Paranormal/ Hauntings Month: The Old Charlseton Jail by Violet Tempest

 

Excerpt from: Legends of Old by Violet Tempest

The Old Charleston Jail, located at 21 Magazine Street, Charleston, SC is well known to locals as being haunted. Some refuse to go near this structure while thrill seekers buy tickets from Bulldog Tours for guided tours. The long history of this jail does give creditability to its many hauntings. Having been used as a prison for over 200 years there was a great deal of suffering that occurred on the grounds and in the cells. (pg. 72)

My personal experience of the tour and afterward:

When our daughter was eleven years old, my husband and I decided it would be fun to start a Halloween tradition of going on a different Ghost Tour in Charleston, SC every year. These would allow us to spend time as a family and introduce our daughter to Lowcountry History.

The area goes back to 1670 when settlers landed on the shores of the Cooper River, founding what is now known as Charlestown Landing. Our first tour was a family friendly tour of the old churches and graveyards in Downtown Charleston.

Two years later we decided to take it up a notch. That’s when we took The Haunted Jail Tour.

By this time our daughter was familiar with the lore of the area, and like us she found the old tales intriguing. Little did we know that the tour would change our views on ghost tours.

We booked a tour for the Saturday before Halloween of 2008. It was chilly evening, and the tour didn’t start until after dark. WE made an event of it, like we had done in the past. Going out to dinner, and our daughter invited her best friend to go with us. The four of us were looking forward to a fun spooky filled evening.

We arrived at the Old Jail with about 20 minutes to spare, so we, along with others who were arriving for the tour, had to stand outside while the tour in progress finished up. Standing on the sidewalk we could hear an occasional loud bang followed by a scream or two. The girls moved to the sidewalk opposite the street, and we weren’t too far behind them. Even across the street we could feel the heavy despair that hung around the old building and grounds.

Finally, the tour ended, and it was time for us to take ours. Friendly, joking banter floated around as strangers teased one another. Nothing that anyone in the group took seriously. I mean, everyone knows the noises on these tours are false.

Right?

Before we could enter, we were told the rules; the most important was to stay together, no one was to wander off. Then the tour began. Standing outside the front entrance our tour guide told us that what is now known as the old jail started out in a hospital for the homeless and other impoverished people.

Years later, in 1802 that building was torn down and replaced with the building that currently stands. Over the years the building that was designed to hold 128 prisoners would at times have so many occupants that there was standing room only. Not only inside, but outside as well. The grounds would be packed with barely enough room for the prisoners to move, and men and women were placed together. They did not separate them.

As you can imagine, the conditions created disease, and many died before they were released. The city kept a body cart on the property where the dead bodies were stacked on top of one another.

When the cart was full, it was then driven to the river, and the bodies dumped. Our guide said that there were many times the bodies piled up before they decayed and so another site, further down the river, would have to be used. Her words painted a vivid image and my flesh crawled as my mind carried me back to that time.

That wasn’t the end of the horror she painted for us.

We followed her inside, and she showed us the shackles that are still on the walls. The torture devise varied from room to room. Our guide told us how the prisoners who were considered the worst of the Charleston population were tortured, shackled, and starved.

Next, we went up the narrow staircase and saw the huge rooms where,  in the winter there wasn’t any heat nor, of course, in the summer any air conditioning.

The criminals weren’t shown any kindness.

These harsh conditions made it almost impossible to survive. It is approximated that by the time the jail closed in 1939 over 10,000 people died on the property.

It was in the last room where we heard the tale of Lavina Fisher, according to legend she’s the country’s first female serial killer. And yes, while we were in the room a loud bang sounded out. Where exactly it came from I cannot say. The sound echoed all around us. Now, even though I have experienced the unexplained since I was a small child, I was skeptical.

“But surely it was Lavina?” some may be asking. I do not know. Personally, I feel it was all sound effects the tour company added to give their customers a thrill. I can tell you the despair that bore down on us before we started the tour did not leave me. There were times that it felt like someone was behind me, but when I looked no one was there. Other times a cold reached my bones that wasn’t from the chilly autumn air.

Throughout the whole tour I couldn’t shake the feeling of evil all around me.

No one was injured on the tour, and everyone took plenty of pictures. Nothing unusual showed in ours and driving away we talked about the history that we had learned that night. Little did we know that our experience with the old jail was far from over.

Over the next year our daughter and I could not shake the feeling of something watching us at all times. Even in our sleep. After a couple of months things progressed. Our daughter began staying in her room all the time and was always sleepy and moody. We chalked it up to her becoming a teenager, even though that didn’t squelch our concerns.

Then she started showing me her sketches. They were full of an evil crawling out of the darkness of her closest. It wasn’t until one night while she stayed with a friend that I discovered what was really happening to her.

