Things that are really scary

My plans to post often before Halloween took a left turn this morning.

I had planned to head out to take pictures in La Grange and Columbus today.  I read a short book about an old, really appalling murder that happened near or in Schulenberg, which is just outside of La Grange.  The murder site is under water now but the killer’s home still stands and I wanted to just go an have a look around.  After that I wanted to swing twenty miles west and head into Columbus and take pictures at the Columbus City Cemetery.

However, Bastrop County is on fire again.  One of the worst-hit areas is Smithville, and I would have had to drive right through it.  It’s bad.  Bad like evacuating the area, get the hell off the highway, it’s a disaster area, there are burning embers shooting through the air threatening homes.

I was thinking about instead going to the very historic Dessau Lutheran Cemetery and taking pictures there, but no dice.  The wind shifted and began to blow north and brought the pine smoke with it.  Outside the house smells like burning rubber and there is a haze that I am picking up with each picture I take.  Like lots of dust particles that ghost hunters would call “orbs.”

I have several other entries going but won’t have one ready in time for Thursday.  Sorry about that – picture posts are easy to put together in a way that my wordy book discussions are not.

Central Texas began this summer with fatal floods and is going into autumn burning down.  Bastrop had only just begun to recover from the 2011 fires so hopefully this won’t be as devastating.  My little slice of paradise is unlikely to be affected outside of scratchy throats from smoky wind and cars with a thin coat of soot but I remember that over 1500 homes burned to the ground in Bastrop in 2011 and a couple of people were killed.  I sincerely hope that the fires can be contained before anything that bad happens now.

The Mom Ghost

I’ve linked to this story around Halloween before but I’m going to post the entire story here. I’ve written about this experience on a couple of online venues but recent events in my life (trying to collect all the stories I’ve had published online and realizing not even the Wayback Machine could help me) have shown me that having all my content in one place under my control is a good thing.

So if you haven’t read my account of the Mom Ghost, you’ll find it under the cut. If you have, tune in tomorrow. I’ll have fresh creepiness up then.

Blood by Mark Ryden

Book: Blood: Miniature Paintings of Sorrow and Fear

Artist: Mark Ryden

Type of Book: Non-fiction, pop art

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Lincoln’s head.

Availability: Published by Porterhouse in 2011, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I am not a particularly visual person, though I do have preferred aesthetics. When left to my own devices I prefer Scandinavian home decor styles because they are easy to clean and I like my art bright, pretty and sort of creepy. The latter explains my affection for Mark Ryden, and hopefully will explain my complete lack of artistic vocabulary when I discuss art. I’m only at more of a loss when I try to discuss architecture or any form of math. I one day hope to be a Mark Ryden completist, book-wise. I want to accomplish the same thing with Edward Gorey – his works and works about him – and Henry Darger. It occurs to me that all three of these artists share similar themes – children in potential peril and unsettling situations, pretty illustrations, macabre content, elaborate styles, and just creepiness in general.

Mark Ryden’s paintings feed directly into the part of my psyche that loves nightmarish beauty without consequence, the surrealist nature of dark dreams. There is a catharsis for me when I view most of Ryden’s paintings. My interest in extremity leads me into some dark places – my love for Peter Sotos is an excellent example. But sometimes the impact of horror is hard to stomach. Not so with Ryden’s paintings.

Sometimes his subjects show sadness, such as the girl on the cover of this book. She is weeping blood and looks very somber. But even when his paintings, typically pictures of little girls, encounter the frightening, the gory, the miserably surreal, they seldom show fear. At worst the girls show morbid curiosity, maybe some trepidation, but there is no fear in Ryden’s work. The introduction to this book describes these paintings as showing a loss of innocence and that may be true. But if there is a loss of innocence, it is one that is expected, one that is not miserable to those losing their innocence because the children maintain their wide-eyed beauty even as they are confronted with the dreadful and disgusting. I can look upon lovely, big-eyed children covered in blood or encountering slabs of bloody meat and enjoy them for the absolute beauty in the image, for Ryden’s paintings are always lovely. They are always sumptuous, in colors that are so vivid that they almost evoke the sense of taste for me. This is interesting to me because even though much of Ryden’s work is associated with blood and meat, the bright pinks and various pastels evoke old fashioned, boiled-sugar candy. Taffy. Cotton candy. Not fetid, iron stink of meat. For whatever reason, I don’t experience the loss of innocence the way that I suspect others do when I look at Ryden’s work.  (You see the intense use of pastels most especially in Ryden’s The Meat Show collection.)

