FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Strain Season 2 and 3

Real World Trauma Acerbates the flaws in The Strain Seasons Two and Three

by Kristin Battestella

After an unraveling end to the First Season of The Strain, it took me a long, long while to return to the thirteen-episode 2015 Second Season. Childhood flashbacks recounting fairy tales of nobles with gigantism and quests for the curing blood of a gray wolf start the year off well. Horrific blood exchanges lead to village children vanishing in the shadow of the creepy castle before we return to the present for secret deals with The Master, alliances with the Ancient Ones, and blind telepathic feeler vampires canvassing the city. Scientists Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) contemplate vampire vaccines while former antique dealer Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) pursues a rare strigoi text and rat catcher Fet (Kevin Durand) prepares their explosive defensive. Government officials like Justine Feraldo (Samantha Mathis) fight back against the zombie like masses despite shootouts in infested laboratories, double-crosses, and sentient, disguised as human foot soldiers. Old fashioned black and white Mexican horror reels add personality and history to our reluctant heroes while more superb action and flashbacks standout late in the season with “The Assassin” and “Dead End.” Unfortunately, early on in Year Two, my main dilemma with the First Season of The Strain returnedyou can read all of this, but it is much too much onscreen. Unnecessary timestamps and location notations clutter reintroduced characters, new problems, old problems, and unintroduced newcomers. There are too many separated characters with unbalanced screen time who must repeatedly explain who they are. Enemy’s enemy is my friend mixed motivations create confusion – multiple people hunting The Master individually making promises to his fellow ancient vampires with little background on who these chained monsters chilling beneath Brooklyn are. Cryptic double talk and real estate transactions may be filler or meandering developments, but it’s a toss up on which one will drag on or disappear. The past stories are often more tantalizing because our team isn’t much of a team. It took so long in the First Year to get everyone together, yet each is still toiling over what to do in this vampire zombie apocalypse. After previous fears over any tiny contagion, one and all shoot, blast, slice, and splatter at will. They hand out fliers with the monster details and warn the community, yet unaware police are shocked to find vampires in a dark alley.

Maybe The Strain is meant to mirror how no one is on the same page in a crisis – we are now witnessing that chaotic misinformation mistake first hand indeed – but the plot is all over the place, too. It’s been a few weeks onscreen since The Strain began, however, life is upside down for some while others seem totally unbothered. Again, this is a foreboding parallel to our real life pandemic with the poor working man much more deeply impacted than the wealthy ease of access, but here there’s no sense of the storytelling scope despite opportunistic orchestrations and tough women securing the five boroughs. Slick villains talk of great visions and master plans, but tangents diverge into a dozen different threads and multiple dead ends. Is The Strain about a doctor experimenting on the infected to test scientific theories or weird do nothing telepathic vampires and slow strigoi chases? Are we to enjoy the precious moments between our little people struggling on the ground or awe at the zombie outbreak turned vampire mythology? New people and places are constantly on the move, jumbled by an aimless, plodding pace as too little too late politicians talk about quarantines when The Strain is past containment. Confusing, pointless storylines take away from important intrigues and significant elements tread tires amid random threats and dropped crises. The conflicts on cruel science for the greater good grow hollow thanks to constant interruptions and changed emotions. Provocative diluted worm extracts taken for illness or ailments are used as control by the strigoi or when necessary for our heroes, but the scientific analysis of such a tonic or hybrid cases is never considered. Infecting the infected experiments and vampire free island security only take a few episodes, yet viewers today who can’t pay the rent are expected to believe it takes weeks for a market free fall and runs on banks? “The Born” starts off great, but often there’s no going back to what happens next regarding cures and Roman history as contrived messy or blasé action pads episodes. Rather than driving away in a cop car, dumbed down characters run into a church for a lagging, maze-like battle that kills an interesting minority character. When the community comes together for “The Battle for Red Hook,” unnecessary family pursuits ruin the sense of immediacy while the hop, skip, and jump to Washington D.C. for two episodes of scientific effort gets ditched for glossed over vampire factions and historic relics. Both the lore and science are interesting, but these mashed together entities compete for time as if we’re changing the channels and watching two shows at once. Instead of the rich detail we crave, The Strain continually returns to its weakest plot with shit actions and stupid players causing absurd consequences.

The Strain, however, does look good, and the ten episode Third Season provides coffins, gore, goo, and nasty bloodsucking appendages. The vampire makeup, creepy eyes, monster sinews, and icky skin are well done. Occasionally, creatures scaling the wall and speedy, en masse action is noticeable CGI, but the worms, tentacles, and splatter upset the body sacred. Sickly green lighting invokes the zombie plague mood while choice red adds vampire touches alongside silver grenades, ultraviolet light, and ancient texts. Sadly, Season Three opens with an unrealistic announcement that it’s only been twenty-three days since the outbreak started. The uneven pace makes such time impossible to believe, and tricked out infrared military are just now arriving three weeks into the disaster. Mass manufacture of The Strain’s bio-weapon is also never mentioned again as the science is now nothing more than a home chemistry set. Instead, step by step time is taken to siphon gas in a dark, dangerous parking garage – which could be realistic except The Strain has never otherwise addressed food, supplies, precious toilet paper, or the magically unlimited amount of silver bullets. Once again, everyone who fought together goes on to separate allegiances on top of hear tell global spread, Nazi parallels, control centers, and messianic symbolism. It’s all too clunky thanks to people made stupid and contradictions between the onscreen myths, technology, and abilities. Too many convenient infections, Master transformations, tacked on worms, and excuses happen at once – cheapening Shakespearean touches and monster worm bombs with redundant failures. Montages wax on human history while voiceovers tell audiences about government collapse, glossing over arguably the most interesting part of the catastrophe for drawn-out experiments on microwaves. There’s no narrative flow as the episodes run out but suddenly everyone is sober enough to use the ancient guidebook to their advantage. After such insistence over sunlight and ultraviolet, those safeguards are inexplicably absent when needed. No one maximizes resources and opportunities in “Battle for Central Park,” and people only come together because they accidentally bump into each other. In “The Fall,” a carefully orchestrated trap and prison plan is finally put into action against The Master, but ridiculous contrivances stall the operation before easy outs and one little effing asshole moron ruining it all. Again.

The cast is not at fault for the uneven developments on The Strain, but if Ephraim Goodweather is only there to be a drunken bad parent failing at every turn, he should have been written off the show. If we’re sticking with Eph and his angst before science, then his pointless strigoi wife and terrible son Zach should have been tossed instead of hogging the screen. Cranky, obnoxious, budding sociopath Zach’s “Why? No! Don’t!” lack of comprehension is unrealistic for his age, and everything has to be dumbed downed to appease him.  Onscreen The Strain is continually talking down to viewers like we are five and it gets old very fast. Previously compassionate characters are reset as cold marksmen, and Eph claims he no longer cares about the cause when he was once at its epicenter. He complains he has nothing to do, bemoaning the lack of a feasible vaccine before gaining government support in creating a strigoi bio-weapon only to ditch it for microwaves and vampire telepathy. Zach ruins each plan anyway, and by the end of Season Two, I was fast forwarding over the Goodweather family plots. Nora Martinez is also nonexistent as a doctor unless convenient, relegated instead to babysitting, and Samantha Mathis’ (Little Women) Justine Feraldo likewise starts off brassy before unnecessarily overplaying her hand and failing bitterly because of others. Initially The Strain had such a diverse ensemble, but by the end of the Third Season, all the worst things have happened to the women and minorities. Ruta Gedmintas’ Dutch wavers from the cause for a conflicted lesbian romance that disappears before she returns to the fold as Eph’s tantalizing research assistant when she’s not being captured and rescued. I won’t lie, I only hung on watching The Strain as long as I did for Rupert Penry-Jones (MI-5) as the thousand year old hybrid Quinlan. He uses his conflicted history with The Master to help Setrakian and sees through Ephraim while developing a distrustful shoulder to shoulder with Fet. Unfortunately, his vampire super powers come in handy unless he’s forgotten about when it’s time for the action to sour or let failures happen, and nobody tells officials about this almost invincible half-strigoi who could be useful in a fight. Setrakian, Quinlan, and Fet make for an ornery, begrudging trio, living in a luxury hotel while pursuing Abraham’s relics whether they agree with the plan or not – mostly because Fet accrues all manor of weapons and is happy to use them. Setrakian has some crusty wisdom for them, but his battle of wits with Jonathan Hyde as the at any price Palmer provides great one on one scene chewing. The double crosses and interchangeable threats feel empty, and Palmer also has an odd romantic side plot that wastes time, but Richard Sammel’s Nazi vampire Eicchorst remains a deliciously twisted minion. “Dead End” and “Do or Die” reveal more personal history as the mature players provide intriguing questions on immortality, humanity, and barbarism. Miguel Gomez’ Gus finally seems like he is going to join the team, but then he’s inexplicably back on his own rescuing families and refusing to accept his mother’s turn in more useless filler. He and Joaquin Cosio (Quantum of Solace) as the absolutely underutilized fifties superhero Angel are conscripted to fight vampires but once again, they remain wasted in isolated, contrived detours.

