“Uncanny Valley” – The concept of the uncanny valley suggests that humanoid objects which appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit uncanny, or strangely familiar, feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers. (Link to Wiki Page)
Or in this blog’s case…stuff I find weird, cool, or disturbing.
Also known as “Hoop Man Yu-Ya” in his native country, Yamada is famous for his hula hoop tricks. He can spin a hula hoop while running, spin it vertically using both his head and his backside and can also spin dozens of them at the same time. The guy has incredible coordination, which basically allows him to keep the hoops spinning with virtually every part of his body, but for his latest world record attempt, he needed a completely different approach.
Spinning a 5.14 m hula hoop with only your torso is completely different than doing it with a regular size one. Instead of rocking your waist back and forth, you have to get it spinning using your hands and then literally run and spin inside the giant hoop while it is moving to keep the momentum going. It may look silly, but there’s actually a very precise art to it and the timing has to be just right.
A pair of penguins were captured on camera appearing to pose for a selfie in Antarctica after one of the aquatic birds discovered the filming device.
The footage, filmed at the Auster Rookery near Australia’s Mawson research station, was shared on Twitter by the Australian Antarctic Division.
The penguins are seen tilting the camera over and examining it in a way that makes them appear to be taking a selfie together. The video also gives viewers a close view of the penguins and their facial features.
Australian Antarctic expeditioner, Eddie Gault, had left the camera after visiting the Auster Rookery, the Australian Antarctic Division said.
Hitchin’ a ride…
Rooster captured after a month
on the loose in Illinois
Nothing says Happy Valentine’s Day more than creepy old-school Valentine Cards. Enjoy!
A fish that changes its gender after it’s simply had enough
…tale from Blue Planet II’s first episode involves the kobudai, a fish that lives in the waters surrounding Japan. Among this species, one male will mate with many females, but he’s always got to be on the lookout for what might happen if one of those females disappears to hide out for months — during which time she changes genders, becoming a male. If the new male has grown large enough, he can return to shove the original male out of his territory, only to begin the cycle anew.
- Sheep and goats may look similar, but they’re different species. Sheep have 54 chromosomes, while goats have 60 chromosomes.
- Sheep have excellent peripheral vision. Their large, rectangular pupils allow them to see almost 360 degrees. In fact, they can see behind themselves without turning their heads!
- During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson had a flock of sheep trim the White House lawn.
- Not only can sheep recognize up to 50 other sheep faces and remember them for 2 years, but they can also recognize human faces.
Boanthropy is a psychological disorder in which the sufferer believes he or she is a cow or ox. The most famous sufferer of this condition was King Nebuchadnezzar, who in the Book of Daniel “was driven from men and did eat grass as oxen”.
Happy New Year! Welcome to 2018
Christmastime. . . in the future.
– from Atompunk
(written for The Grim Seer Society – May, 2016)
We Are All Providence
Howard Phillips Lovecraft (H.P.) is one of the most well known horror and science fiction writers who ever lived. Scores of books and articles have been written about his work and the impressions he had on other writers, musicians and playwrights throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, will continue to live on. There is no doubt that his influence will touch the masses for centuries to come.
However, let’s explore a different angle of H.P. Lovecraft’s writing – the possible reasons behind his masterful work and choice of genre. Being such a talented wordsmith, he could have easily focused his attentions on poetry, which he began writing at a very young age, or something in the realm of astronomy, geology, biology and physics, which also fascinated him during his youth. Instead, he took his inspiration from his love of Edgar Allan Poe and the Gothic horror stories that his grandfather had shared with him as a child.
What causes writers go down a certain pathway? What directs an author toward a specific genre as opposed to another? In H.P. Lovecraft’s case, his formidable childhood, adolescence and young adult years must have taken quite a toll on his mental state and his constitution. When he was three, H.P. Lovecraft’s father suffered a psychotic breakdown (due to untreated syphilis) in a Chicago hotel room. He was transported to Butler Hospital for the Insane (pictured above), where he died five years later.
His mother and two of his aunts raised him, but since he was often ill and suffered terribly from night terrors and horrifying dreams, he did not attend school on a regular basis. When his grandfather passed away in 1904, H.P. was fourteen years old. Due to financial mismanagement with estates and paperwork, the family lost nearly everything. Fifteen years later, his mother was sent to the same institution as his father had been, due to depression and hysteria, where she died two years later.