My dear husband snores, and when I say snore I mean shake the walls snore. So that night I was awoken by what can only be called an Earth-Shattering Rumble, I went down to her room and crawled into her empty bed. The snoring was tolerable down there, and I eventually fell back asleep. How long I was asleep I do not know. But while I lay there on my right side, under her comforter, deep asleep,  I felt something jump on the bed, placing hands and feet on either side of me, startling me awake.

At first I thought it was our dog, and I turned to pet her and get her to snuggle up beside me.

What I saw was not our dog.

From the streetlight that peeked through the curtains, I could make out the thing on my daughter’s bed straddling me was a deep, dark, green. Its skin was slimy in appearance. Its squished face did not have a nose, but instead two slits located where one should’ve been. Two glowing red embers for eyes, and a thin, toad-like mouth. When it saw me, those lips pulled back in a snarl showing me sharp, pointy, yellow teeth.

That snarl told me it was not expecting me to be there. It raised its thin right arm and swung claws like a big cat at me.

I jumped from the bed. My muscles quivering, my heart pounding.

“How dare you! You meant to attack my daughter!” I said. The creature jumped down off the bed, and with a laugh that was full of evil, made its way toward me. I did the only thing I could think of.

I stood there in the room, shaking my head, anger filling every pore of my body. “No! You will not get away with this.”

I placed my right palm in the air, toward the ceiling, toward the universe. With my left hand I pointed at the creature and with every fiber of my being I said the only thing I could think of.

“I call on the power of the one who created me. I call upon the power of the supreme one to send you back to the depths of Hell from which you came from!”

As those words left my lips, I felt a warm energy enter my right palm, surge down my arm, through my core, before shooting out my left arm. A bright blue beam shown from my left hand.

The creature’s eyes grew big. Its slimy face filled with fear as its mouth opened in a silent scream. Then it was gone, and I was left standing alone in the center of my daughter’s room.

Looking around, I realized what had happened. A demon had come to attack my daughter and to its surprise found me instead. My heart felt like it was going to beat its way out of my chest, and my body trembled as fear started to take the place of anger. Finally satisfied it was gone, at least for the night, I turned and walked quickly back to our bed where my husband was still sound asleep, his snores now a sound of comfort. I slid back under our covers and laid there the rest of the night.

Sleep did not return.

Come morning, I got up and went back into the room. The bed was still a mess like I’d left it and in the light of day, the previous night’s experience seemed unreal. My mind quickly brought up the images of my daughter’s sketches and I knew that thing had been after her. And I also knew where it had come from.

For some reason it latched on to us at the jail. Coming home with us; a sort of supernatural souvenir.

I talked to my daughter and husband about what happened that night and that’s when we found out the creature had been terrorizing her. It had thrown her clothes across the room. Even lifted her up and spun her around. I told her what I had done, and that I hoped that took care of it.

She changed rooms to what was the spare room. Who could blame her?

Never again has the creature made an appearance and no longer do we feel like something is watching us from the shadows. I will tell you this, The Old Charleston Jail is one place I refuse to go back to.

If you decide to take the tour remember this, there’s no telling what souvenir you will end up with.

To learn more about The Old Charleston City Jail and other South Carolina Lowcountry legends read Legends of Old by Violet Tempest with Bonus Feature section with short stories never before published.

Available as Kindle Unlimited, eBook, and paperback on Amazon.com. Click link above to purchase.

Logbook of Terror: Ruins Of Castle Rocca Sparviera!

The ruins of Castle Rocca Sparviera!

After a frightful and dreary travel in which I mistakenly visited the wrong location and was chased from a decaying castle by the rotted corpses of a mob of re-animated skeletons, I finally arrived at my destination: the ruins of Castle Rocca Sparviera. A chilly night had fallen and a storm brewed overhead, hiding the moon and stars behind layers of thick, foreboding clouds. Thunder cracked nearby and with only the light of my electric lantern to guide me, I set out to explore the ruins. 

I walked the perimeter of the formerly grand castle, treading carefully over rocks and desolate mountain terrain, wondering what lonely spirits might be left wandering these hills. After hiking to what seemed to be the edge of the property, I turned and strolled along the inner side of a disintegrating wall. After several minutes I halted to take stock of my surroundings and, up ahead, saw a spot of soft light swaying in the darkness. Could it be a fellow explorer making camp and a fire for the night? I hurried on my way to find out. 

Upon drawing closer, I saw that the light was pouring out through a doorway in another crumbling wall. I stepped through and found myself in a great dining hall. My head swam in disbelief, for the hall and all its contents were in pristine condition. The stone walls and floor were clean, polished, and intact. High wooden beams secured the solid ceiling and the entire room was alight with the soft glow of a myriad of candles. The luscious aroma of fresh cooked meat, bread, and vegetables drew my eyes to the huge table in the center of the room. A disembodied voice called out to me, welcoming me home, inviting me to feast. The ghostly voice spoke in French, a tongue completely foreign to me, yet I understood the voice’s every word.  