Streamlining Fet, Dutch, Quinlan, and Gus as vampire fighters testing methods from Setrakian’s texts and Eph’s science funded by Feraldo could have unified The Strain with straightforward heroes versus monsters action we can root for in an apocalypse. Watching on the eve of our own real world pandemic, was I in the right frame of mind to view The Strain unclouded? Thanks to creators Guillermo de Toro and Chuck Hogan and showrunner Carlton Cuse’s foretelling social breakdowns between the haves and the have nots, maybe not. That said, The Strain terribly executes two seasons worth of source material. An embarrassment of riches with a scientific premise, mystical flashbacks, assorted zombie and vampire crossover monsters, and intriguing characters fall prey to uneven pacing, crowded focus, and no balance or self-awareness onscreen. The Strain may have been better served as television movies or six episode elemental seasons – science in year one, vampire history the second, relic pursuits, and a final battle. Disastrous characters and worthless stories compromise the meaty sacrifices, crusty old alliances, and silver standoffs – stretching the horror quality thin even in a shorter ten episode season. Rather than a fulfilling mirror to nature parable, The Strain Seasons Two and Three are an exercise in frustration, and even without the real world horrors, it’s too disappointing to bother with the end of the world reset in Season Four.

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Latinx Month – FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Mexican and Spanish Vampires!

Mexican and Spanish Vampires, Oh My!  By Kristin Battestella

The Bloody Vampire– The English version of this black and white 1962 Mexican import El Vampire Sangriento opens with eerie slow motion, silent carriages, tolling bells, howling wolves, and creepy forests to set the macabre mood. The candles, Old World Feeling, secret crypts, great architecture, and period costumes counter the almost comically out of place and unmatched dubbing, but there are some eerie good effects, thankfully. Fun Bats, zooms, and coffins mask the fact that once again, there isn’t much of the titular blood. However, the religious arias are a bit out of place and too reverent for the subject. Likewise, some of the sound effects are more fifties UFOs than scary. Fortunately, a few corsets and kinky bedroom threats accent the household violence, vampy bitch slaps, and whips. Although, I’ve never heard a vampire tell his victim/bride to put some clothes on before! It might have been neat to see a South American set tale rather than the standard Eastern European mold, but the English translations add to the gothic horror homage. Count Frankenhausen has a maid named Hildegard “The servants must call me Frau” and a daughter Bronehilda at his cave the “Haunted Hacienda.” Yes, and did I mention that “Vampirina” is the blood of a vampire? The English track is tough to hear, and it’s all back and forth wooden exposition on deadly flower roots, grave robbings, early autopsies, science versus death, vampire mythos, and secret vampire hunting family histories. It might be a dry translation or stilted from the innate Espanol, but at least this isn’t in the over the top telenovela styling we expect today. The pace does pick up for the last half hour, and once you’re past the niche logistics and morbid humor, then this is a good little hour and a half.

Crypt of the Living Dead – There’s isn’t a lot of information available on this black and white 1973 tale also known by the wonderfully bad title Hannah, Queen of the Vampires.  Andrew Prine (V) looks so young and the architecture and medieval religious designs are well done, yes. But sadly, the drab, colorless photography hampers the fun, gothic atmosphere. Was this later day black and white filming done by production plan or necessity? The editing is also either very poor or there has been some unfortunate film damage, and the plot is a little slow and silent to start, with too many setups and tough to hear dialogue when we do have it. The nighttime action is almost impossible to see as well, and the frantic camerawork and extreme close ups make what should be straightforward scares somewhat confusing. All this production doom and gloom and yet the script and cast actually aren’t that bad. The music and eerie effects are sinister enough, and there’s a historical spin on the then-contemporary skepticism and ethical debates. Die-hard vamp fans looking to have a fun nighttime viewing will enjoy this. However, the finale is a bit overlong and repetitive for horror lay folk, and those low budget values will hinder the natural fears and good scares for today’s more visually treated audiences. 

The Vampire – With such a confusingly plain title, I had to look up this 1957 Mexican horror El Vampiro starring Abel Salazar and German Rubles to make sure I hadn’t already seen it. Fortunately, there’s no mistaking the foggy villa courtyards, Gothic Victorian interiors, hypnotic eyes, and fangs afoot here. This original tale gets right to the screams and neck nibbles, and the black and white patina perfectly matches the don’t go out after sunset warnings. Even the fake bat doesn’t feel hokey amid the fifties train and ingenue in white visiting her sick spinster aunt. The boxes of soil from Hungary, suspicious cape-wearing count, and carriage at the crossroads may seem Stoker-esque to start, however there are some undead surprises – and an older aunt who remains young and reflection-less but thinks all this vampire talk is ridiculous. Torches and tolling bells invoke some medieval funerary alongside crypts, superstitions, and fearful folk crossing themselves. The recently late are buried with crucifix in hand while creepy crescendos accent the phantom ladies in black about the cemetery. Ghostly effects, well-framed shadows, and spooky lighting schemes heighten the ruinous haciendas as well as the suspenseful count and his then-shocking vampire bites – sudden falling books or slamming doors also help build the dangerous mood unlike today’s fake out jump scares. Rather than detract from the horror, just the right amount of humor and a whiff of romance accent the fine dialogue – although despite DVD commentaries and a variety of caption or audio options, the English subtitles don’t exactly match the español. Secret passages, dusty books, and otherworldly singing provide more flavor for a wild finale combining stakes, sunlight, and fire. To be sure, this toothy little number wins with heaps of atmosphere.

The Vampire’s Coffin – Salazar and company returned for this 1958 sequel aka El Ataud del Vampiro, and the two pictures can be found together on the generically named The Vampire Collection set for more howling cemeteries, grave robbers, and disturbed vampire tombs. Of course, it’s amazingly easy for two men to remove such heavy headstones and take a giant coffin to the local hospital for a scientific study, but hey, me want that sweet fifties Hearst! Skeletal reflections, giant wooden stakes – the Gothic creepy moves into unexplained science territory but the old-fashioned hospital retains a gray, mod feeling with scared kids and a cross above the bed. What can modern medicine do compared to a determined monster? Sharp shadows and dark angles add Expressionism accents while staircases and noir pursuits akin a Val Lewton aesthetic. Although a missing vampire about the ward could be laughable, spooky effects, a dark cape, and hypnotized victims add macabre. There is, however, a lacking finesse here thanks to a busy narrative crowded with swanky theater glamour and gruesome wax museum hideouts. Disbelieving medical directors, ritzy routines, and torture devices are all well and good on their own, but one moody, fully embraced locale would have been better. Convenience and poorly choreographed fights aside, the fun finale packs in plenty of rituals, chases, and guillotines, as you do. Ironically, it feels like pieces of this film are borrowed in more recent cliché horror, and despite a general bloodlessness and try hard approach, bared fangs and la Sangre talk keep up the theme.

The Vampire’s Night Orgy – Spanish director Leon Klimovsky (The Dracula Saga) uses an unusual widescreen format for this hour and twenty minutes from 1974. The color is very washed out, too, and unfortunately, the picture is often too dark or tough to see. Like most of the foreign or obscure horror of this era, there are edited versions and lost prints, and some scenes are regrettably dated and look the likes of seventies porn. Thankfully, those are about the only problems here.  Crazy funerals, wild music, and a nutty countess add to the demented ambiance of ticking clocks, creaking doors, and spooky sound effects. The dubbing is actually in sync and performed well, too, with a few words of un-translated Spanish adding to the Euro flavor. From the interesting premise – an en-route house staff’s bus breaks down in a seemingly abandoned town that really has an all too generous blood drinking population – to a bit of kink, nudity, and cannibalism, the screams and foreboding build up are solid. Sure, most of the men look the same with huge mustaches and I’ll be damn, there isn’t a lot of blood to be seen. However, the child actors aren’t annoying, and the vampire violence is well played. One by one, victims are taken down in fast, almost gang rape terror, and the chase finale and twist ending earn top marks. Though in serious need of a restoration and some may have trouble getting past the dated look, this is a nice little scary movie.

