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.

Valentine’s Day…the Horror

The build-up to Valentine’s Day is stressful.  I’m so happy it’s over.  You would think after near forty years with my bride I’d get it right….  I’d rather be the first victim in a slasher movie.  At least it’s over for another year…maybe I’ll die before it comes around again.

I don’t do well with picking “meaningful” gifts or planning “meaningful” events.  Don’t do well?  And the Grand Canyon is a big hole in Arizona.  I’m better at spontaneity, flying by the seat of my pants, spur of the moment.  Who am I foolin’?  Damn, I’ve got an anniversary bearing down on me in late June.

My bride doesn’t like traditional Valentine’s Day gifts…you know…roses or chocolate.  Stress!  I mean she likes roses, but she’d rather have a bare-root rose to plant in the spring…you know the gift that keeps on giving…season after season.  I did that one year.  It died.

Chocolate would be fine if we celebrated at an intimate little Belgium chocolate shop we once discovered in Charleston…the owner, a Belgian Jew whose family fled to the United States as Nazi tanks began rolling toward France, died a while back.  How dare she.  The son who took over was…was…delicate and high strung, prone to fainting.  He couldn’t take the pressure of making handmade chocolate delights.  He sold out and for some reason, it’s just not the same.  It’s like the shop died too.

One of the first Valentine’s Days we celebrated after moving to the foothills of the Blue Ridge, I found a nearby inn offering a romantic dinner for two on Valentine’s Day.  I jumped on it…it snowed.

The owner called us saying, “They say the roads are cleared.  We’re open but have no power.  We’ll be preparing your meal over an open fire if you can get here.”  We’ll get there.  They lied!

“Have four-wheel drive, will travel” which explains why we opted to take the Thunderbird instead of the old Landcruiser.  The Landcruiser just wasn’t sexy enough for Valentine’s Day.  “Fools rush in….”  Up the Saluda Grade for twelve or so miles.  Everything was fine until we hit the North Carolina line.  Snowplows?  Even South Carolina has heard of them.

It was a drive through the mountains that reminded me of the scenes from the movie “Battle of the Bulge.”  The road looked like it had been bombed.  Trees and powerlines down, six inches of snow on the ground with a heavy fog rising as it melted.  Instead of Nazis directing mortar fire on us, power crews in yellow helmets directed us around obstructions.  No artillery shells exploded, just transformers lighting up the approaching darkness.  We made it.  How are we getting home?  I’m sure the inn is full…it was.

Saluda, North Carolina is a rustic little village filled with memories of past days when it was a stop for the railroad.  The inn, built to serve the railroad elite, was located on the far side of town and welcomed us with hurricane lamps that gave the old structure a turn of the Twentieth Century feel.

Oil lamps provided a warm glow with a hint of kerosene wafting through the air.  An intimate table for two covered in red and white checkerboard.  A flickering candle in the center of the table caused shadows to dapple around us as if bathed in soft moonlight.

There was a view of snow-covered mountains as we sat next to an open fireplace that could have burned a giant Sequoia tree.  Everything was warm and cheery…and of course, romantic.  None of the waitresses called anyone honey or sweetheart.  The offer was of a young red wine, not sweet Southern tea.

The bill of fare included mushrooms stuffed with duck liver pâté, Caesar salad, a healthy cut of filet mignon sided with asparagus and roasted potatoes…can you believe I can remember a dinner from over thirty years ago?

A chocolate cheesecake topped with a cherry sauce finished the meal…a decadent, triple-digit priced meal…worth every penny…to me…but not to my bride which is the only reason I had come here anyway.  She enjoyed the meal when she ate it, later…not so much.

We decided to take the long way home by interstate…the interstate had to be clear.  The wide four lanes had to be safer than the two-lane we had traveled up.  We found it clear of snow.  We also found it shrouded in a heavy fog rising from the asphalt as thick as (insert your own cliché here).

Worse still, my bride was sick.

“Honey, you need to pull over,” she said weakly.  She looked a bit green in the light cast by passing headlights.

“What?”

Said with emphasis, “YOU NEED TO PULL OVER!  I’M GOING TO THROW UP!”

Slowing and easing to the side of the road, “STOP THE DAMN CAR WILL YOU!”  Okay, not fast enough.

