THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES , she made memorable guest appearances on THRILLER, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, PROJECT U.F.O. and one of her best performances on NIGHT GALLERY

BERNARD WILLIAMS -
British film producer of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, FLASH GORDON, AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION, STAR TREK: GENERATIONS, THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD, DAREDEVIL and CHARLOTTE'S WEB

KHAN BONFILS - English actor in STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE, BATMAN BEGINS, SKYFALL and SKY CAPTAIN & THE WORLD OF TOMORROW

ROD TAYLOR – is probably best remembered by genre fans for his starring roles in THE TIME MACHINE and THE BIRDS; he was featured in a classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode ( “And the Sky was Opened” ) and starred in the espionage fantasy series MASQUERADE

MICHEL JEURY - French science fiction author of “The Time Monkeys”, “Destiny's Stars” and “The Human Territory”

BRIAN CLEMENS - British screenwriter and television producer, whose credits include THE AVENGERS, DANGER MAN ( known in America as SECRET AGENT ), THE CHAMPIONS, CAPTAIN KRONOS – VAMPIRE HUNTER, THRILLER, THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS, AND SOON THE DARKNESS, DR. JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE and SEE NO EVIL

BARRIE INGHAM - English actor of THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVEDOCTOR WHO & THE DALEKS, THE AVENGERS, CAMELOT, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, and JEKYLL & HYDE – THE MUSICAL

SUZETTE HADEN ELGIN - American science fiction author and linguist, founder of the Science Fiction Poetry Society, author of the “Coyote Jones” and “Native Tongue” series and the “Ozark Trilogy”

RICHARD BONEHILL - British swordsman and stuntman for DOCTOR WHO, RETURN OF THE JEDI, FLASH GORDON, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and HIGHLANDER

MELANIE TEM - Horror and Dark Fantasy author whose books include “Wilding”, “Prodigal”, and “Witch-Light”

GARY OWENS - television announcer best known for ROWAN & MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN as well as a voice actor whose portrayals include SPACE GHOST

LOUIS JOURDAN the superb French actor appeared in OCTOPUSSY, SWAMP THING, and YEAR OF THE COMET. He portrayed Dr. David Sorell, a parapsychologist and investigator (who preceded Carl Kolchak) in two excellent TV films FEAR NO EVIL and RITUAL OF EVIL (which sadly never became the series they were intended to be) and is the only other actor to seriously challenge both Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee for his astounding role as COUNT DRACULA in the BBC miniseries (and in my humble opinion, with all due respect to the other gentlemen, he may have been the best of the three)

BRETT EWINS – a B ritish comic book artist for “Judge Dredd, “2000 AD”, “Bad Company”, and “Swamp Thing”

BEN WOOLF – a young actor who appeared in AMERICAN HORROR STORY, INSIDIOUS, DEAD KANSAS, HAUNTING CHARLES MANSON, and TALES OF HALLOWEEN, whose life was cut tragically short in a traffic accident

HARVE BENNETT - producer and writer of THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, THE ASTRONAUT, YOU'LL NEVER SEE ME AGAIN, THE INVISIBLE MAN, THE GEMINI MAN, THE BIONIC WOMAN, SALVAGE ONE and TIME TRAX , who helped resurrect the STAR TREK franchise with the films STAR TREK II through V. And speaking of STAR TREK

LEONARD NIMOY – Although he appeared in numerous television, radio and film projects as actor  (THEM!, THE BRAIN EATERS, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, THE OUTER LIMITS, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., BAFFLED! MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, FRINGE) and director (STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK and STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME) he will now and forever be known as the iconic and beloved Vulcan Science Officer Mr. Spock

DANIEL VON BARGEN – a fine character actor who starred in Clive Barker's LORD OF ILLUSIONS and appeared in THE X FILES, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and THE POSTMAN

FRED FREDERICKS - cartoonist of the syndicated “Mandrake the Magician” comic strip and illustrator for “The Phantom”, Boris Karloff”, “Twilight Zone”, and “Daredevil”

