13 Oct

Based On A True Story: An American Haunting

Posted by Bryan White | Thursday October 13, 2011 | Based On A True Story

An American HauntingYou know who’s cool? King Diamond is cool. Quite frankly, I’m surprised that he isn’t more popular among horror fans since the guy has made a long, prolific career out of heavy metal concept albums about spooky hauntings. There’s Abigail, Them, The Conspiracy, Abigail 2: The Revenge, a portion of The Spider’s Lullaby, etc. King Diamond, with his ridiculous face paint and his trademark falsetto wail, The King takes metal to a place it doesn’t usually go. Dismemberment, true crime inspired horror, sure, but eerie tales of a family terrorized by their grandmother who seems to serve a trio of unseen presences in the house? Holy crap! By the way, I’m talking about the album ‘Them’.

But seriously. That album is dope.

King Diamond was originally in a band called Mercyful Fate who also did a lot of the same sort of stuff as King Diamond’s solo projects. As a matter of fact, they also sounded a lot alike. I don’t know, it’s weird. I didn’t really intend for this to turn into a celebration of all things King Diamond, but here we are. The point, I guess, is that while in Mercyful Fate, King Diamond wrote a song called The Bell Witch and like a good God of Metal should, he based it on the American urban legend of the actual Bell Witch. What’s a Danish satanist doing singing about ghosts from Tennessee? Beats the hell out of me. I think at this point The King was living in Texas, spending all his free time hanging out with Pantera. I guess it only makes sense.

The Bell Witch has been floating around American folklore since the late 1800’s and has been the inspiration for a lot of quality horror. The Bell Witch was responsible in part for The Blair Witch Project. The story of The Bell Witch is pure weirdo Americana and the movie, An American Haunting, which starred Donald Sutherland – who clearly doesn’t care anymore – chose to twist the story and the event surrounding the haunting in favor of a story about a girl’s delusion to deal with her own sexual abuse. I don’t get it, either. You couldn’t just make a horror movie about the curse of The Bell family and the fucked up shit they endured in those early settlement times of Tennessee? Here’s the scoop:

Bell Witch monsterIt’s 1817 and John Bell uproots his family from North Carolina to Tennesssee where he establishes a farm on a huge plot of land in Red River. Not long after they get set up, Bell encounters a strange creature in his corn field said to have the head of a rabbit and the body of a dog. He takes a couple of shots at it but misses. Following this, the Bell family home is assaulted by unseen forces. At first, there is the sound of the house being pounded on from the outisde. Investigations by John Bell turns up no sign. Later, the daughters report hearing the faint voice of a woman singing hymns. Everyone is said to experience this but the source of the sound can never be identified. It’s just there. All the time. Attacks around the house increase in frequency and intensity. Something no one can see pulls the covers off the of the children at night as they sleep. The youngest daughter, Betsy, is physically attacked, having her hair pulled and being beaten by an unseen force. At first Bell keeps these happenings a secret until it becomes such a problem that he confides in his neighbors who spend enough time in the Bell home to experience the disturbances first-hand. As this is happening, the once faint voices around the home have grown in intensity and volume until it can be described as a single voice, a mocking awful woman’s voice that torments the Bell family in their home.

The death of John BellThe girls grow older and men began to take an interest in them. Betsy, once again the target of the spirit’s attacks, attracts the attention of a local man ten years her senior and eventually they plan to marry. The spirit, now known as The Bell Witch, named by then-General Andrew Jackson who had heard of the disturbance and even showed up at the Bell place to check it out – but was frightened away by it – now taunts Betsy constantly. The voice follows her everywhere she goes, making it a point to voice its disapproval of the man she plans to marry. She can’t escape it and eventually breaks it off with this guy. The voices cease and return their attention the John, the head of the household, whose mental and physical well-being has been on the decline since the Bell Witch first revealed itself to the family. John begins suffering from seizures until his dead body is found, a bottle of some unidentified substance next to the bed. To test the unidentified substance, some of it was given to the family cat, who died immediately. The rest was thrown into the fireplace where it erupted into a plume of blue flame. To this day no one has any idea what that stuff was or where it came from.

Things take a turn for the better with the death of John Bell. The attacks by the Bell Witch fade over time, eventually ceasing altogether. Among the final promises, the Bell Witch vows to return to the Bell family in seven years, which it is said that it did, this time visiting an older John Bell, Junior. This second visit wasn’t menacing, though, according to legend. The return of the Bell Witch was a more philosophical approach bearing disembodied conversations about life, the universe and everything, it seems. Before it left for a second time, it vowed to return in 1935 to a living relation of the Bell’s. Whether it did or not is up in the air.

The Bell Witch was the blueprint for the modern impression of poltergeist activity. There’s plenty of ghostly folklore going around but this story, originally published in The Goodspeed History of Tennessee, didn’t turn up until around 1887 and most likely influenced a lot of ghost stories to come. Gone were the spooky allusions to tormented family spirits and here to stay were stories of an angry, violent force that tormented the Bell family for no apparent reason. Scary stuff!

12 Oct

Based On A True Story: The Mothman Prophecies

Posted by Bryan White | Wednesday October 12, 2011 | Based On A True Story

The Mothman PropheciesReporting The Amityville Horror to you as if it were a true story was a bit of a stretch for me. This is probably why I’m so downright harsh on it in my capsule review. The entire thing was a hoax perpetrated by an author who should have known better and a desperate couple who needed money but The Mothman Prophecies is a different story. What if you write a book under the pretense that it’s nonfiction and you believe every word of it? What if your source material is so fucking far out there, father out than evil pig spirit haunts Long Island home? It takes a special kind of passion and a particularly potent brand of crazy to tread those waters, my friends. I’m a huge conspiracy enthusiast and my all-time favorite theory is one called The Montauk Project, which is a sort of kitchen sink conspiracy theory that ties in absolutely everything you could and has some many brilliant and strange ways of explaining away the inconsistencies that no matter how crazy it actually is – and believe you me, that shit is fucking nuts! – the people who subscribe to it as the truth have an escape hatch to keep their delusion going. Montauk is an awful lot like Mothman. John Keel’s book lays out some seriously nuts philosophy and there’s just no way you can dispute it with pure logic. Sure, absolutely everything about it is a question mark and not one lick of it makes any sense, but this seamless lunacy is what keeps it in the paranormal/conspiracy cultural consciousness.

