A Visceral Response to Lifers: Horror Fan For Life

I wrote another version of this, but like many films — horror or otherwise — I feel like I lost the plot. I tried to be too clever about it, which is something I’ve been accusing other creators, in other media, of being. But this isn’t something to try to be smart about. It’s something I wish I can say directly, and as clearly as possible. It’s how someone else’s story — and the experiences of others — hit me under the umbrella of the horror genre.

A few months ago, about a month into life beginning to stand still thanks to the Pandemic, KreepazoidKelly: a makeup artist, model, interviewer, and general good will and ambassador for horror media and the community mentioned that there is an article about her in Fangoria Magazine. At the time, I thought she had written something for Fangoria, but it is a piece created by the writer and actress BJ Colangelo from many of their interactions about KreepazoidKelly — or Kelly Barlow — an ultimate horror fanatic: a “lifer.”

BJ Colangelo’s article about Kelly, titled “Lifers: Horror Fan For Life,” can be found in Fangoria Vol. 2, Issue 7. It talks about her life, her influences, her achievements, and her struggles with brain cancer and its associated maladies, along with the emotional toll its taken on her, while at the same time relating it all back to their mutual love of horror. Both Colangelo and Kelly are cancer survivors as well as horror fanatics, and I can’t and won’t speak for their experiences, but there are two things in the article that really hit home for me: that stabbed me in the gut.

Before I go into that, there is a way that Colangelo frames her entire article that really appeals to me, because it’s something we all do: not just in the horror fandom, but in all geek circles. Interspersed throughout her writing is an ongoing, short form dialogue with Kelly comparing and contrasting different horror characters, and asking for her favourite films and moments, and why. It’s something I actually want to engage with on my own, because as I read it, some of my own answers came to mind as I imagine they did with a lot of Fangoria readers.

Quick! Without thinking! Who would win in a chainsaw fight, Leatherface or Ash, and why?

Colangelo explains why they do this, and I can understand it as well. For Kelly, and others like her, it is a way to distract from the constant of daily pain. It is the reason why someone with chronic and/or terminal illnesses — or someone associated with them, someone knowing or watching someone they love go through them — can enjoy, and even embrace, horror. It’s better than dwelling on it, or being overwhelmed by the despair of that helplessness, of not being able to do anything about the inevitable beyond simply continuing to fight, to exist, to keep engaging, and going on for as long as you can.

Kind of like I will be in this article.” I will tell you. “Because as of this writing I haven’t seen Chainsaw Massacre yet, but while I know Ash from Evil Dead is far more intimate with his chainsaw out of necessity, Leatherface’s is his love, and I will have to go with Kelly on that answer because, seriously? Ash can barely focus on the things that matter. Like, you know, that mystical spell that comes from The Day The Earth Stood Still? Klaatu barada, um … oh damn. I’ve lost my train of thought, and I’m dead now. Because Leatherface.

Kelly is someone who, with the chainsaw of her beloved genre, could eviscerate a person like myself who lost something, and tries to fill that void with the remnant of what came before that loss, literally and metaphorically opening me up to realization that there is still so much left to feel, and discover. She has done enough horror makeup to know how to make it look like her insides are on her outsides, and taking what is inside of her and projecting it externally: expressing it, accepting it.

Quick! Without thinking! Friday the 13th, or Halloween and why?

I’m terrible at not-thinking. Grief makes it even worse. I’m at a loss. I am only starting my journey in horror with fans around me, while Kelly, and Colangelo, and others have been in it for ages. I know, as I write this, I am putting myself into the conversation — not just between the two of them, but between the dialogue that has been happening with so many people in the horror fandom and the industry for years. Even so, it tugs at the corners of my blackened, twisted heart.

I’ve barely seen either horror series.” I admit to you all. “But while I love Halloween because it’s how I truly found and interacted with the Drive-In Mutant Fam for the first time with my story prompt, Friday The Thirteenth makes more sense to me because Jason Voorhees is dead, and even though that isn’t always true in continuity, it makes more sense that he has supernatural powers and can survive anything compared to what should be a simple lunatic like Michael Myers. 

It affects me, because I know I might not ever be able to have this conversation, because I wish I could. I’d seen Kelly in passing on Twitter ages ago through mutual horror followers, talking about her illness, receiving support from so many people whose lives she touched, or who just heard her like I had. I also left my support. It wasn’t until a little while ago that I’d seen her post again, and after some interaction we added each other on social media. I began to look at her interactions with others, fans and creators, and her own Live-Tweets during The Last Drive-In on Shudder. What I saw — which Colangelo also states in her article — is someone who promotes both mainstream industrial and independent horror productions and works, a person who attempts to keep engaging with a community: a truly beautiful being, inside and out.

In her article, Colangelo mentions how in October of 2019 Kelly found out that her cancer is terminal.

Quick! Without thinking! If you could keep any horror monster as a pet, who would you keep, and why?

I’ve been thinking about how I wish I could talk with her. I know that Kelly has many people leaving her well-wishes and even in a best case scenario, being well-rested, and comfortable she can’t get to us all. A major part of me, after everything, wishes I found her before now, even wishes I’d gone further into horror more than a year ago. But it’s not just because of Kelly.

I mentioned, earlier, how there are two elements in Colangelo’s article that stood out at me, that stabbed me directly, and went for the killing blow. One of these things, was dealing with the question of why someone who was dying or suffering from a serious chronic illness would still want to surround themselves with horror. Colangelo seems to state that horror can take the terror someone is feeling toward their own sense of mortality and put it on the outside, allowing it to be faced tangibly. Perhaps there is also the catharsis of it, the purging of all those volatile emotions and fears into something resembling meaning against the backdrop of the senseless and unfairness of a chaotic and arbitrary world.

And then BJ Colangelo, while listing the wide array of Kelly’s ailments related to her cancer, mentioned scleroderma.

I would also choose Bob from Creepshow‘s ‘The Finger.'” I admit to all of you, my face bowed down. “He’s a mess and he kills massive amounts of people. But he’s loyal. You never doubt his love for you. Ever. He would be the best pet ever. I wonder if you could order him to kill a nation, or an entire world for you. But I think I already know the answer to that. Such a large love from such a small, beloved, monstrosity.

My former partner, Kaarina Wilson, had been sick for a long time. She passed away in April, from complications due to various auto-immune disorders: including, primarily, scleroderma.

Going into our relationship, I knew Kaarina had been an advocate for auto-immune awareness. She led workshops, went into marathons to raise money for treatments and education, and throughout all that agony she would present herself and attempt to help others. Horror, to her, was what she was experiencing, what she was feeling from the that place of the inside turned out. When she experienced the horror genre, when she engaged in it, it allowed her to glorify that part of her mortality: to accept it. And while I can’t speak for for her or Kelly, or anyone, I’ve always gotten the idea that horror — in illustrating terrifying death — shows the vitality and voraciousness of that need to live: to truly do something, to be something, with whatever you have left.

I remember when I spent more time with her, Kaarina would look down at her finger. Scleroderma hardens and tightens parts of the skin, and bodily connections. It often has other illnesses like Raynaud’s associated with it that affect circulation. It got bad. Often, she would say that she would lose that finger.

She never did.

For me, horror isn’t so much dealing with the prospect of my own mortality, even during the current Pandemic, but processing grief, and that sense of a loss of time. That melancholy has always been there in me, and I imagine in a lot of other people — fans or otherwise — but my focus on the genre at this time, with my own interest in story and the darkness of the world, is something driven by my own sense of pain and loss, in an attempt to give me some meaning — and to reach out to others — in an extremely lonely time.

It’s why I began interacting more with the Mutant Fam, and participating in the Last Drive-In. And, in so doing, creating this Blog, then finding Kelly again, reading the Fangoria article about her, and writing this entire response. It comes full circle, like the limited spheres of social interaction we are supposed to have now in this time of the Pandemic, the bubbles we are supposed to isolate within to prevent the spread of disease, like the repeating psychodramas of things inside our heads that are hard to ignore during this time of trauma we are only beginning to know that others have been living with far longer than ourselves.

I am taking the bad, and the ugly in me and putting it out there, and projecting it. I know that. I think everyone of us in horror at some point or another does something like this. I don’t know when it will stop. I don’t know if it ever will. It’s like, I am writing for two instead of one. I am reaching out into the darkness to find a light that is similar to my own. To capture what is lost. To hold onto someone or something that won’t always be there, and should never be taken for granted.

Quick. Without thinking. If you could only watch one more horror movie before the end of your life, what would you watch and why?

Once, that would have taken me forever to answer. But I would choose Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s The Endless, because every reality and every life is a cycle, and they be both beautiful and horrific, and sometimes the most heartrending beauty is that moment when you have to say goodbye and let go — to abandon the familiar cycle of desperate nostalgia and fear, and embrace the terrifying, yet exhilarating vista of the unknown.

