24 Oct

Based On A True Story: The Black Dahlia

Posted by Bryan White | Monday October 24, 2011 | Based On A True Story

The Black DahliaThe Black Dahlia isn’t really a horror movie at all. If anything, the movie is an example of neo-noir. Based on James Elroy’s novelization of the murder and the investigation surrounding it, the novel and the movie become a weird sort of fusion of fiction and history. Unsurprisingly, this sort of thing is called Historical Fiction and Elroy specializes in it. He has a series of novels which take place in the world that we live in, involving people you’ve heard of, often portraying these people in a seriously unflattering light because that’s what this guy does best. In American Tabloid, Jimmy Hoffa is portrayed as a murderous psychopath and numerous real-life gangsters are outed as gay (and also murderous). The Kennedy brothers are depicted as ruthless in their crusade against organized crime (which was probably true) and Jack Kennedy’s reputation as a pussy hound is exaggerated for dramatic effect. Elroy paints a picture of Americana that is almost unbearably sleazy, where every man hates women, everybody at the top of the financial food chain is a hopeless drug addict, the cops are all corrupt and incompetent and the denizens of the organized crime underworld could give the world’s most brutal serial killers a run for their money. Calling James Elroy pessimistic is a grotesque understatement. His novel about the Black Dahlia Murder is no different.  It exists in this world and plays by those rules.

What makes this movie qualify for the Based On A True Story series, apart from its basis in fact is that the original story of the murder of Elizabeth Short lives in a creepy namespace. The movie may be an example of seedy crime noir but the actual story and the ensuing investigation of the murder have turned over the rock that the dark side of Hollywood lives under. The case remains unsolved and will likely never be cleared. On top of that, the case, though never conclusively linked to any other murders, had all the markings of a single murder in a series, aka serial murder. If ever there was a cautionary tale about moving to Hollywood with stars in your eyes, this is it.

Elizabeth ShortElizabeth Short, by all accounts was a good girl in spite of a difficult life. Born on the East Coast, she was born and lived most of her short life in Medford, Massachusetts. She moved out west to visit an old boyfriend that she had met while living in Florida. While there, she was determined to make it in the movies. While in California during the days leading up to her murder, Short had made a reputation for herself as a bit loose. She partied constantly, worked little and seemed to be with a different guy every night. Her preference was for service men but the last man to see her alive was Robert Manley, a married salesman who was most likely trying to get her into bed. Tossed out of her last place of resident, the home of a sympathetic family whose hospitality Elizabeth took advantage of, Manley picked her up and dropped her off at the Biltmore Hotel. Following this, Elizabeth Short was never seen alive again. She disappeared on January 9th, 1947. It is believed that she was murdered on July 15th. Her whereabouts during that time are still unknown. Naturally, Manley was a suspect in the murder but he was cleared after a couple of life detector tests and an alibi that checked out. But the murder…

Black Dahlia CrimesceneThe body of Elizabeth Short was found in a vacant lot. Her body was left nude and she had been bisected at the waist and drained of blood. Her face had been slashed from ear to ear and her body cleaned and posed deliberately. The cause of death was blood loss. She was most likely alive when her face was slashed but may have been knocked unconscious by blunt force trauma to the head. Immediately, smelling blood, the LA press leaped into action, painting the story up in lurid colors and giving her the inexplicable nickname, The Black Dahlia. This high profile murder brought the lunatics out of the woodwork, too, giving the police tremendous amounts of bogus information and some actual leads that led the investigation in many directions. The most interesting yet least likely is my favorite: The investigation of George Hodel. LAPD homicide detective, Steve Hodel, framed up a theory that his father, a wealthy physician, had killed Elizabeth Short and that the murder may have been a part of decadent Hollywood Babylon style sex and drug orgies held by the sadistic senior Hodel. George Hodel, accused of molesting his daughter by his daughter was cleared of any charges and Steve Hodel’s book, The Black Dahlia Avenger, seems to be nothing more than a smear campaign against a father that he harbors a tremendous amount of resentment towards. In spite of this suspicious motivation, Steve Hodel’s case against his father is compelling and also links him to the Cleveland Lipstick Murders in a way that is hard to dismiss. It also implicates artist and photographer, Man Ray, in the murder, claiming that some of his provocative and disturbing photos of women was evidence of a sexual and sadistic mean streak and that Ray and Hodel were close friends. This has yet to be proven.

What’s more, in the wake of the murder, as the headlines began to cool and the press began to look for something new and seedy to fixate on, Elizabeth’s killer, identifying themselves as The Black Dahlia Avenger, began to contact the press, taunting them and the police and offering up evidence that would prove that they killed her as long as she stayed in the papers.

In total over two dozen suspects have been offered up to the police and the cops were unable to build a case against any of them. The murder of Elizabeth Short was clearly a ritualized act and suggests that she was not the first. The care taken in the presentation of the body and the skills necessary to cut her body in half as it had been would have required some serious skills with a knife, these qualities of the case suggest a killer with a specific set of skills and tools. The details of this case, the victim, the suspects, the cops, the press, the setting, it all sets people’s imaginations on fire. The case will likely never be solved but it won’t be leaving the public consciousness any time soon.

22 Oct

Based On A True Story: Primeval

Posted by Bryan White | Saturday October 22, 2011 | Based On A True Story

PrimevalThe inspiration for this entire series came from a massive marketing push a few years ago where every horror movie released was ‘based on a true story’ in whatever capacity that meant. Sometimes the movies were fairly accurate portrayals of some horrific moment in history, but the reality of the situation was that most of the movies released at this time were remakes of movies from the 70’s and 80’s that were loosely based on a true story. So you do the math. The most evil of the bunch, the most misleading in it marketing was easily this one: Primeval. The original ads were so completely full of shit that it makes me wonder why they even made the movie in the first place.