I don’t really remember The Mothman Prophecies as a movie. I remember seeing it when it came out with my wife and I remember actually walking out of the theater feeling like it was money well spent but I honestly have no impression of it and that’s kind of a bad thing for a movie. I write glowing reviews and I write scathing bad reviews of movies but there is nothing worse than a movie that leaves me with nothing to think about it. I’d heard of Mothman, of course. I was a huge fan of the X-Files and that show would be nothing without the stunning madness of pioneering conquistador of weird, John Keel. In the movie, Richard Gere plays the stand in for Keel, a journalist whose wife veers off the road one night to avoid something that came at them that she was at a loss to explain. After she dies from an inoperable brain tumor, Klein heads back to the scene to investigate the circumstances surrounding the crash and its relation to a series of strange drawings she did before her death. He winds up in a Twin Peaks sort of town full of weird motherfuckers, taunted over the phone by a menacing dude named Indrid Cold and everything involving the Mothman seems to be leading up to some kind of tragedy.

I did Mothman last year during the 31 Ghost Stories blogathon and that entry was actually related to the actual Mothman encounters in Point Pleasant, West Virginia in the 60’s where a number of people were said to have been terrorized by a humanoid man with wings and incadescent red bug-eyes. A lot of terrified people reported seeing this thing and then his last appearance coincided with the collapse a bridge that killed an awful lot of people. Paranormal author, John Keel, who is responsible for a lot of modern UFOlogy’s craziest shit, hit the town in the days leading up to the bridge collapse to investigate sightings of this Mothman and that’s when his already strange existence became even stranger.

John KeelKeel originally showed up in Point Pleasant on contract to write a book about UFOs, a subject he’d already had a healthy helping of in the past. The original Mothman sightings prior to the bridge collapse were met with ridicule in the press when these things were reported but Point Pleasant not being a very big community started seeing the Mothman in greater numbers. The media may have laughed it off but an awful lot of people along the Ohio River took it pretty seriously.  You could chalk it up to mass hysteria, I guess, but Keel’s account of his time spent there paints a chilling picture of a nutty community that starts to talk about other, unrelated phenomena. There was a wave of animal mutilations, primarily dogs, strange craft were seen flying in the area and many people around Point Pleasant reported receiving visits from the strange and menacing Men In Black – who have nothing in common with the Tommy Lee Jones/Will Smith movie.

Men In Black are a favorite topic of mine. Do you keep up with Fringe? The Observers are based on these mythological characters who tend to show up around UFO sightings and depending on who you talk to, they either play an intimidation game to discourage you from talking about your encounter or they simply show up, act completely fucking weird and then disappear leaving only an extreme feeling of tension and terror since there’s no explanation for any of it. In the case of Mothman, the Men In Black were spotted all over Point Pleasant in the days leading up to the bridge collapse.

Indrid ColdWe’re not done yet, though! Enter Indrid Cold. Cold’s actual identity is a complete mystery. Depending on who is telling the story, Cold is some manifestation of The Mothman, a time traveler, an alien or a Man In Black. Where other Men In Black involved in Mothman was absolutely petrifying in their presentation and often times described as crazy or robotic, Cold was nothing of the sort. Everyone who encountered him often describe him as ‘The Grinning Man’ and his presentation was friendly. In Keel’s case, Cold delivered numerous prophecies to Keel which were alleged to come true. With the exception of his final prophecy, that when President Johnson lit the christmas tree lights at The White House, an enormous blackout would hit the East Coast. Keel, completely fooled by these creepy phone calls, prepared for the worst and then the blackout never came, but the bridge in Point Pleasant fell, killing 46 people, several of whom were Mothman witnesses. To boot, Indrid Cold’s name gets dropped an awful lot in Forteana taking place in West Virginia and elsewhere and like most good Fortean stories, it’s a tale of circlar madness and not much of it makes any sense but it’ll drive you nuts when you begin to obsessively research it. Fans of Philip K. Dick take note. Srsly.

11 Oct

Based On A True Story: The Town That Dreaded Sundown

Posted by Bryan White | Tuesday October 11, 2011 | Based On A True Story

The Town That Dreaded SundownSerial killers are utterly fascinating to me. It’s an incomprehensible kind of horror that is deeply unsettling seeing that the motive for the murders is known only to the killer. There’s some kind of obsessive, primal drive to kill that transcends typical motives like anger or money. Murder is always awful but when we see them, there’s always some kind of motive that we can understand. It’s shitty, yes, but we can grasp the reasons for murder, no matter how petty. When serial killers go to work, it’s usually to fulfill some kind of baseless desire that comes from the reptilian brain. To twist the knife, so to speak, they develop a very specific ritual that becomes their calling card when the inevitable homicide investigation begins. The ritual becomes an integral part of their process. It’s as important to the murders as the murders themselves. If they stray from their script at all – which almost always happens and leads to their capture – the murder becomes moot. It loses its power. It’s fucking crazy! Totally fascinating, I tell you. The pathology of these maniacs is something I can’t resist researching. I really want to know what drives them.