SIR TERRY PRATCHETT – the legendary British author and humorist behind the “Discworld” series of novels and co-author (with Neil Gaiman) of “Good Omens”

IB MELCHIOR - Danish-born American author, screenwriter and director; his short story “The Racer” became Roger Corman's DEATH RACE 2000 ; his other films include REPTILICUS, THE ANGRY RED PLANET, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, and ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS . He also created the television series LOST IN SPACE, although he was not credited until decades later when the movie was released

RICHARD L. BARE – A superb director and producer behind many original TWILIGHT ZONE episodes considered classic, including “To Serve Man” “Nick of Time” “The Purple Testament” and “Third From the Sun”, as well as one of the earliest mad killer/slasher films WICKED, WICKED

ROGER SLIFER comic book author and writer, who created the DC character of Lobo

TOM TOWLES – Among the films he appeared are included GROOM LAKE, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990)

ROBERT RIETTI – a British-born Italian actor who appeared in HANNIBAL, THE OMEN, Alfred Hitchcock ' s FRENZY, and two James Bond spectaculars, THUNDERBALL and ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE

RICHARD DYSART – Perhaps best known for his reoccurring role on LA LAW, this fine character actor has appeared in genre roles in THE TERMINAL MAN, PALE RIDER, PROPHECY, and THE HOSPITAL, but is perhaps best known as the doctor who met a particularly gruesome fate in John Carpenter ' s THE THING  

RICHARD LASALLE –
A film score composer with a taste for the macabre, Mr. LaSalles music can be heard in TWICE TOLD TALES, DIARY OF A MADMAN, THE TIME TRAVELLERS, CITY BENEATH THE SEA, DAUGHTERS OF SATAN, and THE THIRSTY DEAD

GUNTER GRASS – A German novelist and Nobel Prize laureate in Literature whose striking surrealistic work “ The Tin Drum ” won world-wide acclaim.

ROBERT Z'DAR – A performer with a unique appearance and presence best known for MANIAC COP I, II and III; other films include CHERRY 2000, SOULTAKER, FUTURE WAR and VAMPIRE BLVD

JAMES BEST – will always be known as Sheriff Roscoe P. Coletrane on THE DUKES OF HAZARD, but he once stated that he'd prefer to be remembered for his three TWILIGHT ZONE appearances in “Jess-Belle”, “The Grave” and “The Last Rites of Jeff Murtlebank”. Other genre appearances include THE BEST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, FORBIDDEN PLANET, THE KILLER SHREWS, SHOCK CORRIDOR, and THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR's adaptation of Ray Bradbury's “The Jar”

GEOFFREY LEWIS – A splendid character actor (and father of Juliette) who in his later years became a well-regarded storyteller; his films include HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, NIGHT OF THE COMET, MOON OF THE WOLF, ‘SALEM'S LOT, and THE DEVIL'S REJECTS

HERB TRIMPE – A comic book artist for “The Incredible Hulk” and “Thor”, he was also the co-creator of the iconic Marvel character Wolverine

JAYNE MEADOWS – appeared in movies and television, often with her husband, the late Steve Allen. Her best genre work was probably with Mr. Allen on his marvelous series MEETING OF THE MINDS, which brought famous historical characters together for debate and conversation

NIGEL TERRY – Perhaps best known as King Arthur in EXCALIBUR, a role he parodied in the marvelous but short-lived series COVINGTON CROSS, he also appeared in THE HUNCHBACK, FEARDOTCOM, and DOCTOR WHO

GRACE LEE WHITNEY – Although appearing in many films as well as THE OUTER LIMITS, BEWITCHED and BATMAN, Ms. Whitney will forever be Yeoman Janice Rand from STAR TREK

ELIZABETH WILSON – A highly respected stage and screen actress featured in THE BIRDS, DARK SHADOWS, LITTLE MURDERS, THE BELIEVERS, THE ADDAMS FAMILY(1991 film) and THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN

GILL DENNIS – Screenwriter of the wonderful Disney film (and follow-up to the classic MGM adaptation RETURN TO OZ