Primeval billed itself as based on the true story of the most prolific serial killer in the world. A killer that had killed as many as 300 people in Africa. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How did this one get by me? If there was a murderer out there who had that many confirmed kills, even if the body count was some kind of overblown figure, surely I would have known about it. A cursory examination of the Wikipedia article about Primeval confirmed my worst suspicions.

Primeval tells the story of Gustave, the marketing’s serial killer with a body count of 300 kills. What it failed to mention is that Gustave isn’t a serial killer. He’s not even a person. Gustave is a giant crocodile that makes its home on the banks of the Ruzizi river in Burundi. Yeah. Crocodile. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

What makes Gustave special enough to have a horror movie made about him with a criminally misleading marketing campaign is that he’s the largest of his kind. Unusually so, as a matter ofact. Gustave is 20 feet long and weighs a ton. He’s also 60 years old. Usually crocodiles hunt smaller species of animals that wander too close to their habitat like fish and antelope. Typically, humans aren’t on the menu. We’re just not in the crocodile food chain. Gustave, however, is far too big to be effective against smaller, faster prey. In order to survive, he has to shift up his habits. Larger species that fall into his jaws tend to be hippopotamus and wildebeest. Also people. 300, allegedly.

There’s really no way to accurately track how many people have been attacked and eaten by Gustave but over the years, herpetologists and the people of Burundi, who are positively petrified of this crocodile, have tracked as many as 300. Attempts to capture or kill Gustave have been launched by hunters over the years but every attempt is thwarted or it turns out that the hunters can’t even find a 20 foot long, one ton croc out in wild.

The hunt began by official counts in 1998. Gustave is still loose in Burundi.

21 Oct

Based On A True Story: Rope

Posted by Bryan White | Friday October 21, 2011 | Based On A True Story

RopeNever let it be said that I don’t have class up the ass. I write about low-brow bullshit and trash like it’s something to be savored. Like you have to check the legs, bouquet and let it breathe before taking in a movie like Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-rama. I pride myself on my low class sensibilities when it comes to movies but I like to class things up every now and then and pretend that I’m all intellectual and shit. This series has been pretty morbid from the beginning and this doesn’t mean that it’s about to get any lighter because Rope is based on some seriously dark shit that actually happened but in the context of Alfred Hitchcock, it doesn’t seem as nasty as, say, Andrei Chikatilo.

Hitchcock had a seriously dark side evident in everything he did. He pioneered in commodities like dread when he hit with Rebecca and then wrote the blue print for slashers with Psycho, which was also based on a true story. As a matter of fact, I already touched on it early on in the Based On A True Story series. I did Ed Gein when I talked about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. On top of being a completely twisted British guy, Hitchcock also had some seriously wild ideas about how to make a movie. Before Rope was a film, it was a play in three acts where the action was continuous from scene to scene. Hitchcock aimed to replicate this quality in his adaptation but there’s a problem when you shoot on 35mm film. A single magazine of film takes nine minutes of footage so every nine minutes you have to switch out mags. Ultimately, through clever manipulation of scenery, Hitch was able to dupe audiences into thinking that he had filmed a feature-length movie in a single continuous take. It’s cool. You can tell where the cuts are, but the effort was novel. No one had done it before. These days, setting up a single take shot or a single-take feature like La Casa Muda is a challenge but the advantage of video is that you can shoot and shoot and shoot until you run out of disk space. Rope is a gem in this respect. It’s also based on a seriously fucking tragic crime, so fall in. You’re about to get schooled.

Nathan Leopold and Richard LoebThe Leopold and Loeb murder was committed in 1924 yet was so baffling in its motive that it continues to find its way into the popular consciousness even today. Mad Men will drop a passing reference to it and most of its audience is left scratching its head but those of us who have tasked ourselves personally with cataloging the world history of murder know. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, a pair of teenage Nietzche fans considered themselves walking examples of Nietzche’s superman archetype. Too badass for everyone else, perfect in every way. Though this sounds like a typical teenage line of bullshit, the pair were, in fact, brilliant minds. We’re talking gifted at birth with superior intellect. Bored with everything, the pair began planning and executing petty crimes until it occurred to them that they were probably capable of committing the perfect crime, a murder that no one would ever be able to figure out.

The pair plotted to kidnap Bobby Franks, son of a Chicago millionaire, murder him, dispose of the body and collect the ransom money without being caught and on May 21, 1924, they put their plan into motion by luring Franks, a neighbor of Loeb’s into their rented car. Once in the car, Franks was murdered with a chisel. They then stripped the body and dumped the clothes by the roadside. To make identification of the body difficult, the poured hydrochloric acid on it and dumped the body in a culvert. After dinner, they called Franks’ mother to tell her that he had been kidnapped and then mailed a ransom note. Then things began to go wrong.

The body was discovered sooner than they thought it would be and Loeb had lost his glasses near the dump site. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing were it not for the fact that his glasses were extremely unique to the tune of there only being three pairs of them in existence and record of Loeb owning them were on file. This led investigator’s straight to him and even though Leopold and Loeb had been careful to destroy all evidence that could link them to the murder, their alibi began to fray. Inconsistencies in their stories broke, immediately, and it wasn’t long before they had both confessed to the killing but turned on each other as to who actually killed the boy. It’s likely that Leopold, who was witnessed in the back of the car with Bobby Franks was the killer while Loeb was the wheel man.