Blood is a tiny book, a fitting size because the paintings are all miniatures, and I selected it to discuss during my Halloween post-a-thon because this book contains an explanation for why Ryden engages in such morbidity, almost a defensive apology for what makes him tick and his explanations, in the introduction as well as a quote later in the book, show in action one of the warnings I often give writers: once you create, the creation is out of your hands and you have no control over what your work will mean to others. By his own words, Ryden would likely find my inability to find his works alarming, especially those in Blood, somewhat alarming itself. Ryden says:

Blood is very powerful. While meat is the substance that keeps our living souls in this physical reality, blood keeps our meat alive. Blood is liquid life. When blood escapes our bodies we are alarmed to the very core of our brains. It is life leaking out of us. It is frightening and makes red a profoundly intense color.

It is here that I think shows the chasm between Ryden’s intent and my experience with his work. If blood is liquid life, seeing children interacting with blood is alarming but it is also a transformative experience. But girls are used to blood in a way boys aren’t. We literally see our blood escaping our body several days each month. It’s less a loss of innocence than a symbol of coming-of-age. There are biblical instructions about the corruptibility and disgusting nature of menstrual blood but for many women seeing blood outside the body is not alarming and when it happens it is simply a sign of growing up. Perhaps this is why I am not appalled by the loss of innocence seen in the paintings in this collection. Blood is liquid life, but in some respects blood is a liquid proving-ground, a symbol of a trial endured, of obtaining a certain type of wisdom. Sometimes the wisdom that comes from corruption is more valuable than white, unblemished inexperience.

Regardless of the ins and outs of meaning and intent, the paintings in this collection are remarkable in content and execution.

original from markryden.comI love this painting, titled simply enough, Lincoln’s Head.  There’s a lot going on with this painting, and it can be tempting to write it off as kitsch.  I’m not the least bit startled by the blood or gore, and it’s not startling to me how meaningful this painting is to me.  Ryden often paints Abraham Lincoln, with Lincoln performing an assortment of duties, like juggling with meat, birthing a baby from a tree, as well as serving as the focus in scenes not as easily summarized.  In this painting, his head at the foot of the bed is reminiscent of the horse head in The Godfather, a sort of warning to the little girl.  Yet Lincoln, as bastardized as he has become by pop culture, is an enduring image of freedom and sacrifice for most Americans.

This child is one of the more shocked-looking Ryden children, and even so she is not terrorized by Lincoln’s head.  She exhibits morbid curiosity but she is not afraid – just surprised to see him there.  She is clearly a little girl, in her pink pajamas, but note the austerity of the room.  No paintings on the wall, no bedside table, no stuffed animals, no patterns on the sheets.  This is the room of an adult, white sheets stained with the blood of an American redeemer.  Lincoln is a warning to her, that adulthood encroaches  – red blood on white sheets is most definitely an image associated with loss of virginity.   I almost feel like she is dreaming, that she fell asleep and has drifted down onto Lincoln’s bed, his severed head warning of impeding womanhood and the many sacrifices that are made one becomes an adult.  This is a loss of innocence, certainly, but it is inevitable.  Children grow up.  It’s not a tragedy but the little girl’s face shows the alarm that genuine freedom as an adult can bring.

Or it’s a gory, fanciful picture of a little girl in a Shaker-style bedroom confronting a giant severed head.  You make the call.  In fact, I would love to hear other interpretations.

original from markryden.com

The Baptism of Jajo is my favorite painting from the Blood collection.  Interestingly I have far less explanation for this painting than I do Lincoln’s Head and what little interpretation I have may suggest that I have not shucked away my Southern Baptist upbringing as much as I would like to think I have.  Jajo is a baby exhibiting superlative innocence.  He is plump, white, with a big round head, a large forehead and widely-spaced blue eyes.  The hand of Christ is bleeding upon him and my first impulse upon seeing this painting was to think that the child was being protected by the blood of Christ, often represented as a lamb in Christian iconography, one of the most universal symbols of innocence.  And that creepy clown toy looking on at the scene makes me think this baby really needs all the protection he can get (though later that is disproved by another Ryden painting).