I watched in horror as half of a triple-digit meal landed on the pavement with the force of a high-pressure hose.  Think Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.”

Once I helped her into the car, I pointed out, “The pâté….”  I shouldn’t have brought up food.

“What?”

“It had to be the pâté.”

“Oh, just shut up and get me home!  NO WAIT.  STOP THE CAR…NOWWWWW!

So much for the after-dinner festivities.

I’m only sharing because it exemplifies the horror that is Valentine’s Day…and it is more subtly humorous in retrospect than at the time.  The ‘meal from hell’ is not the exception; it is the rule.  So bad are my Valentine’s Day memories, I’ve blocked most of them, locking them away somewhere in my head and throwing away the key.

What can you expect from a celebration of love named for the patron saint of epilepsy?  A man beaten, clubbed and beheaded for trying to convert prisoners into Christians.  Nothing says “Be my Valentine” like a bloody, headless corpse.

I thought long and hard about this Valentine’s Day…just like every other one.  It’s been a rough month in a rough year.  I needed inspiration and I got it.  Right on a social media page as if it had read my mind.

A handmade (chortle) necklace…a cheap, fake silver locket in the shape of a sunflower on a cheap, fake silver chain.  The sunflower splits apart to expose an engraved message, “You are my sunshine.”  It’s beautiful.  Perfect.  She is my sunshine.  Sentiment over substance.

And it was…perfect, so far…but she hasn’t eaten my shrimp and grits yet so there’s room for disaster yet.

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The image is from Horror Fuel http://horrorfuel.com/2017/02/13/love-horror-12-horror-films-watch-valentines-day/

Don Miller writes on various subjects, some fictional, some nonfictional, some at the same time…both.   His author’s page may be accessed  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies…and a Cold War Submarine, Oh My!

 

Horror movies?  It’s about sex…I knew sex would raise its ugly head…a pun maybe?  Not really.  It is about sex and other stuff too.

“A common piece of dating advice for young men years ago was to take their date to a scary movie. The tip was based on the idea that when their date got frightened, they would curl in for “protection”; thus, reinforcing a bond between the two (this is the G-Rated version of the rationale).” 1

Dateline early 1970.  We snuggled in the old Galaxie 500, popcorn, Pepsis, and Milk Duds at the ready.  Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers had made the rounds at walk-in movie theaters and several years later had been relegated to drive-ins.  It didn’t matter, the movie was cheap entertainment and presented an opportunity to spend some quality time with my date on the back row of the Newberry Drive-In.  Date?  We were destined to be married in the Summer of 1971 but were still tiptoeing around each other in early 1970.  It might have been better if we had stubbed our toes.  Our breakup was much more painful than a broken little toe.

The date was red-headed…as was Sharon Tate, the now-dead heroine of the movie.  She had a nice form as well put together…so had Sharon Tate.  As you can tell, at the time I was quite infatuated with both my date and Sharon Tate.  It was a shame Sharon had died in a horror much worse than any movie.  Shame the infatuation with my date died after the marriage.

The movie we watched was a horror-comedy…plenty of laughs from two inept vampire slayers, plenty of scares and blood-sucking from Count von Krolock and his vampire minions populating the snow and ice-covered Transylvanian castle.

The movie was mostly comedy and Sharon Tate’s cleavage, but for some reason, the opening credits grabbed our attention, a blood drop that trickled down and across, dropped, and bounced along as the title rolled.  The gothic music made our skin crawl.  We were hooked on something other than our libidos…the laughter was good…and the chills as we “curled in for protection.”

Much of my reading and viewing habits have revolved around horror, sci-fi along with murder and mayhem.  A perfect world is combining them all.  I like a good comedy but given a choice I’ll go with a murder mystery that twists and turns like switchbacks on a mountain road or horror that leaves one on the edge of your seats awaiting an electrical shock from fear…and I like the sexual innuendo thrown in for good measure.   Fade to black.

I’ve found vampires to be much more entertaining than werewolves or zombies…except for the werewolf transformation in some forgotten movie. As I remember, there was a very attractive female who suffered from lycanthropy and an aversion to clothes it would seem.  I think the movie was The Howling but I’m not sure.  She was quite fetching despite the body fur, but vampires are sexy.

