The early bird catches the worm, Doug always averred. The late body collects countless more, he eventually found out.
The early bird catches the worm, Doug always averred. The late body collects countless more, he eventually found out.
It’s the one obstacle that we seem unable to overcome. We might be able to eliminate physical pain for a while, or broken social structures that hold us down. We’ve been able to cure diseases and send humans to the moon, but we’ve never been able to put a stopper to death. At least, that’s what we’ve been led to believe. But the history books contain hints at an alternate answer, one that says even something as permanent and certain as death might be avoided. Death, some believe, can truly be beaten. And if the stories are true, there are some who have already succeeded.
Immortality is in the air in the latest episode of the Lore podcast, as host Aaron Mahnke covers “our undying obsession with living forever.” The first half of “Hanging On” is devoted to a broad survey of the Philosopher’s Stone, the Holy Grail, Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth–subjects with which the listener is likely familiar already (although it was interesting to learn how the myth of Sisyphus ties in). But the episode really hits its stride when Mahnke relates the incredible tale of William Cragh, a 13th-Century Welsh rebel who suffered capital punishment for his crimes (he was hung–twice) but somehow managed to make a full recovery from his grim execution and live on another eighteen years. Cragh’s miraculous resurrection ranks among the wildest stories in the history of Lore, but is soon matched by the episode’s closing segment, concerning a ritual of living burial in Vermont that served as a folksy, early rural version of cryogenics.
Apropos of its topic, the episode enjoys an extended runtime (44 minutes). “Hanging On” gets off to a bit of a slow start, but rewards the listener for hanging in with some astounding folklore in its latter half.
The kids are far from all right in the latest episode of Eli Roth’s History of Horror. Here is some of the fine guidance offered, on dealing with “Chilling Children”:
Kier-La Janisse: Everybody sympathizes with Carrie. The character of Carrie White continues to resonate, generation after generation, because she is sort of like this heroine character for anybody who has been marginalized, or bullied, or has had an oppressive parent.
Mick Garris: What could be more frightening than your child gone wrong [such as in We Need to Talk About Kevin]? I mean, how organic is that, how horrendous would that be? Because you’re there for at least eighteen years, man. However your kid comes out, you have a responsibility.
Eli Roth: The Bad Seed arrived in the mid-1950’s, one of the most conservative periods in American history. The generation that grew up during the Great Depression believed in strict discipline and frowned on selfishness, and Rhoda embodied their worst fears about their children.
Dana Gould: It’s the innate fear that parents have, that your child is here to replace you. They’re here because you’re leaving, and they’re going to take over. And the anxiety [as reflected in Village of the Damned] is that they’re not going to wait.
Don Mancini: What all these movies have in common is that they were about kids supernaturally punishing their enemies. And I think that is something that is extremely attractive to young people who feel that they have no control over their lives.
Milly Shapiro: You don’t want to punch a child; you don’t want to kick a child. They’re scary, but you’re like, ‘I can’t do anything, it’s an actual child.’ And so it’s a very unnerving thing to watch a scary child, or a child with a knife or anything like that.
Jason Middleton: It’s Alive dramatizes the idea, you know, of a monster kind of born, and it’s because of environmental factors, so it works in that whole eco-horror theme. But it’s also just very much about the idea that for men, childbirth is something over which they’re going to exercise little control, and, you know, what’s going to happen with this birth.
The new anthology film on Hulu, Books of Blood (which I ended up enjoying a helluva lot more than I expected to), inspired me to return to the landmark, multi-volume collection of horror stories, Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. My reread triggered the idea for a series of posts counting down the contents in terms of their horrific effectiveness. So here we go:
30. “Babel’s Children” (from Vol. 5, In the Flesh)
The setting–a quasi-religious cloister containing an unsettling secret–is classically Gothic (the place’s “lunatic asylum” atmosphere, where it’s hard to distinguish the patients from the administrators, recalls Poe’s “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether”). Vanessa Jape, the protagonist who accidentally ends up imprisoned there, is a quintessential Barker character: an intrepid delver into mystery, driven by an almost perverse desire to see, to know. But there’s a campiness to the piece’s sustained attempt at political satire (the bearded, rifle-toting men guarding the place are dressed–“disguised” would be overstating the case–as nuns). “Babel’s Children” succeeds as farce, but is a far cry from the other horror tales that Barker pens in the Books of Blood. Based on the narrative logic established by the collection’s frame story, the story feels out of place: the reader has to wonder why this one was ever engraved on Simon McNeal’s skin by the ghostly scribes from the highway of the dead.