The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman – Never ever do an autopsy on a supposed werewolf on a moonlit night!  Just one of the many warnings from this 1971 Spanish treat, the fifth in the loose Waldemar Daninsky series from writer and star Paul Naschy.  Director Leon Klimovsky tackles then-contemporary disbelieving science versus superstition with good screams, fun growls and fangs, zoom attacks, and slow motion eerie.  There’s a good quality of blood, too, and a twisted medieval flashback establishes the satanic ritual roots. Of course, the nighttime photography is almost impossible to see, and the handheld forest camera action is poor. The werewolf makeup and effects may be a bit hokey but considering the low budget foreign production, they suffice. The flowing fashions and happy vamps running thru the glen can seem more like Frodo Lives hippie, I know. However, it is nonetheless very unnerving and effective. Actually, the pop references in the dialogue – such as man walking on the moon, James Bond, and the obligatory “Dracula! Ha ha.” – feels more dated amid the fine gothic history and Euro-style. A touch of lingerie, bloody shackles, and crazy girl on girl suggestion keep the run of the mill acting and yell at the TV moments bemusing.  Cap this eighty plus minutes with unusual monster relationships and cool mod clothes and you have a picture that’s a cut above the standard dollar bin foreign horror. Naturally, multiple video releases, unavailable uncut editions, international reissues, and title changes can make pursuing Naschy’s horror repertoire extremely frustrating.  For fans of retro Euro-horror, however, this is worth the hunt. 

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Latinx Month: Planet of the Dead by Steven Arellano Rose

Planet of the Dead

The moaning wind of the cemetery colony was already attempting to bury the landing pad that Buster Ross had lowered his ship on in the surrounding, desert sand. The funerary agent from Earth ran quickly toward the looming nearly-all-glass funerary building both to escape the storm as well as to meet the master of this literally dead planet. Both pad and building were surrounded by tombstones from nearly every region on Earth, many of the stones rolling with the dunes and sinking into the dark of the hollows. They were stone and metal crops, some of them being simple plaques or stump-size stones barely rising up out of the ground, others more fully risen. Yet a seed lay below each of those stone and metal crops, a seed known as the human corpse. The official name of the planet was Memoria. The Global Government on Earth wanted to be sure its name was as honourable sounding as possible to the ones buried there. Some people on Earth called the planet New Giza for its millions of tombs as well as for its desert geography. However, many people called the planet by a derivative of Ancient Egypt’s City of the Dead; many people called it the Planet of the Dead.

Immediately arriving at the front door, Ross was stopped by a cold electronic voice: “State your purpose for entering, please.”

Ross said, “I’m here to see a Mr. Juan Moreno.”

The electronic voice said, “Thank you. Now please state your purpose for your visit with Mr. Moreno.” While it spoke, Ross noticed that it generated from a speaker on a small, white box framed within the all-glass wall to the left of the door. A tiny bead of an “eye” glowed red in the upper center of the box.

Ross said, “To pick up some bodies and transport them back to Earth.”

The electronic guard said, “Thank you. Now give your name, please.” Ross did that, impatience beginning to well up from within. Then the automated guard told him to state who sent him. And the guard’s questions went on like this another five times. Then a red beam of light streamed out from the ruby eye and scanned him for weapons. When the red light disappeared a loud click sounded from the double front doors and they slid open. Ross entered when suddenly a 20-something girl walked up to him.

Her face was very pale due to the amount of makeup covering it, and she wore dark gray eye-shadow. Her eyelashes were long and black, and, likewise, her hair was also black and shiny. However, although her features were Hispanic, one could tell that her very straight hair was an unnatural color. She reminded him of people he had seen on the Net in encyclopedia illustrations and black-and-white video clips to articles on 19th-century society and ones on the 20th century’s horror movie industry. It was as if she had walked out of a scene from one of those weird, ancient films. She wore a long, black tailcoat with a tight black satin vest underneath and underneath that a snug, white 19th-century shirt. On her head she wore a black derby. The pants she wore were tight, shiny black stirrups that seemed to merge with the polished, black Victorian gentleman’s shoes she wore with the raised heels which made the shoes look more feminine. Her appearance was almost melodramatic.

“Mr. Ross?” she said, with a dead expression.

Ross smiled and stammered, “Tha-, that’s right. I’m here to see Mr. Moreno.” He did not expect to be greeted by such an odd character as this girl, if it could be called a greeting. Saying nothing else, the girl walked over to a somewhat crescent moon-shaped desk that appeared to be built into the marble floor since both were white. There she pressed a key and spoke into a microphone in which, like the key, was built into the desk. “Mr. Moreno, Mr. Ross has arrived.” As it was when she had spoken to Ross, her tone was expressionless. A man’s voice faintly sounded from an inconspicuous speaker on the desk saying he would be down shortly.

After that, the girl said nothing else. Instead, she keyed information into the desk’s terminal without looking up while Ross waited. Her movement and pose were so repetitious and monotonous, they seemed robotic.

“Mr. Ross?” echoed a man’s voice from above. Ross, startled flashed his head up toward the direction of the voice. At the top of the winding metal stairwell was a man who looked to be around Ross’s age, 60.

Ross answered, “Yes?”

“I’m Manuel Moreno.”

Ross introduced himself, although awkwardly. He was shocked at Mr. Moreno’s appearance more than he had been the girl’s. Moreno’s skin was a very pale brown, his gray hair disheveled. He wore a black, Victorian suit. So many youngsters are bad enough, but such an appearance is way out of the norm for a man of any age, thought Ross, proudly patting his short-cut, neatly parted hair.

When Moreno reached the bottom of the stairs, Ross walked up to him and the two men shook hands. Moreno said, “Delighted to have you here, Mr. Ross.” His smile was faint. Then gesturing to the stairway, he said, “Would you kindly walk this way, please?”

Ross walked up the stairs, hesitantly.

Moreno held the door open and gestured to Ross to enter. Victorian and neo-Gothic furnishings made the room appear more a study than an office. One of the few exceptions to the old-style atmosphere was the transparent wall behind the funerary manager’s desk that looked out onto the fields of gravestones.

After Moreno shut the door, he offered Ross a seat in front of the desk lined with armies of miniature skeletons and skulls. Many of these were idealized with the thick, black lines of features in the style of the Mexican Dias de los Muertos. Several others were more realistic appearing. More of these figurines appeared in various places on his bookshelf. Some of the life-size skulls looked so real they looked as if they had just recently been shoveled up from the graves outside. Panting, Ross more than gladly accepted Moreno’s offer. He was too used to taking elevators. However, Moreno had no reaction at all to the walk; he breathed as normally as if he had not even gone anywhere.

Moreno said, “May I offer you a drink, Mr. Ross?” Although he spoke with a tone of weariness, he sounded much more inviting than the receptionist downstairs.

After several pants, Ross, answered, “I would like that a lot, thank you.”

“What would you like?”

Ross said, “Whatever your favourite is, as long as it’s thirst-quenching.”

After sitting down at his desk, Moreno grabbed the receiver to his long necked 1920’s phone and ordered an employee to bring them a bottle of amontillado and two glasses. He said, “We have received news, Mr. Ross, that the descendants of some of our residents have contacted you.”

Ross paused. Then he said, “Residents?”

Moreno looked down, pausing and then said, “It is, you may say, a euphemism for the bodies that rest here.”

Ross stared with bewilderment at Moreno for several seconds before saying, “But they’re already called units, Mr. Moreno, why would they need to be called anything else?”

Moreno looked away from Ross, tightening his lips. Then he smiled, saying, “We like to refer to them as if they were still living since we get so lonesome here on Memoria. It is only myself, and my two attendants—Luther and Felicia–who notified me of your arrival. Both serve as my secretaries, pallbearers, caretakers and morticians. Aside from the three of us, it is only a few gardeners, computer technicians, and, although for an impermanent span of time, some construction workers who are working on my new house. That is not very many people for a planet that is twice as large as Earth.”