Genetically, depression has a tendency to run in families. Some people are predisposed to mental illness and growing up surrounded by death, insane asylums, nightmares, sickness, financial worries and overbearing caretakers can only exacerbate the possibility of a mental disorder coming to fruition. It is more than a remote possibility that H.P. Lovecraft was in the throes of depression when he penned his most famous works.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
— H.P. Lovecraft
Fear of the unknown – who better to understand and grasp that concept than someone who lost their home, their parents and their health within a matter of a few years. In the early 1900’s, there were no support groups, financial aid establishments, or grief networks. Even radio was in its infancy; news and social connections were few and far between. It was an isolating time and if somebody’s family suffered problems, they were most likely to be completely on their own.
The night terrors and frightful dreams that plagued H.P. throughout his youth could easily have been connected to his father being committed to an asylum. Though Butler Hospital still exists today, the treatments and therapies of the early 1900’s were quite intense and much different than those currently used. The sight of those who were afflicted could have a devastating effect on a child of 4 or 5. Even if his own father explained what was happening in his own terms to his son, a child at such an impressionable age and with a very creative and inquisitive mind, is going to formulate otherworldly horrors in relation to an ill parent living in a strange environment.
Mental institutions certainly deserve an article all their own, and even then, one writer couldn’t possibly examine all there is to know about them. Suffice it to say that asylums were not pleasant places – for the workers or for the institutionalized. What devastating things could a visitor see and subsequently take home as an uneasy memory to mull over during the wee hours of the morning?
As we look a little further into H.P. Lovecraft’s life, we learn that he was fortunate enough to meet a young woman named Sonia Greene at a journalist’s convention. Soon afterwards, they fell in love and were married. However, even this relationship was destined for a devastating ending.
According to http://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/h-p-lovecraft-267.php, “Although Lovecraft was interested to stay in New York, he faced financial struggles. His family (aunts) was unhappy with his alliance with Greene as she was a business owner having a hat shop to her name. Lovecraft had no work to sustain his family and Greene moved to Cleveland for employment, also losing her hat shop and suffering from poor health.”
After a few more years apart, the couple decided to divorce, though the actual legal dissolution never materialized. Thus began more years alone (not counting living with his aunts for a while – hardly the same as cohabitation with a wife), sullen and on the verge of destitution. He spent his final years in pain from intestinal cancer, malnutrition and Bright’s disease, which is a form of kidney disease.
Although he wrote most of his well-known works during the last ten years of his life, he did so during a period of solitude overshadowed by illness and misery. It has been said that artists in the throes of depression and mental illness can actually produce some of the most intriguing work. Somehow, through their pain and agony, they can manage to bare their souls to the world in such forms as paintings, sculpture, books, and poetry. Sylvia Plath is a great example. Poet, novelist and short-story writer, she suffered from depression her entire life, eventually killing herself at the age of thirty.
H.P. Lovecraft could easily have suffered in much the same way. Instead of composing poetry in his later years, perhaps he found more “solace” writing horror about fantastical beasts lurking but a mere tentacle away. In doing so, he might have been able to expel some of his personal demons. Is it possible then, that as readers of H.P. Lovecraft’s works, we are being entertained by this man’s torments? Are we using his personal outlet for his mental illness as a mere pastime?
Personally, I don’t think so. Some might disagree, but I believe that any writer who actively puts their work out into the world, regardless of its origin or inspiration, wants readers to experience their craft. Although H.P. did not live to see any financial reward or journalistic acclaim stemming from a readership following, he would probably enjoy all the attention his writing has evoked since then.
If you’re a fan of the creepy and disturbing (in a good way!), you might have delved into the podcast world in search of some good listening. While everyone will have their own favorites and be partial to one style or another, I’ve come up with a brief list that might be of interest to you. These are ones I currently listen to and can recommend.
In no particular order:
- Nightmare Magazine – Horror and Dark Fantasy Story Podcast ( Edited by bestselling, award-winning anthologist John Joseph Adams, NIGHTMARE is a digital magazine of horror and dark fantasy. In its pages, you will find all kinds of horror and dark fantasy, from zombie stories and haunted house tales, to visceral psychological horror. Every month NIGHTMARE will bring you a mix of original fiction and reprints, and featuring a variety of authors: from the bestsellers and award-winners you already know to the best new voices you haven’t heard of yet. When you read NIGHTMARE, it is our hope that you’ll see where horror comes from, where it is now, and where it’s going. The NIGHTMARE podcast, produced by Grammy Award-winning narrator and producer Stefan Rudnicki of Skyboat Media, is presented twice a month, featuring original audio fiction and classic reprints. – Reference of Description)
2. Tales to Terrify – Audio Horror Fiction Magazine
3. Relic Radio – Especially The Horror & Strange Tales – Link Here
4. Faculty of Horror – Link Here
Only four? Well, yes, at this time. I also listen to other podcasts that aren’t horror related, so I’m not including them (in this blurb). Are these the best? Well, I don’t know. It’s all very subjective. These are ones that I’ve enjoyed and continue to listen to. A few others (such as Horror Etc. Podcast) no longer exists per se (the hosts tend to put up one episode for Halloween each year since ending their reulgar podcast). So, if you can seek out the backlog on that one, you’ll be in for a treat – that was probably my favorite horror one.