Like I’ve said before, and especially now on this Blog: I am no Doctor. I am just a student of horror. And KreepazoidKelly — Kelly — if you are reading this:

Quick. Without thinking. What is a piece of horror, literary or cinematic, fictional or no, that really hit you where it hurts? And why?

Like a Flower: Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space

This particular specimen is the result of another detour on my part. Not the creation of the 2019 film by Richard Stanley, obviously, or the story it was derived from “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft, but rather that I was going to talk about more vampires, or perhaps even The Evil Dead, until a friend of mine reminded me that this film exists, and I wanted to watch it.

So after watching The Evil Dead, and rewatching Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight as preparation for an endeavour upon which I want to detail in Works in Progress and twist into life within my Reanimation Station, I finally got to sit down and see this latest cinematic adaptation of Lovecraft’s story.

I will try to include as much detail as I can, but I am not as scholarly as the writers of Facts in the Case of Alan Moore’s Providence, so you will need to settle for my enthusiasm instead.

I read the original short story, or novella, a long time ago and I recall it feeling more like a science-fiction narrative instead of Lovecraft’s usual occultic Cthulhu Mythos stories, to be outdone only by “At the Mountains of Madness” that I would read later. As others have pointed out, “The Colour Out of Space” was also unique in that it detailed, in full, the effects of the colour entity itself on the farming family — the Gardners — that lived in the area where the meteor strikes. These aren’t scholars, or scientists, or specialists. They are just people trying to make a living, and maintain their land before something beyond their comprehension, and their control slowly and utterly destroys their lives.

Stanley’s film itself takes the narrative of Lovecraft’s short story and uses it as a framing device to introduce the plot: beginning with a voice-over from the perspective of the surveyor to start off the film. It is a throwback to the short story which is told from the first person. The surveyor himself is actually, in the movie, a hydrologist and graduate from Miskatonic University Ward Phillips: whose name is a combination of the surname of Lovecraft’s Charles Dexter Ward from his own “Case” story, and Lovecraft’s own middle name.

However, this isn’t Ward’s story. And unlike his unnamed counterpart in the short story, he isn’t relating to us the story of Ammi Pierce who finds the Gardners and the corruption of their property. This is no pedestal narrative — the story of another told by a protagonist — even if it’s all framed to have happened in retrospect: which is funny, when you consider the temporal implications that occur in the film as it progresses. No, Ward is actually the hydrologist sent by the authorities to the land of the Gardners to survey it so they can build a bridge there. He is there in a great deal of the plot and he directly interacts with the Gardners without a middle man, so to speak.

The small details, the introductory visuals, are what grab me. As Ward enters the heavily forested land of the Gardners we see Barbie Doll limbs arranged on the branches in strange shapes not unlike Swastikas, which in turn have been depicted as Elder Signs of the Lovecraft variety or, in this case, they could have been in a flower petal arrangement. The best thing about symbolism is that one object can mean multiple things, or dimensions, at once as opposed to simply a one and/or the other allegory arrangement.

This is where we meet our first member of the Gardner family. You see, unlike the short story where they all seem to have archaic or Biblical-sounding names such as Nahum, Thaddeus, Merwin, and Zenas — and an unnamed Mrs. Gardner, the patriarch of the family is Nathan, his wife is Theresa, and their sons are Benny and Jack. In fact, the only one with a standout first name is the daughter of the family: Lavinia. She is the first person that Ward meets.

Now here is where the Cthulhu Mythos lore does unfold a bit. It’s a great example of Mythos retelling, or reinterpretation of Mythos parts. Lavinia’s name comes from poor Lavinia Whateley in Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”: the daughter of a warlock forced to bear the children — Wilbur Whateley and his invisible, monstrous sibling — from the extra-dimensional being Yog-Sothoth. That Lavinia is driven mad by the experience, and killed by her own unseen child, the aforementioned Dunwich Horror, later on in the story.

The Lavinia in Color Out of Space, however, is a young woman with occult background: or at least has ties to New Age magical practices and mysticism. Of course, if anything she seems more like an eclectic solo practitioner of witchcraft because Ward himself asks if she is in the Wiccan or Alexandrian traditions, and doesn’t seem to know the difference: even when Ward “guesses wrong.” I mean, the man did study at Miskatonic U and what is the paraphrase? Never go against a Miskatonic University graduate when the occult is on the line? Here is an interesting part of that discussion: Ward actually thinks she is an Alexandrian Wiccan: and while the Alexandrian tradition had been created by Alex and Maxine Sanders in 1960s Great Britain, it was Gerald Gardner in 1954 who first gathered and established the principles that would lead to Wicca. So of the two choices, Ward would have been wrong in considering Lavinia an Alexandrian.

But that clever tongue and cheek reference by Stanley aside, it’s through Lavinia, this young woman forced to live on this old farm that belonged to her late grandfather, now raising fruits and vegetables, and alpacas for their milk, that are introduced to the rest of her family, and their situation. Nathan Gardner has moved his family to his father’s old farm because his wife Theresa is recovering from breast cancer. The city of Arkham, of which this land is a part, wants to buy the property to create a reservoir. Theresa herself is attempting to heal, and also recover her property business while losing clients because of terrible Internet connection and communication.

The interplay between the family members, all of whom aren’t particularly pleased to be living in this area, feels real. It isn’t set in the 1800s, as their counterparts had been in the short story, and it feels like they are in twenty-first century. You can see Nathan, played by Nicolas Cage, attempting to maintain order and cohesion in the family, and even though he is a bit overbearing, you can tell it is because he is worried about his wife, and the future of his family.

And there are so many Lovecraftian themes and resonances in the film already. Nathan, and to some extent Theresa, are afraid of becoming like their parents — with Nathan fighting against some of the legacy his father left behind through disapproval and the latter’s own death by cancer — so you have that hereditary curse or doom trope tweaked ever so lightly. You have Benny Gardner and his fascination with satellites and space as well as the resident old man hermit’s Ezra’s eccentric electronic and monitoring equipment: both of which are very reminiscent of Crawford Tillinghast’s experiments in Lovecraft’s story “From Beyond.” Ezra himself seems like a throwback to Ammi Pierce who is apparently mentally unsound as he tells the narrator his story in Lovecraft’s short story, though like him he knows a lot more about what is going on than he would seem. And in addition to Lavinia’s literary resonance, among her magical tools she has a copy of what seems to be the Simon Necronomicon: a book released by Schlangekraft, Inc. in 1977 and republished in paperback form by Avon Books. This is an attempt to combine Aleister Crowley, and Sumerian mythology into the Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos in the form of a grimoire. And no, it is not the Sumerian version of the Book of the Dead, definitely not the Naturom Demonto or the Necronomicon Libre Ex-Mortis, and probably one of the reasons I believe Lavinia is an eclectic practitioner. Trust me.

But even Lavinia’s mystical leanings are a call back to the Mythos, even if they are treated as something of a red herring, or a fond Lovecraftian in-joke. When the meteor does come down, everyone thinks it’s something like a mystical summoning, or an alien plague. All the Lovecraft trope references get honourable mentions in this film.

I am a Lovecraft fanatic, and while all the easter-eggs — especially locations mentioned in passing such as Arkham, Aylesbury, Dunwich, and Kingsport — are fantastic little winks, I think the strength of Color Out of Space comes with its effects, and the interpersonal horror — family horror — that we get to see unfold.

One of the major issues in adapting “The Colour Out of Space” into a visual medium is the fact that the “Colour” is by its very nature something that can’t be described. The phenomenon or entity is beyond the third dimension, and its hues are supposed to defy anything that the human eye can perceive. The contrasts of colour are used well too, especially in the ending where there is only white, and then no colour at all.

So how do you create a visual effect of that? How do you creatively interpret it? There is of course CGI, and it does get used in the film, but it is done sparingly and I appreciate the decision to make the Colour itself something of a rainbow spectrum. Sometimes it is almost a recognizable colour, before it shifts into another, and many besides. It is deceptively beautiful and it fits well with the initial effect that it has on the land around it. It reminds me of The Wizard of Oz taken to an alien and horrific place where it’s reversed and the twisted fantasy background becomes painfully vibrant, and the resulting reality and aftermath is a dull, dead black and white world. The flying mantises in the interim also seem to match this idea, and so do the flowers.

The flowers are an excellent touch. I’m not sure if they exist in the short story, but they are small, beautiful, pink-red petals that grow like cherry-blossoms until, eventually, they dominate everything. There is a point towards the end of the film where you see the farm property resemble a depiction of an alien atmosphere like Yuggoth. That is another excellent idea that they added as well from the Mythos. Stanley illustrates the meteor and its impact has caused some space-time issues, especially with regards to how the spectrums of light affect human perceptions and senses of reality. A nice little wink towards Lovecraft, again, is when Nathan keeps smelling something strange that no one else can perceive, much like how Lovecraft in his own works would have his characters know something eldritch was afoot when they began to smell a “strange foetor” from an object or subject.