The victim, Bobby FranksPsychological analysis at the trial of Leopold and Loeb classified them in an unusual class of murderers. Though clearly a pair of sociopaths, neither was motivated by sexual urges as serial killers tend to be and even though ransom was on the menu, both came from affluent backgrounds with no need for money. The pair were thrill killers, a class of murderer typified by younger perps who simply kill at random for the sheer exhilaration of the act. Murder for petty reasons like jealousy and money is shitty enough as it is and the horror of serial murder is a potent blend but thrill killers are particularly tragic in that there is no motive for the waste of life apart from the fleeting rush of adrenaline they get from the act. Pathetic.

At the time of the trial, Leopold and Loeb because of their age and their wealthy backgrounds put them in the media spotlight and the case became the 20’s equivalent of the O.J. Simpson trial. It was a massive media circus that lit up every paper in the United States like a lurid tabloid. Unlike O.J., though the Leopold and Loeb trial was scarcely longer than 12 hours as their defense convinced them to turn in a guilty plea. The prosecution had a case against them that could have put them in the electric chair. Their pleas saved their lives and they wound up sent to Joliet for life for murder one plus 99 years for the kidnapping. While in prison in 1936, Richard Loeb was attacked by an inmate wielding a razor and died from his wounds. After 33 years in prison, in 1958, Nathan Leopold would be paroled from prison.

20 Oct

Based On A True Story: The Entity

Posted by Bryan White | Thursday October 20, 2011 | Based On A True Story

The EntityTonight’s entry into the Based On A True Story is a total cop out and I am very, very sorry. I did The Entity during last year’s 31 Ghost Stories blog-a-thon and I said that I wasn’t going to do it again this year but it’s late and I need to get something up here. I’ve also had numerous requests for this movie to be in the rotation, so apparently nobody reads this blog because if they did, they’d know.

So we all know at this point that haunted house flicks really get under my skin. I’ve said it a thousand times. With rare exception, the only kinds of movies that make me look over my shoulder while walking around my house in the dark are movies about families tormented by ghosts. I’ve had my own personal encounter with the unexplained and even though I remain skeptical, the whole experience planted a seed of irrational paranoia in me that I can’t seem to shake. I also seem to be surrounded by people who keep me informed of spooky goings on in the Fortean/paranormal world so I can’t help it. The recent flick, Insidious, literally gave me nightmares, The Amityville Horror actually makes my skin crawl in parts and even mild made for TV shit like The Haunting and Unsolved Mysteries’ ghost episodes shake me up a bit. Last year at this time I re-endured the Tall Man’s Ghost episode (haunted bunk bed) and while it didn’t frighten me quite the same way that it did back when the show first aired and upon reruns, it still made me uneasy. Ghost stories, well executed ones, that is, get right into that primitive fear-driven module of my brain that puts me in fight or flight mode at the worst times. So bearing all that in mind, here’s the true story that inspired one of horror’s most underrated achievements. In spite of its absolutely mind-bendingly terrible ending, The Entity scared me half to death when I was a kid, seeing it for the first time.

Spectral lights photographed above Carla MoranIt’s 1974 in Culver City, California. A pair of investigators, Kerry Gaynor and Barry Taff were giving a talk at a local book store about paranormal investigation and were approached by Carla Moran, real name Doris Bither. Moran made an appointment with the two at her home, claiming that the place was haunted and in a subsequent interview with the two, she apprehensively admitted that the spirits in her home, at first described as your usual knocking on walls, disembodied voice types were actually extremely violent entities and that she had been beaten severely and savagely raped by these unseen monsters. Taff and Gaynor initially scoffed at this allegation. Physical contact with spirits is a rare thing and often a fleeting sensation. A force powerful enough to do what Moran was saying was unheard of even in the world of paranormal investigation. However, in a follow up call, Moran told them that the beings had shown themselves to her and there were other witnesses. This was enough to spring into action and look a little closer. Taff and Gaynor arrived with photography equipment and described the beings’ attempts to manifest but the best they could do at the time was cause pops of light here and there. No photographic evidence could be collected since these lights were so quick. This was just the start, however. Taff and Gaynor claimed that as they interviewed Moran’s teenage son in the kitchen, cabinets flew open and spit out pots and pans and Moran began freaking out, alerting everyone to the presence in the bedroom. Photos were taken but the Polaroid shots were useless and bleached. Photos from the same camera, taken with the same cartridge of film developed normally after Moran told everyone that it had gone and upon its return, the same effect was applied to further Polaroids taken, this time only obscuring Moran’s face.

The investigation lasted ten weeks with a lot of nickel and dime evidence captured by Taff and Gaynor. Moran described horrible encounters with the being, a huge man accompanied by two smaller beings who held her down. Taff and Gaynor could capture no such evidence of the being. The only documented evidence they could keep was some photos of lights, though they admit to having seen the shape of a person take form from these lights. This being only ever seemed to attack in the presence of her family, sometimes in front of the children and she often bore bruises and bite marks on her neck left by the being. During one particularly vicious attack, Moran’s son tried to intervene when he heard her screaming and was thrown across the room, breaking his arm from the sheer force of the attack.

In the end, the advice from Taff and Gaynor was simple and unsatisfying. Move out. Moran was a single mother of four living in a twice condemned dump in Culver City. Moving out wasn’t exactly an option but the severity of the situation made it an easy decision in spite of lacking the resources to do so. The Moran family picked up stakes and moved to Texas, keeping in touch with the investigators. What’s really too bad is that the attacks didn’t stop, immediately. For another couple of years, Moran was brutally assaulted by this being before it got bored and moved on to another victim.