In 1978, one of the most disturbing and gruesome films hit videotape. Faces of Death (and later, Traces of Death, a “copycat” version from 1993) showed every morbid, twisted, sickening aspect of death, dying, and mutilation that had pretty much ever been captured on celluloid.
These kind of films are not even remotely in my wheelhouse. I don’t find them entertaining and I certainly would never recommend them to anyone, unless you happen to enjoy seeing animals killed and people suffering. (and if that’s the case, it’s probably the last time I’m talking to you!)
Anyway, why even bring it up if it’s something I hate so much? Well, I’ve noticed that Traces of Death is celebrating it’s 15 year anniversary with a remastered box-set that promises MORE carnage! How delightful.
The thing is…as much as I despise these kind of films, I uphold the idea that they should be available and out there for folks who wish to see it. The idea of censorship doesn’t sit well with me. While it doesn’t mean that I, personally, want to see (or read) the offending material/video/book/CD, someone else in the world might wish to, and that is a right that we, as adults, should all enjoy.
The “Video Nasties”, a list of 72 banned films (which was composed in the United Kingdom in 1982) is home to more deranged and disgusting scenes that have lived mostly underground and have gone on to achieve “cult status” in some cases. Linky Here
I’ve seen three out of 72, and you know…that was enough. But again, that’s MY take on things. I prefer my horror to be more plot and/or character driven. Just because a movie is grotesque doesn’t make it scary. It makes it gross. It makes it foul. But it doesn’t take much cleverness and intelligence to show decapitations and dissections. There might be a time and place for showing such things, but it’s a sub-genre and does not represent all of horror.
So, there you are. If you like a good graphic bloody romp, have at it. For me, I’ll probably be firing up Burnt Offerings again. 🙂
Article & Commentary
Okay. So far, American Horror Story: Cult is killing it. Yes, there is a political thread that binds the stories together, but there’s so much more than governmental bashing. The group of characters they’ve assembled are intriguing and bring intricate enough backstories that it makes me want to follow them. I can’t say I like each one, but that’s fine with me. I don’t have to like a persona in order to peak my interest.
I hope they continue in this vein. Please, AHS, don’t go off the rails like you did during the past two seasons. You’ve got something solid here. Stick with it.
And, in the spirit of horror on television, I’ve attached an article I wrote for The Grim Seer Society – May, 2016:
The Original Internet:
Television & All Its Horrors
Television is a marvel and a wonder, is it not? Over the past 70+ years, it has brought us The Beatles, the moon landing, the Viet Nam war, the hostage coverage in the 70s, among volumes of other news and popular events. It can be a tool for education, a device for entertainment, and a source for the latest happenings around the world. Although the internet has taken over as the venue for much of our information gathering (as well as entertainment), most of us in this country still own at least one television. If we don’t own one, we know someone who does.
According to the Archive of American Television (edited):
“Television was never one person’s vision — as early as the 1820s, the idea began to germinate. Certainly by 1880, when a speculative article appeared in The Scientific American magazine, the concept of a working television system began to spread on an international scale.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, there were a few American laboratories leading the way: Bell, RCA, and GE. In 1927, 21-year-old Philo T. Farnsworth produced the first electronic television picture. This historic breakthrough catapulted him into a decades-long patent battle against major corporations, including RCA and CBS. RCA’s David Sarnoff brilliantly marketed this invention to the public and became known as the father of television — while Philo T. Farnsworth died in relative obscurity.
Experimental broadcast television began in the early 1930s, transmitting fuzzy images of wrestling, music and dance. In 1939, the World’s Fair in New York, RCA unveiled their new NBC TV studios in Rockefeller Plaza. A few months later, William Paley’s CBS began broadcasting from its new TV studios in Grand Central Station.”
Why the history lesson? Because it is important to realize that from this early beginning, horror was also being broadcast into households across America. Television picked up where Orson Wells’ radio show, War of the Worlds, left off. (Keep an eyeball peeled for an article on Radio Horror in the future)
As early as the 1940’s, television line-ups included programs such as Dr. Death (1945), which was one of the earliest American dramatic series. It was a four-part thriller, one of the first mini-series to ever air. Suspense was another program (1949-1954), which also ran concurrently to its radio show of the same name. Some of the broadcasts were the same, but modified slightly for the differing formats.
