The Science-fication of Horror

In the days of olde, let’s say the 1940’s and back, horror movie monsters were the stuff of legends and myth. They were the vampires and werewolves of Eastern Europe. They were the mummies of Ancient Egypt. They were the primitive beasts from the Pleistocene Era. They were the ghosts and ghouls from Victorian castles.

With few exceptions, these beasts came lurking out from the shadows of superstition. They were magical or gypsy curses or hell-borne. Their reason for being was shrouded in the darkness of antiquity.

There are exceptions, of course. There are your Doctor Frankensteins and your Doctor Griffins and your Dr. Jekylls. But they are not so common and the science they practice is only step removed from wizardry and alchemy.

But then came the Atomic Bomb and people realized, suddenly and violently, that science could result in far more potent horrors than one ever found in the works of Stoker, Shelley or Wells.

The 50’s are plagued with atomic horrors, beasts irradiated and made large, deformed and horrific and bent on the destruction of mankind. They were garden variety pests that could chow down on sky scrapers. They were men and women blessed by radioactive stature. They stood tall and large and obscene and loomed like mushroom clouds over the landscape.

At the same time, the Space Race was getting started in earnest and people looked to the skies and saw the potential for menace. Whether space vegetables (either in the form of  pods or James Arness) or giant, crawling eyes or small, crawling hands, we saw invaders from the stars with the same hellish intents as our communist neighbors.

The gothic and the ghastly fell away to make way for horrors created by what Americans saw every day in the paper. Our fears are always defined by the larger pop culture and it rarely takes much to see what inspires our nightmares.

As we head into the late 60’s and 70’s, serial killers dominate the papers and we get Psycho, Black Christmas, and Halloween.

More and more, our fictional fears become more grounded in reality. We are reduced to large men with sharp knives. No matter how colorful or indestructible they are, they are still just glam rock versions of Bundy, Manson and Dahmer.

And that began a slow change within the traditional horrors and it can be seen in the zombie genre most clearly. Before Romero, zombies were voodoo and that was that. Witch doctors cast spells and lo, there came the walking dead.

But in The Night of the Living Dead, there is a passing reference to a comet and the walking dead, albeit in a very slight and subtle manner, are given a scientific reason for their improbable existence. Further, the “zed word” is never mentioned in the movie. The zombies are distanced from their religious roots, from folklore and from legend. As the “of the Living Dead” series progresses, Romero dissects them a little bit more each time. They are subjected to medical experiments and researched and psychoanalyzed.

And that’s what begins to happen to all of the old movie monsterss. Take any movie script involving vampires  or werewolves and you can do a find and replace for “magic” with “virus” and boom, you have the modern horror movie. It’s not a curse, it’s a disease.  It’s not magical, it’s biological. The modern audience does not accept magic as the obvious explanation. The audience needs explanation and dissection and vivisection. There needs to be analysis and intervention.

In all of this, there is a very key point: there is a need to understand the monster so that it can be destroyed.

Horror is our release valve for the internal pressures built up from fear and anxiety and worry. There are a thousand different anxieties that we face day to day and we have very little control over most of them. The horror fictions are only an effective release when we have a way to deal with the monsters they present.

A monster borne of magic is less effective as a release valve, when we don’t believe in magic in any form and cannot relate to the monster on any level, either as a believable threat or confrontable menace. As Americans become more secular, the idea of a monster that can be turned aside by a cross becomes less palatable. But a monster that can be turned aside by an injection or by a prescription becomes that needed release.

Horror, to be effective and relevant, is always adapting. It shapes our fears into beasts that can be killed. It turns car accidents and cancers and school shootings into fanged and fearsome dragons that can be slayed with the correct incantation and the right weapon.

As time passes and we grow more knowledgeable as a society, these dragons must adapt to be more sophisticated and more resilient and reflect our knowledge. The tools to defeat them grow increasingly more complex in response.

As time goes on, it will be more difficult for horror to function as an effective means for release. As knowledge and information become more accessible, our awareness will make it less possible to escape and to enjoy the fictions we create to avoid the painful truths of reality. At that point, fiction will stop being a bastion against reality and humanity will need to confront what it needs to do to continue as a species.

-D-

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Discussing Horror: The Ten Podcast

Horror, for a large part of my life, has been very important to me. I believe that great horror movies help us deal with our every day fears, the fears that we cannot control. We cannot prevent every accident, every illness, every tragedy. Horror helps us to release that fear, helps us to relieve that stress. It presents a scare that we can deal with, that we can resolve. There is no silver bullet for Alzheimer’s, cancer, drunk drivers or insane political candidates, but scary movies give us a fiction where we can face off with our fears man-to-man and beat them.