Smiling guests materialized around the massive banquet table, their regal clothes in tatters and covered in dust and cobwebs. Their gray skin was spotted with deep holes, from which worms wiggled in and out, and blood and pus trickled in rivulets over decaying flesh. With loud, hollow voices the dinner guests beseeched me to join them. Entranced, I approached the table. 

Thunder crashed over the high ceiling. A fierce flash of lightning lit up the table and I saw before me, two children, their flesh roasted, their small bodies chopped in pieces and placed carefully on garish silver platters. Their heads were intact. The two dead little girls turned their eyes to me. Help us! Help us! They pleaded. 

Lightning and thunder exploded. Rain poured from the ceiling. The pieces of the children joined and melded together, forming the hacked children into morbid wholes. Once reformed, they rolled off the great table and crawled toward me. The dinner guests sang a church hymn while their bodies melted in the rain. I felt the children’s small, dead hands grasp my ankles. Feast with us! They screamed at me. Feast with us! Their small eyes burned bright red with horror. I gasped. Shocked out of my trance, I broke the children’s hold and ran. 

Once out of the banquet hall, I ran to the path at the edge of the property. There, I saw a woman in royal dress. She stood upon a large rock. Tears stained her face. She held her arms high and screamed a curse into the night. I felt a sudden surge of heat behind me. Turning, I witnessed what surely could not have been: a fully intact castle engulfed in flames of grief and fury which were so intense, not even the deluge of rain could quench their angry burn. The royal woman turned her fierce eyes on me. I knew at once –it was Queen Jeanne! With terror in heart, lantern in hand, and my satchel over my shoulder, I sprinted away down the mountain, desperately hoping to outrun the curse that the queen was casting. 

I do not know how long I ran. Dawn seemed to arrive without warning and I was back on a road with the warm sun drying my sopping clothes. Not far into the morning I was able to secure transport with some locals who were en route to a nearby village. They spoke clear English and we began to converse. When I remarked on the previous night’s storm their faces turned grim. They inquired if I had been at the ruins during the night. I confirmed that I had. The driver shook her head and said that the region had seen no rain for over a week. The driver’s companion held up her left hand. Her skin was maligned, covered in burn scars. She said that she too had seen the queen, apparently too closely. 

After the kind couple dropped me off, I acquired proper food and lodging. I have resolved to stay in this quaint and pleasant country village until I receive my next assignment. The past several nights have been difficult. Sleep eludes me, for whenever I close my eyes, I see those of the dead children staring up at me.

Haunt Jaunts: Monster-Mania Con Exorcist Bus Tour

Among the horror fests listed for October on Haunt Jaunts Paracons & Horror Fests page is Monster-Mania Con, which happens October 4-6, 2019 in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Their tagline is “Meet Horror’s Hottest Stars.”  And they’re not kidding.

The Celebrity Lineup

Stars you can meet and have your photo taken with include:

  • Bruce Campbell from Evil Dead 1 & 2, Ash vs. Evil Dead, and Army of Darkness.
  • The Scream Cast Reunion – Neve Campbell, Matthew Lillard, Jamie Kennedy, and Roger Jackson (the voice of “Ghostface” will be there.
  • Stars from Stanley Kubrick’s The ShiningLisa and Louise Burns (a.k.a. the “Grady Twins”), Danny Llyod (“Danny Torrance”), and Lia Beldam (“Woman in 237”)
  •  Virginia Madsen and Tony ToddCandyman.
  • Halloween Movie Franchise Stars – Danielle Harris (who has also appeared in other horror films), and Sandy Johnson (“Judith Myers,” Halloween ’78), James Jude Courtney (“Michael Myers,” Halloween ’18)

These are just some of them. There are a lot more, all of which can be found on Monster-Mania Con’s Guests page.

But in addition to seeing celebs, watching horror movies and shopping the vendors, Monster-Mania Con also offered a bus tour.

The Exorcist Tour

Monster-Mania Con The Exorcist Tour logo

I say “offered” because it’s sold out, but it’s still worth writing about because what a great idea for a tour, right?

Here’s what lucky tour goers can expect:

  • Includes a visit to the famous The Exorcist Steps, House and also the famous Tombs Restaurant, which was featured in the film.
  • The movie will be shown on the bus during the tour.
  • The bus is equipped with bathrooms and heat/air conditioning to keep everyone comfortable.

Check-In?

Do you go to horror cons?

Do you have a favorite horror movie or horror celeb? If it’s not The Exorcist, which movie do you wish there was a tour to see the sites for?

Logbook of Terror: Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House

More than any other human invention, I find firearms to be the most tragic, heinous, and unnecessary. Yet I found myself walking the halls of a mansion built with the blood money earned from the sale of untold thousands, perhaps millions, of the life-taking invention known as the Winchester rifle. A yawn escaped my mouth as the tour guide expounded upon the lavish architecture which surrounded the small group of which I was a part. Terminally bored and feeling that I could fare better on my own, I walked away to explore. 