Another television program that was adapted from its radio precursor was the crime drama thriller, Lights Out, which ran from 1946-1952. The terminology used to define some of these programs during the 30s, 40s, and 50s, was interchangeable. Suspense, thrillers, crime-drama, horror, and mystery were used rather loosely, so a listener or viewer might very well detect some overlap. While there still is some cross-over today, distinctions between these categories can carve out their own niche. These divisions can often be seen in literature as well. For example, there are lovers of mysteries; die-hard fans of the genre. But they will never delve into a horror tome no matter how hard they are pressed. The same goes for suspense, mystery, and thriller. While most people think of these terms as merely synonyms and interchangeable, others will stand firm, selecting from only one genre.
“Suspense is the state of waiting for something to happen.” – Alfred Hitchcock.
“It “thrills” as one reads it. The plots are scary, the characters are at great risk and the novels are constructed in a manner that makes the reader really want to turn the page.” –Thriller Press
But let’s not get hung up on semantics here.
As we move into the 1950’s, the Crawford Mystery Theater (1951), was a show with a murder-mystery setting as its backdrop. It was also known as Public Prosecutor and originally filmed in 1947-1948, but not broadcast until a few years later. Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1953-1965), probably one of the most famous “horror” show from the past, was also known to give up-and-coming actors of the day, a start in the business. Twilight Zone (1959–1964), made forever famous by Rod Serling’s ubiquitous introduction, also enjoyed a mass following which continues to this day.
Thriller, hosted by Boris Karloff, ran from 1960-1962 and featured vignettes of crime, mystery, suspense or horror. Around the same time, One Step Beyond (1959-1961), hosted by John Newland, had some very disturbing and unsettling programs. I specifically remember this show as terrifying. I saw the show in reruns when I was around eight or nine, and I can still recall some of the plots and how they kept me up at night.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Outer Limits (1963-1965). This show leaned more toward science fiction than suspense or horror. Yet, for its time, some of the synopses were closely enough related to the bizarre to qualify as being a “scary show”. Leslie Stevens and Harlan Ellison, a name many of you might be familiar with, were the show’s creators.
The last one we’ll discuss is actually a British show, produced by the Hammer Film production company. It ran for one season (1968-1969), but was shown on American television, probably because it featured both British and American actors. The reason I mention this show, Journey to the Unknown, is because of the theme song and introduction.
The opening sequence shows a carnival at night. There are no people, but the rides are lit up and running. The camera moves throughout the rides in a disjointed, disorienting fashion as the musical score begins. It sounds like a heartbeat followed by an obscure whistled tune and finally becomes a full orchestrated song. This builds toward the climax which features horns, violins and timpani – screaming at a stinging pitch. The final one or two bars of music underscore the final visual: a rider-less roller coaster about to fly off the track. You can enjoy this creep fest here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ecwd_Ww8tHQ
While the episodes dealt with the supernatural or strange occurrences, they had a similar feel to the Twilight Zone or the more recent show, Tales From the Darkside (1983-1988, created by George Romero!). But to me, the most terrifying part of the show was the macabre opening. (It has stayed with me for over 45 years)
Why reminisce about these old programs? The special effects of today far exceed anything mentioned in this article, so why bother to write about the past?
The answer is simple. If not for the past, we wouldn’t have the genre we know and love today. People like Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock, Arch Oboler, Boris Karloff, and Harlan Ellison paved the way; either by writing, directing, acting and/or creating a world of horror and suspense for the audiences of the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. While some readers of this article might never spend a single moment listening to old radio shows or watching reruns of these iconic shows (whether on YouTube or some other means), it is still important that we pay homage to what has come before.
You don’t have to like it, but it is critical to respect and admire what these people created with little money, few special effects, and very strict network censors. They are the for-bearers of The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, The X-Files and so many more.
Another article I wrote for The Grim Seer Society – May, 2016
Tales from the Crypts
Cemeteries, crypts, mausoleums, graves and tombs: society’s necessary destinations to some, though other individuals may prefer cremation as a choice for their final resting place. Each of these designations has its own long, rich, and historical past. Religious beliefs, financial means, personal preference, family traditions, and nobility all play a part as to where our remains will ultimately spend eternity.
Since, as the saying goes, none of us will get out of here alive, is it probably safe to say that everyone who has reached adulthood has had the opportunity or at least the necessity to visit one of these premises. Regardless of the reason (funeral, a memorial service or paying respects to a close family member or friend), we’ve all encountered a gravesite. While the event itself might have prompted tears or brought up fond memories, our society has had an odd relationship with the necropolis.
When it comes to eternal resting places, people tend to fall into one of three categories: They love them, they hate them, or they fear them.