Years passed. A movie was made but the real Carla Moran, Doris Bither, disappeared with her family, went underground. In recent times, some of the children have come forward and talk to people on the paranormal web about went on there to defeat some of the claims from the book that Barry Taff wrote following the attacks. The details are mostly factual according to the kids. Often times during the pop culture paranormal investigations of Ghost Hunters, the investigators pick a location based on its reputation as a haunted house but what they fail to connect with is that it’s not the house that’s haunted. It’s the people living there. This is why they don’t get any worthwhile evidence. The story of Doris Bither is a sad one. She was an alcoholic, he children were each born to different fathers and she went through countless relationships and marriages before her death by heart attack in 1995. The Entity, the movie highlighting these attacks, is a pretty spooky affair that goes completely off the rails by Hollywood standards in the final act. I recommend it.

19 Oct

Based On A True Story: Fire In The Sky

Posted by Bryan White | Wednesday October 19, 2011 | Based On A True Story

Fire In The SkyWhat you probably don’t know about me: I love UFOlogy. I don’t necessarily believe in any of it but I desperately want to. I have all sorts of weird theories on the phenomenon that have been ironically laughed off by people who firmly believe that beings from parts unknown have been visiting this planet by way of infinitely sophisticated space travel technology. Better yet, the same people who’ve laughed off my own theories of alien beings coming not from our own universe, but from an entirely different one that exists outside of our own are the same people who firmly believe that a planet named Nibiru orbits our sun on a 3,600 year orbit and our planets come into contact once during that cycle. In that time, every 3,600 years, these beings come here and give us some kind of technology to push our species forward in terms of development but not because they have our best interests in mind, but because we were genetically engineered from apes by these aliens at the dawn of man in order to mine gold. Because they need it. For some reason. Like they’re fucking pirates or something.

No shit. I’m working out one day while wearing my sweet Exeter UFO Festival shirt and this guy comes up to me wearing the same shirt and strikes up a conversation. He laters goes to his car and gets a copy of “his paper” on the topic of aliens, UFOs and reality and hands it off to me in a very deliberately inconspicuous manner and tells me that he’d like my thoughts on it. He wastes my entire workout blabbing about aliens which have been visiting us since the stone age, nuclear wars in the middle east and attempts to wipe us out or force us to worship them as gods and then he gives me this essay that is 10 pages of impenetrable nonsense about the same topic and why it’s important for governments around the world, who know all about it and in some cases have been working with these beings to keep us down, to keep it all a secret. My mind was blown. I feel as though I’d stepped into an episode of the X-Files but instead of receiving damning state secrets from Deep Throat I was given a rambling diatribe of bullshit by The Lone Gunmen.

But I digress. I’ve granted space here for dubious bullshit like The Amityville Horror and The Enfield Poltergeist and there’s been an awful lot of serial killer talk in the last few articles so it’s high time I turned my sights on the stars and brought the spotlight on some spooky alien shit. In this case we go back to 1993’s, Fire In The Sky which is based on the alleged abduction of Travis Walton by aliens.

Travis WaltonTravis Walton was at the time a logger with a contractor who had been hired by the United States Forestry Service to clear brush from land in Arizona that was intended to be a state park. On the evening of November 5th, 1975, near the job site, Walton and his friends – on their way home from the job – saw a bright light coming behind a nearby hill. They drove to investigate and found what they described to investigators as a silver disc hovering in the air. Walton jumped out of the truck, excited, and ran toward it but upon his approach, the UFO was said to have made a sound like a turbine and suddenly captured Walton in a single beam of light. He was lifted off the ground and then seemingly smashed into the dirt by an unseen force. Fearing he was dead and that they were next, the truck full of his co-workers took off and then later returned to the spot to look for Walton’s body. Unfortunately it and the craft had disappeared.

The other men, Mike Rogers, Ken Peterson, John Goulette, Steve Pierce, Allen Dallis and Dwayne Smith, then raced back to Snowflake, Arizona, their home town, and reported the encounter to the police. All of them were said to be in serious emotional distress at the time but police reaction was predictably luke warm and skeptical. A half hearted search of the area Walton had disappeared from turned up nothing and enraged Walton’s family and friends but the police were far more convinced that foul play was afoot despite a complete lack of evidence and motive from any of the persons involved. A polygraph test was administered to all five of the men present on that night and each one conclusively proved that they were telling the truth when asked if they had killed Travis Walton, if they knew where his body was and if they had seen a UFO. Following this, the police in Snowflake finally broke down and accepted the original story that the men had seen their friend thrashed around by a UFO and that with his body gone, that they believed that he had been taken by extraterrestrials.

Travis Walton SaucerSix days later, Travis Walton turned back up in Heber, Arizona, not far from where he’d been taken. Walton called his brother in law from a pay phone at a gas station and was retrieved. Believing that he had been gone only a few hours, he was shocked to find that he had been missing for nearly a week. During that time, according to Walton’s brother in law, Grant Neff, he was visibly thinner and appeared to be in shock. The entire ride home, he showed signs of trauma and was in a highly agitated state. When he began to tell his story, Walton’s tale became one of the most vivid tales of alien abduction of all time. He awoke on a bed, surrounded by figures consistent with descriptions of ‘Greys’ and after managing to leap up and ward them off with a nearby glass beaker, Walton left the room and wandered around the ship, finding a control room of sorts containing only a chair that when sat in, displayed what looked like star charts on the ceiling of the room. He was able to manipulate the stars with  control on the chair but eventually left it and encounter what looked like a man in a jump suit who took him to a room with other people like him. Once encountered, they placed a mask over his face and he passed out, waking up at the gas station that he called his brother in law from. Over time, Walton would reveal more about his encounter through hypnosis and would take a polygraph but as national attention came to his story, Walton began to withdraw. The story, as noticed by skeptics and investigators, began to bear inconsistencies and Walton would shut down when he felt his back was to the wall.

