Guest Blog : Black Zombie: Hollywood and the 80’s Voodoo Revival by J. Malcom Stewart

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Black Zombie: Hollywood and the 80’s Voodoo Revival

In the beginning, there was the Zoumbie.

What began as a mixture of the ancient spirituality, chemical sciences and social control practices of West and Central Africa ended up stranded in the former home of the Arawak and the Carib by way of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Just as water wears down stone, what started as historical reality became whittled into mythology. And where there were deep roots, the stalk that grew from that dark, fertile soil became forever altered by the gaze of the European Other.

The legendary flesh-and-blood inspiration for the modern cinematic motif arose and walked through the jungles of Haiti and other Caribbean islands in those days, allegedly bringing terror and destruction to those not wise enough to avoid the paths of voodoo, the false cognate for the misunderstood, syncretic systems of religion alternatively called Vodou, Vodun, Vaudou or Santeria.

So, naturally, someone had to make a movie about it.

In 1932, Hollywood came a’ knocking and our beloved Zoumbie left his sun kissed isle to star alongside Bela Lugosi in the black-and-white Golden Age horror classic, White Zombie. A title truly intentional in its contradiction as Lugosi plays a white Haitian landowner who discovers from his black peonage the secret of Zoumbie creation through a process of hypnosis and drugs.

Lugosi then, of course, uses his powers to cement his control over the black populace while subsequently terrorizing his white neighbors, kidnapping a visiting American co-ed and daring her beau to brave the terrors of his plantation to save her.

The strange, occult powers of his character are almost of secondary concern to our heroes given his over-familiarity with the way of “natives,” causing the boyfriend character to exclaim that if the damsel-in-distress were to accidentally fall into the hands of the black workers “it would be a fate worse than could be imagined!” His comrade-in-arms admonishes him strongly not to even consider such a horror.

Never fear… The movie going audience of 1932 was spared the threat of racial miscegenation when the aforementioned boyfriend confronts Lugosi and breaks the spell of the Zombie. All was again right in the world. Except it started a bit of a craze for more cinematic distortion of the Zoumbie tradition, the biggest of which was the mispronounced cultural appropriation of the Zoumbie name.

For a while, our hero held sway in the imagination of filmmakers wanting to explore the field of culturally incorrect exotica. He had regular work in those days, showing up in such forgotten gems as I Walked with a Zombie (1943) Voodoo Man (1944) and the Plague of the Zombies (1966).

Then came George Romero. And like a lot things in the 60’s, there was a changing of the guard.

With Night of the Living Dead, the (pseudo) Scientific Zombie became the king of the block and our hero was forced back into semi-obscurity, through perhaps Romero gave a slight nod of sympathy by casting Duane Jones as a protagonist who shared some heritage with our ancient hero. But mostly, the original item ended sitting around the house, downing bottle-after-bottle of Red Stripe, waiting for his next close up.

Thankfully for him, the 80’s came along. And with it, a “real-life” novel length account from Harvard researcher Wade Davis called The Serpent and the Rainbow. Davis’ book, presented as his actual experiences with so-called “zombie masters” in Haiti during the final years of the Duvalier dictatorship. And with its publication came the most pointed scholarly disagreement among anthropologists since Carlos Castaneda’s “Don Juan” thesis that stole the 70’s.

How could it not help but start a new, focused sensation about the Zoumbie and the Voodoo system?

First up in March of 1987 was Angel Heart. The all-star cast of Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro and Lisa Bonet was steeped in both anticipation and controversy. It brought together two of the most respected “Method” actors of the era, one of whom (DeNiro) had already won his Oscar and the other (Rourke) was an odds-on favorite to be the next “great American actor.” It also was greeted with tabloid buzz as Bonet was on thin ice with her TV dad and employer, Bill Cosby, due to the erotic nature of the film. Angel Heart was nearly slapped with the emerging NC-17 rating before some compromising cuts were made.