Even as I read Ryden’s explanations for these paintings – he was in a very dark place when he painted the Blood collection and really wanted to paint bloody and disturbing scenes – I have such a hard time seeing the menace or fear.  A fat baby in a field of flowers receiving a literal blessing from God.  Many, myself included, find the very notion of Christian transubstantiation disgusting – the idea of drinking the literal blood and eating the literal flesh of Christ as a form of sacrament is disturbing.  But this child is not drinking the blood but is rather receiving it in a sort of pagan/Episcopalian affusion baptism, on the top of his little head, the most fragile place on a baby’s body.  It’s comforting even as it is relatively grotesque.  Clearly I am not as divorced from faith as I thought, or at least from the feelings one experiences when seeing Christian symbols of salvation and protection.  But I also marry the Christianity in this painting with my interest in other forms of metaphysics.  The hand of Christ is palm out, so detailed you can almost read His future.  There is a pretty strong life line on that palm, almost suggesting that Jajo will have a nice, long, protected life.  That life line certainly can’t indicate Jesus’ own life span, so I think this is Jajo’s future spelled out on the hand.  Additionally, Mr OTC noted how placidly Jajo is staring at the viewer, almost Buddha-like in composure.  And why is the baby’s cheek red where the clown is staring yet white nearer the bleeding hand?  Again, there’s a lot going on in this painting and I don’t know how to assign meaning to it all.

If you want to see all the paintings in the Blood series, visit Mark Ryden’s site. Dig around and have a look at some of his other collections.  Jajo makes another appearance in The Meat Show in Jajo, Patron Saint of Clowns. 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all the art I prefer is pop or low brow, or created by mentally unstable hermits.  I’m not particularly well-trained to see beauty and truth in a visual format.  I’m much better at interpreting words.  So it’s all the more likely that I have absorbed these images in a manner that doesn’t honor artistic intent.  But as with literature, I don’t think anyone needs to have a handle on absolute meaning to read Shakespeare or Stephen King or to enjoy paintings from Leonardo or Ryden.  Sometimes all that matters is if you love something and I love the juxtaposition of seemingly unharmed children confronted with blood and horror.  These paintings bring to me a sort of hope that the miseries of life are endured with a child-like resilience and that beauty remains in the face of the nastiest experience.  That in the midst of the rot you smell the flowers and taste the pastel saltwater taffy.

In a way, despite the title of the book, this was the least Halloween-y book I could discuss but I didn’t really understand that until I wrote this entry.  Here’s hoping my next entry is creepier.

Musical influence of Art Bell

I’m going to do my best to post a lot before Halloween because indulging in creepiness is one of the things I do best. I have so many creepy books, favorite creepy movies, and creepy sites to share that it would be a shame not to take advantage of this time of the year and write about all the eerie weirdness rattling around in my head.

This entry came about in my typical circuitous “getting lost on the Internet” method of gathering information. I wanted to discuss some really disturbing, dark songs about child predators, and had a specific song in mind, two songs, actually, about a predator assaulting a child and the child seeking revenge, but couldn’t remember the name of the songs or the band that performed them. In my attempts to run the song to ground, I fell into a YouTube hole that completely distracted me from my original goal. I’ll eventually discuss songs about child predation but not today because I found mystery wondering how many songs there are that are inspired by Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM. (By the way, the band I was originally searching for is G.G.F.H. and the songs are “Little Missy” and “Missy’s Revenge” and while the songs are still outre and upsetting, they aren’t as viscerally disgusting as they were to me when I heard them years ago. I fear I am becoming jaded…)

Discussing Art Bell’s influence on music is really apropos for me this time of year because I always listen to his Ghost to Ghost episodes right before Halloween. I was putting together a playlist earlier this month but when I was searching for G.G.F.H.’s body of work, I found a title that piqued my interest and it turned out to have an Art Bell sample (the Venetian Snares song I discuss below – that is the song that linked me from child exploitation to Art Bell). After listening to the song with the Coast to Coast AM sample, I decided to see how many songs I could find that were influenced by Art Bell in some manner. Art Bell is interesting and somewhat weird in his own right, a man whose life has taken several unexpected turns, and he has been a personal hero of mine ever since he sued Ted Gunderson (who is hopefully right this very minute encountering the Satan he insisted was lurking in every daycare and influencing every politician since Washington) for slandering him as a pedophile.