The vampires of my younger day were well dressed in black tuxedoes with blood-red accouterments, were suave, had a foreign lisp and for some reason, women found them irresistible.   “Look into my eyes….”  Young females seemed to enjoy having fangs sucking on their necks.

When the heroine was penetrated, by the vampire’s fangs you guttersnipe, a look of sheer ecstasy came over her face and it was up to the boring but stalwart hero to save her and break the spell.  Save her by driving a stake through the heart of his rival before the count could exit his musty old coffin at sundown and plunge his glistening, long fangs into the soft neck of his victim.

A soft neck surrounded by expansive décolletage in Sharon Tate’s case.  Slowly feeding, rhythmically licking away her very lifeblood as the helpless young lady pants, “Oh, oh, oh!” Yep, it was about sex, but we faded to black during those days and let our minds and libidos create their own scenes.

I haven’t been a fan of the horror genre in film since the Eighties.  The violence became too graphic and the sexual innuendo and double entendres quite transparent…if there was any sexual insinuation at all.  It seems graphic violence and gore became the point.

Still, I loved John Carpenter even though just a few of his movies dealt with vampires or sexual overtones…well, there were plenty of scenes with young people trying to get busy only to be interrupted by a knife-wielding maniac.

The first two Halloween movies, The Thing and The Fog were my favorites… okay, I admit I liked the way Adrienne Barbeau filled out her flannel shirt and her voice as DJ Stevie Wayne reminded me of smooth bourbon, quite warming on a cool night…unless you lived in Antonio Bay and were attacked by whatever was inside of The Fog.

Said in a smooth and sultry voice, “But if this has been anything but a nightmare, and if we don’t wake up to find ourselves safe in our beds, it could come again. To the ships at sea who can hear my voice, look across the water, into the darkness. Look for the fog,” 

With the graphic violence of modern horror, I’ve turned more to the pages of books than the silver screen, now in bloody color.  I just don’t need to see heads exploding or bodies eviscerated, instead, I enjoy the special effects my mind creates along with the double entendres.

I’m probably not going to reread Frankenstein or Dracula; they have been read too many times.  Same with Poe’s horror stories.  I am not sure Bram Stroker even knew about the sexual innuendo he had created within his horror…whether he did or not, the sex was there…along with the horror.  Still, they got me started and sent me on to King, Koontz, Rice, and Straub.

As I think back to the scariest movie or book I ever read or saw, it was not horror per se and involved no vampires, werewolves or zombies…there was sexual innuendo in the movie, even some fade to black.  On the Beach by Neville Shute and the movie by the same title starring Gregory Peak as American submarine commander Dwight Towers and Ava Gardner as his Australian lover, Miora Davidson, scared me to death.

The plot is a simple one, nuclear war breaks out and we annihilate ourselves.  No one knows who started the war only that it, and the world is finished.  Radiation covers most of the earth except for Australia, New Zealand, and parts of South America and Africa.  Unfortunately, the last remaining pockets of humanity will slowly die of radiation poisoning as a death cloud creeps southward.  The United States is gone except for one lone submarine and her crew, now docked in Melbourne.

The end is near.  The book and movie cover the last few months left for humanity, only the cockroaches will remain.

The closing line from the book states, “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”  In the movie’s closing, Waltzing Matilda plays against the backdrop of a submarine going home for the last time, deserted streets, homes, and arenas as a wind-blown banner is seen, its words hoping against reality, “There is still time, Brother.”

For someone growing up during the Cold War, it was scary.  For someone who, today, believes in Global Climate Change, the plea, “There is still time, Brother,” seems quite timely.  I doubt we will go whimpering, instead, we will continue to point our fingers blaming everyone else or our own demise.

The final scene begins at the 2:57 mark.

1Christopher Dwyer, Ph.D., “5 Reasons We Enjoy Being Scared”, Psychology Today, October 19,2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/thoughts-thinking/201810/5-reasons-we-enjoy-being-scared

All movie trailers were pilfered from YouTube.

The featured image is from https://www.surveycrest.com/blog/10-scariest-halloween-monsters/

Don Miller’s author page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Thanks!

Psychedelic Baseball under Tangerine Skies…

 

A tangerine sky had been painted above an old textile baseball field.  Above the bleachers and avocado green grandstand, a child’s hand-drawn clouds chased each other around a hippie-inspired sun of brilliant yellows and oranges.  Old Sol featured a smiling, female face with almond shaped, green-blue eyes.