The interesting part of the story was that unlike cases like The Smurl Haunting or The Amityville Horror, where a great deal of publicity and creating a hoax to make some money was an obvious motive, the Travis Walton abduction case lacks any of these details. Walton was in no apparent financial trouble, the guys in the trucks had no reason to cause him any harm nor did they have any reason to take part in a hoax and what’s more, their involvement in the case drew unwanted attention on all of them. Critics argue that the Walton case is loaded inconsistencies and Walton’s own account of his time on the UFO is a little too Hollywood to be comfortable with but an apparent lack of reason in the story makes finding a foundation for criticism hard. Sure, these guys may be full of shit but you have to ask yourself why.

18 Oct

Based On A True Story: Citizen X

Posted by Bryan White | Tuesday October 18, 2011 | Based On A True Story

Citizen XIt’s not the nature of nostalgia to acknowledge the warts of the era that you’re being nostalgic about. When I was a kid, everybody a little older than me couldn’t help themselves but look back on the 70’s with a sort of ironic madness. It was fun to laugh about fond memories involving involving ridiculous clothes, hair styles and disco but amid all the madcap reminiscence, nobody ever thought to point out how the end of Vietnam more or less destroyed the social quotient of morale and how this led to a lot of people burying their heads in the sand about unemployment, a sagging economy, an imagined fuel crisis and all that. Only in this case you have to replace the sand with cocaine. Flash forward to my own generation getting old and how we look back on the 80’s like it was nothing but Back To The Future, synth pop and Transformers toys. Like our predecessors, not one of us ever thinks to point out the rise of the AIDS epidemic, the Savings and Loans scandals, titanic inconsistencies in the distribution of wealth and so on so forth. In the case of both examples, honestly, who wants to be Debbie Downer at the nostalgia party? Sorry to be that guy but for the first time since the 60’s, the Cold War, in its death throes, reached fever pitch and relations between the United States and the USSR seemed to be on the door mat of critical mass. Over here we had Ronald Reagan, the great orator, to assure us all that we’re number one and over there, they had Mikhail Gorbachev to assure them that in spite of appearances, Soviet communism was the shit and that capitalism  was driving America to moral bankruptcy. Each side’s leadership was full of shit but only one of their national philosophies allowed one of the world’s most vicious and prolific serial killers to run free.

Citizen X, produed by and aired on HBO in 1995 tells the story of Andrei Romanovich Chikatilo, The Butcher of Rostov. It’s a pretty dreary but excellent flick from the height of HBO’s period of made-for-cable movies. It features a solid cast and tells an absolutely rancid story about Chikatilo from inside the bureaucratic system of blindness that allowed Chikatilo to run free for so long. When the bodies began to pile up, Victor Burakov, a forensic specialist and Moscow police investigator Mikhail Fetisov headed up a team of cops out to find The Butcher and stop him but in order to make that happen, they had to get The Party to accept the fact that serial murder in Soviet Russia was happening at all. The KGB and influencial members of the communist party refused to believe that this could happen in the USSR because serial murder was an American problem. It was a symptom of a capitalist society and therefore could not happen there. How wrong they were. By the time they got wise to the problem and granted an investigation, Chikatilo had worked out a solid system of murder and had stacked up six dead bodies.

Andrei Chikatilo at the time of arrrestChikatilo was a typical serial killer in the sense that he came from a seriously fucking awful childhood. In Russia during the time of Stalin, it was hard not to. Stalin ran the country like a maniac and more or less took a shit all over Lenin’s vision of a communist Utopia. Even though this Utopia wasn’t really working for Lenin, it was functional. Stalin came in and instituted many of the nasty hard line communist practices that we have come to recognize as Soviet Communism in the days since. The USSR was a god-awful place to be and it’s a wonder at all that this environment of suspicion and fear didn’t breed more Andrei Chikatilos.

Chikatilo had a fairly simple MO. An accused pedophile before he was even killing people, he found his hunting grounds in the train stations around Rostov and would single out troubled young children. Specifically girls. Unlike most pedophiles, though, Chikatilo didn’t have an age preference. He would hit the train station and lure girls away to a house he had bought on the sly so his family wouldn’t know and this became the staging site for many of his murders. Chikatilo’s initial motive for abduction was rape, however, his impotence would send him into a rage and the act of murder was the thing that would trigger an orgasm. No shit. Strangulation was often his method of killing but post-mortem mutilation was the act that would send him over the edge. His first kill was in 1978. Hid final kill was in 1990. Between those 12 years, Chikatilo managed to rack up 53 murders of boys and girls, men and women between the ages of 7 and 45. He ran wild until the police got wise to his game and decided to lead him into a trap.

Andrei Chikatilo in courtSoviet cops blanketed the train stations in the areas surrounding the usual murder scenes with an obvious police presence but left a couple of stations under the careful surveillance of undercover cops. Seems like a good plan, no? The place with all the cops hanging around are going to discourage Chikatilo from doing his thing there and he’d go out to one of these other stations where the cops weren’t hanging around. You’d think it would work, right? It didn’t. From one of the undercover surveillance spots, Chikatilo managed to lure a 16 year old boy away where he was murdered in the usual way. Eventually, the cops would implement this plan and following his final murder, an undercover cop witnessed Chikatilo washing off the blood of his last victim in a train station bathroom. Chikatilo was placed under arrest and subjected to Soviet police interrogation, which is an awful lot like you’d expect it to be.

Chikatilo was found sane by a state psychologist and was sent up to trial for his crimes. He was sentenced individually for 52 of the 53 murders. Each count carried the death penalty. In 1994, Chikatilo was led into a sound proofed room in a prison in Novocherkassk and was shot once behind the ear. It’s a pity they didn’t shoot him 52 times.