Art no longer hosts Coast to Coast AM (and while George Noory is okay enough, he lacks a certain edge, I think, that Art brought to the table) but his long tenure on the AM and online radio program featured many bizarre and memorable shows. One of the most memorable was the night a man who claimed he was a former Area 51 employee called into the show in a panic, revealing that the US government was being duped by inhuman creatures posing as aliens from outer space, and that these creatures meant mankind harm. He claimed to be on the run from the federal government and sounded to be completely unhinged by the gravity of his discovery. In the middle of the phone call, something happened to the satellite and at least 50 separate radio stations went dead for around half an hour. Understandably, this caused Art and his listeners to freak out, assuming that indeed the feds were tracking the frightened caller and had interfered with his attempt to share his story. The man behind the Area 51 call eventually called back to Coast to Coast and explained it was indeed a hoax but that he had no idea what had happened in regards to the satellite failure. That, evidently, was just a coincidence. There are some who still believe the Area 51 caller was real and that the later call revealing the hoax is the real hoax, but that is the nature of conspiracy. This episode is called either the “Area 51 Caller” or “The Frantic Caller.”

However real or fake the Area 51 call may have been, it’s now a part of Area 51 lore and anyone who has much interest in fringe or conspiracy culture has likely heard of it. It’s definitely influenced some musicians, famous and obscure. One of the more famous bands to sample the Area 51 call is Tool, in the song “Faaip de Oiad” from the album, Lateralus Faaip de Oiad means “the voice of God” in “Enochian” (the supposed angelic language recorded and likely invented by John Dee and Edward Kelley) – Maynard Keenan is a sort of Renaissance man of the weird and I think he runs a winery now, of all things.


“Faaip de Oiad” doesn’t freak me out the way it does many Tool fans. I think that’s because I’ve heard the source material too many times, and had heard it many times before ever hearing this song. But I can see how this would be jarring or alarming to someone who might not know the source of the jangled, frightened man talking in the middle of the song. I link to this particular video because it has the “lyrics” in the upload notes section.

Raping the Gods by Brian Whitney

Book: Raping the Gods

Author: Brian Whitney

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: This book is the paper equivalent of that asshole you knew in college who drunk-called you at 2:00 in the morning to tell you about how he beat up Chuck Norris, had sex with a Victoria’s Secret model and wrecked his Lamborghini after inhaling epic quantities of cocaine.

Type of Book: For fuck’s sake, this book best be fiction, but I worry that large chunks probably aren’t.

Availability: Published by Strawberry Books in 2015, you can get a copy here:

Comments: Jesus, this book. This is another book I read out loud to Mr OTC at bedtime until he begged me to stop, and he didn’t beg me to stop because the book isn’t funny and compelling, but rather because he needed to get some sleep. Pretty much each paragraph in this book has a golden sentence, a laugh-out-loud portion that makes this book the sort that goes by quickly in one sitting.

Quick synopsis: Bryan Whitney (the character, not the author, a trend I’ve made note of lately wherein authors give characters their writing names) is a profligate and depraved writer. He is contacted by Dylan, a completely insane and utterly drugged reprobate, who wants Brian to write about him. You see, Dylan, a man of many unlikely stories, claims to have met God and raped Him.

Yeah.

Brian needs the money and agrees to do it, but, because Dylan is a lunatic, this is not going to be without some trouble. Dylan lives in Samoa with two female sex slaves, which makes it hard to travel, so Brian is going to have to fly out to Samoa. But before he can fly out there, Dylan makes difficult demands that Brian struggles to meet.  Brian fields numerous phone calls and e-mails from Dylan, eventually flies to Samoa and meets the sex slaves who are very willing accessories to Dylan’s life, and more or less exists in the same “WTF” realm as the reader until the novel ends happily, in a way.