A stiff breeze blew out to right field but clouds seemed to move in any direction they wished.  The US flag, in vivid colors I didn’t recognize, and pennants in mauve, purple and gold, snapped and popped as the wind swirled.  A pink, blue and green, paisley print flamingo soared above the thermals, riding the wind…high, higher, highest.

Wooden bleachers built when Methuselah was a child, were weathered to a gray patina, the boards rough, warped and twisted.  The roof of the old grandstand was rotted with jagged holes allowing bright sunshine to leak through, highlighting men in white dress shirts, sleeves rolled up above their elbows, their fedoras pushed back on their heads.  I saw them in black, white and gray, as if from an old newsreel.

The one women I saw was surrounded by pastel colors from a Monet painting as she strolled on boardwalks that shouldn’t have been in a ballpark.  Twirling her parasol, she strolled by in a long-sleeved and high necked dress.  The hem of the ethereal gown, lacy in pinkish beige, swept the old boards of the esplanade.

Her gaze was distant and pensive under hair piled high and restrained by a straw boater. The flat brimmed hat was pushed forward at a jaunty angle to accommodate her dark brown tresses but her stare was anything but gleeful.

Watching from my vantage point in my head I wondered how she could sit wearing such a large bustle and how she could stand the corset that made her waist so small.

The field was of dark green, perfectly maintained grass…grass marred with red clay and sand baselines and infield cutout.  Sharp white lines were arrow straight and ran toward the infinity of the outfield foul posts.  Sack bases gleamed in the technicolor sunshine as a ground crew finished the field with earth movers and bulldozers.

It wasn’t an LSD trip, just a dream…a dream that featured a heavenly figure dressed in Yankee pinstripes and a Satan in tie-dye.  God was a midget who looked like Yogi Berra, Satan could be no one else other than Billy Martin.  Martin glared at me from behind dark sunglasses his cigarette smoke twisting and turning, rising into the tangerine sky.  He held up a martini glass in an empty salute…as empty as the glass itself.

I was playing right field…I think it was me.  I looked like Tom Selleck in Mr. Baseball and I openly wondered why Babe Ruth or Roger Maris wasn’t available.  Yogi said Maris was on a mountain top contemplating the asterisk after the number sixty-one in the “Good Book”.  Ruth was holding court in street clothes, smoking a cigar while drinking a beer and eating a hotdog.  A high school chum was there too but he looked more like Thurmond Munson than the friend I remembered from fifty years ago.

I don’t normally dream so vividly.  I blame it on a sinus infection, the drugs that treat it and the left-over quesadillas my wife brought me after her luncheon with a friend.  There is something about cilantro that sometimes fuels my more psychedelic dreams.  Cheaper and less dangerous than peyote or hallucinogenic mushrooms, not that I really know.

I had died in my dream, the casualty of a falling treetop and found myself in a heaven of my own creation.  No blazing white mansions or streets of gold.  No old, bearded white men in long gowns, No call to a warm and embracing light. Just a perfectly laid out baseball field and hot dogs to die for, an all-star team of dead Yankees playing an all-star team of devil’s minions.  Both teams cheered on by men in a black and white newsreel and a woman in pastels.  The call was to the Big Leagues not into the light.

It seemed I had awakened from one dream into another, my death from being shish kebabed by a treetop to a heavenly baseball game.  Speaking in cliches, Yogi told me the game was being played for all the marbles, good versus evil, winner takes all.   As I jogged to right field he growled, “Don’t forget!  It gets late early out there.”

Though I desperately tried to stay asleep, my dream ended before the game was decided.  With the game tied and a runner on second in the ninth, Ty Cobb stepped to the plate, or a devil’s imp appearing to be Ty Cobb.  Depending on whose history you read, in real life, he might have been the devil incarnate.  Razor sharp cleats glinted in the tangerine light as he taped the dirt off them with his bat.  Watching him step into the batter’s box,  I awoke as a puppy dog pawed me, blind eyes saying “Open the door, I need to potty.”

I don’t normally remember dreams but this one was just too vivid, just too real…just too troubling  This one I want to remember despite the fear I felt in the pit of my stomach.  It’s too good of a subject for a short story and I can end it any way I wish.