So you can imagine that once the meteor lands, and it disintegrates after attracting lightning from the atmosphere (most likely turning into invasive dust particles into the surrounding environment) that the mutations begin. The prostheses and the fusion nightmares they depict are excellent and something of a rainbow-coated Re-Animator level form of art. There is definitely a ton of body horror after a while, which combined with some minor but striking psychedelic effects on space-time makes the themes of this film pretty clear.

Even the cat isn’t immune. Sorry H.P., though I have to say that the name “G-Spot” is a far better name for a feline than what you, or your mother, have called your cats in your time.

But talking about the flowers is an excellent metaphor for what happens in this film. It has a slow pacing. It sets a story of a troubled family that nevertheless still loves each other and attempts to make things work, even repair things between them, and adds that eldritch horror from the stars — the uncaring, inhuman element from cosmicism that shows how small and arbitrary human comfort is — and begins to erode everything they are away. It’s like the cancer that Theresa Gardner has tried to beat, or that her family has attempted to help guide her through by sacrificing their old normal to make a new normal that will never, ever be normal again.

And the cracks, that were already there before but could have been dealt with, show with extreme prejudice after a while. I don’t want to go into too many spoilers, as I think you should definitely watch this one on your own, but I will say that there is a perversity in the fact that the film begins with Lavinia attempting a magical ritual to “make things better” for her mother and family, and that Nathan is attempting to make a living — and failing to do so — from milking alpacas (even calling the organs that he is milking “breasts”) when his wife has had a mastectomy: a detail I’d missed the first time I saw this film. You see all of the dysfunction and miscommunication, the resentment, and even the love hit critical mass along with the mutated growth from the Colour. I think it’s effective because you really empathize with this family and you want the Gardners to succeed, or to survive: and you know that based on this being a Lovecraftian story — a Mythos reinterpretation — that this just won’t happen.

It’s a far cry from an unnamed mad wife being locked in an attic, along with one of her sons. And it’s actually kind of heartbreaking that this all happens right when some reconciliation and healing seems to occur, pretending desperately at normalcy during a time of sickness — an illness that can neither be understood nor cured — while falling towards the inevitable.

I think the weakest part of the film is Phillip Ward being integrated into the plot towards the end, but I see why he is there to be able to tell the story, as much of it as he knows anyway. He does bring a human face to the story as well. The thing is, what really affected me from Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” is the fact that after the farm becomes unnaturally fertile, it turns into a wasteland that seems to grow over time even under a new reservoir that will consume the world: after the light or the Colour leaves it. In Stanley’s cinematic version, it is the mutation itself and watching it happen, observing how it destroys human lives — but also brings them together and changes them — with an outside like Ward attempting to understand the whole thing after the fact that really hits home.

I think that what is so effective is that while the story and the film are different, the latter pays homage to the former and has its spirit. I think it translates it well. A funny thing, too: “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” — with part of Phillip Ward’s namesake — was the story Lovecraft wrote right before “The Colour Out of Space,” while “The Dunwich Horror” — which Stanley wants to adapt after this film — features Lavinia’s literary namesake. And as he wrote “The Colour Out of Space” Lovecraft penned an essay on “Supernatural Horror in Literature”: taking his own steps to attempting to further define the genre from his lens or perspective. It is much like how Stanley, through the love he and his late mother who died of cancer had for Lovecraft’s stories, attempted to always go back to “the well” — the mutated, poisoned well featured in the film to capture the soul of the Mythos while also making his own story, and having his crew carrying it on through their captivating performances.

Color Out of Space Well
From Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space.

Was Color Out of Space perfect? No, but it’s a case of having the letter of the law be skewed a bit, but the spirit of it coming through like the unbearable, poignant light of an alien flower blooming, unfurling, and leaving a stark greyness that you will remember forever.

Between a Monster and a Beast: Vampire The Masquerade


Things did not go exactly as planned in my experimental chamber. I was originally going to ease into talking about monsters through observing the 1958 How to Make a Monster, or look at the lyrical, sunny mystery and nightmare of The Picnic at Hanging Rock: especially with regards to the real horror of the institution and society that led to its tragedy.

But then Cannibal Holocaust hit and changed the flow of what I was going to write in this Blog. You can never truly predict what will happen in an experiment of the observer-participant variety, as if there is any other kind. Yet we can still work with this tonight. Roads not taken can be Paths to strange Enlightenment, and when you look at the evils or foibles of another society interfering with another out of a sense of superiority, in attempting to create a certain story or cultural narrative, you can more than imagine the results.

You can especially more than consider what will happen when it’s a game like Vampire: The Masquerade. I suppose, tonight, we can talk about how to make monsters after all: creatures that, instead of vanquishing, you get to play out in an interactive table-top roleplaying game.

Vampire: The Masquerade was a table-top RPG created by White Wolf in 1991. I won’t attempt to analyze, or take apart, the entire game and how it has evolved over time, but this game and its conceit has always intrigued me: and led to roleplays with me and my friends. It takes place in what is called the World of Darkness, something much like our own world, only darker with more urban decay, a growing sense of nihilism and despair, with little pockets of hope and wonder to keep the thing going.

And in this World of Darkness are beings called Kindred. They are also known as Cainites, as many of them believe that Caine — the first Judeo-Christian murderer — is also the first of their kind, but we all know them as vampires.

The rules of the game are lyrical and almost poetic in their way. You have dots to fill out instead of numbers. In addition to Physical, Social, and Mental Attributes as well as Skills, you also have Disciplines: powers activated by your vitae: your blood. There are different Clans of vampires with their own inherent Disciplines, descended from their Founders.

Anatomically, a vampire from the World of Darkness is a reanimated corpse with undead vitae instead of blood, and they do not have the same bodily needs as they did when they were mortal. They can bond with other vampires through feeding them their blood, though if it’s one-sided it can enslave another vampire of lesser power to their will. This same blood can be fed to a mortal to arrest their own aging, and bond them to a vampire by changing them into a ghoul: like Renfield and Dracula.

Sunlight kills them. Fire kills them. Holy items can cause issues, as can silver, but those are individual flaws that don’t work on them en masse. A stake through the heart will simply paralyze one of the Kindred until it is removed. A Kindred can enter Torpor and become inert without too much blood to feed on, or excessive damage, or genuinely when the weight of ages becomes too much for their mind. Fire and the sight of sunlight creates something of a flight, or fight response in the form of something called Rotschreck.

And with that last sentence in mind, I want to talk about something integral with regards to these immortal blood-drinking beings, or how their mythos is interpreted by White Wolf’s World of Darkness. Vampire: The Masquerade is stated to be a game of personal horror. And it’s more than just waking up one night and realizing you can only consume human blood, or not be able to deal with the sun, or understand that your body is different forever.

You see, when you are a vampire in this world, you still have your memories. You are still you. But at the same time you have this hunger inside of you, this need to feed and destroy that you must always keep in check. It is called the Beast. And it is a bad thing when the Beast takes control, even when it is necessary. It’s that fight, or flight instinct taken to the extreme — to the point where it increases your sense of lust and greed and gluttony. If you indulge it too much you can become a danger to yourself, mortals, and other vampires. You can eventually lose your mind to it, and never come back.

But that is only part of it. The other part is: imagine this struggle I’ve just outlined for you. Except, consider that you are immortal. You have to keep consuming blood in order to survive, and you need to deal with the Beast … for a potential eternity. You need something to ground yourself. The game calls them Touchstones: like activities, goals, plans, and people. Especially people. They keep you in check. These relationships continue to give you meaning, and a reason to control yourself. But what happens when you live for too long? When your mortal friends and family die? When the institutions you fight for decline and become dust? When you eventually begin to lose a sense of meaning in the world around you as it keeps changing, and you don’t?

Yet it’s more insidious than that. You could have relationships with other Kindred but they are also struggling with their Beasts and more. Because this is where the Monster part comes into play. When you realize you aren’t human anymore, and then you want to spend time with beings like you, eventually power is the only thing that matters. Think about the temptations of living forever and amassing vast resources, controlling others through the mental powers of Dominate, using your powerful aura of Presence to get people to adore you, controlling the elements, changing your appearance, and so much more, and so much worse.

What society would beings like this create? Well, Vampire has several answers to that. No matter what Clan you are a part of, or an overall Sect you might join, there are checks and balances especially created to continue to bring meaning to your existence: prestation. When I first got into Vampire, I was mostly interested in the lore and the meta-narrative, but over time I realized prestation is important because it is a culture of boons: of repaying and trading debts and favours among other immortals. For instance, you might want to learn how to control or influence animals, and for that the other vampire in question might want a particular enemy’s resources inconvenienced, or a power of their own. It’s the barebones of their social interactions, in what are otherwise isolationist predators.

