Odds and Deadends : Monsters Under The Bed

It’s something we probably don’t consider, but everyone has been scared that there’s something lurking underneath us as we sleep at some point in their lives. It’s been in episodes of Doctor Who, it’s been in Luther, it’s been all over the place, and it seems to be getting more and more prevalent as time goes on. But why is it that the idea haunts us? I don’t mean to solve the issue, but present a few feelers and ideas as to possible interpretations.

Firstly, of course, we must tackle the dark. In evolutionary terms, we’re scared of the dark because it conceals predators, and as primitive man, we’re not going to last long if a beast comes and eats us. The monsters children believe in may not be the saber-toothed tiger our ancestors feared (although I’m sure some have thought that one is underneath them), but the principle applies. It is a similar story with the cupboard across the room, which I will quickly divert to. Anything might be hiding in there, and isn’t it much scarier when the door is ever so slightly open when we can just about peer into the gloom and convince ourselves that something monstrous is moving around in there?

And now for something completely different (but which will reconnect).

As we grow up, our perception of the world is shaped by past events. In essence, we build up a pattern recognition of what is, based on what has come before, and therefore we can predict what might come later. This is one reason why theorists believe it is more difficult to learn languages when you get older because language is tied to our perception of reality. We understand, for example, what a door is, because we have learned to associate the temporary opening-and-closing of a portal with the word ‘door’. Therefore, whenever we see something similar (even between different cosmic dimensions), we associate the word ‘door’ because it has similar properties to those we have seen before, even though it may not strictly be a ‘door’ as such. Try and substitute the word with something different and our inherent understanding of it changes, and we find it harder to make the connection.

Children, who have had less time to build up such an intimacy with language, are able to apply several terms to a concept more easily than adults. Following that same principle, children are less able to come to terms with the inherent cause and effect of past-present-future, because their brains aren’t as hardwired to associate past with present and with future from previous knowledge, as adults can by their previous knowledge of a door, to use the same concept. When adults know that there was nothing in the wardrobe with the light on and therefore there won’t be with the light off, because there never has been before, children are less able to come to that conclusion because the dark, for them, creates a completely different space. Our inherent understanding of human experience of reality changes as we age and experience the world around us. Children haven’t had the time to build up the understanding that the dark doesn’t change anything, so they believe that even though there was nothing there before, switching it off doesn’t necessarily mean the same holds true.

Now put that concept under the bed. The proximity of the dark place to the child is that much closer, that much more unbearable. When the monster was in the wardrobe at the end of the room, at least we had running distance. Now someone’s put a dark place, where anything could be hiding, where we can’t see, only inches away from us. What’s a child supposed to think, to believe, when the lights are off and the parents are in another room, very close and yet so incredibly far away? This is why the sheets getting pulled off the bed in Shutter, and indeed in Paranormal Activity, is disturbing. Throughout our lives the bed has been the safe place, and now something is able to tamper with that safety net. It can get to us.

There’s also perhaps the element of parent-child separation involved with this as well. For the first years of its life the child is almost constantly in contact with the mother. Now, put in a room on their own where they cannot see or hear their protector for so many years? At an impressionable age when so many images and concepts are being bombarded at them, everything comes at the worst possible time. They’re on their own, and absolutely anything they have seen or experienced could be lurking there.

And yet it is a rite of passage. Conquering this growing-up period is how children understand the dark, how they come to create the pattern-recognition that tells them that, no matter how much they imagine shapes there, logic holds that it can’t be true. It’s part of the mirror-stage, I would say, the Freudian concept of the child recognising that it is independent from the mother. Now that the child is alone, it has to realise that it must protect itself from attack. To do this it must recognise, understand, and parry potential threats, and in today’s world we don’t have tigers hunting us, but instead monsters under the bed. The child must go through the experience long enough to build up past knowledge that there are no monsters under the bed, and so eventually understand that the dark is simply obscuring something which isn’t there.

