Monthly Archives: September 2010

I’m Your Boogeyman

I came to the shocking realization that I’ve taken a fairly passive role with Halloween this year.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, in year’s past I used to write one short story a day for the entire month of October. Since I’ve decided not to do that anymore, I’ve been writing about scary things, not actually producing scary.

It’s a very disconcerting feeling. I feel like I should be mixing it up. Writing stories about vampires, zombies, werewolves and the like. I should be trying to produce chills up spines and goosebumps and worried looks.

Instead, the bulk of what I’ve done is pointed you toward movies that might scare you.

I need to rectify this situation. I’m going to start write scary stories again. I’ve haven’t written a story in ages. Well, I haven’t finished a story in ages. So I’m going to try and write, say, two a week.

They might end up on the blog, if I deem them unpublishable. So you’ll be getting the worst of the worst. Happy Halloween!

I think this will help to beat back a general boredom I’ve been feeling lately and also get me back on track toward the whole writing thing.

Time to get to work.

Dylan Charles

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Not Scared of a Steadicam

I haven’t been scared by a book or movie in a long time. Oh sure, I’ve managed to scare myself by walking in the woods at night while bears rustle around in the underbrush, but that’s not the same thing. If you have to put yourself in danger to scare yourself, it’s not as much fun as watching Friday the 13th and accomplishing the same thing.

The most I can generally hope for is a case of the willies. Paranormal Activity creeped me out (up until the last fifteen seconds), but that’s the first movie in a long time.

It accomplished it by acting like the real thing. I’ve always been fascinated by books or movies that strive toward authenticity. Whether they claim to be based on true stories or if they claim to be the diary or last known footage of the victim. The Blair Witch Project, Quarantine and Paranormal Activity are all movies that actually affected me. They were actually able to scare me, because I wasn’t preoccupied with thoughts about the special effects or how they got that one shot. They blurred the line between fantasy and reality.

It’s this blurring that interests me: the ability for the filmmaker to make me believe, for a second, that the horrifying thing I’m seeing is actually real: that there are ghosts, that there is a witch in the woods. If fantasy can convince me it’s reality, if only for a second, then it’s gone above and beyond the call of duty. And that’s worth something to me.

Sure I have nightmares and I start avoiding dark places, but that’s a cost that I’m more than willing to pay if I can be scared, if only for 90 minutes.

Dylan Charles

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Horror Movie Primer: Monsters

For the uninitiated, finding the proper horror movie can be a difficult and daunting task. You’re feeling a dire need to get into a Halloween mood, but you don’t know which movie to get and your weird friend that watched too many horror movies and who talked about them way too much went crazy and is now in the local asylum.

Luckily I can be your weird friend this season. I’ll be cobbling together a couple of primers for those of you that don’t know any better and are thinking about renting the latest Saw movie as a way of getting your scare on. The first up in the series will be Monster Flicks.

Monsters were a lot more popular in the ’40s and ’50s, but they’ll still pop up now and then. With monster flicks, you’ve got your unnaturally giant giants (Them!, Beginning of the End, King Kong), you’ve got aliens (Alien, The Blob, The Crawling Eye), you’ve got your swarms (The Birds, Piranha, Bats) and you’ve got your werewolves (Wolfman, An American Werewolf in London, Ginger Snaps).

Monster movies are usually the more special effects intensive of the horror movies, which is problematical. For a movie to be scary, it really needs to avoid reminding the audience every five seconds that it’s a movie. And with monster movies, that’s sometimes unavoidable.

If you scare easy, you’re better off with the earlier monster movies. The ones from the 1950’s where a group of teenagers find a sinister menace and they try to alert the police but the sheriff doesn’t believe them because they’re just a bunch of kids.

Or you can start the old Universal Monster movies, like The Wolfman, Frankenstein and Dracula. These are movies that heavily informed pop culture about these monsters. When someone thinks of Dracula or Frankenstein, they’re thinking of the old Universal versions. Starting there is the best way to start your horror movie education.