The film itself was an atmospheric exploration of the “Hoodoo” belief system, a American near cousin to Voudon and Santeria. The Hoodoo concept and practice, prevalent in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, sets the background for the New Orleans location for Angel Heart, as Rourke is a noir-cut detective tasked with finding a semi-famous singer who doesn’t want to be found. The set up, while simple sounding, is a complete misdirection for twists and turns, including bizarre symbolism, weird sex and DeNiro as a Brill Cream infused version of the Devil.

The film, which got a fairly favorable critical reception, was less than a box office sensation, perhaps weighed down by all the expectations of fireworks between Rourke and DeNiro and the gossipy infighting over Bonet’s role. Angel Heart has grown in prominence in the decades since, with many fans citing it as a conversation piece for unconventional horror. However, the really frightening thing maybe what happened to Rourke and Bonet’s careers after the film.

Hot on the heels of Angel Heart came The Believers. The May 1987 Martin Sheen vehicle attempted to explore the dangerous side of Santeria, the Spanish Speaking cousin of Vodun, as Sheen plays a skeptical psychologist who is drawn into the world of Caribbean mysticism when his son is threatened by a group of evil Santeru.

While The Believers brought some big budget production values to the subject, the script and direction fell back into some dominant culture stereotypes as the ultimate group of villains revealed had only a flimsy link to the actual Santeria tradition. Apparently, Hollywood hadn’t found much new material for practitioners of African traditional spiritualism in the intervening 55 years between it and White Zombie.

Fortunately for traditional zombie fans, the next year of 1988 contained a much more positive development as one of the decade’s legendary “Three C’s” took on adapting Wade Davis’ book. Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow brought the spotlight back to the place where it all began for our beloved friend, Haiti

Released in Feb. 1988, Serpent took advantage of Hollywood’s renewed interest in voodoo. Craven, then at the height of his powers and popularity, dove into the trend by giving us the most “naturalistic” Hollywood zombie movie to that date.
Set on the island in the early 1980’s, our hero (played by Bill Pullman) is a biologist/ anthropologist /chemist (the script is never sure which) who comes to the island nation in order to find the ancient, narcotic powder used by voodoo masters to put their victims into a state of living death.

For Pullman’s trouble, he is kicked, beaten, buried alive and has a nail driven through his scrotum. But for his tribulations, he manages to do something thought impossible. Bring the undead back to life a second time.

Shot on location around Hispaniola in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Serpent still stands as a glorious, although slower-paced, exploration of the Haitian “voodoo” culture. The film takes considerable time to explain the theology and worldview of the Zombie Makers while also delving into the culture and politics of the proud yet troubled nation.

Freaky undead doings abound, making for some killer scenes. Zombie hands in pea soup, crazy chicks eating glass, a corpse-bride with a python tongue The topper of an undead Paul Garfield pulling off his own head to throw it at a freshly returned Bill Pullman was one of my personal favorite horror moments of the 80’ . And while it wasn’t a big hit for Craven, it’s remembered fondly by many fans as one of his most unique films, despite its over-the-top ending.

Despite the flurry of interest at the end of the Reagan years, Hollywood quickly returned to the modern Zombie model, pushing out the Romero clones with frightening efficiency during  the last 30 years. There haven’t been a ton of films Hollywood exploring the flavors of the voodoo belief (2005’s The Skeleton Key comes to mind), but that’s not to say our hero’s time won’t come again.

In 2017, you can’t go anywhere in the horror genre without finding a Romero style cliche showing it.

 

Guest Blog: The Occult World of Phillippa Schuyler by James Goodridge

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The Occult World of Phillippa Schuyler  by James Goodridge

The circumstance was the visit of my son and his girlfriend visiting for the holidays Christmas 2016 a brutal year in the world of music that made me do what I did.