I started a podcast with a  friend of mine, Trevor BLEEP, to discuss the best of the best, the movies that best help us to deal with our fears. This is not about the shock and awe horror like Hostel and Saw . Our podcast, The Ten Podcast, is about those movies that really do address humanity and those fears we cannot resolve otherwise.

So far, we have discussed The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Alien and we’re going to be looking at some very interesting movies in the future. So check us out on iTunes or on Libsyn and take a listen.

And if you have a movie you want us to discuss in the future, feel free to email us at thetenpodcast@gmail.com.

We’ll be seeing you.

-D-

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The Ten (Episode One): Introductions

It is only now, in this final hour, that I will reveal the great undertaking that myself and Trevor C. have shouldered. It took six months of constant and ceaseless effort. We planned, plotted and prepared for this moment. Every step we took, every move we made was toward this one point. Every calculated effort was to get us to today, this day.

The day that we released The Ten.

The Ten is the master list of the greatest horror movies ever made as determined by Trevor C. and myself. Each movie will be scrutinized. Every movie will be made to stand among its peers. Every movie must go through The Panel.

It is only after this test of fire that a movie will be allowed to join The Ten.

Join us every two weeks as we nominate a movie and then pick it apart to determine its worthiness. This week, the episode elaborates on the process and the podcast that will eventually generate The Ten.

Listen to The Ten (Episode One) Introductions and we will see you in two weeks.

-D-

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Spoooky Beer Review: Narragansett “Innsmouth Olde Ale”

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The local inhabitants of old Watertowne have created much controversy among the scholarly professionals who have made it their business to research local legends and tales. The natives of this quiet little town have become lately restless. Strange whisperings among the more decadent and degenerate of their kind have indicated that a beverage, based upon an old recipe torn from the pages of some dark tome, has found its way onto shelves of numerous liquor stores.

In the hills of New England, various tribes of primitive man were known to cavort during the month that we know as October. Under the light of the dead moon, they would quaff deerskins brimming with an ale that was known to pierce the veil of their own understanding of how the mechanics of the universe function. During this time, when the skin of the world becomes transluscent and we can see through to the underspires of some other fantastical, cyclopean realm that beggars all rational thought, they would drink deep and see into the minds of the Old Ones.

It is with some hesitancy that I commit my own findings to the written page. I hesitate only because I know that I will only impel others to seek out what I myself have found and rob me of what appears to be a limited supply of this dark brew. I found Narragansett’s Innsmouth Olde Ale, on display between two pumpkin ales. My hands trembled as I reached toward it and I felt my mind retreat in upon itself. I knew not what happened then, only that I found myself back in my apartment, the six cans in my fridge and the pervasive odor of the sea clung to my garments.

I poured the can into the glass bearing the label of a lost and forgotten brewery. It is an amber-deep color, and smells of sweet fruit, reminiscent of cherries. There is a powerful amount of flavor, without it being overwhelming, reminiscent of a doppelbock. There are non-euclidian notes within, complexities upon complexities, and it does not do one well to drink quickly.

This is a beer to be enjoyed slowly and with great care and respect for the unendurable and immortal powers that created it. In a season replete with the intoxicating spices of pumpkins and the simpler, cleaner flavors of the Octobfest beers, “Innsmouth Olde Ale” is a refreshingly different alternative while still invoking the season in multiple ways, from its deep and hearty flavors that stave off the oncoming chill to the evocative can design.

If you’re a fan of beers like Tröegs Troegenator Double Bock and Spaten Optimator, you will enjoy “Innsmouth Olde Ale.”

I would give this beer five R’lyehs and the utter loss of my sanity instantly upon viewing the label.

-D-

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Trying New Things

I have never seen much of the Halloween series. I watched the first two or three and I’ve seen Rob Zombie’s attempts, but that’s about it. Considering it’s the movie that started the slasher genre, I’ve paid shockingly very little attention to it.

So I’m going to delve right in and watch all eight of the original movies, skipping the Rob Zombie remakes, mainly because I couldn’t stand the second one.

I don’t feel this will be particularly instructive or that I will gain great knowledge into slasher flicks, but goddamn if I can’t stand having this gap in my knowledge base. It’s the movie that helped to start it all and helped to define the genre for almost fifteen years, for better or for worse. There needs to be some respect paid. Also, considering how many times I’ve seen all of the Friday the 13th movies (including the abysmally dull remake), I feel like I owe our boy Michael Myers something.

Starting tomorrow: The Great Halloween Movie Marathon!