The old 1950’s aliens are either incredibly goofy or classics or both. The Blob features a giant…blob that menaces a small town. There’s the slightly more disturbing aliens in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, who imitate people perfectly. For that one, you might be better going with the 1970’s remake.

If you’re of sterner stuff, you’re going to want to move up a few decades. For your alien needs, you can do worse than watch Alien and Aliens. There’s also John Carpenter’s The Thing, which is a great, gory movie that’s filled to the brim with tense paranoia and awesome effects. If you want dark comedy served up with your aliens, you need to check out Slither.

The werewolf genre is one that is absolutely filled with complete shit. Start with The Wolfman or An American Werewolf in London. Then check out Ginger Snaps, an independent Canadian offering that’s a little grimmer and creepier than its predecessors. There’s also The Howling, an early 1980’s offering that’s creepy and effective.

And so ends a very basic introduction to the monster sub-genre. If you have any suggestions of your own, be sure to post them in the comments section. I’ll be doing more of these entries, especially as we get closer to Halloween. Because, damn it, you need to watch at least ONE horror movie during the Halloween season.

Dylan Charles

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Kenmore Station

Kenmore Station sits between two busy roads, hemmed in by a near constant stream of traffic.

The buildings (old worn brick and faded paint, towers with rounded sides and pointed tops, renovated, condemned, renovated) line the way, with shops and businesses. They opened under different names a long time ago and closed and reopened again.

The station is always busy, with people heading in and out. It’s a small nexus where the buses and trains meet in one single point and then spread out again through the city. Below the buses, trains move underground, shuttling through the tunnels.

The people, above and below, vary wildly. There are students, many students, going to and from school. There workers, retired folks, unemployeds. There are homeless and crazy, some sitting and staring, but not seeing or hearing, vacant agitation awaiting stimulus. Others keep to the side.

There are the loud people shouting, bellowing greeting to one another and greetings are returned.

Smokers off to the side, billowing grey air, isolated from the others.

Foreign voices in half a dozen languages: trilling, guttural, nasal, singsong, rapid fire, languid languages.

The buses bring them all here and then take them away again.

Dylan Charles

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Slashed

Perhaps the most tasteless and least artistically driven of all horror films are slasher films (ignoring the new torture genre, because I refuse to acknowledge it). The very premise (killer kills people) is not the headiest point to start from, but there have been worthwhile whacks at the genre.

Psycho is a proto-slasher movie, the one who others follow, but only in rough forms. Slasher movies will never get better than this. Psycho isn’t just a good horror film, it’s a good movie, plain and simple. Well directed, well acted, well written; it’s everything most horror movies are not.

Black Christmas and Halloween are the next two movies worth watching and key to the evolution of the genre. Black Christmas is the quirkier of the two, featuring a killer who’s rarely seen on camera. His personality is revealed through a series of disturbing and unnerving phone calls. While Black Christmas came first, but Halloween was more popular and more of an impact in numerous ways: the preternaturally indestructible killer, the mask, the type of victim (nubile youth who are spent after hours of sex) and the heroine. It’s almost always a woman who dispatches the killer.

After Halloween came Friday the 13th, followed closely by A Nightmare on Elm Street. While Friday the 13th did everything it could to mimic its predecessors, A Nightmare On Elm Street broke the mold in a few ways. Freddy Krueger actually spoke, for starters, though his talking would become more annoying in later movies. His method of dispatching was also unique, delving into the dreams of his victims.

But, after twenty years, Michael Meyers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees all began to wear out their welcome with increasingly bad sequels that were less scary and more about over-the-top kills and unintentional humor. By the mid-nineties, Krueger and Voorhees took a vacation from the screen, only to return ten years later worse than ever.  Jason goes into space for god’s sake.

The last truly great slasher film, one that stands alongside Halloween and Black Christmas in quality, is Scream. Scream is a satirical stab at the genre, featuring often blatant references to past movies and the characters all but turn and wink at the camera. It’s a black comedic look at what the slasher film had become. The joke eventually turned sour as Scream was itself followed by two lackluster sequels, but that might have been Wes Craven’s attempt at metahumor.