There are those among us that relish a long afternoon stroll among the dead. These are the folks who pack a lunch, head out to their local cemetery and make a day of it. They see cemeteries as historical outdoor museums, filled with unknown stories and beautiful monuments. They walk along, read the inscriptions, and make paper tracings of etched engravings or carvings from the marble or stone markers, taking special note of a poem or saying.
These individuals don’t consider such places frightful – just the opposite. They might drive out of their way in order to visit a particularly old or ornate graveyard. They regard these sojourns as opportunities to learn, to examine, to bond with a part of the past. Their behavior is not borne out of depression or a secret wish to die, but rather a fascination with an historical landmark and with the people who were interned there.
For the purpose of this article, I’m going to lump the neutral-feeling folks in this group. These are the people that don’t necessarily make special trips to graveyards, but they do have a deep respect for the sacredness and humanity that emanates from such places. Whether out of piousness or a simple acknowledgment of the generations that have passed before them, this group takes a matter-of-fact stance – cemeteries and places of internment are necessities of life (and death).
The second group, which I will classify as “the haters”, has their own perspective on the pervasive funerary grounds. When I refer to this particular group, I’m not necessarily stating that these people actively hate cemeteries – they don’t carry picket signs or write letters to the papers demanding their closure. Instead, these are the individuals who see these places as unnecessary; a wasteful use of land that could be used for the living.
Among this group are those who would rather be cremated than throw good money away. They see the purchase of a monument that no one will ever visit as a financial crime. They don’t believe in paying respects to a place holder – it has no meaning. Once a person dies, that’s it. Game over. For “the haters”, there is no point in expensive funeral costs, let alone doling out money for the price of a casket, grave marker or funerary services.
One of my uncles held this belief. Neither he, nor my aunt (his wife), has a plot, a marker or any lasting remnant from their passing. While there was a very brief service held when my aunt passed away, my uncle wanted nothing; not a service, not a gathering of any sort and certainly not a memorial urn. It was as if he wanted his life erased from everyone’s memory. I’m not certain why someone would go out of their way to nullify their life and discourage any remaining family members from any kind of farewell or closure, but there are those who feel this way.
However, not all people who choose cremation believe this. Some choose cremation for strictly financial reasons (cremation tends to be less expensive than a regular burial), spiritual solace or out of necessity. Any one of these, or a combination thereof, doesn’t mean that the person hates cemeteries or places of that ilk. It is only that cremation is more likely chosen if a person has a defiant attitude against such places.
The third group constitutes the people who fear all types of burial grounds. Be it a cemetery, mausoleum, funeral home, ossuary, or a tiny country graveyard, these folks will do everything in their power to avoid contact. There is no love loss, yet they do not outright hate them. It’s a matter of unquestionable fright.
This revulsion may have a number of justifications. For example, some people suffer from coimetrophobia, the official term for a fear of cemeteries. Their fear may actually cause negative physical reactions. Some symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- The inability to speak or think clearly
According to the website, http://www.fearofstuff.com/places/fear-of-cemeteries/, “fear of cemeteries is quite common. In the course of our lives, most of us encounter death, and it can be difficult to accept. This phobia is tied into the fear of mortality, perhaps the greatest phobia of all. When people with the fear of cemeteries see gravestones that mark the resting places of the dead, they may feel pangs of loss. They may remember loved ones who have passed, or simply be reminded that they too must die.”
Another reason, possibly best understood by the readers of this website, is the idea that cemeteries, morgues and funeral parlors have been used in literature, movies and television to represent places of horror and ghoulish activities. Hearing scary stories set in mist-filled cemeteries or visiting the famous ride at Orlando’s Disneyworld’s Haunted Mansion are two prime examples of how a foundation of fear can be created. If someone is inundated with macabre anecdotes about such places from an early age, that alone can be the catalyst for a lifetime of anxiety and unease. Whether a person will completely avoid all of these sites is difficult to predict, but an underlying fear can alter someone’s behavior for the rest of their life.
A third reason is probably the most basic and intuitive of all. Cemeteries and similar places can be reminders of our ultimate demise. Death, especially in our current society, is not something that we like to dwell upon if at all possible. Though we may understand it pragmatically, the fact that that every living thing will eventually perish, we don’t necessarily want to face it. Entering a mausoleum or a walking through a graveyard might make death a little too up close and personal for our liking.
According to the How Stuff Works website, “Biologically, fear exists as a response to stimuli that threatens our survival as a species. We’re programmed to fight or run from anything that might cause death, and we approach death itself with the same attitude. We flee from it every day by distancing it from our thoughts and lives. … we’ve handed the duties of interring the dead over to mortuary professionals, which limits our intimacy with death.”
Individuals that have this fear might not be as comfortable as their counterparts when it comes to all things death related. The unfortunate consequence however, is the obvious one. At some point, they, too, will have to encounter death in one form or another.