“Mr. Moreno, did I hear you correctly?” Ross asked, bewildered. “Did you just call your attendants pallbearers, caretakers, morticians?”

Moreno froze a stare towards Ross for several seconds before saying, “Forgive me. Those are words that have been out of use for hundreds of years. We use a very unique manner of speech in the funeral business here on Memoria, Mr. Ross. It consists of words that you will no longer find except in ancient, or near-ancient at the least, literature,” he gestured a hand to the ceiling-high bookcase to his left. The case held copies of titles that had been out of print for hundreds of years. Although the titles were still talked about, they were only done so for reasons of historical reference. Nobody read bound books such as the ones on Moreno’s shelves for leisure anymore, books from the gothic and horror forms of storytelling.

Eyeing the books, Ross said, “Mr. Moreno, those are amazing. But isn’t it much easier, space efficient and safer for the value of these hardbound books to read . . .” his look of confusion turned to one of coldness as he studied the titles on the spines, “those, on computer? I mean it seems like such a waste of money when you can read literature for free on the Network.” The titles indicated dark, threatening things: titles such as Poe’s Tales of Terror, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lovecraft’s The Dunwhich Horror and Other Tales, among many, many others of their kind.

Moreno said, “Mr. Ross, the Network does not have these books. It only makes available the books that society desires. If a story from centuries ago is not felt to relate to our times, then the Network ‘makes’ it relate to our times by rewriting it. And so we are not reading these authors’ stories,” he gestured toward the bookcase again, “but those of society at large. In addition to that, reading is more than just comprehending the words on the page; it is the holding of the piece in your hand and touching the beautiful pages cut from a dark woodland that is an enormous part of the reading experience.”

“Well I don’t know about that,” said Ross, “but what’s the point in reading a story if it doesn’t relate to the problems that we have to deal with today?”

Moreno countered, “Mr. Ross, the stories of several centuries ago do relate to the problems of the present. We encounter the same basic problems today as our ancestors of several centuries ago did. Though our robbers and murderers that we fear so much no longer commit their crimes on dark streets nor in dark estates, though they now commit them on the Network, or in the average size or smaller home, the same basic cause and effect of crime still lurks in our universe—the cause being the motivations of crime, the effect being the fear that crime brings forth. Those two things do not change. Motivation and fear: both of these stem from the human condition. And we can only understand those problems by examining the past and relating the ones of the present to those that occurred in other forms centuries ago.”

Ross said, “Mr. Moreno, the crimes are the problems, not the motivations, not the fears of the crime, but the crimes themselves.”

“My apologies, Mr. Ross,” interrupted Moreno, “but I think I should make ourselves aware that we should discuss the corpses that you came for; we are very busy here on Memoria.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, we’re going off-topic. I have to be back to Earth by tomorrow, myself.” Ross snapped open his briefcase and pulled out several papers documenting the evidence of the corpses’ living descendants. He began explaining them when he was interrupted by a pounding at the door.

Moreno shouted, “Bring it in.”

The door swung open revealing a young man who appeared to be in his early 20s. He almost looked like he could be a twin brother to the girl, Felicia; his way of dress and bodily features were very similar to hers except the shoes did not have the heightened heals and the hair was much shorter.

Moreno said, “Oh, Luther, I thought you were Felicia with the amontillado.” Then he said sharply, “What do you need?”

Luther said indifferently, “They found another fresh corpse.”

Moreno shouted with a shocked look, “Good Lord,” and jumped up from his chair. He asked earnestly, “In another grave? Another open one?”

Luther nodded, his powdered face without expression.

Moreno hung his head and complained to himself, “Why, damn it all, did they have to do this so early?” Then he turned back to the young man, saying, “Whose body was it this time, Luther?”

“One of the construction workers.”

Moreno asked, “Would the other workers happen to know what he had been doing out there?”

Luther said, “They do not know.”

Moreno turned to Ross. “This has been the third person on the planet who has turned up dead and in a grave. First two of my technicians and now a construction worker. At first we thought the murders were being committed by somebody hiding out in the graveyard areas. . .” He inhaled deeply and then exhaled, “Until now.”

“What do you mean?” asked Ross.

“The construction workers never go out to the graves,” said Moreno, grimly. Then he turned to Luther. “Was there any sign of the method of the murder? Were there hand marks on his throat like the two previous men?”

Luther said, “We do not know; we have not pulled him out yet.”

Moreno said, “Well, then we shall pull him out now.” Then he turned to Ross. “I apologise dearly for you having to experience this matter, Mr. Ross.”

Keeping in mind Moreno’s unusual archaic style of speech and outdated clothes, Ross said,

“This is no game now?”

Moreno said, sounding slightly annoyed, “This is no game; men have actually been turning up murdered here, Mr. Ross.”

Ross corrected, “You mean there have been homicides on Memoria?”

Moreno paused staring at Ross before saying, irritably, “Yes. And the terrible thing is–or maybe the good thing, depending on how you view the matter–the murderer is among us. He can only be among us. We can catch him. As I have already said, Mr. Ross, there are only a few of us on this planet; the killer can only be one of us.”

Ross asked, “Have you called the police?”

“I am the police on Memoria,” Moreno said. “I have gone through the police training, and I am authorized to make an arrest of the suspect if we ever find him or her. This is why the Global Government has not assigned any police or even mere security guards here on Memoria. As we all know, Earth has been in economic crisis since the interplanetary colonial wars. The only security we have here, aside from myself, is Sphinx, our automated guard at the front door who asked you to identify yourself.”

Ross said, “Yes, and she did a really good job of it. She played 20 Questions with me 20 hundred times, which included ‘state your reason for moving the bodies, please.’” He said this with a slightly nasal sound to imitate the guard’s electronic voice. “Come on, why does security need to know that? What other reasons would people like myself have to come to a planet of dead people we don’t even know?”

“Forgive me, Mr. Ross, but I recently programmed her to ask those questions to anybody who comes to the gate from outside due to the incidents I had just indicated: two men have been murdered; now, as we have just been told, there is a third. We thought the murderer may have incoming connections from Earth. Like our mother planet, we must use caution when visitors come to Memoria.”

The Earth funerary agent said, sarcastically, “So like on Earth, everyone’s suspect when a crime is committed here?”

Moreno said with a faint smile of delight, “Suspect! You’re learning the language of Memoria, after all, Mr. Ross! If not that, then perhaps Earth has not lost all honesty in her languages.” As he finished speaking, he caressed a set of Sherlock Holmes novels on one of the shelves. Then he slid open a drawer from his desk and keyed in a call for Earth on his satellite phone within it and reported the murder for the Funerary Department to put on file.

As Moreno, his two attendants, Ross, and the construction crew foreman approached the burial site, the Earth funerary agent and foreman were the only two who were breathing heavily with exhaustion. Ross said, “I think it would’ve been better to have taken the buggy, Mr. Moreno. You people must keep in great shape; I’m ready to die.” He looked around at the tombstones. Then he said, “But if I do, please don’t bury me here; I have known family still living on Earth, thank you.”

Moreno suggested, “You people need to stop depending on so much mechanical transportation; Earth’s become too dependent on it.”

The body lay in the open coffin at the bottom of the freshly dug grave. The corpse seemed to be frozen in terror, eyes wide and mouth gaped open. It looked as though it had seen something too horrible to exist. It made Ross’s stomach sick to the point where he had to swing his head away from it.

Moreno asked the construction foreman, “Mr. Henriksen, do you or any of your men have any notion of how long he had been away from the worksite before you discovered him here?”

The foreman said, “The last time any of us had seen him was just a little before dawn this morning. He was eating breakfast with all of us. Then went out for his morning smoke as usual. After that we never saw him again.” He took a deep, quivering swallow of breath and exhaled, “Until now.”

Moreno further inquired, “He does not often come all the way out here to have his morning smoke?”

Henriksen said, “Not that any of us know of. He often just stands right outside the dining caravan.”

Moreno asked, “And none of you saw him out there when you parted for work?”

The foreman shook his head.

Moreno thanked and dismissed him and then turned to his two caretakers, Luther and Felicia, saying, “Apparently, this murder occurred just outside the dining caravan, and whoever did the killing did so silently and quickly. Take the pulley, raise him up and have it transport him to the morgue. We will perform an autopsy on him later.” Then he turned to Ross saying, “I do not know what the cause of such trouble on Memoria is. Suddenly within the past two weeks, there have been murders. And each victim’s body has been used to replace a resident taken from his grave.”