However, we as adults can look back on the past. And we can remember a time when the dark space underneath us wasn’t just filled with pillows and the odd box of Christmas decorations. We can remember it being a place where the monsters hid, and where they crept out of before we cowered under the covers and waited for it to be over. And sometimes it seems that we haven’t quite conquered our fears completely, and we return to that moment of childhood horror. And that’s when they come for us, at the moment when logic and reasoning breaks down for just a split second and we believe, we know, that there really were, and still are, monsters under the bed.

 

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: @KJudgeMental

Odds and Dead Ends: A maze inside the mind / Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, The Shining, is my favourite horror film of all time. For those that (somehow) aren’t familiar with the film, it is the story of the new caretaker (Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson) and his family at the remote Overlook Hotel over the winter, where ghostly apparitions send him spiraling into madness. Based on the novel by Stephen King, a major feature of the movie which wasn’t in the book is the hedge maze on the hotel grounds. In this article, I’m going to look at this maze, and how it acts as a kind of middle-ground representation of Jack’s ever-twisted mind, as it is changed by the hotel.

Please bear in mind that, as with everything I write for HorrorAddicts.net, in a short article such as this, there’s no way I’m able to cover the wealth of interpretations and analysis and ideas on this film. This is a starting point, where hopefully you can springboard yourself into your own thoughts.

It has been well documented that the layout of the Overlook Hotel is deliberately impossible. Doors lead to nowhere, rooms move, furniture shifts position; everything possible is done to very subtly disorient the viewer. For example, in the first scene of Danny on his tricycle, we pass an exit stairwell leading down, and doors that would appear to go through the thin wall and open up onto the stairwell itself. It is, in fact, a maze of dead ends and double-backs.

Even furniture subtly moves between shots. Rob Ager has documented all this extensively, and his articles and analysis on the subject can be found at his site, which I’ll put a link to at the end of this article. One example is the appearing and disappearing chair behind Jack when Wendy interrupts his writing. Needless to say, with someone like Kubrick, this kind of mismatching wasn’t just sloppy but done deliberately. It is a visual representation of the chaos and insanity that it will try to bring Jack into.

The hotel slowly ratchets up its presence and ghostly manifestations in order to slowly drive Jack mad. This is helped by subtly-suggested alcohol issues (a carry-over from the novel which isn’t nearly as prevalent but still present), and flares of temper. Aided by the claustrophobia of the hotel (‘“what the old-timers used to call ‘cabin fever’”’), and the irritations at being unable to write (‘“Lots of ideas, no good ones though,”’) it all provides the perfect platform for the Overlook Hotel to begin to exert its influence on Jack. The reasons for the Overlook’s attempt to drive Jack to madness are as heavily disputed and debated as almost anything else in the history of fan-theories, and they won’t be discussed here, purely for length reasons.

With the Overlook trying to get a hold on its caretaker, Kubrick wants to give us a middle-ground, to understand that the links between Jack and the hotel go beyond the surface level. Here he presents us with the iconic hedge maze. As I’ve already said, the hotel is a maze in itself, full of twists and turns, and what’s interesting is that almost no two shots of the maze are the same. The map outside the entrance doesn’t match the way Wendy and Danny walk, and the model Jack looks down on doesn’t correspond with either of these. Even the entrance Ullman takes them to in the film’s beginning is on a completely different side of the maze to when Danny runs into at the finale.

There seem to be strong indicators, then, that just like the hotel, the maze changes shape and form. Wendy even says in the kitchen with Halloran that ‘“This place is such an enormous maze I feel like I’ll have to leave a trail of breadcrumbs every time I come in,”’ so if you’re wanting verbal confirmation of this connection, then there it is. But how do we link the maze to Jack?

Firstly, the exterior shots of the Overlook at the beginning of the film don’t show a maze at all. It isn’t present until the whole family are exploring the grounds; when Jack has arrived. Additionally, when Wendy and Danny are exploring it on their own, Jack walks over to the model version in the foyer. We then switch to a top-down view showing a miniature Danny and Wendy walking around the central section. Because, as discussed before, the model and the actual maze don’t add up, we have to assume that this isn’t actually a top-down view of the real maze, but a subjective view of Jack imagining his wife and son in the maze.