What really spooks me, though, are the guys who manage to get away. Few killers ever totally stop. Murder becomes a drug to them and they are addicted. They will never stop killing. So when a trail goes cold and the body count ceases, it’s often reasonable to assume that these guys either died or wound up in jail on some unrelated charge. Sometimes they slip below the radar and stay free, but like BTK or The Green River Killer, the law eventually catches up with them. There are a few notable unsolved serials, though. The Zodiac still remains at large even though there are some pretty strong suspicions on who he actually is or was. Jack The Ripper was never caught, either. These guys, the unstoppable serial killers, provide ample source material for the masked mass murderers that are so popular in horror today and the early proto-slashers such as this, The Town That Dreaded Sundown and Black Christmas would serve as the forerunners to a category of horror that would shape the entire genre in the 80’s and beyond. The Town That Dreaded Sundown was loosely adapted from the true crime reports of a series of murders that took place in Texarkana, Texas in 1946, a time when a serial killer with a serious eye for details could get away with their crimes for a good long time.

Popularly known as The Texarkana Moonlight Murders, the killings took place in Texas beginning in 1946 with an assault on a couple parked in their car on lover’s lane. This scenario would later infiltrate popular culture through word of mouth and inspire some of the more popular crazed killer urban legends. Unfortunately, this one was true. Jimmy Hollis was bludgeoned several times with an unidentified blunt object and his girlfriend, Mary Jeanne Larey was chased down after the attacker ordered her to run. When he caught up to her, she was sexually assaulted with the barrel of his gun. On the bright side (I guess), both victims survived their attacks and were the only ones to ever give a description of the attacker since his victims to follow this attack would never be so lucky.

Phantom KillerThe killer was described as 6 feet tall and wore a bag over his head with holes cut out for eyes and a mouth. What skin the couple could see was either a dark skinned white guy or a light skinned black guy. In the case of serial killers, it was far, far more likely that he was a white guy. There have been black serial killers but statistically speaking, it is much more common that serial killers are white men.

The second couple to be murdered was Richard Griffin – obviously not Cinema Suicide’s favorite indie horror director – and Polly Ann Moore, both shot in the head and left for dead in their car even though blood near the car suggested an execution style murder whereupon their bodies were then  moved back into the car. Less than a month later, teenagers, Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker were found in similar fashion. Paul was found, shot to death in his car even though forensic evidence at the scene suggested that he was killed elsewhere and moved to the car later. Betty Jo’s body was recovered hours later, also shot several times and showing signs of sexual assault. Finally, married couple Virgil and Kate Starks were attacked in their home when Virgil was shot through the parlor window of their home. He died from his wounds. His wife, Kate, ran to his aid and was shot twice in the face but  managed to not only survive the attack but also escape and get help in a neighbor’s home.

The Texarkana Moonlight Murderer came to be known to the press as The Phantom Killer and the panic that came as a result of these murders was substantial. Texarkana was not a large community and a killer running wild in their town was the sort of thing that made the townspeople feel like rats in a maze. There was nowhere to hide. Nobody knew who this guy was. It looked like he could get you on the road but this final attack proved that you weren’t even safe in your home. However, the MO of this final attack casts some doubt on whether the attack was carried out by The Phantom Killer. Ballistic evidence gathered at the scene of the Starks’ home was a .22 caliber bullet fired from a semiautomatic pistol where the other attacks features a .32 caliber revolver. Remember what I said about the ritual? The weapon was probably an important component to these killings and the attacks were almost definitely serial killer related since they had a sadistic sexual component to them often found only in serial murder cases.

Like I said before, The Phantom Killer was never caught and what’s even creepier is the parallels between this case and the unsolved Zodiac case. Both killers attacked couples parked in cars. Both killers used guns. Both killers wore masks. The Zodiac added the strange component of symbolic significance to his costuming, though, and had the cyphers that he used to bait the cops and the media. The Zodiac killer struck twenty years after The Phantom Killer, which could have possibly been a dry run for his much more evolved murders in California. A twenty year cooling off period, after all, isn’t unheard of. Also, distances between murders aren’t unheard of, either. Some believe that the killer in the Black Dahlia murder and The Lipstick Killer are the same person.

10 Oct

Based On A True Story: The Girl Next Door

Posted by Bryan White | Monday October 10, 2011 | Based On A True Story

The Girl Next DoorJack Ketchum tends to write a particular brand of horror that I don’t usually subscribe to. His novels fall into a category that has one foot in true crime and that stuff, usually the source martial for these BoaTS articles, mirrors reality in such a way that horror loses the fun factor and become just plain miserable. Reading a novel or watching a movie about the actual suffering of a human being that lived through it or worse, didn’t quite survive, can be a real ordeal and is not how I like to spend my time. It’s a thin line I and other horror fans walk, but we know where it begins and ends so if you don’t get it. Fuck off. But even though I seem to have a personal code of ethics in this matter, others don’t and many seem to revel in the extremes of the genre. Visually speaking, The Girl Next Door isn’t extremely explicit like, say, A Serbian Film, which lives way out on the fringes of the genre, a movie I weathered from start to finish and hated every second of, but its subject matter is so completely nasty that I can’t imagine who could possibly find a thrill in it. Ketchum’s story is pretty miserable but I’ll tell you what, no matter what you may think of that, the original story is even worse.

If Mad Men has taught us anything, it’s that the good old days weren’t really very good after all and the mainstream of America was miserable, repressed and most men were living double lives. There seems to be a conservative movement in this country that looks back on this time with wonder and longing, thinking that those good old days were like an episode of Leave It To Beaver or The Andy Griffith Show but they weren’t. Most small towns, as romanticized as they are today, weren’t as charming as these people would like you to think they are. Sure, most of these people are using this imagined ideal as some kind of argument against gay marriage or are mining the American fantasy for country music subject matter but most of small-town America was mired in poverty and never really recovered from the depression of the 30’s. When World War 2 and Korea flared up, these were the communities that were mined most for infantry and when those guys came home, they brought all their trauma and broken lives with them. It didn’t help matter in these whimsical fantasy lands of small town values. This kind of fractured narrative explains a lot. People like Charlie Starkweather make a lot of sense in this context and what’s unfortunate is that this idea lends a lot of understanding to the case of Sylvia Likens, a teenage girl who was dealt a seriously bad hand in life.