First a left turn, then a right, then another left, another left, and a quick jaunt down a hallway full of windows that looked into more interior spaces. Alone with my thoughts, I indulged my personal scorn for automated weapons of all ilk while I followed one twisting and winding passageway after another until I had absolutely no clue as to where I was. I told myself not to worry, turned around, and went back the way I’d come, all the while listening intently for the voice of the tour guide, or the voices of the tour group to hopefully guide me along. Every turn led to another turn which led to another turn. Then, I saw a door ahead which looked familiar. Feeling heartened, I hastened to it and swung it open. Behind the door stood another door. I opened the second door to find yet a third, which opened onto a brick wall. Confounded, I closed the doors and made another attempt to find my way back to my starting point. A nervous fear set in, a sinking dread that I would be lost in this house and become stranded alone once business had ceased for the day. But, then I heard them: low murmurs, voices from somewhere nearby. My fear lessened. With stealth, I followed the sound in hopes to be led to the tour group. 

As I approached a closed door, I could clearly tell that the voices were just on the other side. Believing my troubles to be over, I opened the door and crossed the threshold into a dimly lit room. Two women sat at a round table in the center of the room, an oil lamp burning between them. Upon my entrance, one of the women –an elderly lady in solid black clothing, with a shock of unkempt white hair and wrinkled skin- looked up in my direction. The lamp light illuminated the woman’s eyes, of which only the whites were visible. She shook in her chair, announcing that the spirits were among them. The other woman demanded to know what the spirits wanted. I calmly told the elderly one that I was most certainly alive, not a phantasm as she claimed. She told the other woman that I wanted revenge for the deaths of my people. I protested and denied any desire whatsoever for vengeance of any sort, telling the woman that I was simply lost and looking for my tour group. The old hag explained to her companion that I was doomed to wander the halls of the mansion for all of eternity and that she must construct more halls for me to walk. Then it struck me –I must have happened upon a dramatic scene intended for the tour! I smiled to myself as I went to the room’s door, which seemed to have closed on its own, probably due to a wind or an old, uneven floor. I grasped the doorknob and turned. It was stuck. I jiggled the handle and pulled at the door. It did not budge. I glanced back at the two women. They sat closer to one another, staring at me, their hands intertwined. I slammed my hand on the door and yelled to be let out of the room. The women jumped in their seats. The elder shouted at me to leave at once. I told her I was trying but the door was stuck. Again she commanded me to begone. Frightened and frustrated, I returned her shouts with screams of my own. The women shrieked and huddled together. I cursed aloud and desperately twisted the doorknob in the opposite direction. The door latch clicked and the door swung open with a great gust of wind. The two ladies howled in fright. Just before I walked out, I looked back at the table to see it deserted and the room cloaked in gloom. I shuddered and tripped over my own feet as I hurried down the hall.

For what felt like ages I wandered twisting and turning corridors and passages. Daylight was fading. My heart raced. There had to be a way out of this dreadful house! I turned down yet another unfamiliar passageway and noted the scent of sawdust lingering in the air. The faint sound of a hammer on nails floated to me. I followed the sound to another door. I flung the door open. Entering an unfinished room, the ambient noise of heavy construction assaulted me. I held my ears and fell back out into the hallway. A gunshot rang out, its sharp report shattering my nerves. Another shot exploded at my back and echoed down the hall. I pitched forward and ran. A thousand invisible hammers beat on the wooden walls, the sound enveloping me, ripping at my eardrums and sending waves of pain through me. Hammers and guns escalated in their violence and intensity, creating a mad symphony that threatened to crush my skull. Peals of laughter joined the cacophony. I fell to my knees, screaming for the noise to cease. Blood began to flow from my ears. Please, please stop! I begged. The reverberations only increased and were joined by the sounds of sawing, sanding, and scraping. I struggled to my feet and stumbled down the corridor. A man’s coughing, the sound of someone taken violently ill, came from a room to my right. I looked and saw a middle-aged man, prostrate in a large bed, coughing up what appeared to be pint upon pint of dark, heavy blood. A doctor and a nurse attended the man while the younger woman from the previous room sat by the bed and wept. My skin crawled. I lurched down the hall and fell down a flight of stairs. 

My screams bounced off the stairwell walls. When I stopped tumbling, I opened my eyes. The tour group was gathered around me, eyeing me with curious stares. The tour guide knelt at my side and informed me that I must have fainted from the heat. After being helped to my feet I saw that I was still in the same room in which the tour had begun. It appeared that I had never left the group after all. The tour guide explained to the group that only the very weakest and worst guests fainted. A woman to my left suggested that they ought to simply shoot me so as to make for certain that I wouldn’t ruin any more of the tour. A hearty round of agreement sounded among them, and they all drew their rifles on me. The tour guide instructed the group to fire on her command. I pleaded to be spared. They laughed. The tour guide yelled, Fire! An explosion of gunfire filled the air. My body came apart in a hail of bullets. Blood showered the smiling faces of the tour group. My limbs fell from my body, severed by the storm of ammunition. I felt bullets enter my brain and erase all of my memories and thoughts, the last of which was, why didn’t I call my mother and tell her I loved her when I still had the chance.