By switching to a subjective viewpoint, Kubrick suggests a linking between Jack’s mind (his imagination), and the hedge maze. This doesn’t mean very much throughout the film as, for a large portion of the film, the maze fades into the background. However, right at the very end, it makes a reappearance as Jack chases Danny inside. Surely, as the maze is intrinsically linked with Jack’s mind, this makes sense for the finale to play out there. This is the point where everything combines, hallucination and reality, the Overlook and Jack. In a way, this is almost a proving ground, an arena that the Overlook has provided for their caretaker to show that he can follow out their wishes; that he ‘has the belly for it.’

Ironically, Jack eventually ends up following Danny’s footsteps, just like the trail of breadcrumbs Wendy mentioned at the beginning of the film. He follows Danny in the same way as he followed them through the model before. He has descended into a manifestation of his chaotic mind, distressed by all the factors that enabled the Overlook to push him into pliable madness.

In the end, however, Jack is eventually outsmarted by Danny and stumbles around blindly inside. Whether you believe the ghosts are real or all just a hallucination is irrelevant, because everyone can see that Jack has slipped into madness at this point. Jack is unable to find his way out of the maze, out of his mind. He never recovers, even for a moment as King’s original character does in the novel, and so he freezes to death unredeemed and forever trapped inside the Overlook’s testing ground.

In the end, there really is a simple formula to understand this discussion: Jack Torrance + Overlook Hotel = Hedge Maze. It’s a simple concept, but one probably overlooked by many people watching for the first time, especially by those who aren’t accustomed to looking out for these kinds of interpretations in popular cinema. The Shining is a deeply layered text, and the idea presented is very much a theory, which probably disagrees with 50% of fan theories and analysis of the film, but that’s the way it works with The Shining; everyone has their own idea. In any case, I hope it piques your interest in re-examining the film, and re-watching it, of course. You could do worse things than re-watching one of the greatest films the genre has ever produced; just don’t let it get into your head too much.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: @KJudgeMental

-A link to Rob Ager’s site, which I highly encourage anyone interested in film analysis to check out: http://www.collativelearning.com/

-check out my other articles at HorrorAddicts.net if you like this kind of analysis; I’m sure there’ll be something for you to enjoy: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/author/kjudgeimaginarium/

 

Odds and Dead Ends: Scary Shadows | Analysis of H G Wells’ ‘The Red Room’

 

H. G. Wells might be more known for his science-fiction novels, such as The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, but some of his short stories might as well have been written by H. P. Lovecraft. The Red Room is a straight up ghost story in the same vein as M. R. James. It’s a little gem of a story, and I’d like to share some of my thoughts as to what makes it such a delight.

The Red Room details the protagonist taking up a challenge of sorts to stay in a cursed castle bedroom overnight. The opening sets this up nicely in what might now seem a cliché. The opening line that ‘“I can assure you,” said I, “that it will take a very tangible ghost to frighten me,”’ is reminiscent of Jack Torrance in Kubrick’s The Shining saying ‘“That’s not going to happen to me”’ when Ullman speaks of the previous caretaker going insane.

This single line perfectly sets up the beginning of the character’s arc (from skeptic to believer), tells us the genre of story (supernatural), and the character of the protagonist. His skepticism is reinforced when he says that ‘I half suspected the old people were trying to enhance the spiritual terrors of their house’. He is ‘abbreviated and broadened to an impossible sturdiness in the queer old mirror at the end of the room.’ He sees himself as a rock, immovable against anything that passes his way. However, the mirror has changed his appearance, and just as he sees himself to be a rock in a storm, his faith is soon to be changed.

The protagonist’s disbelief in ghosts is due to a fear of age and dying. It is said that he is ‘“eight-and-twenty”’, which is twenty-eight for those who don’t speak century old English, making him a young man. This is in contrast to the three elderly people who apparently live in the castle. This fear of their age presents itself when the protagonist remarks that ‘There is, to my mind, something inhuman in senility.’ Age removes human qualities, and so something very old is to be seen as disgusting, or feared. Spirits, dead for many years, must be terrifying to him.