JOHN STEPHENSON
– A highly regarded voice actor, his major roles include Mr. Slate on THE FLINTSTONES, Dr. Benton Quest on JOHNNY QUEST, the animated films THE HOBBITT, THE RETURN OF THE KING and CHARLOTTE'S WEB, and live appearances on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, THE INVADERS THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN

MARY ELLEN TRAINOR – The former wife of director Robert Zemeckis, she appeared in many of his film and television efforts, including AMAZING STORIES, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, BACK TO THE FUTURE II, DEATH BECOMES HER and FORREST GUMP, as well as SCROOGED, GHOSTBUSTERS II and THE MONSTER SQUAD

TANITH LEE – A British SF, Horror and Fantasy Nebula and World Fantasy Award-winning writer; her works include “The Flat Earth Cycle”, “The Birthgrave Trilogy”, and “The Claidi Journals”

BETSY PALMER – She will forever be remembered by Horror fans as Jason Voorhees mother from the original FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH; other works include INNER SANCTUM, PENNY DREADFUL and BELL WITCH: THE MOVIE

HIROSHI KOIZUMI – A Japanese actor who appeared in several classic large monster films, including MOTHRA, GIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, and GODZILLA 1985

RICHARD JOHNSON – Perhaps best known for his starring role in the classic THE HAUNTING, he was also featured in ZOMBIE, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER, THE CRUCIFER OF BLOOD, BEYOND THE DOOR and THE MONSTER CLUB

CHRISTOPHER LEE – What can be said of such a legend. His films are too numerous to name, but among the best are THE WICKER MAN, DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, HORROR EXPRESS, HORROR HOTEL, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, SLEEPY HOLLOW and THE CORPSE BRIDE. But to many he will always remain the definitive Count Dracula

RON MOODY – An Oscar winner for his role as Fagin in OLIVER! and an early favorite to play the Third Doctor in DOCTOR WHO, his other genre work includes A WINTER'S TALE, THE MOUSE ON THE MOON, LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF and guest appearances on the TV series THE AVENGERS

JOHN M. STEPHENS – A cameraman and cinematographer whose films include BLACULA, DYING ROOM ONLY, FER-DE-LANCE, SORCERER, INDIAN JONEES & THE TEMPLE OF DOOM and THE FOG

JAMES HORNER – An American composer whose work include FIELD OF DREAMS, DEEP IMPACT, APOLLO 13, CASPER, THE ROCKETEER, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN and STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK

DICK VAN PATTERN – Beloved character actor known to genre fans through SPACEBALLS, CHARLY, SOYLENT GREEN, WESTWORLD, THE MIDNIGHT HOUR and GROOM LAKE

PATRICK MACNEE – Forever the debonair John Steed from THE AVENGERS, he also appeared in THE HOWLING, A VIEW TO A KILL, HAMLET, MACBETH, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, DEAD OF NIGHT, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, THE CREATURE WASN'T NICE, WAXWORK and two guest appearances on Rod Serling's series THE TWILIGHT ZONE and NIGHT GALLERY

EDWARD BURNHAM – An English actor who appeared in DOCTOR WHO, THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES and QUATERMASS & THE PIT

ROGER REES – He came to fame in the lead of the Royal Shakespeare Company's groundbreaking production of NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, but also was featured in THE PRESTIGE, THE SCORPION KING, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, and will always be remembered by me for his wonderful turn as Scrooge's nephew Fred in the George C. Scott A CHRISTMAS CAROL

THOMAS PICCIRILLI – Author and Bram Stoker Award-winner whose work includes the “Felicity Groves” series and the novels “Shadow Season", “The Midnight Road”, “Coffin Blues” and “Hexes”

OLAF POOLEY – An English actor and writer who appeared in THE GAMMA PEOPLE, THE CORPSE, EXORCISM AT MIDNIGHT and in guest appearances on DOCTOR WHO, STAR TREK: VOYAGER, DOOMWATCH, and NIGHTMARE CLASSICS's “The Turn of the Screw”

