Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Festival Of Fear: Day 21: True Story Tuesday: Sin Eaters

Do you believe in judgment after death? While superstition still exists today, there used to be a time when it would define the way people carry out rituals, such as the death of a loved one.

In 19th century England and Scotland there existed a very strange occupation. After the death of a loved one, relatives could hire a “sin-eater” to come and cleanse the soul of the recently departed. To do so, the sin-eater would be given a small meal, consisting of bread and a glass of wine or ale; the body would be laid out and the wine would have to be literally handed over the corpse (or coffin) and the bread waved over the deceased person, or even placed on their chest. It was believed that in doing this that the sins of the dead were absorbed into the food and drink. After saying a quick prayer, which traditionally went something like this, “I give easement and rest now to thee, dear man. Come not down the lanes or in our meadows. And for they peace I pawn my own soul. Amen.” It was also believed that if a person died suddenly their soul would be left behind to wander the physical plane—or, in other words, haunt the houses and countryside. Hiring a sin-eater would guarantee that the departed soul leaves in peace, and carries over to the other side. After reciting the speech, the sin-eater would consume the bread and wine, and it was believed that in doing so they took on the sins of the dead, therefore absolving them.

Unfortunately, little is known about sin-eaters as far as specifics in location and time period. The tradition is thought to have taken place through the 18th and 19th century in England and Scotland. The poor and hungry were usually the ones who would volunteer for the act, as it came with a meal and a little money. However, it did make them an outcast from society and ostracized from the church. Sin-eaters would be treated as if diseased or unclean, and were only called upon at the time of a person’s death.

The last known sin-eater, Richard Munslow, died in 1906 and was buried in Ratlinghope, England.

The strange and macabre tradition of sin-eating has had little recognition in popular culture, but one episode of Night Gallery showcases the funeral rite and the terrible psychology that can come along with it. The episode, called, “The Sins of Our Fathers”, stars Barbara Steele as a grieving wife, desperate to find a sin-eater to send her husband’s soul to heaven. The 2003 film, The Order, stars Heath Ledger as a priest researching the ghastly ritual.

A favorite artist of mine from Herefordshire, England works under the name Sin Eater; you can see some of his gorgeous artwork here.

For some, hiring a sin-eater was a way to find peace after the death of a loved one, for others it was a source of disgust and repulsion. Either way, the tradition did not survive to see the 21st century, and so it remains in history a strange and fascinating ritual.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Festival of Fear: Day 20: The List: Top Ten Most Annoying Kids In Horror

In stark contrast to the post I did on the Top Ten (Horror Kids) I'd Adopt is this particular post.  And while it may seem like I would choose kids like Damien or Esther, that's not what I'm talking about here.  What I mean is the children that annoy me, not necessarily the kid-villains.

These are kids that I'd kind of like to punch in the face.

Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) from CHILD'S PLAY

I hate this kid.  I don't think there's a more whiny child in horror or perhaps any other genre. It would have suited me just fine if Chucky would have just offed Andy in the first reel.  He whined and whined until Mommy had to end up buying that damn Good Guy doll from a street bum and look where that got them!  He's stupid enough to take orders from a freaking doll and gets a couple of murder raps thrown at him, all the while assuring everyone that he and Chucky are friends till the end!!

Young Carlo (Jacopo Mariani) from DEEP RED
Carlo falls on this list due to his "deer in the headlights" look and his really bad knee socks and shoes. What kind of parent dresses a kid like that?  I don't care if it's Christmas.  I don't care if it's Italy and that's the fashion.  I don't care if it's 1975.  It's obvious it made the child a cold-blooded killer.  (Well, that and seeing his mother stab his father to death probably didn't help.)  But this kid, combined with that godforsaken lullaby....ugh.

Robbie Freehling (Oliver Robins) from POLTERGEIST
I can't really say why I dislike Robbie so damn much.  The kid just gets under my skin. I wanted that creepy-ass clown to kill him, I really did.  Actually I hated the whole damn family, with the exception of little Carol Anne of course.  Probably why Poltergeist has never made it high on any of my must-see lists.  Robbie is definitely the biggest reason though, and I really thought he'd bite it when the demon tree came through the window.  Alas, it was not meant to be.