I woke up screaming, still in the rocking chair on the Winchester Mansion’s front porch where I had decided to sit down and wait until the tour began. The guide walked out onto the porch and announced that the tour would begin momentarily. I lept from the chair and ran for my life, never considering looking back at that accursed abode. 

Logbook of Terror: Alloa Tower

Alloa Tower, Scotland

Why do I always seem to end up being chased by the ghosts of dead children? What did I ever do to them to deserve their seemingly endless scorn? Perhaps because I often end up at their haunting grounds? Whatever the reason may be, I hadn’t any time for further contemplation. On that terrifying night in Scotland at the fearful Alloa Tower, all I could do was run for my life.

After taking the official tour and listening to the tour guide’s tales of the Curse of Alloa Tower and its accompanying paranormal legacy, I was left to my own devices and I wandered the grounds aimlessly, soaking up the eerie atmosphere. I was having such a relaxing evening that I began to think that the grounds might not be cursed or haunted after all. However, when I stumbled upon the dungeon, the curse, in fact, became all too real. 

The dungeon was awash in the soft light of candles on each wall. Shadows played on the ceiling, distorting my view of the room. A cold breeze whispered over my shoulders. The hairs on the nape of my neck stood on end. I shuffled backward to leave the dungeon and collided with something soft. I spun ‘round. Before me was a monk in tattered black robes, hovering several feet off the floor, his face hidden in the darkness cast by the hood of his robe. He pointed a rotted, decayed finger at me. A voice bellowed forth from the figure. The words swirled around me, echoing off the chamber walls in ancient Latin. The dark monk floated toward me, pointing and chanting. I ducked and ran around his side, exiting the room through the arched doorway from whence I had entered, and bolted up the stairs.

The stairs emptied out into a long, pitch-black hallway. Was this the way I’d followed to the dungeon? Peering deep into the darkness, a dim light appeared at what I thought to be the end of the hallway. Cautiously, I held out my hands and walked forward. The light began to grow larger and brighter as I advanced. Perhaps it was someone with a flashlight or a lamp? Then, I saw the light quiver and wave. And then I heard it: horrid feminine shrieks of agony screaming forth from the flames. Then there were footfalls. And again: the light -shining brighter than ever, smashing through the dark, making everything all too clear with an overwhelming suddenness that threatened to shatter my sanity. With arms outstretched, a burning woman hurled herself down the hall, faster than I had ever seen any human move. Having only the dungeon stairs at my back and the woman ahead, I feared this was my doom, and that I would perish in agonizing, phantasmal flames. Closing my eyes, I pressed myself tight against the wall and waited for the end. A blazing wave of heat swept past me. My heart stopped. I opened my eyes to see the burning woman descending the dungeon stairs. Torturous screams and cries erupted from within the dungeon, flying up the stairs and filling the hallway. I was spared! I turned away from the dungeon and fled. 

As I ran further down the corridor, the screams from the dungeon were soon replaced by the sound of pounding hooves. Beating out a rhythm on the stone floor, closer and closer they came, until they were right on my heels. My foot caught on an uneven stone. My body pitched forward and I crashed to the floor. Instinctively, I threw my arms over the back of my head. The ghostly steeds passed over my trembling body and the sounds of hooves, neighing, and snorting faded into the all-consuming darkness of the hallway. Gathering my wits, I got to my feet and pressed on. I had to find a way out of this dreadful passage. 

I felt my way along the stone wall, placing my footfalls with care. My hands slipped, I fell into an open space, and I was engulfed in dismal, horrible black. No sight, only the dank smell of the centuries old structure accompanied by the sound of my own short, rapid breaths. Then, three tiny dots appeared, hovering before me. The dots grew into shining orbs, illuminating the surroundings. 

I stood in the center of a large room which may have been the great hall at one time. The orbs bobbed up and down and then floated away toward a towering, arched doorway. Perhaps a way out! My heart pounded and my mind gave thanks to these mysterious new friends who were leading me to safety. I followed the floating orbs through the doorway. 

We passed through the doorway and walked along another corridor. After turning a corner and entering another room, the orbs began to grow and change shape. As they danced and jittered and pushed and pulled at their form, something else began to grow out of the stone floor. Miserable cries bounced off the stone walls, coming from a man growing out of the floor. He wore the pitch-black abbot’s robe and glared at me with sinister blood-red eyes. The morphing orbs cast an eerie white glow over the risen clergyman, who towered above me. A scepter grew out of the palm of his right hand. Blood dripped from a large crystal attached to the end. He pointed at me and recited his famous curse. Reasoning that he must think I was the Earl, I knew that I had to make a hasty escape lest the curse befall me. Quickly, I backed away. Noting the light in my peripheral vision, I turned toward it.  Where the orbs had been there were now three ghastly children, dressed in regal splendor, glowing, a pale white luminescence emanating from their bodies. They screamed and ran at me. 