AUBREY MORRIS – He made a huge impression for his unique performances in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, LIFEFORCE, THE WICKER MAN, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB, and his guest appearances on TV series THE PRISONER, SPACE: 1999, BEAUTY & THE BEAST and TALES FROM THE CRYPT

ALAN KUPPERBERG - Comic book artist for “The Amazing Spider-Man”, “Thor” and “Iron Man”

BUDDY BUIE – Singer and songwriter with the band “Classics Four”; he composed the Halloween perennial “Spooky”

GEORGE COE
– Perhaps best remembered as the Network President on the series MAX HEADROOM and the wonderful “First Contact” episode of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, Mr. Coe also appeared in THE ENTITY, THE STEPFORD WIVES, and on episodes of SUPERNATURAL, SMALLVILLE and TALES OF THE DARKSIDE

ALEX ROCCO – He appeared in THE BOSTON STRANGLER, STANLEY, THE ENTITY, RETURN TO HORROR HIGH, A BUG'S LIFE and the upcoming THE OTHER, but will be best remembered to genre fans for his marvelous portrayal of the father and policeman in THE WOMAN IN WHITE

BROCK WINKLESS – A puppeteer and special effects technician whose work appeared in CHILD'S PLAY and its sequel, DEATH BECOMES HER, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, THE X FILES and CASPER

THEODORE BIKEL – Mr. Bikel had a long and illustrious career on stage, and in film and television, but will be remembered best to fans of the Dark Fantastic as Worf's adoptive human father on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and his sinister turn in “Four O'Clock” on the original TWILIGHT ZONE

SHAWN ROBINSON - A stunt performer who appeared in ESCAPE FROM LA, THE HAUNTING, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (remake), CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

CLIFFORD EARL – A British actor who appeared in the classic TALES FROM THE CRYPT and SCREAM & SCREAM AGAIN, as well as THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL, HORROR HOUSE, DOCTOR WHO and THE AVENGERS

COLEEN GRAY – This lovely actress starred in THE LEECH WOMAN, as well as NIGHTMARE ALLEY, THE VAMPIRE, THE PHANTOM PLANET and episodes of THE SIXTH SENSE and TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE

LELA SWIFT – In an era where women directors seem to be ignored by the industry (and in our genre), Ms. Swift stands high in her legacy. In addition to directing several made-for TV supernatural thrillers for Dan Curtis, including DEAD OF NIGHT: A DARKNESS AT BLAISEDON, THE TWO DEATHS OF SEAN DOOLITTLE and THE CLONING OF CLIFFORD SWIMMER, she directed 588 (!!) episodes of the series DARK SHADOWS. Well done, Madam!

GEORGE COLE – A prolific English actor who costarred with Patrick McGoohan in DR. SYN, ALIAS THE SCARECROW, he also appeared in the films A CHRISTMAS CAROL, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, FRIGHT, MARY REILLY and THE GHOST OF GREVILLE LODGE

LENNY B. ROBINSON – With all the losses here on this page, this one is very special. Mr. Robinson was a charity worker and Batman impersonator, who often visited children in hospitals dressed as the Dark Knight. He would autograph every item he handed out as “Batman”, and he became known as the “Baltimore Batman”. He was tragically killed in a traffic accident returning from an appearance at a weekend festival. He will be greatly missed.

YVONNE CRAIG – Will forever be the beautiful Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, from the BATMAN TV series (and the source of many young crushes!). Her other works include MARS NEEDS WOMEN, IN LIKE FLINT, and appearances on THE WILD,WILD WEST, STAR TREK, LAND OF THE GIANTS, MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA

WES CRAVEN – Of course, the iconic director, writer and producer of THE HILLS HAVE EYES, DEADLY BLESSING, SWAMP THING, SCREAM, and the creator of Freddy Krueger with NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. He also helmed some wonderful episodes of the 1980s TWILIGHT ZONE

