Thursday, October 31, 2013

Be VERY afraid!

Still has some powerful mojo, even after all these years.

"Is he still dead?" A story for All Hallows Eve

Back alive again: the resurrection of Peter

It wasn’t much of a day. She wasn’t even sure it was a day at all, since they had really cancelled days quite a long time ago and made everything One. Or was it that they had cancelled Night?

 Which means, you walk around in a half-state, sometimes jokingly known as Twilight. Twilight was the stuff of owls and demons and things that didn’t even really exist any more. But, she thought to herself, do any of us really exist any more?

 They all made it seem as if it were “just her”, and that everyone else was normal. This was all part of the scheme, the huge heartwrenching scheme to take her life away. It was illustrated nearly every day now when she ran into the people she knew.

 They looked dissimilar, but all the same, with a strange hazy quality. Yet they laughed and were jolly in a way they never seemed to be before, as if they had discovered an amazing new Secret.

“Emma. Hi, Emma! Haven’t seen you in a long time!” Gretel was wearing the strangest outfit, bright paisley like she’d never worn, a sort of muumuu, with a straw tote bag.

“Hi, Gretel. I think.”

“Oh, it’s me all right. This is just my New Look.”

It’s hardly a look at all, thought Emma, wondering whatever happened to the Old Look, and what made her change it.

“You look the same,” Gretel said in a flat tone. Looking the same wasn’t quite “it”, she supposed.

“Haven’t gotten my instructions in the mail yet,” Emma said, trying to be ironic.

“Oh, that’s so funny! You’re such a funny person! Well, goodbye then!”

“Wait, Gretel. I need to ask you something.”

 “What is it now?” She was getting testy already.

“You know, Peter. . . “

“Yes, Peter.” They had both known Peter. His sudden death had been a wrench, for both of them she thought, but now she wasn’t so sure.

 “What about Peter?”

“Ever since he passed, you know. . . “

“Passed?” She began to titter. “Was he in school or something?”

“No! Don’t you remember? When he. . .”

 “What, when he went on vacation?”

The ultimate vacation, Emma thought.

“Look, I mean when he died.”




“For God’s sake, Gretel! You know what I’m talking about.”

“Oh, that.” She fumbled around in her straw bag for a minute. “I thought you’d heard about it.”

“Heard what?”

“He’s back alive again.”

Stunned silence. A sick feeling gathered in her stomach.

“Back alive again?”

“Of course. Haven’t you seen him? He’s walking around.”

“How, by remote control?” Her sarcasm seemed to be flying over Greta’s pointed little head.

“Sort of, but it’s better than that. He can go under his own steam by now.”

“But he’s dead!

“Sort of. But not really. You can get renewed now, sort of like a library book. You must know that by now."

She stood there stunned, things whirling around, as Gretel just walked away without even saying goodbye.

She started to comprehend then why everything was different, why she was sort of seeing through some people, mostly really old people, but some of them children. They had a strange sort of translucent quality, but they were still walking around.

And they always seemed happy. Emma thought about Bible study a million years ago, before the Bible was universally banned, and how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. She had always wondered if Lazarus really wanted to be raised, his body half-rotted. Would he have a new body, somehow, or walk around  like that forever?

But then that meant she could find Peter!

Peter wasn’t her lover, never had been, but he had been there during the blackest, the most despairing time in her life. He would just show up at Starbucks with his baseball cap and his smile, cheerful as Bugs Bunny. He was in worse shape than she was, but they joked about it, guffawed about how awful life was.

“I heard about a woman who committed suicide. But before she committed suicide she got out the vacuum cleaner and cleaned her whole house top to bottom so it was absolutely spotless. Then she hung herself.” They had both howled with laughter.

Then they just lost touch. Like a sick cat, he had crawled under the house somewhere. She had known he was deteriorating; one conversation they had wasn’t a conversation at all, but a monologue on her part. He’d start to say something, then dry up after a couple of words and look at her in bafflement.

What bothered her was the fact that it didn’t bother him.

She kept sending him emails long after she suspected he had passed (and NOT “in school”!). She couldn’t help it. She’d think she saw him in a crowd. But it wasn’t him. Because the emails didn’t bounce back to her, she assumed they were hitting the target and he was just too busy to reply (knowing full well he had kicked the bucket long ago).

Back alive again. Strange things had been happening lately. She had mentioned her grandfather to a friend of hers, how difficult it had been for him to let go.

“Is he still dead?” the friend asked.

 h, maybe they meant in her mind, in her memory! But somehow she didn’t think so. Death was the only thing more sure than birth. Wasn’t it?

Would she see Peter again? A wild stab of hope made her heart beat faster.