Sylvia LikensSylvia Likens was 16 in 1965 when the lives of her carny parents took a turn for the worse. Her mother was sent up for shoplifting charges and her father opted to board her and her younger sister, Jenny, out to Gertrude Baniszewski, the poor single mother of seven children. Lester paid Gertrude $20 a week to keep an eye on the girls while he worked. Almost immediately, this awful wretch of a woman began abusing the two girls. Two more mouths to feed on top of bills and her own brood of nasty results of failed marriages put a strain on this fragile woman and rather than take it out on her own kids, she focused her attention on Sylvia. The girls were beaten with paddles, but it was Sylvia who got it the worst. She was often beaten and berated in front of Baniszewski’s own children, accused of being pregnant – when she was in fact a virgin, proven post-mortem – Baniszewski’s actual pregnant daughter joined in the abuse and as well as being physically violent toward Sylvia in the home, she spread rumors about her and her sister in the school they attended that the girls were whores. Actual prostitutes, mind you, not the casual insult that most girls seem to use these days about other girls. This engaged other kids in the community and things got worse for Sylvia.

Gertrude BaniszewskiEventually, Sylvia, dealing with a tremendous amount of torment and trauma began to crack at the seams. She wet the bed, which enraged Baniszewski. Her punishment was to be locked in the basement. If you can believe it, things got even worse. Sylvia, still going to school at the time, was eventually caught by Gertrude when she stole a suit for school that was to be worn for gym class and once again she was tossed back in the basement and practically starved were it not for the shit and piss she was forced to eat and drink. Baniszewski, the head of a house full of feral children, was known for letting neighborhood kids come and go as they pleased and each of these kids knew about Sylvia in the basement. Some even participated in the torture, burning her and etching words into her skin while she lay restrained. With the implied consent of an adult, Baniszewski, the kids of the neighborhood committed some of the most unspeakable acts of torture before poor Sylvia’s body gave up and she died in that lonely hole in the earth.

Baniszewski had the local kids call the cops from a pay phone nearby and when they arrived she tried to pass off a letter that Sylvia had been forced to write that explained her torment away as the victim of a gang rape when she agreed to have sex with some local boys for money but Sylvia’s sister, mostly untouched, approached the cops before they left and offered the truth for an escape. See, back then they didn’t have a social department that was meant to look after the well being of children in homes like this. After finding this girl in a decaying home in rotten, rust-belt Indiana, these cops were ready to walk off and put it all behind them were it not for the courage of Sylvia’s horrified and understandably pissed off sister. Baniszewski was sent up on a life sentence after pleading not guilty by reason of insanity and when asked why she did it all she could offer in her own defense was, “The girls wouldn’t mind me.”

Her pregnant daughter, Paula, was also sent up on a life sentence and the children who also tortured Sylvia were sentence to two twenty one year sentences, of which they would serve two years before being released. Paula would eventually be retried and he charge dropped to manslaughter and was release a couple of years later but Baniszewski wouldn’t be so lucky and narrowly avoided the death penalty. She would eventually be paroled in 1985 and died in 1990. The house where all this misery stood empty from that time on, unable to find a new owner who could bear to live in the sort of place where this shit took place. It was eventually demolished. Nearly everyone involved in this rotten case is dead now.

9 Oct

Based On A True Story: The Exorcist

Posted by Bryan White | Sunday October 9, 2011 | Based On A True Story

The ExorcistFor the record, I have some room in my life for the paranormal. I’m not really sure where I stand. I once lived in a house where all manner of the unexplained took place so bearing that in mind, I have a hard time taking myself seriously when I tell you that I don’t buy into the notion of demonic possession. I’ve heard some crazy-ass stories about this sort of thing from my Catholic friends but let’s be honest, they’re also a lot of people who “speak in tongues” as though the holy spirit were speaking through them and every time I see that shit all I can think of is this. Spiritual mediumship, demonic possession, it’s all bullshit to me. As if I even need to tell you this. Chances are you’re already a big skeptic. When I was a kid, my mom absolutely forbade me to see this movie. See, I was raised Catholic, too. I’m also confirmed. I more or less gave up on the whole thing not long after the confirmation when it more or less occurred to me that it didn’t take a book said to be handed down to man from the holy spirit, itself to be a good person. I don’t mean any offense here, either. Really, I don’t, but the whole lot of religious folks makes me nervous and I don’t just mean Christians. They get a bad rap but so do Jews and Muslims. Honestly, the only form of organized faith I can get down with is Buddhism and that’s mostly because their lines of spirituality intersect with my personal philosophy of be chill, do whatever you want. Most flavors of Christianity, more than Judaism and Islam, seem hung up on fear of the unknown quantity and rather than be comfortable with the notion that bad shit just sort of happens sometimes, they have to blame a lot of shit on the devil. That sort of baseless fear has a tendency to snowball, too. To the point, in fact, that a severely mentally ill person might find themselves strapped to a chair while an old priest and young priest chant in latin around them while dumping buckets of holy water on them. Bipolar disorder? Schizophrenia? Nah, couldn’t be. That boy has the devil in him. Thank god for that, too, huh? Without this innate streak of crazy that runs through all of us, exacerbated by Christianity, we wouldn’t have come out of the 70’s with one the true behemoths of horror: The fuckin’ Exorcist!