29. “The Book of Blood (A Postscript): On Jerusalem Street” (from Vol. 6)
This vignette concluding the story cycle does connect clearly with “The Book of Blood” (reinforcing Barker’s indebtedness to Ray Bradbury’s framed story collection The Illustrated Man). But it pales in comparison to the sublime opening section of the Books of Blood. The main character, hitman/procurer-of-outré-trophies Leon Wyburd, is a mere cipher (really all the leader learns about him is that he hopes to retire to Florida), so his bloody fate isn’t all that moving. His demise also fails to achieve the graphic grandeur of Simon’s own, previous comeuppance in “The Book of Blood.” The postscript doesn’t add much to the mythos developed in the first volume’s opening frame; still, it is interesting to hear the reappearing Simon express the maddening state of his ongoing existence as the Book of Blood. Here at collection’s end, he reveals a haunting detail: fours years since his brutal tattooing, his unhealed wounds keep bleeding and bleeding, like sinister textual stigmata.
28. “Down, Satan!” (from Vol. 4, The Inhuman Condition)
Discounting the Postscript’s return visit to Jerusalem Street, this is the shortest narrative in The Books of Blood. That is not to say the piece fails to pack a wicked punch. Dialogue-free, it reads like a dark, latter-day parable, of the wealthy Gregorius, “who woke one day and found himself Godless.” Desperate, he hopes to force God to reveal Himself by first invoking Satan: Gregorius’s misguided design is to tempt the Archfiend into entering the earthly realm by building him a malefic palace. H.H Holmes with an existential crisis, Gregorius commissions the construction of an elaborate deathtrap (filled with a slew of human sacrifices) in North Africa. The story luxuriates in the details of decadence, yet also shows restraint in its commitment to ambiguity. Does Satan actually take up residence in New Hell, or are the atrocities committed there the product of Gregorius’s inevitable descent into madness? Does the elusive trickster cunningly lead his would-be tempter Gregorius into damnation? An effective foray into the infernal in and of itself, “Down, Satan!” also prospers from its juxtaposition with the preceding tale–the lengthier “Revelations,” whose final line of dialogue is the sly claim, “The Devil made me do it.”
One of the highlights of Halloween season (other than the fact that it is Halloween season) is the appearance of various horror-related articles in the media. Case in point: this pre-Halloween feature in Esquire that I just came across, “The Best Horror Movie Characters of All Time.” The piece, which broadly defines “character” and ranges beyond the monsters and heroes one might expect, makes for a fun read. It’s likely to keep you in the holiday spirit and inspire you to keep up with your horror-movie bingeing.
Take heart: just fifty-one weeks until next Halloween!
A tempting suggestion…
“C’mon, honey, it’s a perfect day for apple picking. Even the snake says so,” Eve added.
My essay “Eerie Rider: The Headless Horseman’s Forays into Pop Culture” (in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: Ultimate Annotated Edition) attempts to provide a definitive account of the Irving character’s post-Legend appearances, but acknowledges that there will still be further instances following the essay’s publication. And pop culture didn’t take long to validate this point.
Showing once again that there’s no better proof of popularity than being spoofed, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was targeted during last weekend’s Halloween edition of Saturday Night Live. The five-minute skit–in which a wandering Ichabod Crane encounters the Headless Horseman (carrying his animate head)–is riotous with impropriety, as Crane and lascivious company end up tormenting the poor Horseman. Definitely not suitable for younger viewers, but a video of the skit can be found here.
For an analysis of countless other examples (both spoofs and serious uses), be sure to check out my “Eerie Rider” essay.
In lieu of a full review of last night’s “Treehouse of Horror XXXI” (which I thought was terrific, and did its Halloween number proud), here’s a brief quiz pertaining to the episode. Answers appear in the Comments section below.
1. When Marge tells Homer he should vote if he cares about the three things he loves most, what does Homer immediately imagine?
2. In “Toy Gory,” Radioactive Man explodes after Bart puts him in the microwave–a reference to Gremlins. This isn’t the first time such gag has appeared on a Treehouse of Horror episode, though. Can you cite the other?