 Tad Trenton (Danny Pintauro) from CUJO
 Oh Tad....you really piss me off with your whining about your "monster words" and your relentless screaming in the car.   You're such a goober.  Oblivious to the fact that his mommy and daddy's marriage is on the rocks, all he cares about is making sure the monster under the bed or in the closet doesn't get him.  I know I shouldn't be so hard on the little chap, but when he starts that non-stop wailing in the car when his mom is trying to get him calmed down, I am just praying that the St. Bernard breaks through the glass. Sorry.

Anne Stewart (Alakina Mann)  from THE OTHERS
What a mouthy, disrespectful little brat!  She didn't need a time out, she needed an ass whooping.  Taken to drawing ghastly pictures of little kids and old women that don't really exist (or do they?) and smarting back to her mother at every turn, Anne is not the poster child for good behavior.  She makes fun of her little brother and teases him relentlessly.  She questions the Bible lessons her mother teaches her, refuses to eat,  and sneaks out of the house to run away.  Granted, her mother should have believed her when she said she saw ghosts....but this kid's rotten manners and lack of courtesy are unforgivable.

Ellie Creed (Blaze Berdahl) from PET SEMATARY
 Ellie Creed (Blaze Berdahl) from Pet Sematary. Another whining little girl I can't tolerate.  What makes it worse is that sadly, the young actress that portrays her just really wasn't that good.  She needs to take lessons from Alakina Mann (above, from The Others) who, while her character was very annoying, was an excellent little actress.  Here, we have Ellie gushing about Gage one minute then fake crying the next when he is run over on the road. Most awful was her nightmares when she "saw" the ghost of Victor Pascow.  Her wailing and stuttering was so fake - really tough to take.  What's worse - Berdahl had a twin that acted in the film as well, meaning there were TWO really poor actresses in the role. Ugh.

Aidan Keller (David Dorfman) from THE RING
 Sometimes, kids are just too creepy to like, as in the case of Aidan from The Ring and The Ring Two.  Far too wise for his years, Aidan takes care of his mother more than she does of him, and indicates the level of respect he has for her by calling her Rachel instead of Mom. He draws terrifying pictures at school and watches that ominous video tape, both throwing Mom into a panic. But he's at his most eerie when discussing Samara.  Aidan knows Samara is evil, and even though Mom and Dad solve the mystery and give her a proper burial, it's Aidan that knows that's not what Samara wants.  He knows she never sleeps. And the expression on his face is enough to send even the strongest-willed folks running.  He's no less creepy in the sequel, The Ring Two.  I just can't deal with this kid.  

Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews)  from HALLOWEEN (1978)
 Tommy could not be more annoying - one of those little kids on the block that just can't stop talking:  Can we make popcorn? Can we make jack-o-lanterns? Can we watch monster movies?  Can we read comics? Etc, etc, etc!  He then incessantly runs around the house, screaming about the boogeyman coming to get them.  I realize he was right, but yelling and acting like an idiot is a recipe for disaster in a horror movie. Shut the hell up and go hide!  Ok, I did feel a little bad for the kid when those bullies made him fall and crack open his gigantic pumpkin, but other than that he can steer clear.  Grr!

Daeg Faerch (Michael Myers) of HALLOWEEN (2007)
While we're discussing Halloween, I couldn't resist mentioning this one. I don't like this kid.  He scares me.  I know that was what director Rob Zombie was going for, but wow. I know there is a great deal of controversy about this fresh take on the Halloween story, and let's face it - the original was scarier because that Michael looked completely harmless and innocent.  This devil's spawn looked like exactly like the type that would flatten your tires, cut your phone cord, and kill your dog just for spite.  This Michael grew up in a white-trash world with a stripper mom who thought he could do no wrong.  Everything about him screams mass murderer.  He killed animals for fun, for pete's sake, before he even thought to stab his sister. If I'm being completely honest - I hated this Michael.