I ran with the cries of the children spurning me on, fleeing down hallways, twisting, turning, hurling through dark, empty spaces until by some miracle I spilled out of the tower and collapsed in its surrounding yard. The ghost children were nowhere in sight, nor was the abbot or the monk or the burning woman or the horses with their hooves of hell. I was alone. The night was silent. I gazed up at the tower. Feeling as if I’d run for miles upon miles, I pondered how so many rooms, and the labyrinthine passageways, could possibly be contained in such a structure the size of which I saw. There was only one answer: they could not. Unless… 

No. No, no, no, no! I could not ponder the possibilities or the depth of the dark magic that the abbot left on these grounds when he shouted forth his curse. With all my remaining strength I left the grounds to seek residence for the remainder of the night. In all my days, I pray that I never return to this cursed abode. 

Odds and Dead Ends : Scaring Ourselves Silly | Monsters and the Uncanny Valley

We all love a good monster. Be it Godzilla or King Kong, werewolves or cenobites, we can’t get enough of them. Guillermo Del Toro has made a living out of them, and nobody in their right mind would begrudge him that. But when we think of being scared, perhaps what touches the nerves more than anything else are not the big, lumbering beasts towering above us. It’s those fiends that come close to being human, just one step away from actually being us.

This concept is known in the field of robotics as the ‘uncanny valley’. Coined initially by Masahiro Mori, the basic idea of it is that there is a distinct, graph-able curve in people’s emotional responses to the verisimilitude of a robot to people. Essentially, when you start to make a robot look like a person, people view it more favourably. Then, suddenly, as you keep going, there’s a point where it’s not completely robotic, but not completely human, and it’s in this stage when we have a strong feeling of revulsion or disgust. When it gets close to being indistinguishable from us, it becomes so lifelike that we view it favourably again. This dip into disgust is the uncanny valley.

The theory of the uncanny itself was used by Sigmund Freud in his 1919 essay The Uncanny as a way to explain why we’re so creeped out by dolls and waxwork figures and the likes. He goes back to the original German for uncanny, unheimlich, and its roots in the word heimlich which roughly means to conceal or hide. He proposes that we find something uncanny because it is a revealing of social taboos and ideas which we try to hide in everyday life. This eventually gets linked on to concepts of the id and the subconscious, which is really the subject for another article altogether.

But what does all of this mean for our monsters? How can we link these concepts together in a way that impacts our understanding of our favourite horror villains?

Well perhaps this doesn’t apply for the big Kaiju as such, but maybe it helps explain why we’re still chilled by vampires, ghosts, and ghouls. The brain sees their general shape and recognises them as human, or at least, very human-like. Yet there’s always something just a little bit off, be it the pallor of their skin, or the sharp claws or teeth, which sets them apart and makes them disturbing to us. Going back to Del Toro, think of The Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth. He’s got a recognisably human shape (based off Saturn in the painting Saturn Devouring His Sun by Francisco Goya), but with the skin stretched over the frame, the nostrils flared with no bridge, claw-like talons, and eyes in his hands. He’s started off human but been warped.

Even cursed or possessed dolls have something off about them; the animation of a human avatar is almost the very concept of the uncanny valley, with the robot being substituted for a doll, but the basic principle remaining. Toys are essentially us, preserved in miniature, and when they rise up against us, the human part of their design strikes a chord with us.

This is perhaps why we find masked killers a distressing concept. The shape is human, and the mask is human-like, but it doesn’t change, and as humans learn to see the face as the main projector of emotion when it doesn’t alter during extreme acts of violence, we slip down the slope of the valley. Masks such as those belonging to Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers, fairly blank and devoid of emotion, would, therefore, represent something uncanny. Also very often the mask represents a demon or spirit (thinking of films such as Onibaba or Scream) which conjures up concepts of possession by an unseen force. This might explain why we’re so focused on the killer’s mask in these films, because they are themselves imbued with that uncanny quality which makes them memorable beyond the killer behind them.

Think of the Scream franchise, where the mask comes to represent something much deeper, a force of evil in itself. When you see someone without the mask, they’re normal, but as soon as the face is obscured, they become terrifying, a body for the murderous will of the mask. And the mask and the murderous intent has the power to transfer its ownership from one person to another, like a spirit darting in and out of its possessed victims. Even think of the numerous killers that take on Jigsaw’s role in the Saw films. As soon as you come into possession of Billy, leading the charge of the traps, you become Jigsaw, the embodiment of John Kramer and his will to put people to the test of their drive to survive. We dip from being too human to being something slightly removed.