As the protagonist leaves the group for the room, they are described as ‘dark against the firelight’, which is one of the many allusions to shadows peppered throughout the opening. This further links them to the spirits that will eventually come to haunt our protagonist. Just a little later the protagonist himself expands on this idea, even remarking that ‘their very existence, thought I, is spectral.’

Along with this is the line ‘“It’s your own choosing.”’ This line is repeated like a mantra throughout the opening, and though it may be a bit overdone, the message is clear. By disobeying the warnings given, he brings the doom upon himself. This cliché also gets played up in The Cabin in the Woods, when the group ignore the warnings not to go up to the cabin. You get what’s coming to you.

Soon, even before we enter the room itself, Wells drops the recurrent image that will pervade the remainder of the piece, that of moving, sentient shadows fighting against the candlelight. There’s something very primal about this opposition, very simply a play of light against dark, of good against evil. ‘My candle flared and made the shadows cover and quiver.’ That the shadows are anthropomorphised, being said to have ‘came sweeping up behind me, and another fled before me into the darkness overhead’ is disturbing. Light has to be controlled by man, dependent on him, but the dark can move as it wishes.

The repetition and enhancing of this play of ghostly shadows is what drives the remainder of the piece. ‘The door of the Red Room and the steps up to it were in a shadowy corner.’ The protagonist must move into the realm of darkness if he is to attempt to hold out against it. The room itself is a ‘huge shadowy room with its black window bays,’ full of dust and ‘black corners, its germinating darkness.’ And against all this the candlelight has very little effect, ‘a little tongue of light in the vast chamber; its rays failed to pierce to the opposite end of the room.’

Despite being disturbed by ‘some impalpable quality of that ancient room,’ the protagonist tries to ‘preserve my scientific attitude of mind,’ and examines the room ‘systematically.’ He lights several candles throughout the room, illuminating all that he can, but despite this he still puts his revolver ‘ready to hand.’ Have all his efforts been in vain? He tries to maintain that he is in control of his emotions and that his ‘precise examination had done me a little good,’ and yet ‘I still found the remoter darkness of the place and its perfect stillness too stimulating for the imagination.’ All the build up at the beginning of the story begins to pay off, as our anticipation for ghosts and ghouls overrides the common sense saying that there is nothing there. Every mention of a black spot, a shadow in the rafters, is somewhere we search for ghosts in between the lines, looking for subtext. We are literally jumping at shadows.

A draught enters the room, and soon the candle in the alcove begins to flicker, which ‘kept the shadows and penumbra perpetually shifting and stirring in a noiseless flighty dance.’ An attempt to light more candles gives us his humorous remark that ‘when the ghost came I could warn him not to trip over them.’ Though this line is obviously a joke to himself, he’s brought ghosts into his everyday vocabulary, thinking of them as existing in his world. He’s begun a path away from disbelief into acknowledgement.

And then the candles start to go out.

Now that Wells has ratcheted up the tension by implication alone, he brings on the scares. The alcove, where the deepest shadow has been, is suddenly in darkness again. A candle has gone out. When trying to relight it, two more go out. The shadows do not give him time to bring back the light, and immediately move in for the kill. Again the comparison of the darkness to calculated activity is drawn, as ‘the flames vanished as if the wick had been suddenly nipped between a finger and thumb.’ The protagonist moves closer and closer to hysteria, and ‘a queer high note getting into my voice somehow.’

The protagonist, hysterical, again breaches into the realms of ghostly belief by exclaiming that ‘“those candles are wanted… for the mantel candlesticks.”’ He begins to fight against the shadows’ continuous extinguishing of the candles, ‘the shadows I feared and fought against returned, and crept in on me, first a step gained on this side of me, then on that.’ It is a fight that he can only lose because as was said many times at the beginning, it was a fate of his own choosing.