But what does all of this come down to? In a few phrases: there is a line when you play a vampire between not wanting to depict a human with supernatural abilities, and an utter, unrepentant monster that commits atrocities with no emotional consequences. And it’s a thin line, a deceptive on even. I’ve seen popular roleplayers like Matthew Dawkins — or the Gentleman Gamer — and his groups depict vampires that have warped and twisted relationships, a yearning to not be alone but the power and the nature of what they are ultimately reestablishes that they are creatures of the damned. By the same token, I’ve also watched Jason Carl and his LA By Night group also flirting with the terrible truths of their existence, but display much more positive attempts at interaction: genuine friendships and even love amongst the Kindred and those with which they spend their time. One and the other can become too much.

In my own roleplays I encounter the same challenge. How do I play a being who still has human emotions but isn’t one anymore? And how do I, or would I, interact with others as such? And I think while dealing with the Beast, and the dangers of becoming dispassionate a Monster are a constant, it depends on the character as well, along with the company my character keeps. For instance, in one roleplay I am a Tzimisce: a flesh-crafting vampire that likes to experiment on others. Clan Tzimisce generally belongs to a Sect called the Sabbat: a group of essentially vampire-supremacists that do not want to hide in fear from humans — or kine as some of them call them, especially elder vampires — and think they are above that condition, or can become so.

In contrast, you have a Sect called the Camarilla that heavily sponsors the Masquerade: a philosophy to hide all vampires from human society so they won’t be hunted down and killed. In a game that is mostly predicated on social interaction and manipulations, the Sabbat are fairly blatant — on the surface at least. They too aren’t going to necessarily expose themselves to humans, though they might attempt to maneuver their Camarilla counterparts into doing so, but they have a different society.

The Camarilla heavily relies on prestation and Elysiums — supposedly neutral places of interaction where you can’t lose face or control of your Beast — while the Sabbat are more combat-oriented with duels of Monomancy and various aggressive Rites of passage. One can argue that the reason why the Sabbat is downplayed, or moved away to another part of the world in version five of the game is because they don’t match that low-key manipulation and social element: or because they aren’t relatable as people. Most Sabbat vampires and the Clans that are a part of them follow Paths of Enlightenment, once called Roads. Basically, they are different codes of morality that are no longer human, cultural paradigms with which they interact with the world differently.

The irony is, while the Camarilla and another Sect called the Anarch Movement — Baronies that want to maintain their own independence and the Masquerade on their own terms — mostly embrace the Path of Humanity (or Via Humanitatis), the elders among them will eventually adopt the Paths of Enlightenment when they no longer have mortal friends, family, or places with which to call home, or to relate. And while they can still have relations with their fellows, the human element does erode — or change — over time, especially an eternity of bloodshed, consumption, and poisonous little games.

Being a Kindred in Vampire: The Masquerade is walking on a red string between the Beast and the Monster, trying to keep your mind, and the meaning in your existence. And the fear that you might lose control to your hunger and become a mindless Beast, or have all of your feelings and memories fade away until nothing but a cold-hearted immortal creature remains is integral to that. Even so, it’s just like horror needs humour and moments of levity to keep going: and to truly illustrate how terrible an immortal existence can be when contrasted with camaraderie, and love. And what stories they can make. Will a Kindred eventually lose everything, even the meaning, of everything they hold dear? Can they overcome it? Is there a balancing point? Perhaps even the Sabbat can be a family in an unconventional sense of Pack. They might not consider themselves human anymore, but has to be room for ambition, and dreams, and sentiment … and somewhere to go from there.

When I first encountered White Wolf I was fascinated with their Mage: The Ascension line: of people would could control and influence reality through different paradigms. But I never really found a group I wanted to play in that game. But Vampire: The Masquerade is all about dealing with the possibility of losing yourself along the way through an uncertain future, and I think I can see just why I can relate to that so much — why anyone could — in these particular, and perpetual times.

Well, what do you know: the conclusion of this experiment is that I got to talk about anthropological elements, poetry, and monsters after all.

A Late Hell-o Letter to a Mail Girl

I didn’t find you in Themyscira,
but protesting from Twitter Jail,
Diana Prince, in black skull pasties, 
whose birthday I must hail.

Late is the hour,
that this gift will finally be seen,
after zombie parts, and puny words,
did I find you — the Mail Girl — on Halloween.

What presents can be offered,
to a girl that’s seen it all,
who’s clearly bought your gory props
from endless trips to the Chopping Mall?

Yet there must be something left to get
a person who’s among Fam’s fellow horror geeks,
someone who rolls your eyes at Ralphus,
and groans at the finger sandwiches of Bloodsucking Freaks.

Demonic oompa loompas aside,
there might yet be a chance, 
to say something more about a girl
who wants to show a larger Maniac from within your pants.

 

Darcy the Mail Girl, Diana Prince’s Cosplay from Mayhem


But this is no Crime Suspenstory,
about a head separated by an axe from its nethers,
though is it really a Seduction of the Innocent,
when you talk about someone who loves killing those Heathers?

Memories in tangents,
as you watch with us on screen that strange desire,
to witness the Brain Damage from another pair of pants,
and the psychedelic glory of Aylmer’s fire.

You’re  the type that pets the blue worm upon your shoulder,
as he hums on with his tune,
and though you like the visceral colour, Deep Red
it’s probably a giallo that is too awkward to fully consume.

We got to experience, together,
the Kaufman Troma of War.
Yet would Barb and Ken blow ups become anything
more than another bore?

I can’t do this, in one cut, like the dead.
Something else will have to be done, for Diana, instead.

For I can see you between white linen sheets,
with a determination that I must insist,
wearing a pallid guise so startling sudden 
It could scare a cowboy with a knife from the third Exorcist.

Perhaps that is a gift that would keep on giving,
endless dialogue written for a conclusion forgone,

Enough to keep you up and exhausted,
until feeling Deadbeat at Dawn.
Certainly, that’s at the soul of a Monster Movie Marathon.

I find at this point in this rhyme, 
that I’m at something of a loss.
I mean, isn’t writing this — for you — like Hollywood in a Grindhouse —
smelling of Dead Heat, and duck sauce?

Perhaps that last phrase came out wrong,
like a Green Inferno in the lawn-mowed grass,
but that is a can-of-bull in the turtle soup
Which does not take away from your understated sass.

There is something in the Mayhem
of seeing the Mail Girl dress from a film about a bloody corporate class.
Only to watch, together, a Kabuki Caligari, a Metropolis internalized,
an Iron Man of junk named Tetuso, an Akira-devotee, taking it up the —

Anyway. It was not a drill,
though I have a little more to say,
even though it’s two nights late,
from the time of your birthday.

Letters read, trophies brought, and Silver Bolos in advance,
I see you in the other things 
in the chuckles, quiet oh dear gods, smirks, and that particular blue-eyed glance.

But I think the thing I looked forward to the most
was when Shudder, finally, re-released the time when you got to dance.

From the belief of blood, and breasts, and beasts,
a Pandemonious Paradise Islander, and a Pr0n Knight, too,
I wish you the best, Diana, hell-o fiend:
a Happy Mutant Fam Birthday to you. 

The Summer I Saw the Vampire Lesbians of Sodom

I considered making this story a Freak Speaks article, as opposed to a Dissections and Speculatives piece. The difference? Well, The Freak Speaks is when I directly talk about something personal about what I am trying to do with a horror topic and how it affects me, while Dissections and Speculatives is all about me taking something apart, and putting it together again in a way that would never make Humpty-Dumpty want to have a great fall around me.

Instead, I’m going to do something different. For those of you who read my previous articles on Cannibal Holocaust, please be relieved because I don’t intend for this to be over four thousand words of analysis: of taking something apart. I find personal writings, writing about the personal and how something affects you — that first person perspective of experience — is more relatable, and it’s a lesson I keep on needing to relearn each time I make a thing.

So it’s Pride Month, during a time of the Pandemic where many people are separated from one another due to social distancing, workloads, depression, and — in some cases — death. I had my first Pride in 2011. It was on Church and Wellesley in Toronto. My partner and I came to it later in the afternoon. We’d come at the tail end of the parades, and we kept to the shade as much as possible. She had been to a few Prides in her time, and finding out I never had — because I am pretty straight — she wanted to show me what she could. Sadly, we were both natural introverts, and we avoided most of the crowds, and people interaction.

After going into a few fetish gear stores, and a pub or two in the evening, feeling the summery heat linger in the night air, we went to a production of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. I know: all of these bombastic, incredibly exaggerated names, right? First, I talk to you all about Cannibal Holocaust, and then this. But I have always liked vampires, and I wanted to see the take on this.

