Southern Horror

I guess I should add a disclaimer from the get-go.  My post is not about the horror of an unexpected swallow of unsweetened tea or being served grits without salt, butter, or cheese.  No, that goes well beyond horror.  This is about the horror genre and its effects on the unexpecting.  The effects of being so scared your feet refuse to move. 

A pair of New Englanders find themselves lost, stuck up to the axles of their ’56 Ford in the middle of a Southern piney woods.  The light is quickly failing over a dilapidated Southern mansion sitting at the end of an overgrown drive.  Brothers, they discuss what to do and decide to spend the night in the abandoned mansion.  Never a smart move if you are familiar with Southern Gothic.

The Pendleton-Graves Home in Sparta, Georgia.
The Pendleton-Graves Home in Sparta, Georgia.
Photo by David Bulit

As they walk to the mansion a flock of pigeons are spooked…the makings of a Southern Gothic horror story for sure.  I can think of dozens of reasons it is a bad idea to spend the night in an abandoned mansion but then I have seen too many movie and TV episodes and have read too many horror stories.

I can tell you exactly when I fell in love with Gothic Horror, specifically Southern Gothic Horror. That would be June 6, 1961.  It was a Monday night in front of a black and white TV.  I watched and listened to a lisping Boris Karloff introduce this week’s Thriller episode, “Pigeon’s From Hell.”  Murder by ax, Voodoo, Zombies, the Blassenville family with a history of abuse, all with bad Southern accents dripping from the screen like Spanish moss hanging from cypress trees.  

I jumped when character Johnny Banner is caught in the afore mentioned flock of pigeons, pigeons that represented the lost souls murdered. Later, I hid my eyes when the same character attempts to split his brother Timothy’s skull with a hatchet.  He does this after having had his own skull split by persons or “things” unknown. 

Love me some murdering Zombies with split skulls although my former Haitian baseball player says Zombies are a movie creation…wait was he Haitian or Jamaican?  Does it make a difference to Zombies? 

A Thriller a Day...: Pigeons From Hell: Season 1 Episode 36
Johnny ready to give forty whacks…wait, wrong movie.

Many years later I would read the short story with the same title the TV episode drew from.  It was written by pulp fiction icon and the creator of Conan the Barbarian, Robert E. Howard.  The story was published posthumously in Weird Tales, a fantasy and horror magazine in 1938.  Despite “Thirties noir speak”, it is a good short story and a better story line than the TV version. 

Weird Tales - Wikipedia
Image from our favorite Free Encyclopedia, Wikipedia

There is something baleful about abandoned Southern mansions, with or without pigeons or Zombies.  Doors and shutters hanging askew, broken windowpanes, paint peeling to expose the silver of many layers of whitewash underneath, old chimneys collapsing under their own weight.  Columns…one can almost hear the voices of the dead and abused in the breeze especially if you have an active eleven-year-old imagination…even an active seventy-year-old imagination.

A Thriller a Day...: Pigeons From Hell: Season 1 Episode 36
The decaying Blassenville sisters killed by…well, you’ll have to watch the episode on YouTube to find out.

In the late Sixties, our group of high school friends decided to explore the Brattonsville Plantation house near Rock Hill, SC…in the dead of night, near what is universally known as the witching hour.  Alcohol might have been a contributing factor; I don’t rightly remember.  I do remember there was a Mars/Venus component as we males wanted to impress the young women among our group.  Young women make young men stupid…stupider.

I won’t deny feeling a bit of trepidation as I thought about how close the name Blassenville was to Brattonsville and wondered if anyone had been practicing Voodoo within its less than comfy confines.  Pigeons?  Are there pigeons?

During those days Brattonsville was the perfect example of a “rundown” and abandoned Southern plantation.  The homeplace has since been renovated to its Antebellum glory as have the other buildings but I do not remember them that way. The mental vision I have is of a place perfect for Southern Gothic Horror.

I remember there was a full or near full moon and the unkept grounds seemed to glow with a light of their own as we made our way to the huge mansion house. In my mind I see the first story entryway door standing open, under the twin galleries’ roofs. The darkness beyond is inviting the lambs to a possible slaughter. 

Homestead House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Restoration of the Homestead began in 1975 and it was opened to the public a year later. http://chmuseums.org/history-hb/

One of the members of our group was well versed in Brattonville’s “supposed” history and regaled us with stories of a less than sane family, abused slaves, the Klu Klux Klan, cruel medical experiments and a Yankee spy hung from a pulley above an attic window.  Owned since before the Revolutionary War by a series of doctors, our historian told tales that made the Bratton doctors seem to be the combinations of Doctors Jekyll, Frankenstein, and Phibes.

We explored all the rooms and made our way to the third-floor attic, site of the medical laboratory and the hanging according to my date’s history lesson.  I had overcome my initial fear and found myself leading the group, not because of my bravery I assure you, but because I had the only flashlight.