  “Hey, pop can I play with this ?” Ruth asks (name changed for this story)  

   Smiling at my OUIJA board sitting all by its lonesome self on a shelf among CDs,DVDs, VHS tapes (don’t judge me I keep them because among the tapes I have left to view is a classic home recorded Plan 9 From Outer Space I taped off of the old WOR channel 9) and books. I myself have never used the board having bought the glow in the dark, hours of fun item at a thrift shop for a dollar. But after hearing way too many stories on late night radio advising against its use, being that it could be a portal for unnamed evil unknowns, in other words, you think you’re talking to Grandma, but in fact, you’re chatting with the Demon Box of Ebril.ps

  I give into her innocent pleading, but I warn her sounding like Peter Cushing in an old Hammer film what she may be in for trying to contact her aunt, but Ruth being a millennial doesn’t pay me no mind. A lone red candle helps us see the OUIJA board in the living room darkness, my son Monte I can see doesn’t what to do this but he’s a trooper. We get a message from her aunt more like a warning that who or whatever is NOT her aunt. The planchette moves back and forth. Then I can’t help it ” Phillippa are you here ?” I yell out.

  African American classical pianist, a right-wing journalist, feminist in her later years along with parleying with Stokley Carmicheal and devout Catholic, Phillippa Schuyler was a woman of paradoxical life flows. A child prodigy with an IQ said to be 185, the biracial daughter of George Schuyler a figure in the Harlem Renaissance Movement and Josephine Cogdell Schuyler a member of a prominent rich Texas family, Phillippa would be compared to Mozart early in her career (for a haunting rendition of Ravel’s “Alborada del Gracioso “) i as a composer. I first came across Ms. Schuyler”s life story while doing research 

  Initially, I came across Ms. Schuyler’s life story while doing research on lesser known black historical figures to be included in a series of occult detective stories. I was fascinated by the contradictions in her life. A role model to the Black community yet, at one point she tried to pass herself off as white using the name “Monterro” in the classical music world which had its biases.  ” Compositions in Black and White” by Kathryn Talalay (Oxford Press 1995) is a well-written biography of Schuyler’s life, the racial dynamic, and conflict during the pianist’s life, I credit her book with helping my research. But it seems whether intended or not Schuyler’s occult leanings were left out. ps2

  By chance, while online looking for a book on dream divination, I came across a title : Kingdom of Dreams by Josephine and Phillippa Duke Schuyler,  (1966 Award books) and then reprinted in 1968, a year after her death and around the time of her mothers suicide. I ordered it. While this book is not mentioned in Talalay’s book (another mystery is the middle maiden name Duke) she does let on that Schuyler’s interest started in 1952 while on tour in Curacao. This was a failed kidnapping attempt, she met a mysterious Herr van Kleed who introduced her to the reading of TAROT cards and a crystal ball reading, which among other visions predicted a plane crash. Kingdom of Dreams seems to me having read her style of writing in snippets was written by Phillippa in the majority. A book that speaks to us in symbolic terms about dreams (as a child she would sleep for ten plus hours dreaming) and their meanings and self-help, it stretches into a defense of alchemy and its heroes the immortal St. Germain, Paracelsus and Robert Fludd. Schuyler also felt a connection between Karl Jungs theories and the alchemists work within the natural world was the key to life along with dream divination and numerology.

The unseen realm of demons, vampires, goblins, werewolves, leprechauns, gnomes, pidwidgeons, mermans/maids, trolls succubi, incubi etc.. included. And while she admits it is a fake Schuyler has a defensive interest in theWheelof Pythagoras representing: God, microcosm/man, and macrocosm/world. Schuyler believed that science was not infallible and that there was a “theory of analogy or the magic association of ideas” led by the signs of the zodiac. Phillippa Schuyler drowned off the coast of Vietnam in the Da nang sector when a U.S. Army helicopter crashed, she was riding in with Catholic orphans she was taking to a safer haven crashed into the ocean in 1967. After a funeral in St. Patrick Cathedral she was cremated.

My temples feel as if someone is pressing books or something hard on both sides, the planchette moves under Ruth, my son Monte and I hands across the board giving Phillippa’s or I hope Phillippa’s answer: N V 3 . N V 3 ?

Kidnapped Week! Guest Blog: “Characters Come in All Shapes and Sizes” by Maynard Blackoak

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Characters Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Maynard Blackoak

Modeling characters is one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing for me. There are many interesting characters, both real and fictional, which can translate well into literature. As a writer, it is my job to search my database of people to select just the right person to fit the characters in a story.