Ross said, “Mr. Moreno, you keep saying ‘murder’ rather than ‘homicide’. ‘Murder’ has not been in use for centuries. Why do you use this outdated jargon?”

Moreno stared hard at Mr. Ross for several seconds before saying, “As I have already said, Mr. Ross, we get very lonely up here on Memoria. We like to use language that makes our lives and work exciting.”

“You act like incidents such as this are games of some sort,” Ross said, gesturing to the open grave where the bone-white mechanical hand of the pulley was beginning to raise the corpse. “Someone has just been killed and you turn it into entertainment!”

Moreno said, “Mr. Ross, when I said we like to use language that makes our lives and work more exciting, I was not referring to entertainment; I was referring to the living of life itself. Very few people have actually lived life itself for the past several hundred years, Mr. Ross. Too many people have lived their material wealth instead, their automation-made possessions–their cars, their computers, their virtual vacations, their virtual gyms; nobody lives life in its natural form anymore!”

“What does speaking in all these outdated terms have to do with natural life?” asked Ross.

Moreno said, “These terms, Mr. Ross, indicate that natural life can easily be ended by Death at any time, and so it indicates the value of life. When people are always speaking the practical and technical language of today they are only reminded of what is meant to keep preventing death, making them forget the true value of life whose very frailty gives it that value. And that is why I am not a man of the present world and culture, Mr. Ross, and neither are my caretakers. We live in the days when lighting at night did not come as easily as it does in the present day, and only candles and oil lamps provided one’s source of light after the sun had descended to the other side of the earth. Is not fire all we need?”

“You said it again: ‘caretakers’. That gives a very negative connotation to a monument ground to most people now days.”

Suddenly, Luther called out from the edge of the hollowed grave, “Mr. Moreno, hand marks on the neck like the other ones.”

Moreno hung his head in disappointment and disbelief for several seconds. Finally, he lifted it again and commanded to Luther, “Take him to the morgue.”

Ross exclaimed to Moreno, “How the hell can that be? No one from the caravan heard any commotion.”

Moreno hesitated before he said, “Whoever killed him must have had the strength to kill him before he could scream out. Therefore, Mr. Ross, the murderer was not human.”

Ross said, “I thought there was no native life on the planet.”

Ignoring this, Moreno said, “Returning to your argument against politically ‘incorrect’ speech, Mr. Ross, I must make it known to you that I have my own ideas and beliefs of what a graveyard should be like. And as I have just said, I am not a man of the present. That is why I took the position of undertaker here on Memoria, or, if you prefer, since you don’t speak our language, monument ground manager.”

“This, this is, a little unusual,” Ross said. “I, I have to say, very unusual. Such language hasn’t been used for centuries. . . it’s so antiquated . . .“

”Yes, it is, because, you see, ever since Earth forbade its people to speak that dialect, people like ourselves here on Memoria who still speak it have been treated like old people who have no significance to Earth’s societies. Therefore we are antiquated and so are of no use to Earth’s advanced technocratic societies and neither is our dialect.

“Earth’s societies felt that our poetic manner of speaking gave a sense of discomfort and tension for the loved ones of the . . . dead, as we, whether you people like it or not, refer to them here. If we were not treated like old fashioned outcasts, then we were treated like young trouble-making punks. I, of course, am not of youth anymore but I have a youthful state of mind, the very same state that my two gothic caretakers have, and they are of youth.

The ultra liberals hated us for wanting to leave unknown corpses on Earth because they felt it took away space for the living, especially the living who were very poor and who needed housing that they could afford and facilities that could give charity to them. The conservatives hated us not only for wanting to leave the bodies of unknown people in earth that capital-oriented developers wanted to build over, but also merely for the way we dressed.

“Both conservatives and liberals saw the dead who preceded them as non-existent merely because their bodies had no documented identification. And so as with the people buried here on this remote desert planet, we do not exist to Earth either; we are just as dead as the buried residents are.”

The whole time Moreno had been speaking, Ross’s face was paling and his eyes were wide. Moreno snapped, “Now I know most definitely that you are one of them, Mr. Ross, one of the Earthlings who side with the material/technological masses who are so centered on self-gain that they will not consider the bodies of the ancestors who have gone before them.” Then he smiled and asked, “Do you realize how pale you are? You look like I have just told you that . . . I killed . . . somebody.” Moreno’s mocking expression turned to a stunned and angry one. “So simply because I speak, a ‘foreign’ language, Mr. Ross, you think I killed those people? That is exactly the reason why people like myself and my attendants came to this planet, Mr. Ross, because everybody on globalized Earth who lives a little bit of a different lifestyle is under suspicion when something goes wrong. Well now that you suspect me, Mr. Ross, and are going to report me, may I give you a little tour of that house I’m having built? I am certain you already think I am mad.”

Ross said, “Yes I’m aware that you’re mad, and so am I, because you’re taking this homicide very lightly when you’re all so willing to show me your new house. Just what do you need that new house for anyway? You have a free one from the Global Government.”

Moreno reemphasized, “Once again, Mr. Ross, I am not like the rest of the people of society. I desire an older style of architecture. And there is very little we can do about today’s murder; the representatives from the victim’s funerary service on Earth will not be here for a couple of days. The autopsy can wait, so that gives me plenty of time to show you the new house.”

Ross said, mockingly and with accusation, “But you said one of you here on this world has got to be behind these homicides. If you don’t find out who that is now who will be next?”

“Mr. Ross, my attendants who have worked for me for a sufficient period of time and, therefore, whom I trust, will keep an eye out on the area. If anything looks or sounds suspicious they will notify me immediately.”

“Do you have a communicator?”

“Of course. All of the Government’s facilities are required to have one of those damn things.”

Ross said, “No, do you have a portable communicator with you?”

Moreno said, with sudden comprehension, “Oh. A portable communicator is a device too much of the present, Mr. Ross. No, I do not have one.”

Ross snapped, “Because you’re not a man of the present, right, Mr. Moreno? Because if you were, then you would care about keeping up with today’s technology for emergencies like this!”

Raising his voice authoritatively, Moreno said, “Mr. Ross, devices such as your portable communicators, and much of the other damned technology that has grown along with them, including condensed Network versions of our classic literature, is the cause of murders such as the one that has occurred this day. Because of this technology, no living soul cares about life anymore, Mr. Ross, because there is no life. There is only the soulless machine. And because of that there is no mystery. If there is no life, there is no mystery!”

Ross shouted, pointing toward himself, “We are life, Mr. Moreno. And so it’s our duty to take care of ourselves and preserve ourselves as a people, but we can’t do that if we let a killer run around loose! Maybe you’re too secular to understand that! Maybe you take too much advantage of the world’s freedom of belief; maybe you’re just too damn atheist to care about the life of humanity!”

Moreno said, “Mr. Ross, that is exactly the point of my argument: because there is no life, as in natural life, not electronic or biotechnological imitations of it, there is no longer any concept of or belief in the supernatural and, therefore, the mysterious. There is not even any belief in the soul and therefore the consciousness of the other person. Therefore do not dare to blame me and call me an uncaring atheist for not owning an evil device such as these damned portable communicators that basically cause people to avoid natural life, life the concrete experience of our flesh and blood existence, the experience of life as being with people, conversing with them in present time and space rather than just sending apathetic, abstract information to people by way of a cold, unfeeling machine!”

“Mr. Moreno, technology was advanced to solve the world’s problems such as crime like the one that happened this morning. It is a sin against humanity to not keep up with technological advancements all because you’re only concerned about your own aesthetic interest! Or should I say atheistic interest?”

Moreno took a deep quivering breath. Then, gritting his teeth, he said, “Mr. Ross, I am not an atheist and technology has saved none of my family! Death has saved my family, Mr. Ross, Death! He called them through the disease that was inherent in all of my family and they went forth!”

Moreno hung his head, lifted it back up and then said, “Mr. Ross, can I show you the house that I’m building?”

“Please,” said Ross, disbelievingly.

“Follow me.”

As the two men started walking back toward the facility, Ross asked, “By the way, Mr. Moreno, if you’re not an atheist, what religion do you practice?”