I need to remember it today because my plans were to cut down the dead tree that killed the dream me.  I think I will let Mother Nature do her part and cut it up after it falls.

The image I used is TANGERINE SKY by Fran Slade.  It may be purchased at https://artpublish.glopal.com

Books by Don Miller may be purchased at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

A Love For Horror

 

We are a week away from our annual celebration of St. Hallows Eve, originally a Christian three-day observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.  It has turned into something else but that to is okay.  I don’t have a problem with little ghouls and goblins running about begging for treats…the tricks I worry about.

As with many subjects I choose to write about, the pathway I followed was a crooked one leading from sharing cute posts about “scary” things that have become a staple for Halloween to books and movies about horror.  Not “real” horror.  With what I read in the news, on social media and see on my local TV news stations, there is too much “real” horror.

I fell in love with the horror genre sitting in a lit class in high school.  We were assigned Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart”.  I was hooked.  Later I would pound out a C+ book report on an old Royal typewriter after reading  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles, a yarn that combined the supernatural allure of a hound from hell, murder, and Sherlock Holmes.  The book report was just average but I was still hooked.

Poe and Doyle were followed by Stoker’s Dracula and it’s underlying sexual innuendos.  Vampires living off the blood of virgins… I read it in the “free love” Sixties, a vampire might have starved…well, not where I grew up.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, a book written in a competition suggested by her lover and future husband Percy and poet Lord Byron, was not well received at first, especially when the twenty-year-old authoress was identified, and religious debates ensued.  I found it enthralling and didn’t understand the religious implications at the time.

I honestly don’t remember if I watched the movies based upon these books on late night “horrorfests” or read the books first.  Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff scaring me on late-night reruns.  I don’t guess it mattered to the chicken which came first or why it crossed the road so I’m not going to concern myself with the order of my interests, just that I have them.

I have watched all of the horror movies in the world plus one and probably just as many books on that subject.  Why does someone enjoy getting the bejesus scared out of himself?  I don’t know.  Adrenaline rush?  The release of extreme emotion without the specter of reality hanging over his head?  Maybe.  I know it is an experience best shared with someone.

Years, and years ago I became enthralled reading Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, a rousing vampire yarn that gives wayyyyyyy too much information on how the bloodsuckers operate.  They can’t come into your home unless you invite them, but they can hypnotize you into asking.  Not fair.  After reading a scene in which a character is levitating outside his older brother’s second-story window, tapping to get his attention, I heard “tap, tap, tap” on my second-story window.  I was in bed alone and not about to go look.  It was probably a limb from a tree planted too close to the building…maybe.

Later, when I coached high school football, I found it hard to sleep after Friday night games and would while away the sleepless hours watching an all-night horror marathon on the Turner mega station, TBS.

Some of those movies were awful, others comedic but one with the humorous name, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, scared me out of my wits on a night when I was alone, with no one to hold on to, my screams heard by no one, no one to call.  No, Ghostbusters hadn’t been released yet not that I would have known their phone number.

I’m not a fan of most of what passes for horror in these modern days…there is the new Halloween sequel…I’ll probably go see it…Maybe.  The modern special effects are too graphic, and I tend to lean toward modern Sci-Fi now.

I come from a time when the best special effects were those imagined.  Well, I did just see a commercial for an LG phone involving zombie lovers and the song “You Sexy Thing”…it was funny when his arm fell off.

Many TV stations are having “fright week” to honor Halloween so maybe I can get a fix on some classic horror.  If not there is Netflix and I’ll remember the quote to Larry Talbot, The Wolf Man, from almost everyone in his small hamlet “Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night; may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”

I don’t think we have wolfbane around here.

The video is a voice-over from Paul Anderson at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9ZAIej7jkg.

The image was liberated from http://rebekahganiere.com/tag/monster-mash/

For more of Don Miller’s musings or a book or six go to his author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Pigeons from Nowhere?

 

I awoke terrified, unable to breathe…not quite true.  Once I realized where I was, I also realized I was holding my breath and was more than a little congested.  Because of my allergies, I was sleeping upright in my recliner and had had the “DREAM”.  Thank goodness I had not awakened the house screaming.  Seeing puppy dog Tilly looking at me made me wonder if that had been the case.  At least there was no movement upstairs.