Where do you place yourself on this sliding scale? Do you love feeling the rough, cold headstones underneath your hands? Are you indifferent to the resting places of the dead? Or do you find your pace, as well as your pulse, quicken as you approach a mist-covered graveyard?
This movie is a brief (8 minute) pseudo-documentary loosely based on a mutated version of logophobia (a fear of words). Such a fear can cause a laundry list of symptoms, such as: breathlessness, excessive sweating, shaking, inability to think, feeling nauseated, panic attacks, paranoia and even a fear of death.
I have always been fascinated with “scary logos” because I remember seeing a number of these when I was growing up. I even wrote a short story about it in one of my books (In a Corner, Darkly: Volume 1). There was something creepy and disturbing about them and they have stuck around in my brain for the better part of 45 years.
The problem about these video logos is that, yes, they can be scary – it just depends on the particular person’s point of view. As an adult, witnessing these things probably amounts to a lot of nothing. But as a 4, 5, or 6 year old, the jarring sounds and the unsettling visuals can cast these clips in a whole different light.
Here is a rather complete list of the logos that struck fear into the hearts of kids in past decades: Linky Here.
If you so choose, simply google “scary logos” or “creepy television logos”. There are a number of websites, links, and video collections that provide other examples of what this fear/phobia is all about.
Here is another article I wrote for The Grim Seer Society Weblog – From June, 2016
Why Clowns Aren’t Funny (or scary)
I’ve never been a big fan of clowns. It’s not that I’m afraid of them (never was), nor do I find them endearing, charming, funny or delightful. For me, a clown represents over-the-top slapstick and exaggerated goofiness that goes beyond entertainment. I think it’s the combination of their greasy make-up and sophomoric behavior that makes them so distasteful to me. Even when I watched Bozo’s Circus as a child, I always preferred Cookie over the title clown himself, simply for the fact that Cookie wasn’t as theatrical and overly dramatic when on stage.
In the horror culture, clowns are wonderful tropes that elicit a deep-seeded fear that runs rampant in many people. Coulrophobia is a real thing. Twelve percent of people in the United States admit to suffering from this fear. According to Coulrophobia Facts, “Scientists and doctors now agree that it is a result of not knowing who lies behind the excessive makeup, red nose and hair color.”
This website also states that, “… clowns can also break social norms, their mask makes them able to do things that others can’t do socially, like interacting with unknown people at ease.”
While it is true that movies and television have made certain clowns appear fanatical with their wild antics and vengeful conduct, I believe that these particular characters would be terrifying regardless of what they wore on their faces or how they were dressed.
In Stephen King’s novel, It, Pennywise (the clown) terrorizes children, luring them into the sewers with promises of fun and balloons only to shower them with their worst fears as the character It actually murders them. Now, let’s think about this for a minute. If any middle-aged man lured a child into harm’s way with candy or puppies, he would be regarded as a monster, as someone to be feared. Does it matter what his attire is at that moment? While dressing up as a clown might carry a little persuasive pull, using a cute animal or treats in order to trick a trusting kid should be seen as more hideous and heinous than simply wearing a costume.
Stephen King utilized coulrophobia quite well. In order to burrow into the readers’ psyche, he levied a creepy clown against a bunch of anxious kids. What we have been left with is a solid horror novel and a compelling movie. (and I hear they are going to remake IT in the near future) While the concept is brilliant for a writer to use, to play to peoples’ fears, I believe the real terror in the book goes much deeper. The characters in the novel fear Pennywise, but the ultimate dread actually revolves around the issues of abandonment and loneliness. Those are far more devastating, after all. (though not as fun to read, perhaps).
In the feature film, Poltergeist, another evil clown makes an unwelcome appearance. During this 1982 movie, “Robbie” (one of the child actors) sees the clown doll staring at him and, finding it creepy, covers the doll with his jacket. Later in the film when Robbie is about to go to bed he notices the clown is gone. He starts looking for it, looking under one side of the bed, only to see nothing. He checks the other side of the bed and sees nothing, but when he gets up the clown doll is behind him, grabbing his face before dragging him under the bed. The clown continues to choke him until Robbie fights back, ripping the clown doll’s stuffing out before bringing it on top of the bed and continuing to attack it before finally stopping.”
Have you ever seen some of the dolls from the early 1900s in an antique store? Those dead-eye faces with gaping mouths are the epitome of disturbing. Yet, they are dressed in clothes of the day, usually in dresses with petticoats and a fancy coif. No greasepaint makeup or striped colored clown pants needed; they already posses an eerie vibe. If a little stuffed bear or bunny suddenly became animated and began choking the life out of your child, they would be seen as horrifying and a threat. It wasn’t the fact that a clown was hurting a young boy, but an object that was supposed to be inanimate.