Built for John Simpson Bratton Jr. and his wife Harriet Rainey Bratton in 1856. Then called “Forrest Hall,” it is now known as “Hightower Hall”. It could have been its own haunted mansion. https://chmuseums.org/hightower-hall-hb/

As my cute historian told her story of hangings and medical experiments, I found myself in the narrow and empty attic lab…not exactly empty.  There appeared to be examination tables and I fully expected to see a medical skeleton. Instead, a breeze drew my attention to an open window and the figure hung with a perfect hangman’s noose suspended there.   

I froze in place while my five friends took off like scalded haints.  My brain said run, my feet refused.  I might as well have been a tree rooted in place.  I froze long enough to realize what I was seeing was a department store mannequin.  The plastic kind…in fact one of its legs had fallen off.

As my fright dissipated, I found my feet and walked closer.  As the mannequin slowly turned in the breeze, I noticed a note held around its neck by a cord.  My flash revealed a single sentence written in red lipstick…”Mickey Mouse is a Jew.”  Yeah, kind of anti-climactic but a sentence that has kept me wondering for over fifty years. 

My friends? They didn’t leave me…I had the car keys. It did take a while to gather them up.

Historic Brattonsville main house.jpg
The Main House at Brattonsville with the memorable attic window visible
Picture by Zan Maddox of LaValla Maddox Design.

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The history of Brattonsville (documented history) includes  

The original home was built in 1776 by Colonel William Bratton who participated in the nearby Revolutionary War Battle between Patriots and Loyalist, The Battle of Huck’s Defeat. Brattonsville was used in the filming of the movie, The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson.

There was a one night stay by Jefferson Davis as he fled the surrender of Richmond in hopes of reaching Confederate troops in the South or West. (Supposedly this is when the spy was hung but I can find no documentation.)

Dr. J. Rufus Bratton, a York County Klan leader, was the inspiration for the book The Clansman and the 1918 movie it spawned, Birth of a Nation. I am not telling this with any sort of pride but history is history. My guess is Dr. Rufus Bratton was not a nice person when it came to race relations.

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Don Miller’s authors page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0pjOyQmBib8Mbptaegd7cbdhBk1Dqd3AwEssRjtjCtVGq4zxV2P_c9zKk

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The featured image is from another Southern Gothic film, Swamp Water, starring Walter Brennan, Dana Andrews, and Walter Huston.

“What a Wonderful Day For an Exorcism”

I was looking for a quote from a horror film or story. Something cute to go with a post I was writing and accidentally came across Sumerian demon Pazuzu’s quote from The Exorcist, “What a wonderful day for an exorcism.” 

Pazuzu (The Exorcist) - Wikipedia
Only a face a demon can love. Reagan possessed by Pazuzu The Exorcist Wikipedia

I paused for a moment…can we exorcise the demon possessing the White House in 2020? What about the demons in Congress? The Media? Qanon and the rest of the conspiracists? Can we exorcise the memories of the first three quarters of 2020? Will the last quarter be any better and what about 2021? Remember the first Mad Max movie? It took place in 2021.

The quote didn’t actually come from Pazuzu but from fourteen-year-old Linda Blair playing the possessed twelve-year-old Reagan MacNeil.  The demon had invaded Reagan and the little devil was having a conversation with Fathers Karras and Merrin who were attempting to exorcise him from the young girl. 

The quote was quite possibly the nicest thing Pazuzu voiced through Reagan in the movie.  If my Nannie had been around, she would have asked, “Do you eat with that mouth? And where did a fourteen year old learn language like that? You go break me off a switch. I’m gonna switch dem legs!”

Nannie, I taught middle school. I’ve heard worse and they all seemed to be possessed by Sumerian demons.

Pazuzu was holding on to his possession of Reagan as tenaciously as the coronavirus and most of his comments were meant to shock.…especially coming from the mouth of a supposed twelve-year-old.  And who could forget the throwing up of green slime with the force of a fire hose? Reminded me of some of our politicians TV advertisements.

Sphinx's Spooky Spectacular Horror Film Review - The Exorcist — GameZilla  Media
The aftermath. Nasty green pea soup The Exorcist Sphinx’s Spooky Spectacular Horror Film Review – The Exorcist — GameZilla Media

None of this has anything to do with the point I might be making…if I knew what that point might be.

I share on my Facebook page what I call “Don’s Fun Facts”.  Most are shared from either a humorous or historical standpoint, or both.  There is no rhyme or reason, just some thought that hits me.  Just something positive and informative.

I fell into “Don’s Fun Facts” like the quicksand I worried so much about as a child. In the Fifties and Sixties TV world, it seemed people died all the time by falling in to quicksand. Did you know there were two “I’m gonna die” quicksand scenes in the Sixties TV program Lost in Space? Really worried about that space quicksand but it seems quicksand was not the problem I thought it might be as a child.

Back to the point, “Don’s Fun Facts” is an attempt to lighten my little part of a world that has become as dark as the storm clouds settling over Sigourney Weaver’s high rise in Ghostbusters.  Her character, Dana, was possessed by a fake Mesopotamian demon, Zuul.  What is there about the Fertile Crescent that breeds demons?

I’m not sure what demon has possessed 2020…maybe all of them.