With the recent Hollywood trend toward rebooting, all the old favorites had a chance to shine again and all failed. Rather than trying to tell new stories with new characters, they took the same old hack ‘n’ slash and just tried to make it more brutal, more violent. Violence alone isn’t what’s scary, especially if you don’t care about the characters. Blood and guts doesn’t scare. And old and familiar definitely doesn’t scare.

For the slasher film to truly be relevant again, Krueger needs to hang up his hat and Jason needs to put down the machete. Audiences need something new. And by new, I don’t mean two hours of tourists being tortured by psychos in the middle of Eastern Europe.

Dylan Charles

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The Man Behind the Mask

A blog is often a place for people to vent their secret shames. They can say what they want to say without fear, because the people reading it are, for the most part, complete strangers. It’s a way to unburden one’s self.

That’s not really true with my blog. My blog is more read by family and friends than by the anonymous public, but I feel like they’ll still accept me, no matter what my deep dark secrets are.

So, I’m going to admit here, before the world, that I like the Friday the 13th movies. And not in that pseudo-ironic sense either, where I pick something awful or embarrassing to like so I’ll seem like an indie hipster who refuses to conform to society’s rules, because that’s how we stick it to the man.

Nope, my tastes in movies is truly so bad as to allow the Friday the 13th movies safe passage.

What’s annoying is I can’t really explain it. They’re not scary. They’re mindless. They’re funny, but only unintentionally so.

But I can’t help the love I feel for that big mute lug and his giant knife and his penchant for killing obnoxious 1980’s teenagers. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I love Jason Voorhees and his psycho mother because they’re killing the ’80s, one hairsprayed, brightly colored teen at a time.

Whatever the reason, be sure to keep an eye out for a lengthy, absurd look at the Legend of Jason Voorhees. Because I didn’t quite embarrass myself with that in-depth analysis of Apollo Creed.

Dylan Charles

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A Rough Beast Slouches Toward October to Be Born

As Halloween draws ever closer, it becomes clearer to the people closest to me that I’m going completely and utterly insane. I’ll spend hours watching the Friday the 13th movies over and over again. I’ll leap from unlikely places and frighten old ladies. I’ll cover myself in red corn syrup and run through the streets giggling and brandishing a rubber knife.

This cannot be helped.

The best thing you can do during this time of year is to curl into the fetal position and hope I go away.

Or you can roll with it and tell yourself that it’s only once a year.

For those who go with the second option, you’re very much in luck: I will be spending the next few weeks writing blog entries to help everyone get into the proper Halloween spirit. Whether it’s lengthy diatribes about the current state of horror movies or me talking about the merits of certain horror authors or me dispatching yet another local ghost, you WILL be well suited to meet the Halloween season head on.

So stay tuned loyal, yet few, readers, because by the time October rolls around, you’re not going to even want to think about Halloween you’ll be so saturated.

Excitement!

Dylan Charles

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A Ghost Story: The Lady in Black

It’s 1862 and General Burnside has successfully gained control of Roanoke Island. The Confederate soldiers who were captured were sent up to Fort Warren in Massachusetts, a detention center for prisoners of war. Among those captured was Lieutenant Samuel Lanier, a soldier out of Georgia.

Lieutenant Lanier manages to smuggle a letter out of the fort to his wife Melanie. After receiving the letter, she risks everything on a trip up North to see her husband. She finds sanctuary in Hull, Massachusetts in the home of a Confederate sympathizer. She disguises herself as a man, cutting her hair short and wearing the clothes of a serving boy.

But Fort Warren is on an island in the middle of the harbor, difficult to reach even if one isn’t a Confederate soldier’s wife. She hitches a ride aboard a boat and sneaks onto the Fort and finds her husband’s cell using plans he sent her in the letter.