Before Season 4 of American Horror Story aired, the commercial teases leading up to the premier episode revolved around snippets of Twisty the Clown in full mask regalia (in addition to other freaky clownish commercial bites). When the back-story is finally revealed, we learn that Twisty actually had a horrible life which ultimately led to his “taking up the exaggerated mask”. While he did kill along the way, his was a story that ended up more poignant than horrifying.
“Twisty was mentally handicapped. And given that he was the number one attraction at the local circus, some cruel and clever freaks spread a career- (and, for Twisty, life-) ruining rumor that he had been molesting the children who came to see his act.” He was also suicidal, and in a botched attempt to shoot himself in the head, he instead blew the lower half of his face off, resulting in his wearing the oversized grin (probably a shout-out to Mr Sardonicus: The Man Who Laughs).
So, what we really have in this case is a mutilated, disfigured, mentally handicapped man who made attempts at engaging with children, and when that didn’t work, took out his anger and frustration by murdering random innocents. Where is the real clown connection? Perhaps as a passing nod, he used a mask and makeup to cover up his mangled face while he chose to wear gaudy oversized clothes as homage to a profession of which he longed to be a part. But again, this guy would have been a societal nightmare regardless of what he wore or how he made up his face.
Was John Wayne Gacy a scary clown? No, he was an insane predator who used any means he could in order to destroy lives. He raped and killed 33 men and boys between 1972 and 1978 in Cook County, Illinois (near Chicago). Known as “the clown who killed” by the media only helped to provoke people’s fear of clowns.
In two of the previously mentioned cases, it was the individual behind the grease paint and peculiar clothes who was actually to be feared. They could have just as easily portrayed themselves as sports figures or policemen. Either of these “costumes” could sway an innocent child and get them to follow along with a perpetrator’s requests. In these previously mentioned examples, the clowns represented the ultimate bait and switch. Instead of having clowns represent joy and humor with a bit of mischievous behavior thrown in, they became uglier and larger than life. They came to represent evil incarnate even though the same character could have been portrayed as any other persona with the same results.
Clowns can be many things: annoying, distasteful, exaggerated, goofy, overbearing and gratuitous. The two things they aren’t, however, are funny or scary. Leave the art of pratfalls and slapstick comedy to those who have finesse, such as Charlie Chaplin, Dick Van Dyke, John Cleese, and The Three Stooges. Leave the horror to the writers, directors and actors. And if you must, look to reality for the authentic terrors that plague the world –John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and Jeffrey Dahmer.
Compared to a list like that, clowns should just take their red noses, balloon animals and honking horns and go home.
Here is an article I wrote for The Grim Seer Society Weblog – from July, 2016.
Victorian Horror: Steampunk
Between the goggles, leather corsets, top hats, and boots, this sub-genre has managed to burrow its way into popular culture, bringing with it a multitude of other, somewhat similar categories. Cyberpunk, dieselpunk, and decopunk are variations along the same stratosphere. The relative difference between these (and the many other divisions that exist) is the time frame on which they focus. As far as Steampunk and its entire ilk are concerned, the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s is where this alternative historical setting is most often found.
Steampunk: From the Victorian View
According to http://steampunk-horror.deviantart.com/, “Steampunk is a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. It could be described by the slogan ‘What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.’ It includes fiction with science fiction, fantasy or horror themes.” Under the heading of Steampunk itself, one can find quite a few sub-headings as well. As with any genre or sub-genre, the break down into smaller and smaller niche groups will happen over the course of time.
Steampunk, as a whole, is not a scary concept; nor was the Victorian Age, to be honest. The Victorian Age stretches from 1837 – 1901 and was named after Queen Victoria of England. People living during this period didn’t necessarily recognize their style of dress or current inventions like the fans of Steampunk do today. If societies were that self- aware, we might have never had to live through the big hair and annoying shoulder pads of the 1980’s.
Self-awareness aside, the concept of Steampunk as we now know it has so many facets that analyzing the genre as a whole might be viewed as rather generic and mundane. Because it encapsulates literature, music, fashion, furniture, décor, film and art, it is critical for us to narrow down a more palatable topic on which to focus. So, for our purposes, let’s discuss one particular issue as we regard this classification: the joining of man and machine.
During the Victorian age, the steam engine was the great new technology. With its ear-splitting hiss and enormous iron body, this new source of power generated not only energy, but a fascination about its very concept. Fashion, art, and design all took their cues from the population’s enchantment with this new creation. Much like what happened in the 1950s when the space race was a driving force – signs, furniture, outfits, television shows, and even advertising all jumped on the proverbial bandwagon, incorporating space-type themes into their design campaigns and merchandise.