The Exorcist PukeThe Exorcist, like Jaws (and a lot of good horror movies) is based on a novel by William Peter Blatty. Blatty based his legendary narrative on the events surrounding the demonic possession of a boy in Maryland in 1949. The boy, name withheld by the church for decades, known only as Roland Doe, experienced a number of paranormal phenomena following the death of an aunt whom it is believed that he attempted to contact via Ouija board. I’m not sure if this story spawned the “don’t Ouija alone” myth or if it existed prior to that, but this seems to be a case study in using the spirit board to contact the dead. It began with poltergeist activity around the house but quickly escalated to episodes of Roland lashing out violently and uncharacteristically against his family. Medical and psychiatric staff examined him and couldn’t explain the violence or the unexplainable “shit flying around” phenomena that was taking place in the Doe household. Eventually, the family turned to the clergy and Lutheran priests stepped in to examine him. After a night spent with Roland, the clergy felt that they had no choice but to perform an exorcism During the exorcism, however, Doe inflicted an undisclosed wound on the priest that required stitches and the exorcism had to be stopped.

ReganExorcism part 2, Roland is eventually handed off the Catholic clergy for a second exorcism. After all, Catholics do exorcisms right. These new priests came to see the boy and took note of the same poltergeist activity surrounding him, the bed shaking, scratching sounds in the walls and Roland speaking in a deep, guttural voice. To flip the script, he was also said to be speaking Latin and Aramaic, a pair of languages that he just could not possibly have known. Welts had come to cover his body and his skin was said have words scratched into it. Words like hell and evil. Seems a little hokey to me but whatev.

This time an epic exorcism took place and Roland lashed out at the priests again, this time breaking one’s nose but the exorcism pushed on and was said to be successful. Following the exorcism, all paranormal phenomena ceased and the family of Roland Doe never reported anything weird happening to their son.

Naturally, in the years since the exorcism, critics have come to throw a wet blanket on this spooky paranormal party but most people just don’t care. Sketpicism of exorcism is a foregone conclusion. Roland Doe’s name, by the way, was later revealed to be Robbie Mannheim.

8 Oct

Based On A True Story: Jaws

Posted by Bryan White | Saturday October 8, 2011 | Based On A True Story

JawsJaws represents a lot of things to the horror genre and movies in general. Right in the middle of this horror movie renaissance, Jaws represented a major breakthrough in terms of box office performance. It ushered in a hot new name in Hollywood. Jaws was the moment when horror broke out of the drive-in ghetto and into the majors. It was the dawn of the summer blockbuster, when that one movie hit during the season that everyone had to see. Man, it was huge.

I’m not a major Jaws fan but I like the movie quite a bit. I know some people who go positively apeshit for it, though. People who consider it the greatest horror movie of all time. I wouldn’t go that far, but it is good. It is masterfully executed and deserving of all the praise it gets. Spielberg is the shit!

When I was a kid, I would obsess over the idea of sharks in the water near where I lived. Sharks are cool as hell! They’re this race of killing machines in the ocean that evolved in a crazy-efficient manner. It’s like millions of years ago they found the right biological balance and stuck with it. Sharks are fucking primal, man! It’s no wonder that when Discovery runs Shark Week, people go nuts for it. I grew up on the coast but aside from some jellyfish I never saw anything really exotic. I wasn’t afraid of sharks swimming in to bite me or anything, mind you. I mostly just wanted to see a shark. A real one. I wanted to see that fin tracing the water. My mom told me that most sharks, the cool ones at least, didn’t live in the north Atlantic. No great whites. No hammerheads. No tiger sharks. Total bummer, man. Those things swam in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, the South Pacific, in warm water. Much to my surprise, this wasn’t entirely true and the story was inspired by actual events happening several times around the waters off of New York during the 20th century.

Philadelphia InquirerI’m cheating. I admit this. Jaws the movie is based off of Jaws the book, a novel by author Peter Benchley. This one is brief. I owe you a slow pitch after last night’s nightmare about two men sharing the awful delicacy of eating a man’s penis. In the early 60’s fisherman Frank Mundus caught a great white shark in the waters off Montauk Point. Montauk Point being the northernmost tip of Long Island, New York. This thing was massive, too, weighing in at nearly 5,000 pounds. It didn’t end there, either. Mundus, a seasoned fisherman caught several more of these perfect predators off those same waters over the course of the next several years. What’s more, in July of 1916, New Jersey became home to an epidemic of fear as four deaths and one injury resulted from as many shark attacks on the coast. No one has ever been able to nail down the species of shark responsible for the attack but popular theories suggest Great Whites and Bull sharks. The attacks were savage, too. These sharks can fuck shit up, proper, and they did. The first victim bled out from near total loss of their left leg. All that remained when the life guard pull the victim from the water was his bone. The second victim was nearly bitten in half. The third was pulled under water and a fourth was attacked while trying to rescue the third. Both died from massive trauma from shark bites. A fifth victim was attacked, but friends managed to pull him free from the shark’s mouth before it could do any life threatening damage.

Locals went berserk and began loading boats with fisherman and shark hunters out to find this rogue shark and kill it and just like in Jaws, the local yokels came out in droves, causing more harm than good. A bounty was placed on its head, too. $5,000. In the end, a great number of sharks, including a great white, were captured and killed and the attacks ceased, leading many to believe that among the shark carnage of the days following the attacks, one of these boats of drunk lunatics had nailed it.