The funerary director stopped. He paused staring hard at Ross. Then he said, sarcastically, “I thought religion had no place in government, in our employments, Mr. Ross. Should it be of any concern to you what my religious beliefs are? Now, if you still want to see my house, then I shall show it to you, if not, then we shall retrieve the bodies you came for.”

Ross said with suspicion, “I would like to see the house, Mr. Moreno.”

They crossed the symmetrical-style front yard with the perfectly trimmed lawn and trees in order to get to the back of the government-made funerary building where a small, narrow gate stood. The shadowy structure could be seen looming in the distance before Moreno opened the tan, smoothly painted, wrought iron gate. As the gate swung open absent of any creaks, the shadowy structure was revealed to be a partially built medieval castle. The portions of walls that had already been built over the skeleton consisted of all storm gray stones chaotically cemented together. There was a tower in the front part of the castle. The whole structure looked like some half decaying brontosaurus or giant serpent lying on top of a high Egyptian sand dune, looking as though it were raising its long neck from a fossilized hibernation. A hibernation that any sane person would pray that it would never wake up from.

Ross gasped, “What is this?”

Moreno said, “It’s my house, my house!” He said this with a wide smile, a smile that was like the sudden burst of the sun coming out of the clouds on a dark grey day. It did not match his overall morbid character. Then the sun sunk back into the clouds when he continued in a bitter tone, “Not the Government’s.”

Ross said, “No one builds houses like these anymore.”

“I am very well aware of that; that is the precise reason why I am having this one built.”

Ross criticized, “I have never seen anything like this. Not in real life. The only places I’ve ever saw such horrible architecture is on the Network at certain sites. Honestly, Mr. Moreno, this is very disrespectful to the people who are buried here. It gives a monument ground a very negative connotation.”

Moreno said, “That is the problem with society, Mr. Ross. Man has always been afraid of death; he has always seen it as an arch-enemy of humanity; he has always seen it as the ultimate menace as though it should never have existed. And so throughout history, he has identified it through the dark, deteriorating haunted castle in our literature and films. But ironically, Mr. Ross, it is a part of life. Without death, there can be no life.

“People always try to put off that which is infinitely greater than themselves: they get surgery done on their body parts to prevent themselves from aging (there are no more wise old men or wise old women; in fact, people move as far away as possible from their own parents and grandparents because their parents and grandparents represent the death that they fear since the elderly are so near it); they put chemicals on their scalps to prevent balding or they surgically have them replaced with the scalps of the dead who did not have enough respect for their own bodies and so in their wills gave their parts away to strangers; they put manufactured remedies in their hair to ward off graying; they go as far as having machine organs put into them to avoid their natural deaths! They try to cheat Death, as the old saying goes. But, Mr. Ross, history all the way up to this point has proven that you cannot thwart Death’s plans! But scientists are constantly trying to thwart them. They are now going to the extreme of trying to locate the microscopic organ that stops the overall process of the body’s functioning, that which ‘brings’ about death, so they can remove even it.”

Ross said, “Mr. Moreno, all religions, or nearly all at least, believe in the preservation of life. And that is why most religions try to prevent death.”

“Mr. Ross, Death is Life!”

Ross remembered a biblical saying similar to Moreno’s last statement. It suddenly dawned on him what religion Moreno practiced. However, he asked to make sure, “Mr. Moreno, you having a Spanish surname, I would like to say are Catholic. But I have a big feeling you’re not.”

Moreno said mockingly, but cheerfully, “May I remind you, Mr. Ross, Earth is a politically correct world, and it is politically incorrect to stereotype certain cultures.”

Ross verified, “So you’re not Catholic?”

Moreno shook his head with a proud grin like a child who thinks he’s out-smarted an adult, and then said, “My religion, if you must know–” then his grin turned to one of a solemn expression, “and if you tell the Government and they get suspicious like yourself, then I am willing to die for my religion–my religion is a break-off of my ancestral Catholicism, Mr. Ross.”

Ross guessed, although he knew he was wrong, “You or your family were converts to Protestantism.”

The proud childish grin grew back. “No, it is much newer than any Protestant sect, although there have been similar religions in the most ancient of times.”

“You don’t even worship God,” Ross said.

“Not that god, Mr. Ross. You people were wrong about God nearly all of history.”

“You worship . . . Death,” he said, as much as he dreaded to, with a cold gasp, eyes wide, face pale like the one of the corpse that the bone white pulley had rolled away with. Then he choked out, “Only a worshiper of Death could commit such a homicide as the one committed today.”

Moreno said, “You dare accuse me of a crime solely based on my religion, Mr. Ross? That is complete bigotry and religious intolerance. The function of the World Constitution is to protect us from that. Let me reveal to you, Mr. Ross, that we, the worshipers of Death, believe that He must take his own course. We touch nobody and nothing. We do not make machines that bring on death as people on Earth make machines that prevent it. We do not make machines for capital punishment. As Catholics say that their god is the only one who can punish by death, so do we say the same about our God. We do not even make or give support to euthanasiac devices; one must accept the form of death that our God brings; His will is His will.”

At this, Ross gasped, “You would let ill people suffer, you cold blooded bastard!”

“We are not of cold blood in our beliefs, Mr. Ross, because we prevent acts such as euthanasia in order to save poor suicidal souls from even a worse suffering, the suffering of eternal hell. Therefore we do not stop Death in His course, nor do we influence Him to speed up his course. We leave be the will of Death, Mr. Ross. That is our doctrine.”

Ross interrogated, “Who’s ‘our,’ Mr. Moreno? You and who else? Where’s the rest of your congregation? Just you three? Those two overly pale face, juvenile, gothic punks that work for you?”  

Moreno’s face flamed red as he commanded, “Enough!” Then in a more calm yet firm voice, he continued, “I am through with your insults on our planet.”

“The Government’s planet, Mr. Moreno! You don’t rule this planet, the Global Government does, and the people who support it.”

Moreno said, “And we the people who live here do support it, Mr. Ross, and since we live here you are insulting our home planet merely because of our ways.”

“Yes, that’s right! I am insulting your ways, Mr. Moreno! You people take the time to glorify  your ‘god’, Death, but take no compassion on the ones your god ‘takes’ from the universe; in fact, you show even less compassion to the ones who are still alive, the ones who need euthanasia, for instance.”

“Much in the same way you take no compassion for the ones you send here to get buried because nobody on Earth cares about them; you relocate them, exile them to be precise–but you dare not use that term because you’re ‘not inhumane people’–you exile them off of their own planet like the 19th century Americans did with the Native Americans with their land and like the 20th and 21st century Americans did with my Mexican ancestors in their southwestern United States homeland. You do that because the living don’t remember the names of the dead or how they relate to the dead, and so you tear out their graveyards, their neighborhoods, and transport them over here like garbage, Mr. Ross, like garbage to be dumped in a remote Gehenna!”

“We transport them here because the majority voted for that kind of method to make room for the living.”

Moreno said, “That is all you people are concerned with: that which is alive and present. The people of Earth have no concern for the past nor for the people who made it! Earth fears the past; Earth fears that if the past is remembered then it will be relived and so will stop material progress and keep the wrong people in power; Earth fears that the past will haunt society forever. But, Mr. Ross, Earth forgets too easily what gave us our ideas for the present–the past. If there is no past, there is no present and thereafter no future. Without the past, and so without our dead ancestors who made it, there is no meaning for any of us. We forget our past too much and everything and everybody that make it up. We forget the events that made our present day events, we forget our ancestors, we forget our ancestries, and so we forget ourselves to the point where we are just a people floating around in an infinite, black, eternal midnight universe! We, my two caretakers and I, may be a minority in our religion, Mr. Ross, but we know where our faith lies.”

“In death!” Ross barked.

Moreno raised his voice, “Yes, Mr. Ross, in our eternal, old friend Death! Our tour stops here. You will pick up your bodies now and leave. Remember, I hold authority over who comes and goes here, Mr. Ross. And I do not think you are the kind of person who should come here. Now get your bodies and be gone.”

“That’s true, Mr. Moreno, you do have authority over this planet, I’m sorry to admit. But I will be back with higher authority from Earth, Mr. Moreno, do you understand that? I will be back with higher authority to investigate this case!” He was yelling near to the point of losing his breath. “Because this is all a disgrace to turn a place of burial into one’s own aesthetic theme park. Building a haunted castle on a monument planet! You’re sick!”