Charles Busch, the creator of this play, explains that it is a story about a friendship, with its “ups and downs” over two thousand years. It’s a series of vignettes between a being called The Succubus, who later refers to herself as La Condessa or Magda Legerdemaine, and the female sacrifice she changes into a vampire from Sodom, Madelaine Astarte or Madelaine Andrews. The mother-goddess names, and the carnal words linked to them, are pretty blatant.

It is supposed to be a satire, or a comedy. And I will be honest with you, I have forgotten a great deal of it from that time. The production itself might have been the one directed by Jessica M. Rose at The Lower Ossington Theatre. I recall the night, and the heat, and my partner getting me an apple juice, and us trying to figure out a quiet conflict between us that had been unresolved despite talking over, and again. Just as I was fascinated to see what this production would be like, I was afraid of where the antagonisms in our own relationship would take us, and my own feelings on the matter.

It was a fascinating counterpoint to see these two immortals, sometimes allies and possibly lovers, and other times enemies, engaging with each other. But I think what I remember the most about Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, was the collateral damage the two of them caused with their feuds: from ancient times, to the silent movie area of the 1920s and 30s — the time of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, and eerily enough The Succubus resembled Count Orlock quite a bit in the production that I saw — all the way to the 1980s which is important to LGBTQ+ history for a variety of reasons.

But I guess this is where I break my rule here, in this post, and I talk about what I do remember: what stood out to me the most after so many years. Or, rather, who stood out the most.

In a vignette set during the Middle Ages, or the Renaissance, there is a dance. By this point, Astarte has become the thing she hates — having not wanted to have been turned by The Succubus in the first place. She and The Succubus have been finding other women during these millennia, and changing them into vampires as well.

It is a merry, summer dance. The men and women all seemed to be peasants enjoying the season. Or maybe it wasn’t summer, but autumn and the harvest. The music is airy, almost as innocent as the virgin — more for what it symbolizes in Western culture as opposed to fact — that Astarte used to be before The Succubus took her life away and turned her into something else, or perhaps helping her reveal the person she was always meant to become.

There is a girl in that dance. I don’t recall what she looks like, but she is happy, excited, and bright. She is dancing with everyone and giving herself to the ecstasy of the moment: to the passion, to the many colours around her, to life. During this dance — or ball — the other vampire women are also dancing, and feeding. One of them comes across this girl, and feeds from her: draining, and ultimately killing her while everyone else continues to celebrate, and not even notice her death.

After the main characters have an exchange, the ball ends, and everyone leaves. The music stops. The body of the girl is sprawled out on the floor, alone. And then, she wakes up. She gasps in terror. Then she moves around unsteadily. She tries dancing again, in the eternal silence, but her steps are clumsy, and uneven. Her sense of rhythm is gone. Her equilibrium changed. Something in her is broken, after having lost herself in the pleasure of the moment, and she is now a hungry being, wandering around, perplexed, sad, and abandoned.

That one scene, towards the end of the vignette has stayed with me for almost a decade. She ends up finding her way to the other vampires, and the one who made her, becoming part of the hangers-on, and she follows in her coterie the antics of the other protagonists. But when The Succubus and Astarte try to bury the hatchet, and not in each other this time, she and the other vampires get angry. They had been changed through this entire rivalry to hurt the other, and now their makers have made peace. They end up turning on them.

That’s what I remember, and I know that others who have watched the play — or it’s become their favourite — would correct me. It wouldn’t be the first time my brain has many stuff up in general, especially when I’ve forgotten so much in the interim.

But that scene with the girl, having participated in revelries, becoming involved with something she only partially understood until it was too late, but still in some ways never leaving the dance always stuck with me. It was a poignant moment that hurt, this profound sense of loss, and revelation. She had been shown what she was, then left to find the rest, and let herself get caught up in the group.

I don’t remember what happened after I saw the production with my partner and I, besides going home. But in retrospect, I saw a thing — and maybe it is a different version of the production than the original, perhaps all of them being creative variations of the first — from an outsider’s perspective. In Vampire Hunter D, Dracula apparently said to his Nobility with regards to their kind and human society that “Transient guests are we.” I’m mixing metaphors majorly like a madman on an alliteration kick, but I was a guest in that space and that story.

Did I identify with the girl abandoned after being turned at the dance that was fun until it wasn’t anymore? Did it say something about how easy it is to frolic in a space fraught with a cycle of violence until you are caught up in it? How something that seems to be a pageant and revelry over time had come from a rebellion between one being, and another? Is this when I began to realize that old friendships can change but the core of them is capable of surviving and even being discovered after a certain point in time? These are loaded questions, but these are particularly heavy times.

It’s a different time now. My partner passed away last month, an out and proud LGBTQ+ woman who had many of her own adventures and discoveries. Before that, we’d had our falling outs, and I moved away from our old apartment that we called Wonderland. I think about what I remember about what we watched together, and how much knowledge of that I lost. I think about that girl stumbling and alienated with a hunger she doesn’t understand, and scared, in a landscape of sickness and death where there had been just the promise of a party of many turned into a Dance of the Red Death. I wish someone would tell the story of that girl — not The Succubus or Astarte — just that one girl and how she found her people, also turned and discarded, on the margins of the story, and from her perspective how the play all ends for them, and why they do it.

Despite all the pain, and bickering, they still found each other. They still banded together. The girl might not dance as she once did, but she can do so with the friends that can’t sing or laugh the same. They are distant from the world they knew, from perhaps knowing their bodies as they once did, but they still feel passions, and they still have hope. They retain their solidarity with one another.

Like I said, I mix metaphors, and I’m only haphazardly looking beneath the surface of movements in a play I saw once almost ten years ago in another lifetime, another life, with another life I’ll never see again.

I think that is it for this June night. Until then, my friends, from a student of horror, have a happy and safe Pride Month.

Making a Green Inferno Turn Red: Watching Cannibal Holocaust

Designation: Trigger Warning. Reader’s discretion is advised. I will attempt to not become too graphic, but I will refer to things that some people might not like, or feel comfortable reading about, even on a Horror Blog.

Welcome to Phase Two of Looking Out to the Horizon of The Last Road to Hell: Cannibal Holocaust: where this Designation truly applies. My first post deals with my preconceptions of Cannibal Holocaust, and some of the information I’ve looked up about it. This writing will focus on my impressions of the film and its structure, and how I reacted to its contents.

So from last time, to reiterate: the short answer?

It’s messy.

I think that sentence sums up Cannibal Holocaust. After several trigger warnings, from the film, from Shudder, from even Joe Bob and Diana Prince themselves, we were introduced — or reintroduced — into this cinematic narrative, into this situation. It didn’t start the way I thought it would. Riz Ortolani’s musical score, which is genius and on point throughout the entirety of the film, is cheery and as bright as the lush green trees we see below us from a bird’s eye point of view.

And I didn’t trust it. Not one bit.

The scene then eventually shifts to the city of New York and the bustle of humans within it. This is where we are introduced to Professor Monroe, who gives an interview, in which he is going to help find a team of young filmmakers that went missing attempting to make a documentary about “indigenous cannibal tribes” in the Amazon rainforest.

What I found the most fascinating was examining how the found footage, the epistolary, was used in framing this story. At one point, we are literally introduced to the filmmakers through a close-up at a television screen. This is where we see, and Joe Bob pointed out, that the footage with the filmmakers is filmed with 16mm in contrast to the rest of the movie’s 35mm film, to give it that grainy, realistic, rough feel. Most of the movie itself is Professor Monroe actually encountering the Yacumo and, eventually, the Ya̧nomamö tribes to get confirmation about what happened to the group.

The first is told almost from the end of it, where we see the remains of the group, the aftermath of the tribes they encountered and affected and, finally, the retrieval of their own unedited documentary film in a canister. I found Munroe’s interactions with the tribespeople fascinating in that he began to understand their sense of reciprocity and that while they are warlike — he and his mercenary accompaniment actually interfering with a war between the Ya̧nomamö and the Shamatari, these supposed two cannibalistic tribes, on the side of the Ya̧nomamö to get their favour — and himself is fairly paternalistic about their culture, they tell their stories. You can see it in how they are choreographed in the film to gesture and reenact certain motions of past violence. This whole film, even at that point, is about storytelling, and that really does it for me.

Deodato apparently created Cannibal Holocaust, once titled The Green Inferno because of these supposed practices in the Amazon, as an artistic rebuke of exploitative journalism focusing around violence, murder, and tragedies: how these journalists would accentuate and over-focus on the worst elements to profit off of the sensationalism of it.