This is not an intricate plot, but the characters are interesting in a really fucked-up way and that helps. The reason to buy and read this book is to revel in how well Whitney writes the absurd and recreates the cadence of the speech of the damned. This is a hilarious book, and the absurd humor allows a more squeamish reader to stomach some of the more outre content. But hopefully no one squeamish is reading this site.

Brian Whitney, the character, is a writer struggling to make a living and has ghostwritten biographies of washed up porn actresses. He’s not the sort of dude who can handle a day job while writing because, much like me, he’s just not cut out for real jobs:

I had this part time job at one point working for AAA where I answered roadside assistance calls. I got fired for hanging up on people. I would do it in the middle of when I was talking so it looked like an accident. I did it whenever I couldn’t figure something out on the computer system they had. I hate looking like an idiot.

So inevitably those who cannot work day jobs end up running underutilized websites or ghost writing for porn actresses or assorted members of Motley Crüe. Dylan, a fan of one of the actresses, makes a strange demand of Brian: in order to be given the job of writing Dylan’s biography, Brian must arrive in Samoa with a photo of the porn star naked. Naked while wearing a moose hat.

The porn star in a moose hat isn’t the most depraved part of this story but it gives us a good idea of the sort of dude Brian is – he’s not a man who is often ethically challenged. He does try to wriggle out of it but Dylan won’t hear of it and overnights a supply of Rohypnol to Brian so that the writer can get the job done.

And because Brian is a reprobate, he does get the job done.

The photos themselves were a bit of a letdown. I was wasted and it was a total pain in the ass to take off all her clothes. It was harder than I thought it would be. I mean of course I was turned on a little, I gave her ass a few proprietary slaps here and there, but for the most part it was just clothes off, moose hat on, pose her body this way and that, take some photos, clothes back on.

I share this passage mainly because it was nice to know that Brian was not so well-versed in removing the clothes from an unconscious woman that stripping the porn star was, you know, easy. And what was Dylan’s response to receiving those photos? I don’t know. Maybe he didn’t respond. I can’t recall because this book really is a collection of drunken bullshit stories that half the time don’t even try to sound sane.

Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls

Book:  Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls

Author:  Alissa Nutting

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, fantasy, humor

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because Alissa Nutting is my neurotic literature heroine.

Availability: Published by Starcherone Books in 2010, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I was reading this book when my mother died.  It’s a strange feeling to be writing this discussion because Mom was alive when I began this book and dead when I finished it. I think this is a book that will have extreme sentimental value for me for the rest of my life.  I’ll probably remember in vivid detail all the stories in this book until the day I am on my own death bed.  It’s a good thing this is a very good book in almost every regard.  If you are going to have a book burned into your brain in such a manner, best that it be a good book.

It’s not so surprising that I adored this collection – I raved about Nutting’s look at a female sexual predator and had high expectations for this book.  This collection is less concentrated in terms of content and style than Tampa and the varied nature of this collection shows Nutting’s skill as a teller of many types of stories.  She handles mundane yet self-aware neuroticism like an updated Tama Janowitz (whose seminal summation of ’80s New York, Slaves of New York, I will be discussing here soon).  She dips in and out of fantasy and magical realism with a deft hand and plenty of humor.  She is a keen observer of the human condition and tells her stories with great sympathy for her characters, even the ridiculous ones. I love this collection so much I am not going to limit my discussion to just a few stories, as I often do to save readers from an obscenely high word count. So be warned, many words beneath the cut.

Job for a Cowboy and Morten Klode

Most death metal is dead to me these days. When I was younger I could tolerate indecipherable growls because the genre was still new and interesting enough to offset my neurotic desire to understand what was being sung. Though some of the bands were understandable to me, like Hypocrisy, Opeth and Amon Amarth, for me the growls were more of an instrument than actual vocals. These days not so much. The genre has suffered a sort of recursive plague wherein all the bands seem to blend together to me and the growls no longer seem like a deliberate attempt to evoke chaos and darkness as much as they seem aggressively derivative. Worse, much of the content in death metal has taken on a cartoonish slant, so bludgeoning and over-the-top that it no longer seems outre but rather seems ridiculous bordering on tiresome. I find myself listening to more melodic death metal, which means I also find myself listening to folk metal and, god help me, prog rock hybrids.