Again, back to the point. This is one of my two favorite times of the year, what I call Halloweenber. In its honor, I have begun to share Halloween Fun Facts intermixed with facts about the horror genre that helps drive it. 

I like the horror genre, books or movies, anytime of the year.  From reading Poe and Stroker to watching Jamie lee Curtis scream in Halloween and The Fog, I like a chill or two. If I can combine horror with a mystery story, I am in a reader’s heaven of sorts.  I just don’t want the tale to be too real.  I want space aliens, monsters, vampires, werewolves, zombies, or immortal killers wearing a William Shatner mask. I don’t want the real thing.

Halloween' 1978: The Times Finally Reviews a Horror Classic - The New York  Times
Jamie Lee Curtis and Nick Castle wearing his Captain Kirk mask. New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/17/movies/halloween-1978-review.html

I’m much more comfortable with make believe monsters than I am with monsters who might actually walk the earth.  An alien clown named Pennywise who goes about tempting children into rain sewers I’m okay with.  It’s not real…scary but not real.

Real serial killers dressing up like clowns, say John Wayne Gacy, I’m not okay with.  John Wayne Gacy murdering thirty-three victims is too real…just like 2020 is too real.

Killer Clown' John Wayne Gacy, who assaulted and killed 33 teenage boys in  US
The Killer Clown, John Wayne Gacy https://www.indiatvnews.com/crime/news/killer-clown-john-wayne-gacy-who-assaulted-and-killed-teen-2872.html?page=1

If 2020 were a serial killer it would be dressed like “The Killer Clown” John Wayne Gacy. I guess 2020 is a serial killer of sorts carrying a ventilator while dressed in “clown” scrubs with red face paint resembling blood drying around its fang-filled mouth.

I didn’t know at the time but the beginning chapters of Stephen King’s The Stand were too real as a deadly influenza bioweapon is released. Now we have the very real coronavirus.  Obviously, Corvid-19 is not as deadly as Captain Trips but it makes me pause to wonder…influenza season is here. I read Michael Crichton’s along the same lines, The Andromeda Strain.  Saw the movie too. “Quit it!” I’m scaring myself…good horror is not real, good horror is not real, good horror is not real! If I close my eyes the monster will go away.

Pictured (l-r): Jovan Adepo as Larry Underwood and Heather Graham as Rita Blakemoor of the the CBS All Access series THE STAND. Photo Cr: Best Possible Screengrab/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Abandoned cars and two survivors of Captain Trips in a scene from the yet unreleased The Stand remake. https://www.rollingstone.com/tv/tv-news/the-stand-stephen-king-release-date-2020-1049649/

No, I’d rather watch Godzilla destroy a major world city on TV or Bela Lugosi bare his fangs and fade to black than watch a movie or read a book about a mega volcano in the heartland or an asteroid kerplunking into the middle of the Pacific like a  bowling ball dropped into a bowl of chocolate pudding.  Too real.

There is something about the idea of an exorcism that keeps coming back to me like chickens coming home to roost…killer chickens with fangs and razor sharp talons.  The orange rooster yells, “Go for the eyes! If they can’t see the truth….”

hens Archives - Karen Goat Keeper
An orange rooster from Quatro Knows Blog

Maybe we could get all the Catholic priests in the world to carry out a world-wide exorcism of the demons of 2020.  Teachers, we could do it virtually, right?  “Ala Kazam, begone! Especially you, you orange faced incubus!”

Vodun priests and priestesses can cast a spells on the little imp? Pins in dolls? No, according to a former baseball player I coached from Haiti, “It’s a bunch of movie hoodoo.”  If true Moise,  “Why were there chicken bones in your bat bag? Forget to clean up after your last trip to KFC? I think not” Besides, I’ve seen The Serpent and the Rainbow and The Skeleton Key.

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) - IMDb
“Don’t bury me, I’m not dead.” The Serpent and the Rainbow https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096071/

I think an exorcism should be the order of the day…just not this day.  We should wait a month unless you are doing mail in or absentee voting. We don’t need priests or priestesses of any religion to cast a vote.  We can attempt to cast out our demons at the ballot box. Show up and vote.  January 20 would be “a wonderful day for an exorcism.”

Vote by Mail Drop-off Ballot Box | Oviatt Library
Exercising your Constitutional Right to cast out demons. I mailed mine in yesterday!

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Don Miller’s author’s page is found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR35xJvzdxZiEkwOZ9X-zSJaHJPWe_2zlp_F52tyGagyOUCajeDIa9TNwFo

Vodun, also spelled Voodoo, Voudou, Vodou , or French Vaudou, is a religion practiced in Haiti that transported with slaves to the Southern United States, especially Louisiana. The spelling voodoo, once very common, is now generally avoided by Haitian practitioners and scholars when referring to the Haitian religion. Wikipedia

Incidentally, the term Hoodoo used by my Haitian baseball player is a traditional African-American spirituality created by enslaved African-Americans in the New World. It is linked to Vodun, or Vodou, but is different. Hoodoo is very prevalent in Lowcountry South Carolina and coastal Georgia.

The “head spinning” image is from The Exorcist and taken from Pinterest.