The idea of the uncanny valley even feeds into ghosts. Think of Kayako and Toshio from the Ju-on films. Though it sounds funny, how many of us were deeply disturbed when Toshio, a pale little boy, opened his mouth and meowed? When Kayako came crawling down the stairs, her throat croaking like a door very slowly opening? This concept of uncanniness transfers over to the sounds we make, affecting us when someone’s voice is not what it should be. This is something obviously well known to anyone who has watched The Exorcist in their time.

And so whilst the big monsters from The Ritual and Cloverfield might scare us, they don’t get anywhere close to instilling that distinct feeling of unease which those humanoid villains which nestle in the uncanny valley have the ability to do. When vampires flash their fangs, with blood in their eyes, we see something hiding inside the human form. When we see Schwarzenegger doing his own repairs in The Terminator, we find lines between humanity and inhumanity blurred. From now on, he looks just like us, but we know he isn’t.

And when we transfer over to imitation narratives such as The Thing or The Body Snatchers, suddenly we’re even more scared, because any one of us could be them. Now the uncanny transfers into paranoia, and we have to rely on looking out for the uncanny to alert us to danger. We have to fall back on something terrifying to keep us calm. In a way, we hope for something uncanny to confirm our fears. And that, more than anything, is scary.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: KJudgeMental

Bibliography

Cloverfield. 2007. [Film] Directed by Matt Reeves. USA: Bad Robot.

Finney, J., 2010. The Body Snatchers. Great Britain: Orion Publishing.

Freud, S., McLintock, D. & Haughton, H., 2003. The Uncanny. New York: Penguin Books.

Friday the 13th. 1980. [Film] Directed by Sean S. Cunningham. Unites States of America: Georgetown Productions Inc.

Godzilla. 1954. [Film] Directed by Ishiro Honda. Japan: Toho.

Goya, F., 1819 – 1823. Saturn Devouring His Son. [Art] (Museo del Prado).

Halloween. 1978. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. United States of America: Falcon International Productions.

John Carpenter’s The Thing. 1982. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. United States of America: Universal Studios.

Ju-On: The Grudge. 2002. [Film] Directed by Takashi Shimizu. Japan: Pioneer LDC.

King Kong. 1933. [Film] Directed by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack. USA: RKO Pictures Inc..

Onibaba. 1964. [Film] Directed by Kaneto Shindo. Japan: Kindai Eiga Kyokai.

Pan’s Labyrinth. 2006. [Film] Directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Spain: Telecinco Cinema.

Saw. 2004. [Film] Directed by James Wan. USA: Twisted Pictures.

Scream. 1996. [Film] Directed by Wes Craven. United States: Dimension Films.

The Exorcist. 1973. [Film] Directed by William Friedkin. USA: Hoya Productions.

The Ritual. 2017. [Film] Directed by David Bruckner. UK: The Imaginarium.

The Terminator. 1984. [Film] Directed by James Cameron. United States of America: Hemdale.

 

Logbook of Terror : Doll Island

A fictional representation of a real Cursed Location – Doll Island

I never should have taken the doll down from that twisted, blackened tree. I wish to heaven that I’d left its decayed, plastic corpse where I’d found it. But I’d promised my dear niece Tabitha a truly unique character to add to her growing collection of morbid and obscene figurines, and I would be damned if I was going to leave this cursed island without it. Taking a doll, just one of hundreds of thousands, seemed an innocent offense. I assumed that surely no one would notice its absence. Alas, I had been wrong… Dreadfully wrong.

The tourist group was easy to break away from. I waited in the shadows of a dense grove of tangled trees, observing until the last ferry boat had returned empty and the employees were gone for the night. Apparently, not even a single one of the workers had the courage to stay on the island after dark. When the last failing rays of sunlight gave way to the deep purple glow of sunset, I left my hiding spot and walked among the dolls. Thousands of eyes of every color and type stared at me, tracing my every footstep. Vegetation rustled beneath my shoes. Insects sang and welcomed the oncoming night. I breathed in the humid air, the odors of age and neglect, of rot and decay, that floated around me. A voice whispered behind me, high-pitched, like a whistling in the wind. I stopped. I shuddered. My eyes darted back and forth. Smiling doll faces, half-melted and faded by the sun, glared back at me. Cold fear slithered down my spine. Hairs rose along my neck. High, hollow laughter echoed through the trees.

I quickened my pace. I had to find a suitably awful doll and escape this place before I ended up in the trees myself.

In the steadily increasing dark, I rounded a curve and walked along the edge of the canal. Another laugh flitted through the air. I froze and looked into the trees. There, above me, I saw her: a most wretched, withered dolly hanging just within arm’s reach. Thin blonde hair covered in green mold, weaved itself over a grime-covered, cherubic face. A tattered and faded pink dress clung to the doll’s body. Her eyes pierced my heart with their cold stare. It was then that I knew. She was the one. Tabitha would surly adore her!

Retrieving the dolly from the tree proved to be as easy as I’d hoped. The twine holding the toy in place practically disintegrated in my fingers as I unwound it from the doll’s limbs. Night had fully fallen and I held the doll up, inspecting it in the moonlight. She was wonderfully awful–a truly unholy relic indeed!