17 Oct

Based On A True Story: Wolf Creek

Posted by Bryan White | Monday October 17, 2011 | Based On A True Story

Wolf CreekFuckin’ Australia, man. It’s hard to believe in this day and age that there exists a place where you can’t get cell phone service. It’s also hard to believe that settlements such as these exist in this weird space where if trouble goes down, you’re pretty much on your own until the police can get there and the time takes is measured in hours. The Australian outback is just such a place. We don’t really have a place like that here in America. There are parts of the Appalachian mountains that are pretty remote and hard to reach and there are parts of the deserts in the South West that are pretty remote but Australia has the market cornered on this matter. The Australian outback is still this vaguely wild west style area where settlements are these mostly self-sustaining communities that have everything they pretty much need within an area of a couple of miles and between it and the next town, there’s a hundred miles or more of barren nothingness. Bearing this in mind, it makes perfect sense that a movie like Mad Max could take place within some semblance of reason. It’s not an entirely implausible scenario.

The outback is also the perfect setting for a ruthlessly unpleasant horror movie since a key ingredient to any horror movie is isolation. Typical screenwriters rely on lazy cliches like summer camps and power outages to put their victims-to-be in peril but can you imagine if you found yourself in a place where you were being stalked by a maniac with a toolbox full of killing implements and the distance between you and salvation could be measured in three digit miles? Man. Fuck that. The Australian exploitation film industry had been seizing on this idea for decades, evident in the outstanding documentary, Not Quite Hollywood (Review). It turns out that lawless and remote is a pretty popular idea there but for one reason or another they never reached our shores with greater impact. That is, until Wolf Creek came down amid a wave of nasty, purely misanthropic horror that kept asses in seats at the theaters. For a spell, the American horror movie going audience couldn’t bear to endure a horror movie unless it was tempered with numerous scenes of sadistic violence. More sadistic than usual, that is to say. Man, Wolf Creek delivered.

Bradley John MurdochIn July of 2001, British tourist, Peter Falconio, was traveling through Australia’s barren Northern Territory with his girlfriend Joanne Lees. Lees describes their encounter with an Australian motorist at night, John Bradley Murdoch, who flagged them down on the highway and then shot Falconio when he got out of his car. Murdoch allegedly then forced Lees into his pickup truck but she managed to escape and hide in the brush until Murdoch gave up looking for her. Once the coast was clear, Lees flagged down another car for help but in the time that she was hidden, Murdoch removed the body of Falconio and to this day, the body has yet to be found.

There are some inconsistencies in Lees’ story about what happened that night and some of the evidence collected from the scene tells a strange story but the courts in Australia were able to make a murder charge stick to Murdoch who is now in prison on a life sentence. Even though Lees’ testimony wasn’t terribly compelling, Murdoch wasn’t some unlucky dude caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. A drifter and a drug smuggler, Murdoch had a violent past with the law and was once up on rape charges involving a 12 year old girl. He managed to shake the rape charge with an acquittal, but facts are facts and Murdoch was a bad guy with a history of violence.

TIvan Milathis isn’t the end of the story, though. Wolf Creek, though marketed as though it was based on one true story similar to what happened in the movie, was not. It was based on the above murder trial but there was also the matter of Australian serial killer, Ivan Milat, who was responsible for the deaths of seven backpackers around Belanglo State Forest in the 90’s. The convicted murderer, Milat, was stalking hikers in the park before he would shoot, stab, strangle and/or beat his victims to death. Nearly all the bodies suffered upwards of 35 stab wounds a piece before or after death before Milat haphazardly buried their bodies face down in the dirt to be found. Other than a body to be murdered, Milat offered no motive for his crimes.

16 Oct

Based On A True Story: Eaten Alive

Posted by Bryan White | Sunday October 16, 2011 | Based On A True Story

Eaten Alive PosterI had no idea. In the research I’ve done for this series, already starting to hit bottom as I scrape to find a new based on a true story horror movie idea, I’ve discovered one that was a complete surprise. I thought I was up on serial killers but I found one that I’ve never even heard of that was the source material for a movie I would have never considered. Serials are obviously ripe for horror movie exploitation. I’ve passed on a lot of chances to do an article about Charles Manson or Ted Bundy or something but until Zodiac, I felt that was just plain lazy. I keep my eyes open, though. Tonight’s entry is another serial killer entry but I’m fairly certain that if you’ve seen the movie, you probably didn’t know that it was based on a true story. Tobe Hooper broke out with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a story based on a pastiche of American true crime horror. His follow up, Texas Chainsaw being a tough act to follow, was a tremendous dud even by sophomore standards (even though Texas Chainsaw wasn’t his first movie). Eaten Alive follows the same idea. A nasty, grotesque horror movie based on a series of grisly, nasty murders. True to form, Hooper picked a piece of Texas horror lore to base his story on. It’s a pretty nasty one.

Telling the story of Joe Ball is hard to pull off. The legend says that in the 30’s, Ball had built a pen for five alligators and the murdered up to 20 local women, dumping their remains in the pen for the alligators to dispose of. The problem is that this was the 30’s in Texas and crime reportage wasn’t what it was that is today. People went missing but the law wasn’t hip to the idea of the serial killer. It didn’t make sense. A killer with no motive, who simply gets off on murder, no bodies to speak of, only a few reports of missing persons. Stories of Ball’s killings became boogeyman stories of old Texas that persisted throughout the years.

Joe BallJoe Ball was a bootlegger during prohibition but with the close of that chapter of American history, Ball found himself in need of something to do. With that in mind, he built a saloon and in order to beat his competition, he built a pen for gators. When his relationship with his girlfriend went south and he found another woman to occupy him, the girlfriend mysteriously disappeared. After an accident with Joe’s backup girl left her with an amputated arm, she also mysteriously disappeared.