Again, for those people who have seen and love the movie, I’m not telling you anything new. But I think what really affected me the most wasn’t the gore as I knew it was simulated: it was acted out. Part of it was definitely the animal cruelty. I teared up when I saw what happened to that turtle. I felt a profound anger at that moment, even though the full sequence proved to be a foreshadowing of what was going to happen to some of the filmmakers later on. I also know that these animals had been eaten after the fact by actors on set, so their lives weren’t wasted. But the way they were killed just made me emotionally detach from the rest of it.

But it wasn’t until later, on these reels retrieved by Monroe, that I saw why the film was truly called Cannibal Holocaust. I am Jewish. I guess, aside from my own individual empathy towards animals over humans — as they are perceived to be more innocent — there is this idea that the way an animal is killed can affect the meat you get from it: a resonance of it. Perhaps in some way this is why Deodato had them killed, as something of a ritual, to ascribe something bloody and visceral into this film that couldn’t be done with human sacrifice. After all, the word holocaust itself is taken from the chief ancient Greek verb Holokautein: made up of holo (whole) and kaíō (burn) which refers to animal sacrifice, and sharing the parts of the being with the gods, and the community, but over time it has been used as a definition for human genocide.

This is where my own cultural resonance went beyond the depicted cannibalism that was displayed at the beginning and end of the film. It didn’t stop informing me when the filmmakers began to attack and torment the Yacumo, destroying their food, and forcing them into their huts and setting their huts on fire: all in an attempt to stage a “tribal war” to record. And it definitely didn’t stop when the filmmakers took turns raping a Ya̧nomamö woman, and possibly impaling her afterwards to make it look like a “senseless honour killing.” This is where, as one of my teachers put it, the karma is set and they are going to pay it. You know that these filmmakers, whose remains we find earlier in the film, deserve everything coming to them. That is my feeling. But it’s more than that. For me, these were the moments, especially based on finding out what they did with their previous documentaries, it just hit home that they didn’t even see these people as human beings.

They were just toys to “play with,”  in order to gain fame from the stories they forced on others. They dehumanized them, treated them like objects, tormented, killed them whenever they wanted, and recorded it. Even the one woman in the team, Faye Daniels, is more upset that they are wasting film recording the men raping the tribeswoman and her boyfriend and director Alan Yates having his turn, than because a fellow woman and human being is being violated. These colonial and genocidal atrocities make their resonances clear.

By the time the Ya̧nomamö deal with the group themselves, I found myself having little sympathy for them and you begin to realize that the violence inflicted on these “children of the Space Age” is more justified and understandable than the team and their sense of entitlement to the lives of these people.

Dehumanization is the best way to sum up the theme of Cannibal Holocaust. The tribespeople do it to each other, though in their minds they are fulfilling social functions to keep surviving and their reasons and motivations are no less human than anyone else’s, while the team does it for fame and glory, and even the syndication company that has recruited Professor Monroe wants to use the spectacle of the situation to get ratings. It’s an infection or poison more insidious than any tropical disease or blow dart. You see it in the group’s amputation and abandonment of their guide Felipe and the blasé manner they treat his death, in the way they treat the tribespeople, and even in the manner in which they sacrifice other to the Ya̧nomamö to survive, and failing that, to keep recording.

It reminds me of the words, and the obsession behind them, from F.W. Murnau in The Shadow of the Vampire: “If it’s not in frame, it doesn’t exist.” That fictional depiction of that German film director was willing to throw away human and monstrous lives to make his art immortal. And, in the end, the group’s film reels almost doesn’t exist: kept by the tribe they antagonized, and nearly destroyed by the company that hired Monroe to uncover their story … only for the film to be sold for viewing by the projectionist in order to get his, if you will pardon the terrible pun, pound of flesh.

When Monroe asks, in an internal monologue voice-over — which was also done well earlier in the film through his tape recordings, another element of the epistolary — “I wonder who the real cannibals are?” it becomes pretty clear that it isn’t just the tribe that butchered and devoured the filmmakers. I can see just what Deodato could be arguing: that profiting from the suffering of others is a cycle of self-consumption that will devour us all.

And I can just end this off-the-rails article here. I can talk about how the film slowly pieces together the testament of these four young neo-imperialists through depictions of television interviews, tape recordings, testimonies from the people who knew them, the oral tales of the tribespeople that unfortunately encountered them, and the unedited film reels that create this entire frame story: this narrative beginning at the end and going back and forth into the past to when it all lines up again. I can even point out what Joe Bob mentioned about the film being the precursor to the found-footage subgenre which, in turn, is the result of combining the structure of a Mondo film — a pseudo-documentary depicting taboo subjects — which leads well into the sensationalism of the cannibal film, and the seeming of a snuff-film.

It’s strange to say this with regards to something so brutal and rough in content, but it’s elegant. The pacing is excellent even with the shaking of that 16mm camera work working with, in H.P. Lovecraft’s words, “the care and verisimilitude of an actual hoax.” You can feel it building towards something and the payoff is there. Ortolani’s music is summery and light but also at turns tragic, catastrophically climactic, and unsettling: especially when he juxtaposes them with the other towards the very end. There is a sense of justice to that ending, but there is also a tremendous humanity in the worst possible way, and it does illustrate the power and danger of exploitation. The effects are realistic for their time, and the camera doesn’t focus too long or specifically on them, just to let the viewer put the grisly visual pieces together in their mind.

But when you consider that this film is a social commentary on human consumption, there are just some thoughts that won’t go away. Joe Bob mentions that Deodato not only didn’t credit the indigenous people he got to act in this work, but he also didn’t really make the effort to research the people in the area was using for his film: the ones he had acting as the cannibal tribes. Apparently, the Yacumo aren’t portrayed correctly, with their aesthetics not being as they are in the film. And the Ya̧nomamö not only aren’t at war with the Sanumá (the Shamatari) but they rarely practice cannibalism. And when they do, they consume their deceased tribespeople through an elaborate funerary ritual to keep the spirit of that individual alive among them. It has a meaning, and it is not a punishment.

See, one of the things I keep thinking about now is what could have happened if Deodato, or another creator, took the Ya̧nomamö with this information and attempted to make a film like this? Would the Ya̧nomamö simply eat the dead, and the not the half-alive tribespeople depicted in the film, and only attack when some neo-colonizer assaults them? Or could he have just used another group instead and adapted them accordingly? One account I recall is that, for instance, indigenous or First Nations peoples of North America didn’t scalp settlers until European bounty hunters committed those acts first. Imagine a film from the perspective of the Ya̧nomamö, with a bunch of filmmakers, opportunistic missionaries, or mercenaries wanting them to fulfill these cannibalistic “savage” stereotypes and forcing them to do it, maybe even resorting to cannibalism of the people themselves after devouring all of their food and no luck finding their own, only to have these same people use these tactics against their tormentors later. It’d be a different form of film, of course, and even then as I write this I know it’d be extremely difficult to bring out the nuance of the thing.

And it would be exploitative as well, even in attempting to subvert the tools of that exploitation. Would a director show the humanity and three dimensions of the Ya̧nomamö or another tribe and watch it erode because of what happened to them, becoming the thing they hate or are projected upon? Or would there be some kind of vindication in their acts? Perhaps if the prospective filmmakers had someone from a similar group to consult or collaborate with, and deal with some of these themes with sensitivity … You see, I just don’t know if it’s possible. You would still get a stereotype or a caricature. I mean, the Mondo and cannibal subgenres of film and horror are, in and of themselves, problematic. And even if a director makes an entirely fictional tribe, as Deodato could have done, it still draws from those tropes.

I think this is some of what happened to Deodato and his own crew. In their own attempt to show the consequences of exploitation by using its own structures against it, they perpetuated it, or at least the attitudes behind it. But does this responsibility end there? What about the people that view, have interest, are hungry for such stories? In Cannibal Holocaust, people wanted to watch the missing group’s The Last Road to Hell: a fictional documentary that uses actual footage of State and terrorist executions. And the people who watch Cannibal Holocaust will view it, some of them knowing about the deaths of animals, the killing footage, and the indigenous people not credited in the work.

Does watching a film built on all of these elements make someone culpable in them? I’ve been asking myself this question for a few reasons, but mainly because this film fascinates me. I admire its structure and what Deodato attempts to do with it, what he tries to say, and I wonder if there is a degree of self-consciousness that the film has about what it is that even the director might not possess. In mixing together truth and lies, real violence and simulated, it’s a journey I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on, and now that I have — because I am probably the poster child of the protagonist that goes after the thing in the Forbidden Knowledge that “Man” Was Not Meant to Know trope — I find that I can’t look away from it. I don’t feel drained, or depressed by what I saw. It was terrifying and gross, and I had my own emotional reactions to it. But I think it is good art.