DEAN JONES – A stage and screen actor best remember as a regular Walt Disney performer, with his starring role in THE LOVE BUG and its sequels; his other works include BLACKBEARD'S GHOST, THE SHAGGY D.A., MILLION DOLLAR DUCK, and a rare Horror film TWO ON A GUILLOTINE

WARREN MURPHY – An American author and screenwriter; he was the creator of the paperback hero “The Destroyer”

MARTIN MILNER – Best known for his starring roles on the classic ROUTE 66 and ADAM 12, he also appeared in COMPULSION, 13 GHOSTS, and a memorable episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, as well as an early “Man Into Space” film, ON THE THRESHOLD OF SPACE

D.M. MARSHMAN JR. – A screenwriter whose best-known credit is as co-writer of the macabre and (in my mind as well as many others) Dark Fantastic SUNSET BOULEVARD

NANCY BERNSTEIN - A visual effects and film producer, her films include VANILLA SKY, X MEN, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, I ROBOT, LAKE PLACID and LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING

JACK LARSON – A well-respected playwright, librettist and film producer, Mr. Larson will always be known and remembered as cub reporter Jimmy Olsen on the television series THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN

HOWARD A. ANDERSON JR. – A visual effects artist whose films include INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, PHANTOM FROM SPACE, THE TIME MACHINE, JACK THE GIANT KILLER, and the TV series MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT and STAR TREK

JOHN GUILLERMIN - A British film director whose best known film may be the 1970s remake of KING KONG; other films include THE TOWERING INFERNO, KING KONG LIVES and SHEENA

CATHERINE E. COULSON – She was a production assistant on films such as THE TOOLBOX MURDERS, ERASERHEAD, and STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, but her association with David Lynch lead to her being cast in the iconic and beloved role of Margaret Lanterman, better known as The Log Lady, on TWIN PEAKS

BRUCE HYDE – A college professor who began his career as an actor, Mr. Hyde is best remembered for his two appearances Lt. Kevin Riley on the original STAR TREK

MURPHY ANDERSON - A comic book artist for “Superman” and “Green Lantern” who created the beautiful magician Zatanna

MAUREEN O'HARA – The beautiful Irish actress starred in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, JAMAICA INN, SINBAD THE SAILOR and the wonderful Christmas perennial MIRACLE ON 34 TH STREET

CHARLES HERBERT – A child actor in the 1950s and 60s, best known for starring in THE FLY and 13 GHOSTS, he also made appearances on THE OUTER LIMITS, THE TWILIGHT ZONE and was a regular on MEN INTO SPACE

T. M. WRIGHT – An American Horror author of the “Manhattan Ghost Story” and “Strange Seed” series, as well as the novels “Cold House”, “The Woman Next Door” and “The Last Vampire”

GREGG PALMER – Primarily known as a Western actor, he appeared in THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US, ABBOTT & COSTELLO GOES TO MARS, FROM HELL IT CAME, and SCREAM, as well as episodes of STAR TREK and KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER

MELISSA MATHISON – The acclaimed screenwriter of THE BLACK STALLION and KUNDAN, her genre work included THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD, THE BFG, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE and the classic E.T. – THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL

GEORGE BARRIS – The custom car designer for auto collectors across the US, he is the designer of the iconic Batmobile from the BATMAN TV series and THE MUNSTER's Munster Coach and Dragula coffin dragster

RITCH BRINKLEY – A fine character actor who appeared in THE CURSE OF THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN, TIMESTALKERS, CAST A DEADLY SPELL and DR. MORDRID, but is perhaps best known for his role as William on the series BEAUTY & THE BEAST. (He also guested on the 1980s TWILIGHT ZONE, AMAZING STORIES and TWIN PEAKS.)