Ball wasn’t a terribly smart guy, either. He lived under the assumption that without a body, a murder conviction couldn’t stick, so as women came into his life and then exited his life through assholes of his alligators, he though he had it made since their bodies would never turn up. Ball was an extraordinarily violent guy, too, according to people who knew him. As people in his life pissed him off, they would suddenly disappear.

It would later turn out that for numerous reasons, Ball would shoot the people that pissed him off and then dump their bodies in the gator pen. His victims were mostly women. He’d date them, they’d do something to land on his bad side and the next thing you know they’d wind up with a .22 in the head and their dead bodies landing in the shallow water of the alligator pen. By popular accounts, Ball had fed 20 people, mostly women, to his gators.

Lackluster police performance and a killing spree eventually caught up with Ball, though. Joe had a handyman that he wasn’t particularly nice to. His final victims trail eventually led police to Ball’s place where the trail ended but with no bodies to nail to Ball, the police couldn’t do much. Instead, the cops leaned on Clifton Wheeler, the handyman, who eventually cracked and told the cops about the gators and how Ball disposed of his corpses. The police immediately took to bringing in Ball but when confronted in his bar, he took out his gun and turned it on himself, actually shooting himself in the chest rather than die in the electric chair.

15 Oct

Based On A True Story: Zodiac

Posted by Bryan White | Saturday October 15, 2011 | Based On A True Story

ZodiacWhen I was a kid I had what many would consider an unhealthy fascination with serial killers that bordered on the obsessive. What’s funny is that I totally didn’t fit the stereotype. By all accounts, I was your average teenager. I stayed up late. I partied on the weekends. I played a lot of video games. I hated homework. There was nothing overt about me that drew me to the dark side of horror movies and heavy metal. My family was kind of fucked up but whose wasn’t? The only thing remarkable about us was that my parents were still married and by all accounts still loved each other. I had a good support system, too. Must be a symptom of growing up in a small town where nothing ever happens. The only things to do are smoke weed and and watch movies.

I was probably 16 years old when I found a box of True Crime trading cards at the store that I bought my comics at. Chris’ Cards and Comics down in Seabrook, New Hampshire for the longest time was the only place within a reasonable distance to buy books. Chris’ place was sort of dingy, located in a rotting strip mall next to a fireworks store, a shitty tattoo shop and a porno store. Between my friends and I, he moved a lot of comics but I think his bread and butter was buying and selling baseball card collections and other assortments of trading cards. This was the early 90’s, though, and speculation trading was ramping up in comic book circles, so publishers sprang to life cranking out anything that looked like a collectible. I never fell for it. That was my brother’s scene. He’d buy anything with a foil embossed variant cover as long as it was on clearance and because of that he wound up with a lot of comics nobody has ever heard of and a shit ton of collectibles nobody wanted. The only strain of this disease that I ever fell for were True Crime Trading Cards.  The first one I ever pulled from the first package I bought was Charles Whitman. I remember this. The last one I pulled from the pack was The Zodiac. I was hooked, immediately. I bought the book. I had other favorites, too, but none of them taunted the cops with homebrew encrypted messages. It turned out that The Zodiac’s cypher wasn’t that hard to break but come on! How many serial killers do that? His entire routine had an air of evil murderous mastermind behind it.

Zodiac composite sketchFincher’s flick is based on the same book that I read, Zodiac, and it pretty much sticks to the facts. You probably already realize this but The Zodiac killer was real. He falls into a hotspot in American history when serial killers were publicized in the media and given cute names by the people investigating the crimes. Zodiac made his hunting grounds in the San Francisco Bay Area between 1968 and 1972 where he killed a confirmed five people out an attempted seven. His first victims were Betty Jensen and David Faraday who were killed near their parked car one night when Zodiac pulled up next to them in his car and ordered them out. They were both shot to death. His second pair of victims, Michael Mageau and Darlene Ferrin, were killed in a similar fashion. Zodiac pulled his car up behind them to block them in, walked up to the window with a flashlight and a pistol and shot them both through the window. As he left the scene, Zodiac heard Mageau moaning from the car and returned to shoot them both twice more. Following this killing, Zodiac called the police from a pay phone to report the killing and at the same time, took credit for the shooting of Faraday and Jensen. Despite being shot all over the place, Michael Mageau managed to survive the encounter. Darlene Ferrin wasn’t so lucky.

Following the second attack, Zodiac begins sending letters to Bay Area newspapers, introducing himself and taking credit for the murders. As well, Zodiac threatened that he would drive around, killing whoever he found by themselves if the four parts of his cryptogram weren’t published in the newspapers who received the letters. The cypher was eventually broken by a married couple who were crypto-enthusiasts. The decoded message read:

I like killing because it so much fun it is more fun than killing wild game in the forrest because man is the most dangerous animal of all to kill something gives me the most thrilling experience it is even better than getting your rocks off with a girl the best part of it is thae when I die I will be reborn in paradice and thei have killed will become my slaves I will not give you my name because you will try to sloi down and atop my collecting of slaves for my afterlife ebeoreitemethhpiti

Zodiac hoodFollowing this in 1969, Zodiac struck again. This time he presented himself to Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard while they picnicked at Lake Berryessa. He approached them holding a pistol and wearing an executioner’s style hood with a bib displaying the cross/circle symbol that would eventually come to represent the Zodiac. He would start using it in his letters to the police and the media. He held Hartnell and Shepard at gunpoint and ordered Shepard to tie up Hartnell, telling them that he wanted their money and their car but wound up stabbing them both repeatedly where they lay. Both Hartnell and Shepard would survive the attack for a time. Shepard eventually slipped into a coma and died a couple of days later but Hartnell was survived and provided the first detailed description of the killer that the police had.