Eerie Trails of the Wild Weird West is filled with characters modeled after some of my favorite people from history and film. As a fan of history, classic literature, and cinema, I had many models from which to choose. Sometimes, the vast array of choices made selecting the right person for a character a difficult task. Other times, it was a no-brainer.

One of my favorite characters was Sadie in The Culling. She is a brash, shoot-from-the-hip lady that does not mince words. As I considered her personality, Mae West stood out in my mind as the perfect model. Thinking back on her quotes and her own roles in film, I drew on the traits she displayed in life and the movies to pattern Sadie. Though her appearances in the story were limited, she makes a larger than life impression, much as Mae did in life.

Swede Hanson and Lou from The Devil’s Herds were patterned after slick talking, sleazy politicians. No matter which side of the political spectrum one falls, we all know of one or two such types that make us scowl with contempt when we hear them speak their rhetoric. These two characters were not modeled after any one person. Instead, I drew upon the qualities of several politicians both past and present to create their personalities.

One of my favorite actresses of all time is Bette Davis. Her portrayal of scandalous women was second to none. Such was her performances, oftentimes, I found myself rooting for her despite the questionable character of the women she played. A montage of several of her roles factored into the personality of Hattie in Deception at Skull Creek.

In The Jonah Herd, the actor, Arthur Honnicutt, greatly influenced the creation of the character, Hank. His roles were usually old, grizzled curmudgeon types that were never at a loss for words. He spoke his mind, whether it made sense or not. I pictured Hank much the same way.

As I created the character, Devileye Bobby Chambers in Collateral Winds, I considered many notable outlaw and Hollywood heavies before settling on Jim Davis as the model. Those familiar with him will remember him as Jock Ewing from the Dallas television show. He was also known for playing bad guys in westerns long before his role as the father of one of television’s iconic characters many people loved to hate.

Several other characters are modeled after historical figures and actors from the golden age of Hollywood. Some you might recognize. While others, you might not. There might even be a few characters that remind readers of someone real or created, from the past or present. That is one of the enjoyable parts of both reading and creating stories, projecting the image of someone to go with a character in a story.

Kidnapped Week! Guest Blog: “Historical Inspiration for the Supernatural Story” by Maynard Blackoak

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Historical Inspiration for the Supernatural Story

Maynard Blackoak

As a writer, I find inspiration around me. Somedays, it seems all I have to do is look outside the door. There are other times it is a task to find it. Sometimes it comes to me out of the blue, in an unexpected place. For example, listening to old legends and stories told by the elderly can spark the flame of imagination. From a simple tale that had been retold for generations, a new and harrowing tale is born.

Since I was a young child, I was told of the infamous gunfight in Ingalls, Oklahoma Territory. Many times, I have visited the old ghost town of weathered structures, and visualized in my mind what that fateful day would have been like. Often time, I would place a hand on spots that looked like decayedbullet holes, and believe I could smell the spent gunpowder.

It was a no-brainer the first tale I wrote for Eerie Trails of the Wild Weird West was Claire Simmons, a tale that revolves around that legendary gun battle. I had relived the incident so many times in my head, it was as if I had witnessed it firsthand. I knew most the ins and outs of the story. I just needed to do a little research to fill in a few blanks. Throw in an eerie element, and the story took on a whole new perspective.

Spending a significant amount of childhood in Oklahoma, I was also exposed to many Native legends. One of those old tales made it into my collection in the story, Willows of the Mourning Dove. While I did embellish on the original folklore, certain aspects remained true to the story as I remember hearing it.

Another story, Deception at Skull Creek, was based upon various pieces of gossip I have heard throughout my life. I have often overheard women, and men too for that matter, retelling a story of a certain party. Sometimes the stories involved a granule of truth that somehow had managed to grow in depravity like a snowball rolling downhill. Though not one of the stories occurred during the time of the Wild West, it was not a stretch of the imagination to apply their sordid elements to a story of that era.