My first lucid thought was of an old “THRILLER” episode from the Sixties…the early Sixties.  June of 1961 to be exact.  When it comes to exactness, I might be a bit anal retentive, so I looked it up.  I would have been a month or so past my eleventh birthday when I watched “Pigeons from Hell”, adapted from a short story written by Robert E. Howard in 1934.  THRILLER was hosted by Boris Karloff of “FRANKENSTEIN” fame and I could hear his distinctive lisp echoing in my head.

My first lucid thought is always about “Pigeons from Hell” after the dream.  A car stuck in the mud on a lonely, Southern road.  A bright, darkness casting scary shadows as two young brothers approach an old mansion surrounded by pigeons.  A decision to spend the night that leads to a hatchet splitting the skull of one…I won’t bore you…but if you are interested you can YouTube the old black and white episode…I did.  Despite its age and knowing the outcome, it is still quite good.

I won’t bore you because my dream has nothing to do with pigeons from anywhere, hatchets splitting skulls or being stuck in the mud…there are close friends who might disagree with the last assertion.  Instead, I will bore you with my dream…my terrifying, very mundane dream.  An old mansion that I have lost…somewhere in the fog time and the fog obscuring the dream.

In this dream, reoccurring since entering early adult life, I’m lying on the steps outside an old mansion.  A mansion I am quite familiar with for reasons I don’t understand.  The faded-white, lap boarded mansion is being renovated, I clearly see the spider webbing of scaffolding along the sides of the two-story building.  Above me, between the ivy-covered columns is a sign.  It flutters slightly in the breeze, fog swirling about it, obscuring its message…a message I know I don’t want to read.  Why?  I have no idea, I just know I don’t.

As if being levitated, I move closer to the sign, it’s message becoming clearer, and am filled with fear…no I’m terrified despite knowing “it is just a dream” and begin to scream myself awake.  So far, I’ve been successful, I’ve never read the sign.  I’ve also been successful scaring the bejesus out of my wife as I transition from screaming in my head to screaming out loud.

I knew exactly where that old mansion was.  I knew I had ridden by it dozens of times it seemed, the memory etched sharply in my remembrances.  On a trip home during the decade of my twenties, I decided to look at the renovations and drove to where I knew the mansion was…but it wasn’t.  I drove around searching, my mind in turmoil.  It is not where I knew it to be on a street corner occupied by a small cottage, my heart sinking into my feet.

The dream has taken on a new spirit, the mansion my “holy grail.”  Every time I have the dream I rack my memories trying to figure out where the mansion exists…other than in my mind.  The memory is just too clear to be a dream…and what of the dream?  What does it mean?  What might Freud have said?  If “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”, a dream is but a dream?  The dream is just too real…but then so was “Pigeons from Hell” when I watched it in 1961.

I wonder if I will ever understand it…will I ever read the letters etched on the swinging board?  My adult brain tells me I will never find the mansion in my dreams and for some reason, I am saddened.  A sense of loss?  Maybe that is the message in the dream.

Further insights into Don Miller’s craziness may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

If you are interested in “Pigeon’s from Hell” the following link will get you there.