Finally, cab driver Paul Stine was shot to death in his cab and a piece of his shirt was sent with a letter from Zodiac to The San Francisco Chronicle. The death of Stine would be the last confirmed murder by Zodiac but this letter contained a claim of a detailed plan to attack and kill a school bus full of children but it never happened.

A second cypher was sent to the papers but remains as unsolved as this mystery. There were also more attacks and deaths but conclusively linking them to Zodiac is not possible at this time since the MO changes and the only thing to go on are letters from the killer, including details only the killer would know, claiming to be the Zodiac. The chronicle received these letters right up to 1990. There have also been numerous suspects in the killing but no evidence could conclusively link any of them to the killings. The Zodiac murders remain unsolved to this day and most likely will never be solved.

14 Oct

Based On A True Story: The Serpent & The Rainbow

Posted by Bryan White | Friday October 14, 2011 | Based On A True Story

The Serpent and the RainbowBefore Night of the Living Dead, zombies weren’t a terribly common horror movie trope. It’s weird to think about this since they’re so common these days. To an obnoxious degree, even! Got a few bucks and want to make a horror movie on the weekends? Zombie flick. Do it. There’s a legion of fans out there so stupid and ga-ga for zombies that you could make a movie about people shooting zombies in for an hour and a half and the fanboy legion of doom would hardly notice that nothing else happens. Before George Romero came along and revolutionized horror, though, zombies were an obscure bit of island folklore and nothing more. Unlike the zombie apocalypse, the old notion of the voodoo zombie has not been done to death and some of my favorite spookfests walk in the footsteps of White Zombie, the classic Lugosi horror that is as heavy on Bela’s intense presence and overacting as it is on atmosphere.

The idea of the voodoo zombie, a body stuck somewhere between life and death, able to think and speak but unable to do much more than you are told by the person who made you. It’s a pretty fucked up concept in horror and is ripe for a comeback. Somebody make this happen. It’s about on par with the idea of being buried alive which, coincidentally, is a part of making an actual zombie. With A Nightmare On Elm Street, Wes Craven managed to revive the dying slasher movie and breathed new life into horror, which was already beginning to sputter out after a flood of cut-rate slasher flicks drowned any momentum the genre may have gained in the wake of Halloween. Unfortunately, he dropped the ball with just about everything he directed in the aftermath of that hit. The Hills Have Eyes sequel is dud of epic proportions and Deadly Friend is incomprehensible. To break out of this trail spin, he took on a book by Wade Davis, an ethnobotanist who spent time in Haiti while researching voodoo zombies. The result was The Serpent and the Rainbow.

The Serpent and the Rainbow turned out to be pretty loosely based on Davis’ text, as his book is said to be a harrowing account of time spent in Haiti in the middle of a revolution. If spending time in a seriously poor third world nation wasn’t already a dangerous situation, add the element of political upheaval and a seriously corrupt police force desperate to maintain order among its own people, let alone a bunch of foreigners out to uncover Haiti’s dirty folk medical secret. I’m sure Davis spent most of his time trying not to contract malaria and not be killed by nasty Haitian cops but the search for the zombie drug in this case wasn’t terribly scary. When the director of A Nightmare On Elm Street comes to town, the studio isn’t going to give up the money unless there’s some horror involved and this is where Davis’ book and Craven’s movie part ways.

Real life zombie, Clairvius NarcisseIn 1962, a man named Clairvius Narcisse died. He was given a funeral and was buried in front of his family as they saw him off. In 1980, Calirvius Narcisse wandered back into his own village a little worse for wear but mostly alive. He told a wild story about a voodoo sorcerer who used the famous zombie powder on him to put him into a coma that looked a lot like death. In this state, Narcisse was conscious and aware of what was happening to him. A little while after his burial, the sorcerer snuck into the cemetery where he was buried, dug him up and took him to a sugar plantation where he “stole his soul” and was put to work with other zombies for the plantation owner. When the sorcerer died and the plantation owner died, Narcisse eventually regained enough of his counsciousness where it eventually occurred to him that he should probably get the fuck off the plantation and find somewhere to go because he was getting hungry. Enter Wade Davis.

This remarkable story made its way to Davis,  who had spent a lot of time in the third world researching indigenous folk drugs like Ayahuasca and through decades of rumors of this zombie drug, this opportunity presented Davis with the opportunity to find out if it existed and if it did, how it worked. He made his way to Haiti and during his time there, learned about the zombie powder, a combination of Tetrodotoxin and Bufotenin, chemicals derived from the venoms of puffer fish and certain species of toads, respectively. When administered to a human, they go through a process that looks an awful lot like death but isn’t. Once recovered, the zombie is given a paste made from datura seeds, which is a sort of hallucinogen that induces the classic zombie state of a mindless drone. Davis discovered a rumored underground trade of zombies that Narcisse was a part of. What makes this system so air tight in Haiti is that most of the zombies suffer severe brain damage after prolonged exposure to these drugs and they wind up dying. Narcisse did not and eventually pulled his shit together enough to go home where a superstitious lot of people assumed that the guy’s dead body was up and wandering around.

I honestly don’t know what’s spookier. The original story or Craven’s movie. The overblown Hollywood version weaves a ton of creepy mysticism in to the mix and this fantasy version is an effective tool for scares but the original tale, where all you have to do is piss off the wrong people in Haiti and the next thing you know, you’re slaving away on a sugar plantation in a near-complete state of vegetation when the rest of the world thinks you’re dead because they saw your dead body buried beneath six feet of dirt in a pine box. One is completely implausible and ridiculous. The other has actually happened. A lot.

Don’t go to Haiti.

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