3. According to Kent Brockman’s news report in “Into the Homer-verse,” the group of Homers terrorizing Springfield do all of the following, except:
A. Over-bowl the bowling alleys
B. Empty family-style buffets of everything except salad
C. Start a doo-wop group
D. Attend a football game with their shirts off
E. Leave the library untouched
4. The episode lives up to its Treehouse of Horror title when ________________.
5. Complete the quote: “Bart Simpson, I’m gonna do what clowns do best: ____!
6. “Into the Homer-verse” gives a nod to what classic Star Trek episode?
7. In “Be Nine, Rewind,” temporal loops can be broken by all of the following, except:
A. Saving the whales in Star Trek IV
B. Bombing at the box office like Happy Death Day 2U did
C. Saying “Orange you glad I didn’t say banana” in the knock-knock joke
D. Being nice in Groundhog Day
8. True or False? Bart gets tennis elbow from his toys in “Toy Gory.”
9.In “Into the Homer-verse,” Kearney dresses up as Pinhead for Halloween. Can you cite the other time the Cenobite has appeared on Treehouse of Horror?
10. How many clips are shown in the closing credits of TofH XXXI?
The topic of last night’s episode of Eli Roth’s History of Horror was perfectly suited to Halloween. Here is some of the wisdom conveyed about cinematic witchery:
Joshua Leonard: Without Heather’s monologue [in The Blair Witch Project], and without the weird framing of that shot, I don’t think the film works. I think that very iconic moment made the film and added so many stakes and so much relatability to the film. And Mike [Williams] and I had no idea that she filmed that until we saw it for the first time in the theater.
Eli Roth: The merciless Wicked Witch of the West is one of the most recognizable creations in cinema. Green-faced, hooked-nosed, pointed chin: she represents one of the oldest villains of folklore–the evil crone. And like many horror archetypes, she’s the product of cultural anxiety.
Rachel True: It’s an analogy for female sexuality. If you notice [in The Craft], as our powers get stronger, our skirts get shorter. Society’s always been scared of women and their sexuality, and teenagers, that’s their burgeoning sexuality when it hits. So the witchcraft is kind of an analogy for the fear we have of women coming into their power.
Ari Aster: One of the first images that came to me when I was developing Hereditary was that of the dollhouse. This artist who, you know, was making these very true to life replicas of the spaces in her life. That just felt like an appropriate metaphor for this film about a family that ultimately has no agency. Ultimately, they are like dolls in a dollhouse.
Scott Derrickson: Here’s this good person [Tomlinson in The Witch], who is being consumed by an evil that she cannot escape. She only wants to be good and only wants to do what is right. And the idea of being usurped by evil is a one of the scariest ideas you can think of, from a theological or religious point of view. But at the same time, the movie is very critical, in saying that this what religion and religious hysteria and religious repression also inevitably does to young adult minds.
Rob Zombie: I like the ending [of The Lords of Salem] a lot, because I’ve always been a big fan of Ken Russell movies, and I like crazy shit. Because I thought, if you have someone [the character Heidi] who their entire soul is being stripped away because they are being dragged to hell by witches and forced to give birth to Satan, well, what’s that gonna look like?
Ernest Dickerson: What Dario Argento was really doing [in Suspiria] was, he was making an adult fairy tale. It is amazing to see that his inspiration for it was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. He wanted the color scheme of a Disney film. And he got it. It’s another externalization of the fears and the anxieties the main character’s going through.
Jennifer Moorman: It’s not common in other genres to see women as powerful and dangerous. And to watch them take back the power, and use it to break free, is really exciting.
Here are the correct answers from yesterday’s Treehouse of Trivia: Ultimate Simpsons Quiz. How did you rate?
6-10: Ay, Caramba!