Once reunited they make plans to escape from the fort, plans that involve a lot of digging. Unfortunately, they choose a spot far too close to the barracks for the guards. The couple is discovered. Backed into a corner, Melanie points a pistol at Colonel Dimick, the officer in charge of Fort Warren. She tells him to release her and her husband or she’ll shoot him. Dimick refuses and Melanie fires.

The pistol explodes and shrapnel from the gun hits her husband, killing him instantly. Melanie is arrested and convicted and sentenced to hang in less than a day.

Her final request is that when she is hanged, that she is allowed to wear women’s clothes, instead of the disguise she’s been wearing. Her request is granted and she’s given some old robes that had been used in a play earlier that year.

After she’s hanged, her ghost is seen wandering through the fort, dressed in the black robes she wore to her execution.

This was the first, interesting ghost story I came across while researching haunted places in and around Boston. What you read above is an amalgam of half a dozen different versions that I read, though each version only differed a small amount. It was always Fort Warren. There was always a captured lieutenant. And there was always his wife, who seemed to posses far more steel than he did.

What was interesting, to me, was the amount of detail I’d find sometimes. The names of everyone, the battle Samuel Lanier was captured in, the place he and Melanie came from, the name of the commanding officer for Fort Warren: so much detail.

And yet, it’s most likely completely bull.

There is a record of a Samuel Lanier being both imprisoned and dying at Fort Warren. However, there are several differences between the historical Samuel Lanier and his legendary counterpart.

At Fort Warren, there’s a memorial stone that lists all those prisoners who died during their imprisonment (seen here). Lanier’s rank is not listed, but he’s from Company K of the 10th Regiment from the North Carolina State Troops (if I’m reading that right), which means he wasn’t from Georgia.

This matches with the record listed on this site of the soldiers from Company K. Samuel Lanier was a private who was captured and sent to Fort Warren where he died of typhoid.

No trigger happy wife from Georgia. No exploding pistol aimed at the fort’s commander. Just a bad sickness that Lanier caught in one of the nicer prison camps at the time.

Since the story is made up, that means there’s no ghost. You can’t have the ghost of an angry, hanged woman without the angry, hanged woman.

Sigh, like I said yesterday, I didn’t even need to leave my chair.

Dylan Charles

Special thanks to The Washington Greys website and waymarking.com.

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In Search of Ghosts

Since Halloween is now closer than ever, I’ve been getting interested in the spooky again. This time, what with living in such an old city, my focus has been on haunted places: houses, forts, graveyards and what-have-you.

Problematically for me, however, is the fact that I do not believe in the supernatural. This causes an issue when I hear that a scary story is true. I want them to be true. I really want to believe in them, if only so I can scare the bejesus out of myself.

And barring actually knowing if it’s true or not, I’ll even accept a little bit of mystery. I’ll accept the possibility of it being true, no matter how remote it is, just to keep that mystery alive. I want there to be mystery in the world, I want there to be trolls under bridges and magick in old forests and ghosts in the attic.

On the flipside, I can’t abide superstition and I can’t abide a belief in ghosts and spectors and phantoms. There is no such thing as spooks, there is no magic and I raise my eyebrows at folks who believe in those old campfire tales.

So puzzle that paradox out and I’m going to move right along to the point of this blog entry.

In view of the fact that it’s Halloween and taking into account my bipolar views on the supernatural, I decided I’m going to look up a haunted place in Boston and then go take a looksee. My only problem is picking a place to go. I found one place that looked promising, but then saw no other information on the supposed hauntedness of it outside of that one website. Finally, I settled on Fort Warren, a local Civil War Era fort on George’s Island.

Unfortunately I disproved the ghost without ever leaving my chair, which will be the subject for tomorrow’s blog entry.

The point is, I’m disillusioned and it’s only the first day of my grand mission to go to a haunted place. Maybe I need to stop being so skeptical. Except that feels like I’d actually have to turn off my brain, something I’m adverse to doing.

I want to be scared damn it and I refuse to accept that it’s impossible to do so.

Dylan Charles

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