TAP, TAP, TAP

“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” but vampires terrify me! DON’T LOOK OUT OF THE WINDOW! I told myself I was just being ridiculous. “Yes I am but I ain’t taking no chances. I’m staying right here with the covers pulled over my head.”  It wasn’t Halloween but it might as well have been.
It was a spring evening, a Saturday night in the mid to late Seventies…the year, not the temperature. I don’t know why I remember certain things like it was “a Saturday night in the mid to late Seventies.”  I had just discovered Stephen King and was reading “Salem’s Lot.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with “Salem’s Lot,” it is a vampire yarn featuring bloodsuckers taking over an entire town. Besides being scary as hell, there is an instructional section devoted to…vampire protocols I guess? The section went farther than I must sleep in a casket on a bed of home soil, I risk a really bad sunburn if I appear before dark and in order to maintain my immortality I must feed on virginal blood and stay away from sharp, pointed stakes.
I had just read a vampire couldn’t come into your home unless you invited them in when I heard it. TAP, TAP, TAP. Alone, with no one to run to or call, I’m hearing a TAP, TAP, TAP on the window of my apartment. My second-floor apartment…moments after reading how “little vampire Johnny” had hypnotized his little brother or sister to open a second story window and invite them in. You just can’t trust a vampire. “Whatever you do… DON’T LOOK THEM IN THEIR LITTLE VAMPIRE EYES!” That’s how they hypnotize you…and I heard it again…TAP, TAP, TAP. I could imagine his little vampire fingers…those tiny, gray, blood drained fingers. I imagined his big vampire smile…mouthing…      ”Come on man! Just invite me in, it won’t sting.”  TAP, TAP, TAP.
There was a breeze churned up by a distant thunderstorm…”, it was a dark and stormy night” …and the window was open to take advantage of the spring coolness…the breeze was moving the curtains… ”DON’T LOOK! DON’T LOOK!” Thunder rumbled…” DON’T LOOK! DON’T LOOK!” I didn’t look…I slept with the lights on and the covers over my head. A grown man sleeping with the lights on with covers over his head…actually it was a grown man NOT sleeping with the lights on and the covers over his head.
The next morning, as soon as the sun was FULLY above the horizon, I went out, all bleary-eyed, to see what had caused the TAP, TAP, TAP. I was met by the Doberman Pincher from the apartment below. Placing her paws on my shoulders while looking me in the eyes, she pinned me to the wall assuring me it wasn’t her. Her master explained, “She’s in heat and a bit jumpy.” I would agree. I’m jumpy but not in heat.
It was the tree…a water oak. A little branch just close enough to tap, tap, tap in the wind…or was it? No, I ain’t fallin’ for it. Why take the chance?  Where is my crucifix?  Do I have a clove of garlic?

For more of Don Miller’s whacky rantings, please go to his author’s page at http://amazon.com/author/cigarman501.

THE MAGICAL, MORONIC, MANUFACTURED CELEBRATION OF LOVE

I despise Valentine’s Day. How did we get from the celebration of a Roman festival to the madness of today? A manufactured, merchandize driven celebration of love…or the realization of being quite alone. At least if you are depressed there is plenty of chocolate to raise your spirits and increase your waistline. The Valentine’s candy and cards at Wally World has been displayed since the day after Christmas.

A bit of history. One historical version suggests THE FESTIVAL began as the honoring of the Goddess Juno during the Roman Feast of Lupercalia. Young men and women drew names from a jar, pairing themselves for the duration of the feast and sometimes for the year. This was before the use of car or room keys in a fishbowl I guess. Yes, some would fall in love and sometimes even marry. Ain’t that romantic…or moronic?

Farther down the road known as history, the festival was discontinued because it was deemed un-Christian but as we all know you can’t keep a good celebration down. It was just refigured and given another name. According to one popular legend, a Roman priest would give the celebration its name. Valentine, the priest, defied the emperor, Claudius II, when said emperor decided allowing people to marry or become engaged impeded his ability to raise an army to fight the many unpopular military campaigns of the time. He banned marriage and engagements. Valentine, along with another priest, Marius, secretly married couples in Rome until their treachery was discovered resulting in the brutal beating death of Valentine. I think Marius got the better end of the deal even if a celebration is named after Valentine. Both were elevated to sainthood but Marius escaped execution.

Not romantic enough? Try this version. Valentine was helping Christians escape from prison until he himself was ratted out and jailed. While awaiting execution, as the romantic story goes, Valentine and the jailer’s daughter fell in love. On the night before his execution, Valentine penned a letter to his beloved and signed it “From Your Valentine.” Now why does “from your valentine” sound vaguely familiar?

If those unsubstantiated legends aren’t enough, early Roman-Christians believed birds mated in mid-February. It doesn’t matter. I HATE VALENTINE’S DAY! I have hated Valentine’s Day for thirty years or more. I’d rather be beaten ala Valentine or machine gunned ala Al Capone’s The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Flowers wilt and chocolate is fattening, plus the object of my romantic inclinations shouldn’t eat chocolate for health reasons. FOR THIRTY YEARS, I HAVE TRIED TO DO SOMETHING UNIQUE FOR THE UNIQUE PERSON WHO IS LINDA GAIL! Moreover, for thirty years I have failed. Even the rose bushes I bought with so much care, planted and fertilized so carefully, watered and talked to…died. Can you really kill something with love? YES! … YOU! … CAN!