1. C. Bart (an interrupting Marge asks Bart to warn viewers in the TofH IV opening, but he never actually does so)
2. E, D, F, C, A, B
3. “King Homer” (TofH III), “Dial M for Murder, or Press ‘#’ to Return to Main Menu” (TofH XX), “Homerzilla” (TofH XXVI)
4. “No TV and no beer make Homer go crazy” (from “The Shinning” [TofH V])
5. False (parodied in “I Know What You Diddily-Iddily Did” [TofH X])
6. G. The Fly (in “Fly vs. Fly” [TofH VIII]), Bart is Fly-headed, but it’s a mutation, not a Halloween costume)
7. D. Herman Munster (Homer appears as a parody of Herman Munster in the opening of TofH XI, but it is not a Halloween costume)
8. In “Dial Z for Zombies” (TofH III), Bart and Lisa plan to resurrect Snowball I (cf. Pet Sematary)
In “Bart Simpson’s Dracula” (Tof H IV), vampire kids float outside bedroom window (cf. Salem’s Lot)
In “Attack of the 50 Ft. Eyesores” (TofH VI), a giant lumberjack terrorizes Springfield (cf. It)
In “I Know What You Diddliy-Iddily Did” (TofH X), Homer tells Lisa to go hide in the Pet Cemetery
In “Hex and the City” (T of H XII), a gypsy places a curse on Homer (cf. Thinner)
“The Ned Zone” (TofH XV) is a segment-long parody of The Dead Zone
In “Heck House” (TofH XVII), a pig is dropped onto Homer’s head (cf. the pig’s blood prank in Carrie)
9. Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford (in “The Terror of Tiny Toon” [TofH IX])
10. D. Skinner and Chalmers
11.”But let that ill-gotten donut be forever on your head” (from “The Devil and Homer Simpson” [TofH IV])
12. Family Guy‘s Peter Griffin
13. E. Snake
14. True (clips from the first 666 episodes appear in a grid at the end of TofH XXX)
15. In “Night of The Dolphin” (TofH XI), Willie is impaled through chest by a dolphin leaping through town hall window (cf. the Headless Horseman’s staking of Baltus through church window in Sleepy Hollow)
In “Bartificial Intelligence” (TofH XVI), the Robot David trims the hedges in the shapes of the Simpsons’ heads (cf. Edward Scissorhands)
“There’s No Business Like Moe Business” (TofH XX) is a segment-long parody of Sweeney Todd
16. G. Lisa’s Pieces (Lisa is actually a nutritious apple)
17. Fran Drescher
18. In “Attack of the 50 Ft. Eyesores” (TofH VI), the Lard Lad Donuts statue comes to life (and attacks Homer for stealing the donut from it)
In the opening of TofH XXIII, the giant Mayan hurls the donut from the statue like a frisbee
In the opening of TofH XXIV (directed by Guillermo del Toro), the statue is shown on the rampage
In “Telepaths of Glory” (TofH XXVI), Maggie teleports the statue’s donut onto a radio tower
In the “Planet of the Couches” gag (opening of TofH XXVII), the statue is shown half-buried on the beach
In “Dry Hard” (TofH XXVII), the statue is shown in a state of post-apocalyptic ruin (but with a video camera installed in the donut hole)
19. D. Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”
20. The half-kneeling death pose of Commander Adama (Lorne Greene) in Battlestar Galactica
21. Treehouse of Horror (The Simpsons Halloween Special appeared in episodes 1-13)
22. A. The Shape of Water (which hadn’t been released yet, but would eventually be parodied in “When Hairy Met Slimy” [TofH XXX])
23. In “Hell Toupee” (TofH IX), the renegade hairpiece attacks Bart like the facehugger from Alien
In the opening of TofH XIV, Kang and Kodos’s boss expels Bart from his stomach after dinner
In “Starship Poopers” (TofH XX), half-alien Maggie attacks Jerry Springer like the facehugger
In the opening of TofH XXI, Bart has the alien inside stomach when he walks past an x-ray machine
In the opening of TofH XXII, Bart and Maggie dress up as an astronaut and chestburster, respectively, for Halloween
24. False (God says it is Selma, but a taunting Homer corrects him: “It’s Patty, chump!”)
25. C. “Dial N for Nerder” (which will actually an episode title in season 19 [episode 14])
26. TofH III: Simpsons as skeletons
TofH IV: Simpsons as zombies
TofH V: Simpsons as Frankenstein’s Monsters
TofH VI: Simpsons hung
TofH VII: Simpsons felled by the Grim Reaper
TofH VIII: Simpsons electrocuted by skull caps
TofH IX: Freddy and Jason sit waiting on couch, but Simpsons are already dead
TofH X: Simpsons as past characters from TofH
28. B. Slithers (Smithers is a snake-like character named Slithers in the Harry Potter spoof “Wiz Kids” [TofH XII])
29. “Eat my shorts” (Bart interjects this before Lisa can read the actual word “Nevermore” from the poem)
30. Sgt. Sausage
31. True (although the theme music from Halloween does figure prominently in the episode “Halloween of Horror,” which aired a week before TofH XXVI)