Bob Boyle (Giovanni Frezzi) from THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY
  It's entirely possible that Giovanni Frezzi is the worst child actor of his generation.  And while I realize sometimes things are lost in translation in Italian horror movies, I don't think the language barrier is the reason that Bob is such a horrendous character.  Everything about his character is awful, even though the entire film winds around what happens to HIM.  He is essentially the lead character and yet...he's so bad it's almost funny. The dubbing on some versions is SO bad - Bob sounds like a little girl instead of a boy. Not that that would make a damn bit of difference.  If you have an affinity for "B" horror like I do, you can overlook the astoundingly bad acting in the film (because let's face it, it's not just Bob that sucks) and enjoy this Fulci classic.  But no one could ever force me to like Bob...just ain't gonna happen.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Festival Of Fear: Day 19: Sunday Bloody Sunday

[Rec]3: Genesis

Banshee Chapter


Blue Ruin

Hemlock Grove

The Initiation

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Festival Of Fear: Day 18: Roots Of Horror: The Blood Countess

~by Marie Robinson

You have probably heard the legend of Elizabeth Báthory hundreds of times though you may not know her name. She has been referred to as the Blood Countess and rumored to be a vampire. This monstrous woman has made her place in history and folklore and appeared in hundreds of forms through film and literature, all because of her gruesome crimes.

With a possible 650 victims she is the most allegedly the most prolific female serial killer, though the number varies. Countess Elizabeth Báthory (born August 7th, 1560) came from a well-respected Hungarian family and married Ferenc Nádasdy when she was just fifteen years old. She was often left alone in her castle, Čachtice, in Slovakia, while her husband was traveling; it was in his absence that she enacted her crimes. Báthory, with the help of several accomplices (two old woman and a disfigured boy), began luring local girls to her castle with the prospect of a job where she would then torture them to death.

 The various ways included beating them with clubs and barbed whips, stabbing them with needles and daggers, burning them with hot irons, pouring water on them while they lay naked in the snow, and biting and tearing the flesh from their living bodies. Her claim to fame, however, were her supposed “bloodbaths”, where she would soak in the blood of the young virgin to preserve her beauty and absorb their youthfulness.

Although much of the Countess’ ghoulish exploits were probably exaggerated, or even completely falsified, this terrifying figure definitely had an effect on hundreds of artists. To this day people are still influenced by the ghastly Mrs. Báthory; her likeness has appeared in many different films, books, art and even video games.

Dozens of women have portrayed Elizabeth Báthory (or characters inspired by her) in film. For example, Julie Delphy directs and stars as the noblewoman in her 2009 film, The Countess. In American Horror Story: Coven Kathy Bates plays the cruel and wealthy Delphine LaLaurie, who would torture and murder her slaves and then lather their blood on her skin. Báthory also appears in Stay Alive (2006), The Brothers Grimm (2005), Fright Night 2: New Blood (2013), Countess Dracula (1971) and many others.
There have been several bands named after the Blood Countess—the most popular being the Swedish metal band, Bathory—and even more songs written for her. She has appeared in comics, novels, documentaries, and stage productions.

Kathy Bates as Delphine LaLaurie on AHS:Coven
The belief that Elizabeth Báthory was an actual vampire started with the rumors of her bathing in blood, but was perpetuated by 18th century Europe’s fascination and fear with the bloodsuckers of lore. This almost certainly falsified addition to the Countess’ crimes became so popular over time that one cannot mention Elizabeth Báthory without talking of her apparent bloodlust. There have been ties drawn between her and Vlad the Impaler as well as Bram Stoker, the later possibly being influenced to write Dracula with her in mind.

While the truth may be stretched, there is no doubt that Elizabeth Báthory was a terrible woman. Sadistic, psychotic, but undeniably fascinating. She has captured the interest of countless human beings, and undoubtedly will continue to do so as long as her name is kept alive.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Festival Of Fear: Day 17: Friday Flashback ~ Christine (1983): She's Bad To The Bone

I remember very well reading Stephen King's Christine when I was a teenager.   I was enamored with the lyrics to all those oldies opening the chapters, enjoyed the high school setting (since I was at that oh-so-annoying time in my life as well),  and of course I was pretty damn psyched that my favorite author had named a novel after me.  Ok, that last part isn't true..

Regardless, I was even more excited when I heard they were making it into a movie.  Christine is the type of book that begs to be scripted and put to the big screen. All that teenaged angst!  The diabolical car! Those oldies!!  Reminisce with me now, as I take a step back over thirty years ago....