7 Oct

Based On A True Story: Cannibal

Posted by Bryan White | Friday October 7, 2011 | Based On A True Story

Cannibal posterI spend a lot of time on the internet and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s bad for your health. When you think about it, the internet experience is baffling paradigm. When it first came to prominence in the 90’s, it was a fairly passive experience. You pulled up a website. You looked at the pictures. You read the copy. Then interactivity became all the rage and it didn’t take intimate knowledge of web development to drill down deeper and come out of the web with something you could talk about later. You saw cool videos. You played cool games. Whatever. But the introduction of the social web and what a lot of people have since stopped calling “Web 2.0” added a new layer of participation and twisted the notion of social interaction online. Everyone is hung up on social media these days. Without knowing a thing about how computers work or how to write web code, we can participate in this global online discussion from the privacy of our homes. Long live that joke about not wearing pants. In the solitary confines of our homes, we’re interacting with potentially thousands of people every day and if you think about that, that’s really fucking weird. We’re all at this crazy internet party and we’re sharing photos, telling jokes, spreading our particular brands of political perspective to tons of people every second but when we stop, step back and look around us, we’re in the kitchen, alone. For real. It’s kind of chilling, when you think about it. This huge illusory party that’s not actually taking place. The relative anonymity of the internet also grants us license to let our ids run wild and evolve in new and terrifying ways. Whole commnities have sprung up online in the celebration of countless brand new paradigms in sexuality. What you may think is a very weird, very personal kind of unique kink that turns you on could have and probably does have an entire internet community devoted to it. Drill down deeper, look a little harder and more specifically, look on the Deep Web for TOR sites and you’ll find some pretty sick shit hiding in plain sight. Just like the source of tonight’s entry: Cannibal. Warning: Tonight’s story is seriously fucked up.

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6 Oct

Based On A True Story: The Haunting In Connecticut

Posted by Bryan White | Thursday October 6, 2011 | Based On A True Story

The Haunting In ConnecticutSeveral years ago I had this ambitious plan to take Cinema Suicide and go pro. The idea was that my brother and I would produce original content on a slim dime that would make this place more than just another horror movie blog. This would result in a boom in site traffic and a contract with an ad provider that would allow us to quit our jobs and basically do this for a living like we were Dread Central or Twitch, who are pretty much the greatest success stories that I can think of for a genre movie website. It was not to be, obviously. A lot of the trouble came from the fact that at the time, the site was barely a year old and no one had ever heard of me. It’s several years later and still no one has heard of me but I’m a lot more comfortable with that now than I was then. One of the plans we had to get people to come around was to capitalize on the popularity of “paranormal reality shows” like Ghost Hunters, which was at the peak of its popularity and trailed Battlestar as Sci Fi’s most watched show. A friend of ours is a Ghostbuster with a unique approach and philosophy to this controversial field of research and we somehow managed to ply her with alcohol and convince her to do a series of investigations with us that would up in episodic installments on the internet. She had told us both some seriously harrowing stories of turbulent hauntings and we wanted to film that sort of thing because that’s where the party is at but she talked us into basically doing what Ghost Hunters does and lugging our video gear into a public spot with a reputation for the unexplained and trying to capture something like that, instead. We did. We caught nothing interesting. Total bummer. Her reasoning, however, for not taking us into one of those places where it seemed like your actual sanity was at risk at first sounded like an anti-skeptic stonewall tactic, but in the end it made perfect sense. Most of what the paranormal community considers poltergeists aren’t demons or ghosts in the traditional sense. She talked about it as though the shit flying around the room, noisy ghost phenomena were actually extreme manifestations of a severely troubled person’s mental state and personal energy. I started to believe it but not because of that abstraction, mostly because what we would be doing is invading someone’s personal tragedy, filming it and then letting it loose on the internet for entertainment purposes and there are some serious ethical issues at work there. As mercenary as I like to consider myself, I begrudgingly accepted this reasoning and reconciled with the fact that I’m just not that big a dick. But all this preamble relates directly to why you don’t hear more about place like the Union, Missouri Fear House or The Haunting In Connecticut.

The Haunting In Connecticut was pretty standard Hollywood horror. Ultimately it’s the kind of movie you waste a rainy Sunday afternoon with because there’s no good excuse to blow precious time on it when you could be doing something worthwhile. The general gist of the movie is that a family moves into a Connecticut house to be closer to he medical center treating their son’s cancer. After they move in, all manner of overblown Hollywood ghost shit starts happening, the sick son’s physical health improves at the expense of his mental health and a spooky background about the house is uncovered. You’ve seen it all before. The “truth” of the story is about the same.

The house, according to the controversial “demonologist” and psychic medium, Lorraine Warren, who with her husband had been involved in many highly publicized hauntings and hoaxes, turned out to be a former funeral home. It wasn’t just any funeral home, either, it was said to be the kind of place where dead bodies were cornholed by the morticians. Straight up necrophilia, yo. It wouldn’t be a Warren investigation either without some kind of demonic implications, so just to be on the safe side, Lorraine declared the place to be crawling in Satanic influence with actual agents of hell making things difficult for the current tenants.

The children reported hearing the sounds of chains in their room, which at one point was the showing room for wakes and such. The Warrens also tell a story of finding the image of girls dancing in the basement before dissipating as Ed Warren approached them. Two distinct demonic presences were said to be in the home. One, a being with long black hair and jet black eyes and another with white hair, a tuxedo and feet in constant motion. Both were said to terrorize the family among a litany of other paranormal phenomenon. Both parents, in the film, The Parkers, in real life, The Snedekers, reported being raped by demons. Mop water turned to blood and the place frequently smelled horrible (which many paranormal investigators attribute to extreme, demonic hauntings. There were a lot of problems with the Snedeker’s story, though. The first and probably the most obvious motivation for any kind of disturbance in the home was the illness of the Snedeker child and the sort of mental conditions that accompany that sort of thing for all parties involved. Fighting cancer is a long, agonizing process. Not only do you sink all your money into its treatment, you spend a tremendous amount of emotional energy that eventually takes its toll on your mental state and physical condition. You are literally watching a loved one die slowly before your very eyes. Many of the extreme hauntings that I’ve heard of often involve this sort of circumstance or something very similar like mental illness as that also tends to creep into everyone else’s life and affect their perceptions and judgment. Secondly, and anyone familiar with the Warrens will back this up, the involvement of this couple and the claims they make immediately cast long shadows of doubt on any evidence you may gather in a paranormal investigation. In spite of their reputations and the air or reverence that their names evoke among some paranormalists, there a four times as many people out there who feel that this couple are pure fraud and nothing more.