-D-

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Traditions

“All these traditions, jack-o’-lanterns, putting on costumes, handing out treats, they were started to protect us, but nowadays… No one really cares.” – Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

Every October, I have to watch the music video for Thriller. And not the truncated version, but the full, thirteen-minute extravaganza with the werewolf AND the zombies. No matter how the rest of the month goes, I have to kick it off the same way every year. In that one video, you have the directorial skills of John Landis, the director of the greatest werewolf movie ever made, the effects wizardry of Rick Baker, the crawling and creeping voice of Vincent Price and Michael Jackson at his prime. There are worse ways to kick off the Halloween season.

Halloween marks the start of the holiday season and it plays an important role. Halloween is the lead-in to the cold winter months, the point where Summer turns to Autumn, where the air takes on a definite chill, where the leaves die and fall and where light gives ground a little more to the darkness every day. This is the moment that we could go and bundle up and hide and prepare for the worst that Winter has to offer.

Instead, Halloween is the point where we dress up and march into the darkness and take control over our fears. We boldly strike out into the night dressed as our favorite monsters and let the creatures that bump in the night know that we are not afraid. It’s the last hurrah of Summer before we brace up for Winter.

Traditionally, for me, Halloween has been a period of high creativity. I feel the most in my element and it all feels so electric. For that one month out of twelve, everyone is on the same page as me. So for the first time in months, I feel like it’s time to start writing again. I don’t know what I’m going to fill this space with, but expect more over the next few weeks.

It’s time for monsters and pumpkin beers and horror movies and ghost stories and everything else that makes me tick. And, like every other year, let’s start the season off with an extravagant promise:

A post a day until October 31st.

Merry Halloween, y’all.

-D-

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Vaccinate Against Stupidity

I don’t feel that there is any reason to debate an Anti-Vaxxer when it comes to the Science of vaccines. At this point, if someone still believes that vaccines cause autism, no study, no research, no rationality will ever cause them to bend. But, let’s be honest here, vaccines do not cause autism. At all.

No, the point I wish to debate is a new crop of folks that seem to think that vaccination falls under a rights issue; that parents should have the RIGHT to determine if they should vaccinate their children or not. Because this is the new argument I see cropping up online. I see people arguing that, individuals should be allowed the choice of whether to vaccinate their children or not, that no-one has the right to tell them to vaccinate little Billy or little Susan from the measles or the mumps.

Now, I am all for people being free from government intervention in their day-to-day lives. I believe that the State has no place in determining what is marriage. I believe that the State has no place in determining what God we choose to worship (or not worship). I believe that the State has no place in our day to day interactions with each other, so long as those interactions do not harm one another.

The point of a society, on a very basic level, is to ensure a basic level of security and happiness for the individual. Otherwise, we’d be living in the wilderness, huntin’ deer and choppin’ wood and growin’ crops and surviving as individuals alone and free. Society protects us, helps us, keeps us safe on a fundamental level. It provides infrastructure. It provides security. It provides a basic level of support.

We have a lot of laws that protect us from individuals that act in ways that harm the majority. You cannot rob banks. You cannot steal. You cannot blow up buildings. You cannot act in a way that hurts other people. That is the strength of a society. It protects us from the selfish, single-minded, obtuse, moronic and absolutely stupid individuals who believe that they, for some reason, know better than scientists and professionals who make their bread and butter from studying human illness.

So when an anti-vaxxer says that they have the RIGHT to not vaccinate their children, I get a little angry. If you do not have the RIGHT to rob a bank when you need money, if you do not have the RIGHT to speed down the highway when you’re late for work, if you do not have the RIGHT to endanger CHILDREN and PEOPLE in every other instance, what the fuck makes you think you have the right to risk epidemic death and disease just because you are stupid enough to believe fraudulent studies that were disproved years ago?

We have reached the point where we are so afraid of confrontation, of debate, that we are allowing people who have no position, who are arguing a point with no scientific evidence, who believe something with no basis in reality; to determine how the rest of have to live our lives. We are now living in fear of diseases that were wiped out generations ago, because our society has grown so afraid of causing offense, so afraid of dismissing stupidity out of hand, that we have become ineffective.

There is no debate here. There is no argument. There is no discussion. Anti-vaxxers are hurting us, hurting ALL of us, by refusing to vaccinate their children. And every moment that we refuse to shut these people down, every moment that we  allow them a podium where they spew their idiotic and mindless rhetoric, we are allowing them to continue hurting us all.

Society only works when we work together to protect the weakest among us. When we allow morons with loud voices and baseless opinions to hurt our children, which is what happens when an un-vaccinated child spreads disease in a public place, then maybe it is time to re-evaluate the society that allowed this to happen.

-D-

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