She became aware of how the light went right through people, and began to count them. It was an awful lot. She wondered just what had happened to everyone. Back alive again? Is he still dead? Did you will this, wish it, or did someone impose it on you like poor Lazarus wrapped in his rotten gravecloths?

It was too much to hope for, but in her next turn of mind, when she did not pass Go but began in the middle again, she saw him. She saw a ball cap bouncing up and down the street first, then a smile.

Then they were sitting in Starbucks, but she noticed he was sitting two inches above the chair. He didn’t seem to really drink the coffee, but the eyes were the same.

 They could always be blunt and honest with each other, so Emma waded right into it.

“So, Peter. I hear you’re back alive again.”

“It would seem to be so.”

“How does that happen?”

“I don’t know that, any more than cells know how to multiply or the earth knows how to turn.”

“But is it. . . beyond your will or something?”

"This is a place beyond will."

"Her head was whirling. She hated the idea of not being able to die. Death was one of the things she looked forward to the most.

“Peter, I’m sorry, but it sounds as if you’re a fucking zombie or something. The Undead.”

“Hey, I like that! Undead, but not really alive.”

“Look, Peter, there are only TWO states: dead and alive! Which one are you?”

“No. There is the dream state. There is the hypnotic state. There is the hypnogogic state. There is the catatonic state. There is the trance state. There is the transcendent state. There is the resurrected state. I could go on and on.”

“But those are only in your mind, Peter.”

“Tell me this.” He leaned forward and looked at her with his old intensity, and for one moment she really believed this was Peter. “If I were just a body, I mean lying over there with my heart beating but no consciousness, would that be ‘me’?”

“I don’t. . . “

“So what is it that makes me me?”

“I don’t know, your brain?”

“The brain is just half a pound of juice with some wires running through it. Dissect it, and you see some curls and buds and bulges like normal internal organs. There’s nothing there.

“So where. . . “

“Ah. You’re about to ask me where Consciousness resides.”

“I guess so. Peter, why aren’t you drinking your coffee?”

"I've evolved beyond coffee, I guess." He chuckled to himself.

“You’re not alive. Get away from me! You’re not really Peter. Are you a ghost?”

"Beyond ghost. We've been refined. We don't have to go around haunting old buildings and Civil 

War battle sites any more."

“But who DOES this? It has to come from somewhere!”

“Haven’t you noticed you don’t have any privacy any more?”

“Oh, Jesus, Peter.”

 “Haven’t you noticed all the electronic jims and jams that everyone seems to carry now?”

“Oh, so you’re saying your Smart Phone turned you into a ghost.”

“Everything is changed, changed utterly.”

“So what if it all just shuts down, the power grid and that?”

“Yes! Smart girl. THAT is what it is all about.”


"Bodies that need no sustenance when the Time comes. That time when the whole ecosystem collapses, gives way in a great Biblical flood and rips apart the rest of the world with an all-consuming fire."

“You’re scaring me.”

 “Haven’t you ever worried about it?"

“Of course. But I never knew that. . . “

“Now we can live under any conditions.”

“BUT YOU AREN’T REALLY ALIVE! You died of AIDS two years ago!”

 “But I’m not really dead.” He grinned, looking as cheerful as when he told me the suicide joke.

“You must be dead, Peter. You MUST be.”

 “No, my good friend.” He lifted his mug and pretended to drink from it. “I’m back alive again.”

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Got my Mojo Working

Got my mojo working, but it just won't work on you

Got my mojo working, but it just won't work on you

I wanna love you so bad till I don't know what to do

Going down to Louisiana, gonna get me a mojo hand... oh yeah... 
Gonna go Louisiana, gonna get me... get me a mojo hand
Then right here... gonna have em at my command.... yeah...

Got my mojo working (got my mojo working)
Got my mojo working (got my mojo working)
Got my mojo working (got my mojo working)
Got my mojo working (got my mojo working)

Got my mojo working, but it just won't work on you
.... yeah yeah...


Got a gypsy fella that's givin' me advice

Got a gypsy fella givin' me givin' me advice

I gotta whole lot of tricks for keepin' you here (?) on ice.... yeah...

Got my mojo working (got my mojo working)
Got my mojo working (got my mojo working)
Got my mojo working (got my mojo working)

Got my mojo working (got my mojo working)
Got my mojo working, but it just won't work on you

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Monster chiller horror haunted house!

Shannon's spooky haunted house story on CTV News includes a couple of little kids I think I've seen before!

Just in time for Halloween. . . creepy, icky gifs!