I can see why Joe Bob and Shudder decided on including it for viewing, because not only is it important to understand the formation of a horror cinematic subgenre in found footage, but makes you question the assumptions in the film itself, and your observer-participation in it. Aren’t we also consuming human suffering and exploitation in watching this? Would it be right, or disingenuous not to include the animal killing scenes? Would it be morally right not to even look at the film because of all the above elements, or do the messages implicit within the narrative honour what is depicted? What was done?

And I ask myself: does this make me complicit in the forces that made this film, and if it represents the attitude of the consumable media, could just make me aware of how I have already been participating in this cycle? And what can do I do about it?

You can see how timely and timeless these ideas are, especially now. I think the real reason Cannibal Holocaust scares me, now, is that I liked it. I want to know more about how it was made, and who was involved. Part of it, like my rudimentary fact-checking is me just wanting reassurance that it wasn’t real. Another part of me wants to know more about the people and customs that were shallowly depicted as complex human beings, and the creator in me wants to see this tale or something like it from their perspective, even if that’s impossible. Gwendolyn MacEwen, who is not a horror writer, was a Canadian poet from Toronto who penned:

But the dark pines of your mind dip deeper
And you are sinking, sinking, sleeper
In an elementary world;
There is something down there and you want it told.

And when I think about how this film began, I remember another part of her same poem “Dark Pines Under Water”:

Explorer, you tell yourself, this is not what you came for
Although it is good here, and green;
You had meant to move with a kind of largeness,
You had planned a heavy grace, an anguished dream.

Cannibal Holocaust Vinyl Cover
Art Credit: Jock, Mondo

The young film team went out for fame and glory in documenting an obscure cannibalistic tribe, even if they had to make one. Deodato and his crew sought artistic acclaim to create a film to expose the hypocrisy and danger of the mentality in turning trauma into spectacle, even if they had to make one.

And in writing this article, drawing on Deodato, and Joe Bob Briggs, and the whole contents sordid colonial contents of this film, in actually finding something more than cathartic but inspiring and revitalizing in looking at this movie — taking the traits of other humans’ work and consuming it — of wanting to be noticed, of wanting to say something great, of commenting on something that isn’t my background and should feel tremendous discomfort in even considering, but not turning back when I should have done, how am I any different?

Perhaps I got to talk about creatures and monsters after all.

I think making me ask that question of myself again — reminding me that I am not a Doctor of Horror, but merely a student — is the legacy imparted to me by Cannibal Holocaust.

Looking Out to the Horizon of The Last Road to Hell: Cannibal Holocaust

Designation: Trigger Warning. Reader’s discretion is advised. I will attempt to not become too graphic, but I will refer to things that some people might not like, or feel comfortable reading about, even on a Horror Blog.

I was expecting to talk about monsters, or creatures.

Instead, as another kind of segue from my last post, I’m going to write about my first impressions of a film I never considered watching.

Yes, this past weekend I watched Ruggero Deodato and Gianfranco Clerici’s Cannibal Holocaust.

Of course, I start off my Blog writing about one of the heaviest, most controversial horror films in the genre, and possibly cinema. Before that night at Joe Bob Briggs’ Last Drive-In, this Horror Doctor such as I call myself had very different ideas about what this movie actually was.

Years ago, I just thought it was a mindless grindhouse story where an army of masked killers and mutants attack and torture a group of hapless adolescents, or their families with chainsaws. I think it was my expectations of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre conflate with a title that sounds like one great over-exaggeration, one blatant and gory spectacle. I mean, seriously: Cannibal Holocaust. It sounds like a child trying to show how dreadful, menacing, and important they are by combining two grandiose and horrible words together: human flesh-eating, and mass destruction. You know, like an overgrown man-child that calls himself Kilgrave.

Aside from going there, I learned more about it and realized it was part of the cannibal subgenre of horror: the kind that exploits stereotypes of “the savage,” of isolated tribes of people in developing countries supposedly being barbarians and xenophobic murderers. The stereotype has existed ever since pretty much colonialism. Again, I thought it would just be about supposedly well meaning white missionaries or journalists getting brutally tortured and murdered by caricatures of non-white indigenous people. Like, these cannibals were going to mass-murder a whole lot of supposedly civilized people.

I didn’t think about the film much, even when I heard about The Green Inferno that I may have only vaguely knew had some creative link to it. I just wasn’t into watching castration happen, or gratuitous violence for its own sake in some, in my mind, sloppy attempt to show how terrible human beings are. I don’t need a film about human flesh eaters, and slaughter to know that fact about humans. I can just watch, or read, the news.

But I did know, even though I wasn’t aware of the full details, that Cannibal Holocaust had a legendary, fearsome reputation among horror fans.

Then, Joe Bob announced on Twitter that it would be the second course of the sixth week of The Last Drive-In.

I expected the worst. I’m not going to lie. I was waiting to see the racism, the colonial themes, the mutilations all well up, the gruesomeness and the gore, just all blur together and bring me completely down. I felt a little bit of that when I was watching Blood-Sucking Freaks that very first night of the second course of the first episode of the second season of The Last Drive-In: when I was first acclimating myself to watching with the rest of the Mutant Family live for the first time.

So many firsts. I thought it’d be Blood-Sucking Freaks with its ridiculous, banal grossness, but magnified and with more prejudice in there.

We were given the option not to watch it. To skip it. To just, for the first time as far as I knew, watch all the Joe Bob segments as their own independent self. But I also knew there was a reason why Joe Bob and Shudder were showing, and curating, Cannibal Holocaust, and I didn’t think it would be something as simple as shock value, or pandering.

And so, I did what I do when I don’t understand something and I don’t want to face it head-on right away. I looked into it.

It wasn’t research, but I wanted to ground myself. To remind myself that it is just a film. Just a piece of art and production. And what I found was something that caught my eye: that Cannibal Holocaust is the first known example of the found-footage subgenre of horror. Now, anyone who knows me understands that I love epistolary fiction. Epistolary fiction, a word I use a lot and find myself defining quite a bit, is a narrative put together through different written accounts: such as letters, journal entries, transcripts, and the like. It’s a simulated multimedia affair, and found-footage has that quality in it: of a film within a film, or a piece of cinematic narrative that is supposed to be real. And both epistolary fiction, and found-footage have something of a confessional bent at times, or they portray testimony of particular characters.

Cannibal Holocaust Found Skull

It got me hooked, even as I began to feel a kind of inevitability. After I discovered this, I looked into the controversy without spoiling too much of the plot because I knew, at this point, that I was going to see it. And well, between the indigenous people that were featured as actors in the work and not credited by Deodato, the inclusion of rape scenes, and the very real animal cruelty as well as the fact that the filmmakers were put on trial for murder — as the hoax they were attempting to portray through the realism of the film felt very real at the time — I really got a better idea of what kind of monster I would be facing.

None of these things are surprising to those of you who have seen, or heard of the reputation of, this movie. But that wasn’t enough for me. I was operating under the idea that once I saw this film, it would change my life forever, that I would not be the same person as I was before I watched it. I needed a foundation from which to work from; a perspective to ground myself from, to understand the extent of it.

And then, Diana Prince posted an article on her Twitter account. This is an article written by Joe Bob, under his real name John Bloom in 1981, titled And Jesus Said, “Mai Eeñeno” (“Weep Not”). A lot of the terminology in it, such as “primitive,” “third world,” “the white man,” “Indians” and the like are dated, even there are attempts to rectify some of the cultural misconceptions such as the Waorani (now the Huaorani) people no longer being called the Aucas (a Spanish word for “savages”) but the gist of it is Joe Bob — in his usual tangential, winding way — explaining the implications of a Western missionary program’s effects and interactions on isolated tribal cultures in South America, and who some of these indigenous people actually are, and what they have to contend with as their world changes.

I was looking for a human take, a human or individual face, or at least a nuanced look at a whole other world, and the implications I took away from the article — from what both well-meaning and selfish influence from Western elements on other human ways of life — were complex to say the least. In fact, it brought to mind the story from two years ago where the American missionary John Allen Chau had been killed by Sentinelese tribespeople off India after being warned away from their island at least once.

When you try to imprint a narrative on someone else’s story, especially one that has been developing on its own for ages, there will be consequences. Of course, according to Joe Bob’s article the world is becoming smaller — had been even in the 1980s — and having a presence that can help you adapt to these changes can make all the difference. But then, wouldn’t that same force also have a moral responsibility to seeing those changes through, and bearing the consequences of them? Joe Bob’s article is interesting in and of itself, especially in how the translation of a religious text can mean the recording and preservation of an oral language into a written one … while also changing the paradigm from which that language comes. And the missionaries that are in that article are, despite not getting monetary gain, or scholarly notoriety, still pushing an agenda and a narrative onto peoples that didn’t have it, displacing their own instead of attempting to integrate them in a healthy manner: or help preserve the cultures they have.