The two attendants met Ross at the front gate, Luther saying to him, “The bodies are loaded.”

Ross thanked him without expression and headed back to the ship through the moaning wind.

Luther and Felicia met Moreno in his study. He asked, “Did you load all three of them?”

Luther said they had.

Moreno said, “The weapons too?”

Felicia answered in the affirmative.

Then Moreno said, “Good. It will be the only way that Earth will ever believe us. Earth, that foolish world with its beliefs merely in the so called here-and-now, merely in that which can be explained and rationalized, only that which can be shown in the light! Well, the people of Earth are going to find out that all cannot have light shed on it, not even on things that shed blood, and that we are not above God no matter how advanced in science and technology we are! There is still mystery in this universe–” As he spoke he was looking out the transparent wall behind his desk and then suddenly slumped down onto the floor with no resistance.

Luther checked the old man’s pulse. He looked up at Felicia saying, “Death has taken him.”  

Without expression, Felicia said, “Do we have time to embalm him?”

Luther looked out the transparent wall for several seconds and then said, “We will have to put him in deep freeze. We can’t lose any time. The three generals will be back on Earth soon expecting the squadrons and troops. . . .” He glared at the endless fields of gravestones as he continued, “Whom we have yet to awaken.”

Ross’s ship was already fleeing through midnight black space several miles out of Memoria’s atmosphere when he and his co-pilot heard the sounds from below. The sounds were like three coffin lids dropping.

The End

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

–Steven Arellano Rose

Where are all the Mid-Century Mexican Horror Films? A Frightening Flix Editorial

Where Are All the Mid-Century Mexican Horror Films by Kristin Battestella

From The Witch’s Mirror to The Curse of the Crying Woman and more, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the mid-century Mexican horror productions I’ve seen from the forties, fifties, and sixties. I would wholeheartedly like to see more, but where did all these Mexican horror movies go? Read on for my rant about the frustrating difficulty in finding these quality classic scares.

Why so inaccessible?

Thanks to directors such as Rafael Baledón or the likes of Abel Salazar’s filmography, one can filter, search, and find dozens of Mexican horror films on IMDb, Wikipedia, and more. We know they exist, so where are they and why aren’t they readily available? Ten or fifteen years ago, a budget DVD set with twenty or fifty so-called horror classics was a get what you pay for way to find a few old horror gems amid the so bad it’s good obscure, public domain scares, and cheap VHS quality rips. This was how I first found some Spanish horror delectables. Today, however, those sets aren’t really viable compared to affordable streaming options. Unfortunately, be it the free horror channels, discount streaming tiers, or the big mainstream options, none of them have any of these films. Back when we had Xfinity and could browse all the thousand channels on the guide including the Spanish cable package, I used to see some great horror films listed on the Peliculas de clasicos channels. I’d write down great titles like Museo de Horror, El Beso de Ultratrumbo, La Cabeza Viviente, and more but can’t find any of them anywhere. How with today’s instant access to everything are these films still so inaccessible?

Cultural Drift is No Excuse!

It takes a lot of digging and research to find these titles, and although it’s easy to search with Spanish language filters, that creates its own set of problems. Sure I’ve been able to find a few Salazar sixties horrors or Mexican movies, but those searches also yield a lot of Paul Naschy pictures from Spain (and searching for his Waldermar werewolf films is another aggravating not all available pursuit). Soon, these lists skew to Spain, European productions, Jesus Franco, Dario Argento, and Mario Bava. Seventies Italian Giallo pictures are not what we’re looking for, and finding the right version of a film with different releases, run times, and different titles per country only adds more fuel to the frustrating fuego. Sometimes you think you are getting the right movie and it turns out to be something else, or worse a film you’ve already seen under a different name. I myself am guilty of putting all my Spanish horror viewing lists and recommendations together because it’s so tough to find just the Mexican scares. Of course, Spain and Mexico are different cultures with different español and different identities, and it’s problematic to presume they are interchangeable. Many years ago I had a vehement argument on an online film forum when a commenter said he wanted a role to be cast with Penélope Cruz or Salma Hayek or “one of those types.” O_o This person could not see why I objected to these actresses being lumped together as one and the same. On a non-horror note, I highly suggest the Maya Exploration Center’s Professor Edwin Barnhart’s Great Course lectures including Ancient Civilizations of North America, Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed, Lost Worlds of South America, and Exploring the Mayan World to educate oneself on the history of Southwest, Central, and South American communities.

The Classics are Better.

What irritates me most is the perception that because Hollywood or mainstream horror is more prevalent, that means it must be better. In my recent viewings, however, that’s been far from the truth. I’ve enjoyed the majority of independent Australian, New Zealand, Irish, UK horror, and European productions, sure. Canadian pictures, on the other hand, have been more mixed bag. When the festival finds are true to themselves, they’ve been good – but you can tell the difference when a north of the border production is compromising itself in hopes of an American sale and wide distribution, catering to the formulaic and cliché. I had such high hopes for The Curse of La Llorona. It starts well with colonial Mexican scares so viewers think we’re in for some period piece Hammer flair, but sadly the film – written and directed by white men, because of course – degrades into the typical kids in peril with whooshing entities and trite jump scares. Cultural fears are dismissed and protective warnings are treated like Mysticism 101, and the entire time I was waiting for it to end, I had one thought, which was that The Curse of the Crying Woman was better. There’s an entire Wikipedia page called “Golden Age of Mexican Cinema” but where are all the films? Netflix if you’re lucky has one DVD copy, and when that breaks, it’s just saves and unavailables.

It’s Frustrating and Offensive.

For viewer looking for quality horror of any kind, it’s disturbing how unique storytelling, different cultural scares, and the many horror stories to be told must be bent to serve white mainstream horror. The fact that these films are not widely available almost feels like an intentional burying – the way a great Asian horror film won’t see the light of day stateside because the rights were bought up and it is being deliberately suppressed until the rich white blonde jump scare cliché remake is released first. Why aren’t these classic, quality films being celebrated? Why are they not freely available to watch at any time? A black and white picture? So what! Spanish subtitles or a bad English dub? Big deal! Is it because they are not in English that white America suspects releasing these films properly won’t be profitable enough for them? Well that’s just too damn bad because I want to see these films. Do you have an inside source on where to find some classic mid-century Mexican horror movies? ¡Damelo!

 

For More Frightening Flix, visit:

Horror Cliches I’m Tired of Seeing

All Things Dracula Video Review

Ciao, Horror!

Bone Tomahawk

 

Latinx Month : Dark Artist Tehani Farr

As part of our Latinx Month, we would like to introduce you to Dark Artist Tehani Farr. Tehani is a Mexican Illustrator, from a place called Xalapa Veracruz,  her style is Dark fantasy,  she works for metal bands, dark tales, books, festivals, games, etc 

Please enjoy some of her cover art. If you to see more, you can find her work on Instagram: @tehanifarr and also on her website www.tehanifarr.com

Latinx Month: Best Latinx Horror Movies

from Will “the Thrill” Viharo

Naschy and Franco made hundreds of films between them so this is only a small but representative sampling. Here are some of my favorites. Salud!

THE BLIND DEAD quadrilogy directed by Amando de Ossorio 

  1. Tombs of the Blind Dead
  2. Night of the Seagulls
  3. Return of the Blind Dead
  4. Tombs of the Blind Dead

Also by Amando de Ossorio:

  1. The Loreley’s Grasp
  2.  Night of the Sorcerers

Rino Di Silvestro:

      Werewolf Woman

Paul Naschy:

  1. Werewolf VS. The Vampire Woman (aka Werewolf Shadow)
  2. Curse of the Devil
  3. Dracula’s Great Love
  4. The Mummy’s Revenge
  5. Hunchback of the Morgue
  6. Vengence of the Zombies
  7. Horror Rises From the Tomb

Jess Franco:

  1. Vampyros Lesbos
  2.  She Killed in Ecstasy
  3. The Awful Dr. Orlof
  4. The Diabolical Dr. Z
  5. Succubus
  6. Venus in Furs
  7. A VirginAmong the Living Dead

 Listical courtesy of Will “the Thrill” Viharo
http://www.thrillville.net/

From the Vault for Latinx Month : Morbid Meals – Carne Adovada

MM15

To pay homage to the Tarot card theme of the Wicked Women Writers and Masters of Macabre challenges, all of the recipes featured for this season of Horror Addicts will be based on the Major Arcana Tarot cards. First up, a figure that shows up in more than one horror story, The Devil!