All of this exposition hopefully explains why I haven’t been paying attention to death metal and how the band Job for a Cowboy and, more specifically, their video for “Tarnished Gluttony” are just now coming to my attention. I need to listen to more of the band’s songs to see what I think of them as a whole but I was really impressed with “Tarnished Gluttony” as a song and especially as a video. The singer(s?)’s vocals are completely unintelligible to me but there is a theatricality to the music that renders a lack of understanding far less important. The growls verge into screams that harked back to the days when black metal didn’t fill me with despair. But before I praise the band’s style overmuch, I need to track down more of their body of work. Until then, let’s discuss this video.

Warning: This video is violent, gory, and features the death of a child.


I watch this video every night before going to sleep because I’m sort of obsessed with it. It’s almost like a bedtime story, and given how much an homage it is to Lovecraft, it’s a creepy story, too, though no creepier than anything Perrault wrote as a fairy tale.

When I first discovered this video I watched it several times in a row and then forced Mr OTC to watch it too (and he actually enjoyed it, no small praise for a song when a man is mostly into old country, zydeco, and, inexplicably, the Talking Heads). We both have read Lovecraft but of the two of us Mr OTC is the far bigger Lovecraft fan and it took him a couple of goes before he had a handle on what was happening.

Of course now it is clear that a Lovecraftian Deep One sired a child with a human, and that child appears fully human (though in the literature Deep Ones could maintain a completely human appearance until they reached adolescence and sometimes even later). It seems as if the Deep One is sacrificing his human child to Dagon, returning the boy to the sea. And the only reason I even wanted to find out what exactly was happening in this video was because of the nuanced and emotional acting skills of Morten Klode, the actor who portrayed the adult Deep One.

His grimaces and hesitations show he is not a particularly willing participant in this sacrifice. His tender stroking of the boy’s cheek shows affection for this child – this isn’t some random kid a Lovecraftian horror is killing to appease an Old One. His rushed hurry to begin once he realizes the child may be awakening shows he has no wish to cause this child pain. His anguished scream at 4:01, after the sacrifice has begun – it was deeply affecting the first time I saw it.

But there are some seriously creepy elements to this video. The undressing of a small, unconscious child in the woods is unnerving. And of course eviscerating said child is difficult content. The most unsettling part of this video for me was when the Deep One licked the needle before he began to stitch up the child’s abdomen. Anyone who has sewn much knows that sometimes a blunt needle or pin needs lubrication before it can penetrate certain cloth. It’s unlikely that this needle needed any help with the first stitch into the child’s stomach but that lick of a blunt needle or pin is often the reflexive action of a person well-accustomed to old-fashioned diapers using safety pins. A quick lick of the pin ensures it goes through the thick flannel quickly and there’s less chance of pricking a squirming child. You don’t see that too much these days with prefolds and velcro tabs and the like and I am very likely assigning a motive to this action that is not part of the directorial intent but for me this small action was fatherly, showing a man who had, at some point in the past, cared for this little boy, a man who knew his way around the more visceral elements of child-rearing taken to an extreme. And the way he blankly threw the needle away. Just the numb disgust and misery written all over his face. It was a mild devastation when he tossed that needle into the leaves.

It’s remarkable when a music video engages in such attention to detail, and all the more remarkable when it is a death metal video engaging in such nuance. I’ve become accustomed to the aforementioned club-across-the-face approach of songs and videos like Cattle Decapitation’s “Forced Gender Reassignment.” (Jesus Christ, this link is NSFW and NSFL). I get and sort of approve of the intent behind the song and video but if I want to assault my psyche that way I can just watch Human Centipede II: The Full Sequence and at least then I know what the hell everyone is saying.

(For the record I had to look up the lyrics for “Tarnished Gluttony” and the song is kind of up my alley, lyrically, but the video is not related to the song’s content in any manner that seems obvious to me.)