But I am veering off of my own tangent. So what did I think about this film?

The short answer?

It’s messy.

As for the long answer, well, you will have to be found in my next post. Think of this post as Phase One, the preliminary, of my preconceptions and rudimentary investigations on and around the construct of the film and its contents. Phase Two will be how I processed the experience of Cannibal Holocaust, and saw what was to come as a student of horror.

Why is the Horror Doctor?

It seemed like a good idea the time.

Horror is pulp. I’m not talking about the old magazines made from cheap and often recyclable paper that are not known for their physical durability. I am definitely not referring to so-called mass-produced or “low quality storytelling.” It’s the closest to the dark building-blocks of the imagination: where fear, death, blood, comedy, tragedy, bodily realities, and the monsters that are archetypes that are both cautionary tales and ourselves, meld together or viciously separate from one another.

It’s a mess. Horror is messy. Weirdness is confusing, and playful. Terror tells you that something is wrong, and dread informs you that there is nothing you can about the inevitable.

Words are misleading when you really think about it. Naming something and defining it is hard when you are taking it apart, and trying to put it back together in some other kind of form. That’s why I thought it was a good idea at the time before I actually sat down, finally, in front of his computer screen, and began to type it all out.

Pulp, as has been used in different places, can mean something visceral and gross — a mashed and distilled version of what could have been a solid state before the blender or the force exerted to crush it — while, in a literary sense, it can mean something ephemeral and transitory, ideas and feelings that have poignancy until they eventually pass on with the people or things that carry them. I’m mixing metaphors here. If you follow me long enough, you’ll realize that I do that a lot. I mean, I might as well be taking about gore and ghost stories by this point, and you wouldn’t be wrong in including these thoughts.

I guess, for me, horror is a liminal thing. It is transitional. It is always in a state of change like the innards of the human body, or the feelings of a person under stress, or someone’s concrete thoughts before they are lost to the misinterpretation of outside influences, or the oblivion of forgetfulness.

This is my focus here, for this Blog, where I may or may not be playing a role half of the time. My problem has always been that when I review a piece of literature, cinema, or interactive narrative my brain does more than just take it apart. It’s easy to do that. Obviously, some people are better or more expert at dissecting matter such as doctors and butchers, but you will just have to settle for me. I am no H.P. Lovecraft, or Joe Bob Briggs. I’m definitely not a Carl Jung.

I’m more like, as the description of my Blog states, a Victor Frankenstein: with hopefully a little more sense of responsibility and just … well, sense in general. I don’t have a Doctorate in any sense. A Master’s Degree in Humanities and my own eclectic knowledge will have to do. I’m not a Cinema Student, or even a cinephile, though I do like some films and I appreciate the effort and the imagination that goes into them.

It all began, one day, when finally sitting down and watching an episode of Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In on Shudder, after watching several other horror classics and obscurities that I never got around to doing before the Pandemic. I was watching a movie that was going to be removed by Shudder, along with Briggs’ commentaries, and something just … clicked in me.

It wasn’t an immediate reaction, you understand. I’ve been grieving the loss of one of my partners, who was a major horror fan, and was instrumental in getting me to write again outside of an academic setting, and to watch weird and odd films that my very serious and formerly straight-laced self had no place for, even though I had a whole lot of thoughts. Horror is pulp, she lived with how messy her illness made her life physically and emotionally. Weirdness is confusing, as we didn’t always know how to feel about us or life. Terror tells you that something is wrong, and I felt a sense of falling, waiting for that other shoe to drop. And dread informs you that there is nothing you can do about the inevitable, like a slow, stupid, swarm of encroaching zombie sickness taking away all of your functions, or watching someone you love slowly disappear or worse — not seeing it happen at all, with just hints of it, and knowing that it is still occurring, and you are still helpless.

They say that there are three modes of fear: flight, fight, or freeze. I tend to call the last one fright. An absolute, paralyzing terror where you, again, know that something’s wrong though freeze is appropriate too given how you stay in place — not wanting to move, hoping you’ll survive if you just don’t change, just don’t breathe. It’s where the term “blood-chilling” comes from, I’m sure.

Our time together was messy, and also ephemeral. I recall details but even now a lot of them are fading from my mind, from my memory, over a relatively short period of time. I started Horror Doctor in my partner’s memory, on Blogger where we were going to collaborate on a project together, and because of my own lack of confidence and her own changing life, we never did. I had shared access to it, and I saw her own works, and an unfinished draft: something that will never be started, or completed.

But Blogger didn’t work for my purposes, and I came back to WordPress. Unfortunately, it too has suffered from change, and I may have to go elsewhere or go to another hosting site as figuring out Block Editor feels like putting a tombstone on my writing process before it even begins.

So what is Horror Doctor? Well, think about Victor Frankenstein. He was never a PhD or even an MD by the standards of fictional Geneva in the late 1700s. Victor is a student of old texts and, for his time, new discoveries. Somehow, he manages to combine ancient alchemy and what seems to be cutting edge science to make something new: to create life in a clumsy, artificial manner by taking something apart and putting it together in strange arrangements, and wondering why it isn’t beautiful when he pumps it with chemicals and possibly galvanizes it with lightning, and disowns the poor bastard when he’s done.

I’m not rich like Victor, a Baron’s heir. And while I attempt to edit my work, and I’m biased towards it, I know I’m not making any Adonises out of my parts. This Blog is evidence of that already. I’m not a web designer, blog creator, nor a graphic artist. What you see here, in terms of layout, is what you’re going to get for a while unless I can make some collaborative arrangements with my friends.

But I don’t think it’s ugly. I don’t think it will be. Certainly, my idea isn’t. Perhaps neither was Victor’s, when you really think about it. You see, my issue has always been like that I like taking things apart and putting them back together in different patterns. I have, what you could call, a synthetic brain: and no, that doesn’t mean I am an artificial intelligence, or a cyborg. It means that while I use analysis to look at different pieces of a thing, I primarily do it as an ends to the means of making something else. I’ve done it in my academics, my other articles, and here will be no exception.

You see, that day when I saw that movie Joe Bob had been examining on Shudder, I looked at all the ways it didn’t work … and then I thought to myself — a very dangerous thing to do in general for me — what would happen if this, or that, had been done instead? What would the narrative be like, the flow of the events become, if I changed elements around, if I grafted parts of it into different places? If I took some of the ideas in them and conflated them with similar mythological material? What if I took the bullshit, and bullshat it in a different direction?

You might say it would be fanfiction at that point. I began to think, then, about all those obscure horror movies that didn’t work, or were weird for some reason — that most people, not necessarily all — forgot about, and I started to ask myself: how could I get them to work for me?

That is the twisted, infernal heart of what this Blog is, my friends. Primarily, I want to focus on this film I saw, this weird, messed up thing that barely makes sense, that could make sense, and make it into a story that does. And if it works, I want to see if I can do it with others, on this Blog.

Obviously, I am not doing it for the money. There is no money for something that doesn’t belong to me. This is obsession, pure and simple. Perhaps some Pandemic boredom and ennui and existential dread with which to deal. And perhaps more than a little bit of grief to process.

And maybe, it will lead to an original work, to help me sift through the muck and the grime, and the filth and the guts of this thing. I’m not an augur, being able to tell the future of what I can make by searching through something’s insides but maybe it might trigger something, or become like some sort of weird Jack-o-Lantern that I can hollow out and eventually provide the basis of something entirely new.

I might, in addition to rewriting obscure horror films, write up some reviews on the genre here, some homages or fanfiction, and maybe even more thoughts. The thing is, for me — personally — horror is that archetypal place that I can draw on in between supposed “high-brow” and “low-brow” art, journeying through the guts to find the gem that I’m looking for. I guess, through doing this, through just watching these films and reading these stories, and not being rigid about my expectations, I want to be more fluid. I want to be more alive.

Victor Frankenstein abandoned his creature. And maybe my impetus will run, and I might do the same with this one. But I want to give it a good start first. And even this doesn’t work out, I can use it to learn how to make the next thing better, perhaps, or make it at all.

You get to see the creature get made, my friends. Or creatures. I’ll try not to take apart something I only began to put together. I always thought that the creature’s companion deserved better, whether in Shelley’s novel, or James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein. Victor was never a Doctor, but popular consciousness ascribed him that title. Let’s see if I can, similarly and creatively, earn the designation of becoming a mad creator.

Come, let’s study a scary story with the Horror Doctor.

Frankenstein 1910
Image from Edison Studios’ Frankenstein, 1910.

About

I am the Horror Doctor. However, I am more of a doctor in the sense of Victor Frankenstein in that I am merely a student of the macabre and weird and an experimenter of the guts of the genre. In that sense, please join me as we continue these experiments, in taking apart horror media and sewing them into different pieces, together.