We learn right off the bat that this car is absolutely nothing to mess around with.  Still on the assembly line,  it slams its hood on a guy's hand and then chokes another to death.  It means business.  We don't learn the car's moniker until after we meet Arnie (Keith Gordon), a nerdy high school senior with no guts, no girlfriend, and no glory. The tough-kid crowd at school is constantly bullying him, and his only friend is Dennis (John Stockwell), a rising football star who keeps the others at bay when it comes to picking on Arnie. 

One day coming home from school they pass by an old rusty car sitting in a backyard.  Arnie is immediately swept off his feet by the vehicle, and despite Dennis's many urgings to the contrary, purchases the 1958 Plymouth Fury.  The seller claims his brother died in the car but doesn't elaborate, only telling Arnie that "her name is Christine".  Arnie gets into a major battle with his mother at home when she learns he spent some of the money for his college education on this piece of shit car.  She tells him he is not allowed to park it in the driveway and so Arnie is able to work out a deal with the owner of a local garage to store Christine there.

Soon Dennis becomes aware that Arnie's infatuation with Christine has become an obsession.  He devotes all his free time to the car, and within a short time has it fixed up in showroom condition.  It's not just the car that goes through changes though.  Arnie has been changing as well.  His attitude becomes coarse and arrogant. He stands up to the bullies at school. He also ends up getting a date with the hottest girl in the school, Leigh (Alexandra Paul), a girl Dennis himself had eyes for. 

When bad-boy Buddy Reperton (William Ostrander) and his gang of bullies break into the garage one night and trash Christine beyond all repair, they soon start dying off one by one. It mysteriously seems as though Christine was always in the vicinity at the time, so local law enforcement (Harry Dean Stanton) begins to investigate Arnie. 

Meanwhile, Arnie and Leigh have an argument after she nearly chokes to death at the drive-in while Arnie stands outside the car, unable to get in.  She tells him she won't go in the car anymore, and Arnie flips out, telling her how much Christine means to him.

At this point, it becomes obvious Arnie and Christine are inseparable.  Dennis and Leigh devise a plan to put an end to the evil vehicle....but it won't be easy.

Christine is a fun horror movie.  I say this because you have to put all sense aside and assume that a car can take on a life of its own.  It's happened before in horror (best case in point: the James Brolin vehicle, The Car, 1977) and I'm sure it will happen again.  Possessed or evil items are always a huge hit with the genre crowd, and this movie fits in quite well.

It's not all about the car, though. You have to look a little deeper to get Stephen King's meaning in this one.  It isn't what Arnie did to (save and restore) Christine. It's what Christine did to Arnie. She changed him. The obsession that grows throughout the film, all with a backdrop of great oldies, is unnerving to watch.  Keith Gordon does such an admirable acting job, going from complete and utter nerd to the self-assured cool guy who just might be more dangerous than we think.  Christine makes Arnie her own, and she shows her jealousy by nearly killing "the other woman", dispatching of all the bullies in Arnie's life, and by having a hand in an injury that all but ruins Dennis's football future.  She's dangerous.  Evil. 

I would be remiss if I didn't again mention how great it is to hear all the old songs used in this film. They are perfectly matched to the actions of the film, like when Leigh is choking Robert and Johnny were crooning the 1958 classic, We Belong Together.  Better yet, when Christine is "fixing" all her injuries, the perfect placement of the Viscounts Harlem Nocturne still gives me chills (see below). Equally as impressive is the opening credits song, Bad to the Bone.  While George Thorogood didn't record that song until 1982, a year before the film's release, it's still a wildly appropriate song to introduce us to the malicious automobile. Also used to great effect was the Little Richard classic Keep-a-knockin'.  Christine was very picky about who she let inside her little world, and that song conveyed it perfectly.

The film, directed by John Carpenter, has become a favorite in horror circles, and I'll be the first to admit when it comes on TV I find it impossible to turn off.  One of the key scenes, when Christine is on fire and rolling down the dark streets, is a sublime scene of pure malevolence.  If you haven't seen it in a while, it's time to revisit.  This Christine won't steer you wrong.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Festival Of Fear: Day 16 ~ Terrible Tortures, Part 3

Our next installment of Terrible Tortures have a few that I just can't even fathom.  In particular, the very last one.  But there are some ridiculously cruel ones before you get to that one, so read on....