Morten Klode reminds me of someone. I don’t know who but his face is damnably familiar to me. As I saw him acting in this video my mind was clicking away in the background as I tried to determine where I had seen him before. I looked him up and he has only three credits on his IMDb page and I’ve only seen one of them, this video. Yet each time I watch it a feeling of familiarity washes over me. I hope Klode finds himself with more work in the future. You don’t expect to find acting chops of this caliber in a music video – I’m actually rather surprised to see that he doesn’t already have a feature-length film under his belt.

Any other videos or bands you think will impress me this much? If so, let me know. And let me know what you think of this video (and if you have any work for which Morten Klode would be a good fit, hire him – we need to see more of this man in film!).

Joe Hill and the Lady of the Dunes

On July 26, 1974, the remains of a woman were found in the Race Point Dunes in Provincetown, Massachusetts.  Her name is still unknown today, despite many efforts to identify her, efforts that included multiple exhumations of her remains.  She was found with her jeans and a green towel folded under her head.  Her hands had been removed, as well as some of her teeth, and she was nearly decapitated.  She had long auburn or red hair, and was probably between 25-40 years of age.  For true crime hounds, hers is a story we’ve all heard but for me her case gets lost among all the missing women found throughout the United States, all the more recent Does and unknown victims clamoring for attention, but for many online sleuths, the case of the Lady of the Dunes is still very compelling.

Though cases colder than the Lady of the Dunes murder have been solved, as time passed it seemed more and more unlikely the Lady of the Dunes would ever be identified and her killed brought to justice.  Serial killer Hadden Clark confessed to her murder but that confession didn’t hold water (and Hadden is a paranoid schizophrenic who has a history of pathological lying).  There has also been speculation that Whitey Bulger  may have been responsible for her murder – details of the damage done to her body corresponds to some of Bulger’s methods of rendering bodies unidentifiable – but it seems very difficult for me to see how it is anyone would ever be able to prove that theory now short of Bulger confessing.

Horror writer Joe Hill (I adored his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts) recently finished reading The Skeleton Crew, a book discussing cold cases, and the Lady of the Dunes is the centerpiece of that book.  Hill also was able to see his favorite film of all time, Jaws, on the big screen when it was re-released into theaters to celebrate the film’s 40th anniversary, and the wheels began turning in his head.  He wondered if the film could in any way help him identify the Lady of the Dunes, and he wrote a fascinating blog entry about his efforts. Have a look – it’s a quick read.

As unlikely as it seems that this could be the first steps to identifying the Lady of the Dunes, there have been recent cases wherein amateur sleuths have solved decades-long missing persons/murder cases by seeing clues that were in front of everyone but were overlooked, the most notable being the possible identification of the young man known as “Grateful Doe.”  Life is sometimes stranger than fiction, no?

Biblio-sentimentality – Marginalia

Before IROB died a not entirely unexpected death, I had started discussing a concept I have labeled “biblio-sentimentality.”  Biblio-sentimentality is the emotional attraction to books that have inscriptions, notes or items inside them that causes me to purchase such books, even when the content of the book may not be meaningful to me.  I divide the items that inspire biblio-sentimentality into three categories: ephemera, or items left in books that have nothing to do with the book itself (which I discussed in this entry); inscriptions, which can be from the author or messages to a gift recipient; and marginalia, which includes notations in margins in books as well as highlighting and underlining.  We often see books with particularly compelling items that tug at our biblio-sentimentality and we have to buy the book. We worry that the book is sad or lonely.  We feel we need to rescue it.

(Mr OTC and I are well-matched in our near-animist capability of seeing emotions in inanimate objects.  We see a well-loved book and think it is miserable because it was parted from its reader.  We finally bought a new car after driving a 17-year-old Honda until the wheels nearly fell off and when we left it at the dealership I was afraid the car, a she-car, would be bereft because we abandoned her for a shinier and more reliable replacement.  We frequently try to appease our home, which has eldritch elements that at times seem threatening but can be tamped down if we keep our complaints to ourselves.)