Cimarron Rose was a story based partly on fact and partly on rumors of the time. Of course, imagination took the gossip to a whole other level to give it a taste of horror. Still, if not for stories I had heard about the real Rose of Cimarron, this story would most likely have not popped in my head. Besides, rumors normally make for a much juicier read than the truth.

Though, off the top of my head, I cannot think of another story in Eerie Trails of the Wild Weird West that was inspired by folklore or gossip, I am certain one, or the other, or both, influenced a tale or two—at least marginally. After all, there is not much telling what lurks in the cobwebbed corners of my memories. Sometimes, they even reveal themselves subconsciously. One thing I do believe is readers of this collection will enjoy the strange ride through the Wild West.

Kidnapped Week! Guest Blog: When Horror and the Paranormal Collide in the Wild West by Maynard Blackoak

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When Horror and the Paranormal Collide in the Wild West

Maynard Blackoak

One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing horror is that it allows the imagination to run wild. Monsters and fiends come in all shapes and sizes, from the very real to the abstract and every combination in between. There are no wrong models to use when creating a frightening tale, only those not aptly given reality in words.

There are horrors to be found in everyday life. Tiny microscopic creatures capable of devouring a body from the inside out lurk in nearly every body of water. Beasts of nature prowl nearly every nook and cranny of the globe, ready to pounce on unsuspecting victims. Vile sociopaths walk our streets dressed in suits of normality. It is a dangerous world in which we live. Any of its many real terrors make for a frightening tale. When reality collides with the paranormal, a true tale of horror with a touch of plausibility begins to unfold.

When I wrote Eerie Trails of the Wild Weird West, I took some of the real dangers of life in the old west and added an element of the supernatural. Some of the storylines borrowed heavily on old legends. Others trotted out tried and true monsters of lore. One or two added an element of mythology to give them more of a unique flavor.

Growing up I was, and still am, a huge Twilight Zone fan. Besides the odd and bizarre nature of its stories, the show also touched on societal fears of the times. Writing my tales, I could feel a Twilight Zone sway influencing me. As a result, many of the stories in my Wild West horror collection touched on the fears of that era and took on the eerie feel of that classic TV show.

Another aspect of writing horror that appeals to me is creating stories with a twist. It not only keeps a reader on their toes, but also leaves a lasting impression. Adding an unforeseen turn or two in a story jolts a reader and sometimes prompts them to reread from the beginning to ensure nothing was missed. Of course, a writer should be careful not to overuse twists in their tale. Too many turns can cause a story to lose its readability and actually make it a boring read.

It is definitely a challenge when a story unfolds to add an unexpected turn. My trick is to allow a story to basically tell itself until I reach a point where I believe the tale needs to slap the reader in the face with something they never saw coming. While many of my twists come at the end, some come earlier to take the story down another dusty trail. After all, my tales revolve around the untamed west of less traveled paths.

Writing Eerie Trails of the Wild Weird West was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had as a writer. I love horror and am fascinated by the old west. Combining the two was a rewarding experience for me. Each word that flowed from me felt like a tribute to my love of classic horror and my cowboy roots. If enough people enjoy these fourteen horror yarns of the dusty trail, there might be a volume two forthcoming in a couple years. I know this old cowboy would sure love to take another strange ride down some eerie trails.

 

 

 

Kidnapped Week! Guest Blog: “Memorable Characters” by Maynard Blackoak

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Memorable Characters

Maynard Blackoak

The enjoyable aspect, and sometimes the most challenging, of writing is creating characters with personalities that leap off the page. I tend to think of character development as adding flesh to words. If the people in the story do not seem real, the author has not done the tale justice. When the figures of a story take on a distinct life of their own, I feel like Doctor Frankenstein—instilling life upon a creature constructed from various corpses.

Another challenge of character development is to give each their own individual voice. As in real life, we all have our idiosyncrasies and personalities. It is what keeps the world from growing stagnant, and sometimes keeps it in conflict. Characters in a story should speak in different voices, even if the variances are slight or its reading will be monotonous.