Ray Garton, author of In A Dark Place, the book that most of The Haunting In Connecticut and the Discovery Channel episode of A Haunting is based on has since come out to admit that the book was almost a work of pure fiction and that he was compelled to do so by Ed Warren, who assured him that that’s the way these things sort of work. Like The Amityville Horror, the Snedeker’s were going through a tremendously awful time in their lives and resorted to absolutely ridiculous tactics to find a way out of their immediate problems.

5 Oct

Based On A True Story: Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer

Posted by Bryan White | Wednesday October 5, 2011 | Based On A True Story

Henry Portait of a Serial KillerMan. Henry. Even if this day and age, the relatively low-tech piece of horror trash, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is discussed only in hushed tones by the troglodytes who surf the bottom feeder flicks of the horror genre. We all view this flick with a sense of morbid reverence that says, “Woah, buddy. That’s close enough.” Henry is the kind of picture that settles in to the pit of your stomach and makes itself at home, meanwhile upsetting the delicate balance of your stomach’s ecosystem like a bull in a fucking china shop. It is a scuzzy, seriously unpleasant movie-going experience in every conceivable way and it’s the kind of horror movie that comes only once in a lifetime. When we meet Henry, he has already dispatched one victim in an absolutely godawful fashion but somehow by the halfway point of the movie, we find ourselves siding with him as the movie introduces Otis, someone even worse than Henry. It doesn’t tug at the heart strings and this viewer-killer alliance isn’t forced, it’s coerced by the simple act of offering us the (slightly) lesser of two evils.

The funny part is that Henry was originally conceived as a slasher movie of the most generic kind. Through the simple fortune of shit luck, director John McNaughton found himself with a small budget to make a horror movie with the only provision coming down from the producers that it have lots of blood. McNaughton went to work and a month later he turned in a movie that Maljack Productions didn’t know what to do with. They wanted jiggly coeds getting hacked to pieces by a lumbering maniac in a mask but McNaughton turned in this lyrical piece of filth that was the cinematic equivalent of a Cannibal Corpse song. Henry is an oppressive, slow moving picture that hates you. It is a movie that wants to see us all have our heads bashed in with a toaster and then strangled to death with the cord. Henry is pure evil and it’s no wonder because the whole thing is heavily inspired by the killing spree committed by murderers Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole.

Henry Lee LucasHenry Lee Lucas was the tragic result of scummy shit kicking hillbillies grinding their nasty bits together when they ought to have been doing the world a favor by drinking themselves to death. His father lost his legs when he was hit by a freight train and his mother was a cruel drunken whore with a meanstreak that’s hard to believe. Not only did she kick the crap out of Lucas and her other kids, usually for no reason, but she was a neglectful cunt who let Henry’s eye wound, the result of a fight between he and his brother, fester before it had become so infected that she was left with no choice but to take him to the hospital where it was then removed. Still, this wasn’t the worst of it. The childhood of Henry Lee Lucas is a blueprint for how to make a monster. The woman, for no conceivable reason, often forced young Henry to watch her fuck her customers. The world has this woman to thank for one of the world’s most prolific serial killers. Is it any surprise that Henry’s first victim was his mother?

By the time of his death in 2001, Lucas had confessed to over 600 murders between 1975 and 1983. A Texas court convicted him of 11 and the actual number of Lucas’ murders is probably closer to 15 with the high-ball body count being 40 and the low-ball body count being 2. Why the confusion and speculation? Refer to my article about the arrest and execution of Johnny Frank Garrett for further evidence of Texas justice but law enforcement in the Lone Star State has a reputation for being fabulously shitty. More on that later.

Lucas’ modus operandi was a simple one and it’s one of the many criteria that criminalists consider when chasing down a serial killer of this type. Lucas made a habit of moving around the country constantly. His nomadic lifestyle and tendency to never repeat his killing habits left police scratching their heads. When a serial killer typically commits a series of crimes, each murder bears a series of signatures. Maybe they use the same weapon or same sort of weapon. Maybe the remains are left in a certain position or dressed in certain clothing. This is the one thing that nearly all serial killers have in common. They establish a set of behaviors that work for them and carry some kind of significance and they repeat the cycle with each murder. This is how police know that they have a serial on their hands. Lucas didn’t do this. He’d strangle one victim in Alabama and then stab another in Louisiana the next week. In Florida, he’d shoot someone and then in Georgia he’d beat someone to death with a baseball bat. He stayed moving and used different weapons and in each case the police thought that each murder was an independent occasion carried out by different people. Lucas didn’t do this on purpose because he was trying to throw police off his tracks. Quite frankly, Henry was too stupid to realize he was doing that at all. Meanwhile, during a stop in a Florida soup kitchen, Lucas had hooked up with Ottis Toole, a severely mentally handicapped man of similar stripe to Lucas and the two began a strange relationship that may have been a gay love affair and was definitely a violent, murderous partnership. At the same time, Lucas was nailing Toole’s 12 year old niece Frieda “Becky” Powell. It’s also believed that Becky was engaged, most likely against her will, in a sexual relationship with her uncle, Ottis. The whole story is like a Jerry Springer episode from hell.