23) IMPALEMENT - Everyone is familiar with this method thanks to the infamous Vlad the Impaler, the main influence for the Dracula legends.  Victims were impaled on sharp poles via the rectum and left to die, the weight of their own body making it slowly sink to the ground. This could take hours to (worst case scenario) days. Horror fans will also be familiar with this type of torture if they have seen the infamous film, Cannibal Holocaust.

24) PITCHCAPPING - Devised by the British military back in the days of the Irish rebellion, it involves first shearing the head of hair, then pouring hot pitch (tar) into a paper cap (hat) and forcing it onto the victims head, meaning when the cap was cool and removed, it took the scalp with it.  Somewhat similar to the scalping made popular by American Indians, the victim of pitchcapping would be traumatized and most likely disfigured for life.

25) STRAPPADO (a.k.a. REVERSE HANGING) - This type of hanging involves tying the victim's hands behind their back and then hoisting them off the ground, causing excruciating pain and dislocation of the arm joints. It was used to try to get a confession from the accused.  Not just used in Medieval times, Strappado was unfortunately used in the concentration camps of WWII, the Vietnam War, and in the middle east to this day.

26) INTESTINAL CRANK - An absolutely fatal method of execution, this ghastly torture is performed by making an incision in the victims abdomen and attaching the upper part of the intestine to a crank, which is then rotated to remove the intestine as the victim watched. Not really much to add to that horrific visual.

27) WITCH'S (IRON) SPIDER / BREAST RIPPER - Mutilation is a popular type of torture, no doubt, and the breast ripper is one of the most offensive.  The instrument was a claw-like tool that was often heated prior to torture and used to effectively mutilate and tear the breast off.  It was used on women who were accused of witchcraft, adultery, or even to facilitate their own abortions. Yikes.

28) LETHAL INJECTION -  A seemingly civilized way to kill someone, its use in capital punishment has been popular since many states in the USA have gotten away from both the electric chair and the gas chamber.  Basically the prisoner is lying down as a series of injections are put into his vein and he slips into a coma, then death.  However, when it doesn't work as quickly as it is intended to, it can cause the victim to gasp and fight for air for upwards of 20 minutes.  A botched procedure in Oklahoma had its victim trying to get up well after he was declared unconsious, and was seen gasping, choking, trying to speak, and eventually seizing painfully for over 40 minutes.

29) KNEE SPLITTER - During the Inquisition, this device was two wooden blocks with screws or spikes in the middle. The knee was placed between and then the device was turned, impaling and crushing the knee.

30) HANGED, DRAWN & QUARTERED - Reserved for men convicted of high treason, this horrific means of death started by dragging the accused by horse to his place of death, then he is hanged until nearly dead, then drawn - which involved cutting off the genitals and burning them in front of the victim, then disemboweled and beheaded, followed by dismemberment (quartered). After which the parts of the body would be spread around the town in various locations in order to emote fear.  Scotland's William Wallace died in this manner, which was shown in the movie Braveheart.

31) SPANISH DONKEY (a.k.a. WOODEN HORSE / DONKEY)  - Victims were made to straddle a wooden device that is somewhat like a modern day sawhorse but with a sharply angled top. Their full weight is on their crotch and it soon causes irreparable damage to the genital area. Used during the Civil War, it was known as "Morgan's Mule". Tortured soldiers were made to "ride" the mule for hours at a time until they fell off in exhaustion.

32) THE SAW - Obviously fatal, sawing has been a popular form of execution since Roman times. It's also a self-explanatory method: saw the victim in half, whether it is through the abdomen, or down through the body transversely. Most victims were hung upside down and sawed through. Because the victim was upside down, all the blood would rush to the head, making death slower, and the victim more likely to be conscious longer to witness their own death.

33) RAT EXPOSURE - In what may be the most abominable form of torture and death, victims are laid down on a table, with a rat placed on their stomach. A metal cage would then be placed over the rat and hot coals would be placed on top, causing the rat to burrow and eat its way into the victim's bowels to find a way to escape the heat.   The mere thought of this just horrifies me!

Stay tuned....next week, part 4!