This entry will show a couple my favorite examples of marginalia in my collection.

liber_kaos 0The first is actually a hybrid of sorts, an excellent example of marginalia and book customization.  This edition of Liber Kaos is Mr OTC’s book and he bought it because it just seemed nuts that someone who took this much time to reinforce a book binding would willingly get rid of it.

The book just seemed too personalized to have been left at the used book store for anything other than a very dire reason. Someone carefully measured out near-equidistant spots for holes, took an awl and carefully punctured the cover and pages, and laced waxed twine through the holes.  I’ve never seen a book customized this way and it points to a reader who, at some point, felt this book to be very important.

I don’t think we have too many examples of customized books but I also have swathes of books that I haven’t examined in a while and sometimes Mr OTC slides books into shelves before I am able to inspect and inventory them.  But in all my time in book accumulation, I haven’t seen this sort of careful alteration.

God speed, Wes Craven

Wes Craven died this evening.  Evidently he had brain cancer.  He was 76, which still seems far too young for him to die.

Everyone knows him from the Nightmare on Elm Street films.   The first in the series was quite good, but eventually Freddy Krueger became too campy, the intensity of the horror lost among cringe-inducing puns.

Less acclaimed but, in my opinion, far superior to the Elm Street series was People Under the Stairs.  That film managed to include just about every hot button that comes up in horror films – sick secluded family, racist abuse, incest, child abuse, among them – and combined them all into a film so creepy that, were it not for the fashions involved, still seems very modern in its approach to real horror.

Mostly I will remember Wes Craven for being the architect of a film that absolutely destroyed me when I first saw it.  In Last House on the Left, an update of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, Mari and Phyllis are waylaid during their attempts to find drugs before a concert.  Their abductors take them into the woods to torture, rape and eventually murder them.  Their murderers end up needing assistance from Mari’s family and Mari’s parents realize the people in their home killed their child and seek violent revenge.

There is a scene in this film where Mari, after she has been raped and mutilated, walks into a lake to clean herself.  Once she is out into the lake, her captors shoot her to death and she begins to float, her long hair clinging to the surface of the water, spreading out in a corona around her.  Of all the horrible images and acts in this film, that image of Mari in the water is the one that stays with me and there’s no wonder why.  Young women floating dead in water is an image that has been with us for centuries.  Ophelia instantly comes to mind.  So does the Lady of Shallot, though she was in a boat.  Most relevant for me is L’Inconnue de la Seine, a beautiful young woman found dead in the Seine in the late 1880s.  Her death mask became a collector’s piece and her image now graces all Resusci Annie mannequins used to train people to perform CPR.  She was considered an example of perfect female beauty.  Her story was told over and over in literature and art and I’ve linked her with Mari in my mind, two lost young girls, killed vilely but washed clean.

Though dubbed an exploitation film, Last House on the Left appalled 1972 moviegoers with its audacious and all-too-real violence, but the movie was far more than just a vehicle for splatter and gore.  It tugged at the primal needs of mankind to protect the young and vulnerable among us, and reminded us how quickly the suburban family can become atavistic killers when their own are threatened or harmed.  It taps into the very fairy tales that make up our earliest introductions to literature, telling us of little children lured into the woods and those foolhardy enough to walk into danger on their own.  In so many ways the film harked back to the gruesome violence of the early, unsanitized Grimm tales that we’d forgotten after so many Disney reinterpretations, tropes that we glossed over because we felt we were far too civilized to share with our children the real danger of following breadcrumbs, or, in Mari and Phyllis’s case, knocking on the witch’s door.

Wes Craven was a genius who understood the primal violence that threatens us and how easily we shed our modernity and squeamishness when we need to protect those we love or seek vengeance against those who harm us.

Wes was also a man who understood so well the tropes of the genre he helped create that he seamlessly subverted them in the Scream series, an almost intolerably self-aware and clever look at how we again all learned the danger of going into the woods – horror movies showed us the danger – but we end up in the woods nonetheless.  Knowing rules saved few from the knife.

There is so much more that can be said about Wes Craven but I am going to leave it alone now, and perhaps watch The Serpent and the Rainbow again this week.  God speed, Mr Craven.