Steampunk does the same thing, only the time frame is skewed. According to Wikipedia, “Modern appropriation of Victorian styles: a contemporary counter-cultural trend called steampunk. Those who dress steampunk often wear Victorian-style clothing that has been ‘tweaked’ in edgy ways: tattered, distorted, melded with Goth fashion, Punk, and Rivethead styles. Another example of Victorian fashion being incorporated into a contemporary style is the Lolita Fashion.”
Steampunk Goes Mechanical
In the 1990’s, when everything Steampunk really started to enjoy a more mainstream following, (the term ‘steampunk’ was first mentioned by science-fiction author K.W. Jeter in 1987), our culture was well past the steam engine lifestyle. We were up to our modems in hi-tech computers and advanced technology, and continue to be so. However, there was (and still is) a magnetism and appeal to things of the past; in this case, the style, mechanisms, and fashion of the Victorian Era.
In the late 1800s, machines of all sorts were becoming more and more integrated into daily life. (http://theinventors.org/library/weekly/aa111100b.htm) In 1886, Gottlieb Daimler built the first four-wheeled motor vehicle. One year prior, Mr. Daimler invented the first gas-engine motorcycle. In 1892, Rudolf Diesel invents the diesel-fueled internal combustion engine. A few years earlier, the inventions of the typewriter, the elevator, the sewing machine, and the gramophone were first shared with the public. This was a time when man and machine began to merge, both in business and in personal/domestic life. It was the intermingling of these two very different entities that have brought about the horrific concept of man becoming machine.
Man Becoming Machine
The idea of flesh actually intertwining with gears, bolts and various metal mechanisms can be shocking. We are not referring to the injured or disfigured; those among us that use prosthetics to aid in mobility from a medical standpoint. Rather, what we are contemplating is the juxtaposition of mechanical parts with flesh and bone.
The Swiss surrealist painter, H.R. Giger, comes to mind. His works provide great illustrations of the concept ‘man becoming machine’. Though not specifically “steampunk”, he combined humanistic faces or torsos with jutting tubes and elongated machinery. The idea of humans morphing into machines, whether by compliance or by force, can be seen as futuristically amazing or destructively horrifying. It depends on whose terms these alterations are being made.
During the Victorian age, as machines were ‘taking the place’ of what was once solely manpowered and human controlled jobs, these new devices could easily be seen as terrifying and a threat to the fabric of society. The fact that many of these new innovations were noisy, large and had the potential for injury only added to suspicions. If these inventions can do the jobs better and faster than people, who knew if the entire working population would simply be replaced? Or, going one step further, if mechanical devices are better on every front, why not just replace humans altogether?
Of course, many movies and books have dealt with this very topic from a variety of viewpoints. However, the melding of flesh and machine still retains a rather grotesque imagery. “He reached beneath where his bottom ribs would have curved, and lifted upward. I stared in utter amazement. No heart, no bone, no human ligament or vein. Inside a metal cage gears whirred and meshed. Wound springs intertwined with each other, and ticked off the slow measuring of his artificial life” (256). The steampunk grotesque emerges from techno fantasy, thus some mad scientist or inventor has assembled the machine/monster by hand.” http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1162&context=english_theses
The notion that gears, springs, sprockets and wheels are somehow adhered to a human being, not for any medical purpose, but instead to create a ‘new entity’ is somewhat alarming. Mechanical devices substituting for body parts can easily enough lead to robotics controlling our thoughts and movements. Free will would no longer exist. Human connection and all of its components would no longer be necessary. Nothing in the world would have feelings, emotions or heart, with the exceptions of animals. And eventually, even the animals might ultimately be mechanically controlled.
“A grotesque form is one of partial confusion, not complete confusion. If we can at least partially identify elements of the object, if ‘we have an inkling of the unity and character in the midst of the strangeness of the form, then we have the grotesque. It is the half-formed, the perplexed, and the suggestively monstrous’ (193-4).” http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1162&context=english_theses
Where is the Cutoff?
It is this very idea, human becoming something unnatural, which has horrified society for eons. We can see examples of this in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” (pieces of corpses shouldn’t come back to life), Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” (once dead, stay dead), and The Fly (1958 or 1986 version – man turning into insect). Even in these cases, as scary as they were during their time, at least the human turned into a form of some kind of animal being. Turning into a fly (or part fly) is unfathomable, but at its core, the change takes place between one living creature evolving into another.
With Steampunk Horror, man’s eventual evolution is not reforming into another sentient being, but instead into something inhuman. What percentage of flesh and blood is required in order to consider something either a creature of humanity or as a robotic machine?
Being just another cog in the wheel would take on a whole different meaning.