CARL-AKE ERIKSSON – A Swedish actor who appeared as the Vampire King in the cult film FROSTBITE, as well as THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS NEST and THE SIMPLE-MINDED MURDER

GUNNAR HANSEN – He will forever be the iconic Leatherface from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, but some of his other films include CHAINSAW SALLY, MOSQUITO, CAMPFIRE TALES, THE DEMON LOVER and HELLBLOCK 13

REX REASON – A handsome leading man best known for the classic films THIS ISLAND EARTH and THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US

ANTHONY READ – A screenwriter for the British SF series DOCTOR WHO, SAPPHIRE & STEEL, THE OMEGA FACTOR, CHOCKY, CHOCKY'S CHILDREN and CHOCKY'S CHALLENGE

AL MARKIM – He had the distinction of setting a precedent in Hollywood when, in 1951, fourteen years before Mr. Spock, he became the first actor to play a continuing extraterrestrial character: the Venusian Astro, companion to TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET

ROBERT LOGGIA – The beloved Hollywood actor created a memorable sensation late in life for his appearance in the Fantasy BIG,; other films include THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, PSYCHO II, JAGGED EDGE, THE BELIEVERS, SMILLA'S SENSE OF SNOW and INNOCENT BLOOD, as well as appearances on THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA

ROSE SIGGINS – A physically-challenged actress best known for her role as Legless Suzi on AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW

BROOKE MCCARTER – A model and actor who created a sensation for his role as Paul in THE LOST BOYS; he also starred in THE UH-OH SHOW and appeared on the 1980s TWILIGHT ZONE

MICHAEL EARL – A puppeteer and puppet-performer, he appeared in THE MUPPET MOVIE (1979), THE DARK CRYSTAL, THEODORE REX, TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE and THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTEN, as well as on television on SESAME STREET and DINOSAURS

JASON WINGREEN – A prolific actor, he was the original Boba Fett in STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK; he also appeared in THE TERMINAL MAN, THE DUNWICH HORROR, THE LAST CHILD, DEATH IN SPACE and OH GOD! YOU DEVIL, as well as TV series THE TWILIGHT ZONE, THE OUTER LIMITS, THE SIXTH SENSE, STARMAN and FREDDY'S NIGHTMARES

HASKELL WEXLER – An Academy Award-winning cinematographer whose work includes THE LOVED ONE, THE CONVERSATION and THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH

I would like to also take a moment to acknowledge the loss of some other artists and personalities that were not part of the Dark Fantasy field, but whose work I've long admired:

Gospel singer ANDREA CROUCH, 60 MINUTES telejournalist BOB SIMON, the wonderful character actor RICHARD BAKALYN, who appeared in everything from the original BATMAN to the classic film noir CHINATOWN, MICHAEL BROWN, musician with “The Left Banke” and composer of “Walk Away Renee”, stage and film director GENE SAKS, CYNTHIA LENNON, first wife of Beatle John Lennon and mother of musician Julian Lennon, PERCY SLEDGE, R&B singer of “When A Man Loves A Woman”, impeccable film critic from “Time” magazine RICHARD CORLISS, the legendary bluesman B. B. KING, LOUIS JOHNSON, bassist of “The Brothers Johnson” (“Strawberry Letter 23”), VINCENT BUGLIOSI, the prosecuting attorney for the Manson Family murders and author of “Helter Skelter”, the nonfiction book on the subject, RONNIE GILBERT, actress and original member of the folk legends “The Weavers”, SIR NICHOLAS WINTON, who organized the rescue of 669 children from the Nazis during WWII, author E. L. DOCTOROW of “Ragtime” and “Billy Bathgate” fame, OLIVER SACKS, the British neurologist and author whos work inspired the film AWAKENINGS, composer and musician ALLEN TOUSSAINT, MEADOWLARK LEMON, the legendary leader of the Harlem Globetrotters, ANDY M. STEWART of the Scottish folk band “Silly Wizard”, and NATALIE COLE, daughter of the legendary Nat King Cole and an extraordinary performer in her own rite.

And finally, we remember many of the brave French cartoonists and journalists who were killed in the Charlie Hebdo Shooting: CABU, ELSA CAVAT, CHARB, PHILIPPE HONORE, BERNARD MARIS, MUSTAPHA OURRAD, TIGNOUS, and GEORGES WOLINSKI.

Thank you, one and all.

 

 

 

 

 

© 2012 Patient Creatures Ltd.