Eerie Trails of the Wild Weird West has many diverse characters, from despicable outlaws to sympathetic individuals. There are a few villainous figures that evoke mixed feelings. There are also a handful of seemingly good people whose actions are highly suspect. Choosing a personal favorite would be difficult at best. Still, a few stand out among the others.

First and perhaps foremost are the brothers, Kid Cooper and Cole the Younger from The Culling. To explain my affinity for these characters I should reveal they were modeled after my two grandsons. Using their personalities and the character of their parents as a basis, I aged them to adulthood and placed them in the old west. Perhaps I am a little biased, but I believe they made good cowboys.

Annie Shoulders from Willows of the Mourning Dove and Hattie from Deception at Skull Creek are characters that also stand out in my mind. Annie proves herself a strong woman with grit and determination. Hattie is as tough and clever as they come. Their characters are meant to showcase that strong women inhabited the wild west as well.

Some characters appear only briefly in a story, yet manage to make a memorable impact. Loki from The Most Killed Man in the West is one of those. He only appears twice in the story, though his final appearance will leave the reader with a grin.

For pure contemptible villainy, Boone Helm of Neither Friend nor Foe Wasted is as vile as they came in the old west. He cannibalized those he counted as friend and foe alike. Given that he was just as despicable in real life as he is in the story, makes him the type of character everyone loves to hate.

Rose Dunn from Cimarron Rose is a tragic figure from the Wild West. A star-crossed lover whose place in the world was unjustly removed, it is difficult to read her saga without hoping for the best for her. Her sad tale tugs at the heartstrings all the way to the final paragraph.

I am sure the readers of this collection will have their own favorites. With so many colorful and diverse characters from which to choose, I hope they find it as difficult to select a favorite as I did.

Kidnapped Week! Guest Blog: Interview with Maynard Blackoak

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Eerie Trails of the Wild Weird West Interview – Horror Tree

1: What made you decide on the Wild West as a setting for these short stories?

I’ve always been fascinated by the old west. Plus, I come from a long line of ranchers and cowboys. Add in my own experiences of wrangling cattle on horseback and it was only natural that I wrote some kind of cowboy stories.

2: How do you find inspiration for writing?

Inspiration comes in many forms. Sometimes a song conjures images in my mind. Other times a story is written in the way the wind blows. There are times looking at an old dilapidated building makes me wonder about the folks who dwelt in it or the history it might have witnessed. There’s inspiration all around me. I just never know when or how it will strike me.

3: Why horror?

My first memories are of watching the old classic black and white horror films with my momma. I grew up loving them and later on fell in love with classic horror literature

4: Who are your writing influences?

I love Poe’s use of obscure words. I love the way Dickens paints images in the mind. Since I was young, I enjoyed the way Conan Doyle challenged my mind with his intellectual approach to storytelling. I’d have to say those three influenced me more than any others

5: You have a couple books under your writing career, these are much different than Wild West. What is your most favorite subject of the horror genre?

To be honest, I don’t have a favorite. Each is fun to write in its own right, but some off more of a challenge than others. Since I don’t prefer one over any of the others, it helps maintain a diverse imagination

6: Do you believe in aliens?

Only if they believe in me and buy my books

7: If you could tell your young writing self something in three words, what would you tell them?

Don’t be stupid.

And if I can add this: put down the pen in pursuit of the mighty dollar. It is possible to keep writing while pursuing a career in the corporate world.

8: What kind of music do you listen to when you write?

Like my writing, my taste in music is diverse. I listened to a lot of cowboy music writing my Wild West tales. Other times I listened to heavy metal and in others, it was goth music. Oftentimes, my playlist is filled with songs from many genres

9: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

Being a cowboy, I’d have to be shot if I didn’t say a horse. Besides, there’s no better way to feel free than riding a horse on the open range

10: What should we look out for in the future of your writing?

Look for something totally different than the wild west. Maybe something more like classic literature of old. Also, there just might be something more contemporary and even a little depraved. You just never know what will spin through the splintered windmill of my brain.