Carne Adovada

EXAMINATION

It’s been said that the Devil went down to Georgia, but I’m sure he did so when he was on vacation from his summer home of Phoenix, AZ. As a Phoenician myself, I know he lives here, because I’ve seen him enjoying a Carne Adovada burrito from one of our local hot spots, Los Dos Molinos.

When Bobby Flay came to Phoenix with his TV show FoodNation, he visited Los Dos Molinos and grabbed the recipe for this diabolical dish from Chef Victoria Chavez.

They say that the Devil is in the details, and for this recipe, it is certainly true. Note that both the chile powder and flakes are “New Mexico chile”, which I expect are probably from Hatch, New Mexico. As for a change from the original, we swapped out the fresh garlic that Victoria uses for smoked paprika, which I find adds a wonderful smoky flavor to the dish.

One word of warning, Chef Victoria does not cook anything “mild”. This is the real deal. The hottest bowl of red I’ve ever had.

ANALYSIS

Makes: 10 to 12 servings

Ingredients

6 to 8 pounds pork loin, cut into 2 to 3-inch cubes
2 cups pork (or chicken) broth
1/2 cup New Mexico chile powder
1/2 cup New Mexico chile flakes
2 Spanish onions, chopped
2 Tbsp oregano
2 Tbsp garlic salt
2 Tbsp cumin
2 Tbsp smoked paprika
2 Tbsp black pepper

Apparatus

  • Dutch oven

Procedure

  1. De-bone (if necessary) and cut up your pork loin into cubes about 2-3 inches in size. Set aside.
  2. Into your Dutch oven, add the rest of the ingredients and stir thoroughly to combine, then add in your cubed pork.
  3. Over medium-high heat, cook uncovered for 4 hours. The pork should be very tender, and just starting to pull apart.

P2210013DISSECTION

You can cook this in a pressure cooker for about an hour. Just be warned that the steam from the release is going to kick out a lot of pepper, so turn on a fan or open a window for the initial burst before you turn down the temp.

POST-MORTEM

At Los Dos Molinos, they serve the carne adovada in a burrito — just a flour tortilla saving you from the heat. At home, we like to top baked potatoes with this infernal chili, or add it to quesadillas. You can serve it any way you like. Sour cream is a welcome accompaniment.

For those who can’t take the heat, if you reduce each 1/2 cup of chile down to 2 Tbsp of each, you’ll get the flavor without the fire. But give the Devil his due and try this full force at least once, if you dare.

Latinx Month: Representation in the Dark

 

by E.M. Markoff

The importance of racial and cultural representation in mainstream media is much discussed these days, as any number of essays, YouTube videos, and social media controversies would show. One thing that I have not often seen discussed, however, is the importance of representation in less mainstream places — in counterculture, in surreal media, in the dark.

Hollywood, unsurprisingly, does not have a great reputation for diverse, accurate representation. As a Mexican-American growing up in deep south Texas, I got used to seeing people like me represented in mainstream media as “the help,” the “comedic sidekick,” the “homewrecker,” the “Latin lover,” or the “narco.” Fortunately, I was able to see myself represented in Mexican media channels, which offered more than the tropes and stereotypes common in Hollywood. Of course, this is not to say that there haven’t been great Mexican and Mexican-American actors in Hollywood that I admired growing up: Anthony Quinn, Dolores del Río, Pedro Armendáriz, Ricardo Montalbán, Cantinflas, and Katy Jurado, to name a few. Even still, in Anthony Quinn’s case, it would have been great to see him play the title role of Emiliano Zapata—an important Mexican revolutionary—in 1952’s Viva Zapata! instead of Marlon Brando.

That type of miscasting is slowly changing thanks to the efforts of BIPOC artists and activists, who have been fighting for decades to make their voices heard. Not that Mexican media doesn’t have its own issues: Colorism and racism against the native indigenous peoples of Mexico are very present, both in media portrayals and in reality. That’s what being colonized does; it tears your identity apart and leaves wounds that only temporarily scab over. 

But as blessed as I was to have access to Mexican media and music, very little of it spoke to me on a personal or spiritual level. Without realizing it, a part of me longed to see myself represented in the things I loved, and I love Horror. 

I love the surreal. 

I love the dark. 

I don’t remember when I first saw David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, but I remember the feeling of hot tears burning my eyes and the llanto, the cry welling in my chest at Rebekah Del Rio’s performance in the Club Silencio scene. Through the character of Rita—played by Mexican-American actress Laura Herring—that moment became personal to me. It allowed me to see myself represented in a film that encapsulated what my heart had always longed to see—a Mexican-American actress in a starring role that was not a stereotype, cast in a surreal film by a director that I admire. Rebekah Del Rio’s powerful performance was the icing on the cake: She was not there as a token element, she was there to further the story by bringing emotion, and damn did she bring it. When Rita cried, I cried. Seeing yourself represented in what you love holds power. 

On the music front, I love industrial and aggrotech, a genre that tends to be very white and European. Or so I thought until I picked up Hocico’s 2004 album Wrack and Ruin. Hocico is an aggrotech/dark-electro Mexican duo hailing from Mexico City. Formed in 1993 by lead singer Erk Aicrag (Erik Garcia) and Racso Agroyam (Oscar Mayorga), they fused the dark, harsh sounds of industrial—along with its rejection of the mainstream—with the danceable beats of electronic to create a sound and an aesthetic that was uniquely their own. Their music videos and live performances often showcase elements (from mariachi to Dia de los Muertos, to Danza Azteca) that are part of their culture—my culture. 

Here was a band that was part of the music scene I loved, yet still were unapologetically Mexican. They had succeeded by being themselves. They showed me that you can be part of a counterculture and still be proud and loud of your culture and who you are. It meant so much to me because I don’t care much for the music some might say I’m “supposed” to be listening to (the exception being música ranchera, which I LOVE!), and sometimes I’ve even been shamed or made to feel guilty for not being “Mexican enough.” 

Back in 2011, I had the privilege of being able to see Hocico perform live in Germany and even had an opportunity to chat with them. Those two Mexican bastards (as they call themselves) are one of my biggest inspirations, and their generosity will always have a special place in my heart; it can be very isolating not seeing yourself reflected in what you love. Being able to see them on a huge stage, in a foreign land, surrounded by foreigners singing along in broken Spanish will always be a powerful moment for me. 

So yeah, I really believe it does make a difference in a person’s life to see themselves reflected in what they love. It’s part of why I’ve made a conscious effort to subtly incorporate elements of Mexican culture into my own writing. Representation is important, but it can’t be limited to the mainstream, because the mainstream doesn’t speak to everyone. We also need representation in the dark. 

About the Author:

Latinx author and publisher E.M. Markoff writes about damaged heroes and imperfect villains. Works include The Deadbringer, To Nurture & Kill, and Leaving the #9.” Under her imprint Tomes & Coffee Press, she published Tales for the Camp Fire, a charity anthology to raise money for California wildfire recovery and relief efforts. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association and is mostly made up of coffee, cat hair, and whiskey.

Connect with her @tomesandcoffee on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

Visit her at www.ellderet.com or sign up for her Newsletter of the Cursed.

You can find her books in print and ebook on Amazon.

Latinx Month: Dia de los Muertos by Camellia Rains

Dia de los Muertos
by Camellia Rains

20160710_165211The Mesoamerican tradition of Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is ubiquitous to all Central American countries. However, each country has its own slight variance on the celebration. My mother’s family is from Guatemala so I am quite familiar with this holiday, its traditions, and differences.

Let’s start with the similarities. Like other Meso-American countries, the tradition of Dia de los Muertos can be traced back to the indigenous cultures and their belief and practice of ancestor worship. Throughout Central America the desire is to not only respect the dead, but to revere them. Instead of thinking of them as being gone forever, the belief is they exist in a spiritual dimension, still watching us, still very much a part of our daily lives, and still exerting influence, love, and protection.

The holiday itself is celebrated over a three-day period. Starting on October 31st known as Dia de los Muertos, it then moves on to Dia de los Santos, Day of the Saints, on November 1st, and culminates on Dia de las Almas or All Souls Day on November 2nd….read more in the Fall issue of SEARCH Magazine.