The rotten skulls and hanging strips of flesh make this mini-version of Murnau's Faust especially icky. In a previous post I compared this snippet with a similar bit from Disney's Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia. The ghostly horsemen images are practically identical. Disney only stole from the  best.

From Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Everything is more-or-less OK until she opens her eyes.

Here you have to ask yourself: why? Why would a giant bottle of castor oil chase two characters (cats?) around and around the moon, until the cats jump off?

You know I hate clowns. I even wrote a poem about it once. I was going to include that master of the macabre, Milky, but somehow this tiny clip of Enrico Caruso performing Pagliacci was creepier. I have it on reverse here to make it extra creepy. What's really weird is that he's singing it silently.

I want you to pay close attention to this one. It's the "reveal" from the Lon Chaney silent version of Phantom of the Opera. It reverses, so that in a couple of seconds he's "unrevealed", which is the important part.  Just before she puts the mask back on, for a nanosecond you see that Chaney's face looks completely normal. This means that almost none of the macabre effect is done with makeup. It's all done from the inside.

I don't understand this - any of it - and it's so bizarre and grotesque as to be almost unbelievable. It's a pig dance, but the pig looks carnivorous, or perhaps rabid. Where did this come from? The devil knows.

I wasn't going to post two from the same source, but you have GOT to see this.

It's Willie, the Whale who Wanted to Sing at the Met! This is an unfortunate mistake Disney made in the 1940s. Willie has his mouth where his belly button should be (if whales have such a thing - hey, they're mammals, so maybe they do). This means he has a giant head that careens around like one of those bulky 1940s cars going out of control. Bambi he ain't. Nor Pluto. He looks like a foam rubber toaster. Here he combines TWO of my creepy fetishes - make that three, I don't like foam rubber toasters much either - clowns (especially sperm whale clowns) and Pagliaccio. The outfit is a bit femme, too, don't you think? Maybe he's Pagliaccio's girlfriend Gnocchi or something.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The ultimate horror film (or, why we love Baby Jane)

This is one of those movies that, when it comes on TV, you tell yourself: no way, I’m not watching this again, or if I do, I’ll bail after a few minutes.
And you come reeling out the other side, just as gobsmacked as you were the first time around – or maybe more, because you always notice new things every time you see it.

Turner Classics is responsible for most of this, because certain movies are always shown in rotation. Now, Voyager and Mildred Pierce and Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon seem to come around monthly, along with a lot of those noir-ish (and spell-check, STOP changing this to “nourish” NOW) ‘40s films from Warner Brothers, complete with lavish and somewhat overblown scores by Max Steiner.

In this case, well, yes, it was Bette Davis all right, but not the same Bette Davis who experienced such a melancholy metamorphosis in Now, Voyager (complete with Paul Henreid’s famous dual cigarettes). This one was – oh God, NO – What Ever Happened to Baby Jane!

I first saw this film while sleeping in the den on a pull-out bed when I was a kid. I wasn’t allowed to do this very often, so it was a treat. It meant I could stay up as long as I liked and watch TV, and maybe my older brother Arthur would come in at some point, a little drunk from a piss-up with his high school buddies, and provide a running commentary. 
I saw great films this way, the original Frankenstein and Dracula, the incomparable On the Waterfront (which I still believe is, Citizen Kane aside, the greatest movie ever made), and – even more macabre than any James Whale creepfest – the Baby Jane movie, which from the first frame provides more howls and shudders than anything else Davis ever did.

I say Davis, because in spite of the fact that Joan Crawford plays Blanche, the “sympathetic” sister in the wheelchair, crippled decades ago when Baby Jane rammed her with her car, Davis just walks off with it. With her ashen face layered with old face powder that has never been washed off, her hideous rotting child-star clothes, her foot-dragging shuffle, slovenly drunkenness and foul temper, it’s Davis we can’t take our eyes off of, can't get enough of.  
And why? Reactions. Flickers of reactions like swiftly-moving storm fronts that seem to pass (for some reason) left to right, as if sweeping through her flesh and bones – this is HATE, folks, out-and-out hate for the sister who upstaged her pathetic little career as the mincing, shrieking vaudeville performer Baby Jane. Her role as resentful, foul-mouthed nursemaid is forced on her after the "accident", the event that snapped Blanche’s spinal cord at the same time that it ended her career. 

The point I’m trying to make here is: though we know we should, NOBODY likes Blanche. She is denigrated, harassed, even tortured (especially with her sister's unique luncheon plan of dead budgie and stiffened rat), ruthlessly kicked in a scene of real horror that might just reflect Davis’ true feelings about her, but still and all, we either hate Blanche or are just plain bored with her.