After carefully placing her in my roomy satchel, I set out to find shelter for the night, as after a good night’s rest I planned on blending in with the first tour group of the morrow and taking the boat back to Mexico City as if I’d been with them the whole time. Nary had I taken a dozen steps when I heard the sound of quiet splashing among the lilies in the canal.

I stood in place and listened. My mind told me that any creature of the water could have made that sound but my heart told me that it must be something far more sinister. A trickle of sweat broke on my brow. I turned. With eyes wide, I saw her standing atop the lilies–the girl whose legend told of her drowning in the canal so long ago. She pointed a ghostly finger at me. Her black eyes stared like the marble eyes of the dolls. A thin, watery whisper crawled from her throat.

“Llevar a su espalda, ella me pertenece a mí!” The girl floated across the water toward me, her phantasmal form radiating a soft white glow, illuminating the mud, moss, and slime that clung to her tattered dress.

My mind told me to run but my feet would not obey.

“Llevar a su espalda, ella me pertenece a mí,” the girl repeated, her dark eyes fixed on the satchel slung over my shoulder.

Although I needed no translator to know that the girl from the water wanted me to fix the doll back in her resting place among the tangled tree limbs, through my limited Spanish vocabulary I knew that she was saying, “Bring her back, she belongs to me.” However determined as I was to bring a gift home to my adored niece, I would do no such thing.

Fueled by purpose and terror, I ran along the canal. The words of the girl floated on the wind and stung my ears. Still, I did not stop. A feeling of some strange possession came over me, warping my sensibilities. With my feet and heart pounding, my voice wailed in my mind, repeating, “She will never have her back. The doll is mine!” I then determined to commandeer my own vessel and leave the island at once after which point I would trudge back to the city on foot. I had lost all sense of reason. Onward to the docks–like a madman–I ran.

The drowned girl’s voice grew from a singular moan to a choir chanting a miserable command. Voices assailed me from every angle. I saw them in the trees. Small mouths of porcelain and plastic moved in their ghastly cadence. My eyes watered and my skin grew cold.

All the island’s dolls cried out, “¡Traerla, ella nos pertenece a!” Again and again they demanded, “Bring her back, she belongs to us!”

I shrieked at the dolls to cease their infernal wailing. Then, running across a tangle of roots, I lost my footing and crashed to the ground. I writhed about as if one stricken with demons, the rising chant of the dolls’ voices bearing down on me, enveloping me, tearing at my collapsing sanity. Cold, wet hands grasped my collar. The girl from the canal shook me and screeched. Her mouth stretched wide. Fetid brown water–mixed with blood–gushed onto my face, filling my gaping, scream infested mouth. I choked on the vile liquid.

The girl gazed deep into my heart with her pitch black eyes as water rushed from her mouth, pounding onto my face. Instead of splashing off my skin, the water held place and rose as if the girl were submerging me in a body of water.

I cried for mercy. Bubbles floated up through the water. The grim visage of the girl swam above me, fading, becoming murkier by the second. I felt my satchel slip from my shoulder. I sank deeper into the water, the pale moonlight barely visible above. I echoed a final plea for the girl to let me live before the water entered my lungs and my eyes fell shut.

What may have been moments or mere seconds later, an old man was beating on my chest and shouting at me in Spanish. Gasping, I rolled to my side and spewed bitter water from my mouth. I was on the bank of the canal, the full moon shining down. A young boy who carried towels and wore a shocked expression stood at the old man’s side. The old man sighed, shook his head, and helped me to my feet.

After leading me to their hovel, while drinking tea and drying off by the fire, the young boy explained in broken English how he and the old man lived on the island, that they were the keepers of the dolls, and that they had found me face down in the canal, on the verge of drowning. In return, I told them my tale of the girl who had pursued me and of the voices of the dolls which had driven me to the brink of madness. I inquired to the man and the boy if they had my satchel, and that’s its contents were of great import. They simply nodded and told me to try to sleep.

Dawn broke early on the morrow and cast a brilliant, sweeping glow over the island. Although the sun was warm and welcoming, it could not wipe away the previous night’s terrors. I shivered as I followed the old man and his young companion along the path to the docks. While en route, I dared look up into the trees. There the doll sat on her perch among the gnarled limbs, precisely where I had found her the night before. Upon seeing me, her eyes brightened and her lips curled. A faint laugh echoed from her chest and I fell to the ground screaming.

Two days later I regained consciousness in a hospital in Mexico City. I was informed that an old man and his grandson had admitted me and that I had been in a most fearful state, raving about dolls that wanted to kill me and destroy my eternal soul. I had been subdued and placed under watch. The physicians had seen this before and were apparently not surprised.

The next day as I rode the bus out of Mexico City, I vowed to never again trifle with dolls. Although I surely wanted to bring a present home to my dear Tabitha, she would have to grow her collection of foul figurines without my assistance.