Ottis TooleIn the end, Lucas was busted with an unlicensed gun and was implicated in the murder of Kate Rich. He would later confess to this murder and of the murder of Toole’s niece, Becky, who was last seen arguing with Lucas at a truck stop. Later on, Lucas would wind up confessing to every single open homicide that Texas investigators put in front of him. He would later recant every single confession and claim that he was not, in fact, a serial killer, but he would eventually wind up on death row for eleven murders. Even though then-Texas Governor and architect of all that was wrong with America 2000-2008, George W. Bush would later commute the death sentence to life in prison without parole, which Lucas served until his death in 2001. Texas homicide cops, with so many open murders threw everything they could at Lucas and Lucas was only too happy to confess to all of them, implicating Toole in many of them. Toole, meanwhile, was too stupid to deny any of them and often played ball with Henry’s claims for reasons known only to himself. They were a classic serial killer team up. One strong personality that dominated the weaker personality. Seemingly as psychotic as this pair of murderous mongoloids, the Texas legal system, hungry to get some open murders off the books took to pinning all of the murders of Lucas and Toole without, for a second, considering that the victims’ families might want to know who actually murdered their loved ones. They were, and probably still are, a lazy bunch of scum bags whose own incompetence couldn’t get them fired even if they shot their own dicks off with their service firearms.

Top to bottom, the tragic, miserable life of self-loathing serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas became the perfect frame for a nasty, oppressive horror movie whose infamy lives on to this very day. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was spawned from a story you can’t make up.

4 Oct

Based On A True Story: The Amityville Horror

Posted by Bryan White | Tuesday October 4, 2011 | Based On A True Story

The Amityville HorrorFor some reason I take an awful lot of shit for being such a fan of this movie. When I was a kid, they ran this flick one Halloween night on one of the local stations and I capped off a night of candy piracy with it. It scared the crap out of me! When I was even younger, my mom would tell me about the house she and my dad lived in in Marblehead, Massachusetts before I was born. According to her and corroborated by my dad, the place was your stock haunted house with strange sounds, phantom scents, flashing lights and a golden retriever that seemed to interact with something that they couldn’t see. Being at the mercy of some unseen spook chilled me to the core and since then continues to keep me up at night. Recounting certain ghost stories (including my own personal tale of haunting) during last year’s Halloween blog-a-thon made me uneasy walking through my own completely not haunted house late at night as I tend to write these things at the last minute before today becomes tomorrow. I’m really not sure why haunted house flicks scare me like they do but horror movie-induced chills are a rare commodity in these jaded times so I take what I can get. The recent haunted house flick, Insidious, scared the fuck out of me upon watching it so it’s nice to know that I haven’t lost my weakness for a good spookhouse flick.

Of all the haunted house movies out there, I feel like The Amityville Horror mostly gets the formula right. You can’t be too explicit with one of these movies. The scares come when your mind fills in the blanks and while this one can’t help but sink into hokey territory, there are times when it’s unbearably fucking scary. Of all the Based On A True Story horror flicks out there, this has got to be one of the most famous ones among the bunch. It’s just too bad that it’s all bullshit.

112 Ocean AvenueOn the night of January 14th, 1976, George and Kathy Lutz hurriedly gathered up their children and their dog and fled from their home on 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York, leaving all their crap behind in the house. The official line was that they could no longer bear to live in this house thanks to a demonic presence there which made their lives a living hell for the 28 days that they lived there. Their story is absolutely epic, the stuff of horror movies. The Lutzes’ youngest daughter immediately made friends with an imaginary person in the house that she named Jodie and described as a pig-like being with glowing red eyes. Father Ray Mancuso (not his real name) came to the house to bless it and reported being commanded to “Get out!!” in one of the rooms by the voice of an unseen presence. A room in the basement that was not in the house plans that was hidden and painted red had a noticeably freaky effect on their dog who wouldn’t go near it and acted visibly disturbed by it. The entire house was plagued by flies in the dead of winter. Something in the house smashed in doors and windows and on one night when closing the window that 5 year old Missy told her mother that Jodie had climbed out of, Kathy reported seeing a pair of glowing red eyes looking back into the house at her. The reports go on and on. Kathy reported being touched by something she couldn’t see, she reported being levitated off the bed and receiving welts on her body. Blood and gore oozed from the walls. There were awful smells that couldn’t be explained. It was all stock sensational horror movie stuff and what made things even worse was the arrival of celebrity demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren, a pair that would go on to perpetuate numerous high profile hoaxes even though they firmly believed in what they were invesitgating.

Ronald DeFeoSee, all of this happened for a reason. 13 months prior to the Lutzes buying the Ocean Avenue house at a serious bargain, the previous owners, the DeFeo family were murdered in their sleep by their oldest son, Ron DeFeo. Ron went room to room and shot them as they all slept in their beds. No reasonable motive was ever established. DeFeo was a trouble guy, too. Addicted to heroin and an alcoholic, he claimed that voices in his head compelled him to kill them all and this is likely to be true. Addiction does terrible things to people. He claimed that once he started, he couldn’t stop. The tragedy at 112 Ocean Avenue was no secret and even as they checked out the house while looking for a place to live, The Lutzes were made away of the murder. The compound matters, the Lutzes were in a bit of trouble themselves as George Lutzes’ business was failing spectacularly at the same time they bought the place. Financial pressure mounted quickly, George began to drink and as their new marriage and grip on their finances loosened, the Lutzes made a spectacular plan to get out of the mortgage and put the plan behind them. In the time they spent in the house, they had publicized the haunting with the local news crews. They made a big deal out of it and a couple of  years later, Jay Anson published a book on the haunting that would eventually turn into the movie that we all know so well these days. Subsequent owners of the house report no weirdness and even people who supposedly corroborate the story back in the day claim that nothing strange ever happened there.

Sorry to be a bummer but this based on a true story is full of crap.

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