Nobody wants to be Blanche. Nobody wants to be the victim, no matter how virtuous she is (in fact, the more virtuous she is, the more bored we are). 
I suspect that this picture was proof, once and for all, that Davis’ acting chops so far outstripped Crawford’s that she lived in a separate universe. When someone does something seemingly simple and you think, with a slightly creepy feeling, “how in hell did they do that?”, then you know you are in the realm of genius.

But it’s more than that. She must be snagging something deep inside us somewhere, gleefully yanking it out and celebrating it, throwing it up in the air.
This law of identification, if that’s what it is, doesn’t stop with this movie. Not by a long shot. Let me ask you: you’ve seen Gone with the Wind, haven’t you? Well, what’s the matter with you? (Go see it now.) Anyway, how many of us love and admire and identify with Melanie Wilkes, the sweet, brave, unselfish wife who patiently waits while her husband returns from fighting them damn Yankees in the Civil War? How many of us think to ourselves, oh dear, she’s having a baby in a wagon, how will she ever survive?

Piffle! All we care about is Scarlett, trying to manage a fractious horse while wearing a dirty dress and a corset, her alabaster brow furrowed as she faces the first of many mortal challenges in her bitchy, spoiled, overindulged life.

Yes, everyone loves Scarlett, and it’s not just because she’s so supernaturally beautiful, her eyes glittering with the first signs of the bipolar disorder that will eventually derail her life. Everyone loves her because she is duplicitous, greedy, conniving, and just plain bad. Melanie never seems to make a single mistake in her life (oh God, she even forgives that whore!) but is so poisonously good that we just don’t want to bother with her. When I first saw this movie at age thirteen, I was sort of hoping she would die in childbirth so Scarlett could get her claws on Ashley.
So what’s going on here besides superior acting skills and a much meatier part? We like bad people because deep inside ourselves, no matter how far down we push it, we are afraid we are bad: that someone will some day see our awful, unforgiveable secret.

But even worse, we WANT to be bad, bad enough to wield the kind of power these half-mad, scary women do. These harpies, these broom-riding supernatural scream-queens raining down a firestorm of gleeful destruction on all that lies around them.

There’s something a tad sociopathic about them – wait a minute, a tad? That budgie-killing, rat-serving, head-kicking, haranguing Jane (“But you AAAAAARE in the wheelchair, Blanche! You AAAARE!”) rivals Norman Bates in the realm of antisocial personality disorder. Though we fear them and are supposed to disapprove of them, we like sociopathic characters because they pull all the bad out of us and act out all the things we’re not supposed to do.

Though this was the sixth or seventh time I had seen it, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? creeped me out more this time than ever before. I had a new appreciation of Davis’ subtlety. Yes, subtlety – you can read her devious, duplicitous thoughts, her careful plotting and planning of the kind of medieval torture specifically designed to drive her sister to the brink of insanity. The crazed child’s laugh behind the door when Blanche lifts the dome on her ratatouille lunch – the ruthless yanking out of the phone cord – forging her signature, imitating her voice, withholding her fan mail and her food – all these devices are tailor-made for Blanche, ever-escalating until that scene on the beach where she lies so flat and lifeless she resembles a dessicated corpse.

Then, of course, we have the final turnabout confession: Blanche confesses that SHE ran Jane down and somehow snapped her own spine, and yet had the strength to crawl to the gate and – oh, never mind. We accept this absurdity because by then we don’t have much choice. We are held as captive as poor Blanche, manacled to the ceiling with electrical tape over her mouth.

Then comes one of the most incredible lines in film history, delivered in the dulcet tones of a Jane who has rocketed back in time to the charming brat who wowed them all on the vaudeville stage: 
“You mean. . . all this time we could have been friends!”

It’s only then we realize that not only are we enthralled by Jane – we actually feel compassion for her. We’re somehow on her side. Freaking Jesus, how the hell did THAT happen?

It’s a mystery, as all superb crafting is. Is it just the fact that these are better parts, and that better actresses land them? What if someone else had played Jane: say, Olivia de Havilland? What if Crawford had played her, as was originally planned? Wasn’t she pretty good at Mommy Dearest-style torture herself? But no. It had to be Hurricane Bette or no one.
It’s the same dynamic as in the Wizard of Oz, when Margaret Hamilton chews up the scenery and fills the room with brimstone and green smoke as the Wicked Witch, but Billie Burke makes you half sick to your stomach as the quavering, sparkly-gowned Good Witch of Whatever. We must either want the bejeezus scared out of us (which I still don’t understand, because in “normal life” most of us try very hard to avoid anxiety and danger), or we want to be every bad thing, every shameful thing, every heartless hideous inhumanly insane thing we know we shouldn’t be.