One year, the worst, I reserved a romantic meal at a nearby inn on a mountain above us. IT SNOWED! Determined to be romantic or machine gunned, we went anyway. A phone call told us they were open but with no electricity. “Come on, the meal will be served by candlelight.” How much more romantic could it get? Just shoot me. JUST FREAKING SHOOT ME! A twenty-minute trip turned into an hour as we dodged downed powerlines and fallen limbs but we made it. It was romantic. Candles and little mini-lanterns. The meal served in courses by waitresses in the cutest little uniforms. A three-digit meal before we got to the tip…but it was going to be worth it! A good meal, romantic small talk, footsy under the table, a short drive home and if I played my cards right…acte d’amour. Not on your life. On the side of the road she upchucked A FREAKING THREE-DIGIT MEAL. l’acte de vomir was all I got.

Am I trying too hard. Is it too much to want to do something special and unique for a special and unique person for goodness sakes? I have been dreading St. Valentine’s Day since the last one and have been trying to come up with something special…maybe I’ll just prepare the meal. A quiet dinner with a French motif. A small table with a checked tablecloth featuring one of those candles in a wine glass with melted wax dripping down the side. I’ve got a bottle of wine somewhere…it’s full. I guess I should start drinking it if I’m going to get a candle holder ready by this evening…and if I’m going to survive it.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS

“Cause this is thriller, thriller night. And no one’s gonna save you from the beast about to strike….” I had to turn on the TV and hear this on Halloween morning. Now it’s going to play in my head all freaking dayyyyyyyy! Happy Halloween to me…not!

As much as I have heard and seen “Thriller” way toooooooooooo much, I dearly love an old horror movie. Specifically old movies where most of the horror takes place off camera and the special effects are created in your own head. Not the newer, more blood and swimming pools full of gore, movies. Bela Lugosi nibbling at necks, Colin Clive hovering over Boris Karloff manically yelling “It’s Alive,” or Vincent Price grabbing you by the throat from the “Oblong Box.” I even loved the humor of Marty Feldman as Igor extorting Gene Wilder to “Walk This Way!” in “Young Frankenstein” or Christopher Lee licking his lips as he watched a bathing Sharon Tate in “Those Fearless Vampire Hunters”…a few less bubbles please. I loved them even though they really didn’t scare me. There WAS that disturbing scene with The Monster and the little girl. My fear was reserved for another generation of films that probably began with Michael terrorizing Jamie Lee in “Halloween” and “Carrie” burning down the town. Yes, I did scream during the final scene.

The one movie that absolutely terrified me beyond any reason was a 1972 low budget film called “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things.” Snappy title. I found out later that it had been filmed in fourteen days and believe me it looked it. A theater group of attractive young people find themselves on an island filming a horror film. Using Satan’s own “book or the dead” they accidentally raise an island full of dead former criminals and the attractive theater group ends up dead, torn apart by living dead zombies who end the movie by getting on a boat headed toward a nearby city to continue eating. “More Brains Please!”

It shouldn’t have been that scary and probably wasn’t but I haven’t had guts enough to rent it. After Friday night football games I always found it hard to sleep and usually tried to put myself to sleep by watching Turner Broadcasting on cable. This particular TBS was the old version that was still owned by Ted Turner, featuring Saturday afternoon wrestling after an all-night horror fest of reasonably new films, sandwiched around cartoons and such. Being in the early Eighties, “Children Shouldn’t Play…” was reasonably new, only a decade old or so. I was alone, my roommate brother out for the night participating in an evening of “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll” I am sure. My significant other…there was no significant other at the time as I was still waiting around for the love of my life to ask me out. You really should not watch a horror film at two in the morning without someone to snuggle with or at least call in case you need to be talked down from your fear.

It wasn’t the movie…the plot was too predictable. You just knew that as soon as they finished their “raise the dead chant” bad things were going to happen and that the black guy would be the first victum. He was and was soon followed by the two amorous youngsters who had snuck off for a little quality time alone. I actually laughed…until that damn music started. It really wasn’t music, it was more like a million fingernails being drug over a chalk board or a million out of tune violins being played with a cross cut saw. With the hair standing up on the back of my neck, the bodies started popping out of their graves like daisies in the spring sun. That should have been laughable…except for that damn music!

“Who you gonna call?” Not “Ghostbusters” because it had not been released yet. Well at least that theme is running through my head instead of “Thriller.” Happy Halloween!