And yet the ambiguity is still maintained, because the draught was never initially shown to be ghostly in nature, and when he picks up another candle, ‘abruptly this was blown out as I swung it off the table by the wind of my sudden movement.’ Wells continually holds the reader in suspense of wanting to see something overtly supernatural, so that we voraciously follow the protagonist’s stumbling with our own clumsy speed, running headlong through the pages. It is Wells at his finest.

His escape from the room is even deliberately non-supernatural, battering himself up by his own stumbling in desperation and anxiety. And in the end, the final revelation of the nature of the malevolence in the room is a beautiful touch. ‘“Fear that will not have light nor sound, that will not bear with reason, that deafens and darkens and overwhelms.”’ It is described as being a supernatural force, but it is entirely possible to view it as a kind of mass hysteria. Somewhere creepy that instills fear that causes people to essentially, accidentally kill themselves in terror. The disorientation of a sudden acceptance of the possibility of spirits, of the loss of a guiding light, combined with his fear of age and decay, all fuel a Todorovian fantastic story. It’s a wonderful touch to end the piece.

In conclusion, The Red Room is a masterfully crafted ghost story that should be remembered with the best. A great build up to a frantic fight of the rational vs. the irrational part of the brain, with memorable descriptions of the sentient shadows, in a spooky gothic castle. It’s inspired my own work[1], and I hope that you’ll find something delightfully spooky from it as well.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: KJudgeMental

Bibliography

King, S., 1977. The Shining. United States: Doubleday.

The Cabin in the Woods. 2012. [Film] Directed by Drew Goddard. USA: Mutant Enemy.

Todorov, T., 1975. The Fantastic. New York: Cornell University.

Wells, H. G., 1896. The Red Room. [Online]
Available at: https://repositorio.ufsc.br/bitstream/handle/123456789/157356/The%20Red%20Room%20-%20H.G.%20Wells.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
[Accessed 23 06 2019].

Wells, H. G., 1897. The War Of The Worlds. United Kingdom: Pearson’s Magazine.

Wells, H. G., 1931. The Time Machine. New York: Random House.

[1] For those interested, the piece in question, The Voice-Snatcher, will be released in The Sirens Call #45 at the end of June/beginning of July.

Odds and Dead Ends: Greek Mythology / Cerberus

I like to dabble a bit in mythology and legends here in the Odds and Dead Ends corner, and this week is no exception. Having written on Cuchulain (Cu-hu-lun) and the Cyhyraeth (cih-here-aith) in the past, I decided to leave my Celtic homeland, whilst still keeping up the ‘C’ theme. There are many mythical creatures that have permeated popular culture, but one of the most famous must be the triple-threat hound of hell himself, Cerberus. Pronounced sir-bur-us, Cerberus is a monstrous dog that guards the underworld in ancient Greek mythology, and I’m going to give you a quick introduction to the monstrous pooch.

Guarding the entrance to the Underworld, the realm of Zeus’ brother, Hades, Cerberus is the offspring of Echidna and Typhon, two fearsome monsters both with snake-like parts of their anatomy. One of the most famous accounts of Cerberus is from Hesiod’s Theogony, also accounts Echidna as having given birth to Hydra of Lerna, the famous hydra of multiple heads. It is therefore perhaps not surprising, given all this, that Cerberus is described as having snakes as part of him in many sources.

Hesiod’s description of Cerberus is ‘a monster not to be overcome and that may not be described, Cerberus who eats raw flesh, the brazen-voiced hound of Hades, fifty-headed, relentless and strong.’ (Hesiod, 1914) Considering that the main image of Cerberus is with three heads (hence J. K. Rowling used Cerberus as the main source for Hagrid’s three headed dog, Fluffy, in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)), which is something I’ll discuss later, it’s interesting to see him depicted in the old texts with far more heads than we now think of him as having, closer to a cross between Hydra and his other sibling in some texts, Chimera.

In his book Gods and Heroes in Late Archaic Greek Art, Karl Schefold and Luca Giuliani discuss the depictions of Kerberos (another spelling of Cerberus) on the ancient pottery of the time. These depictions are mainly in relation to one of the tasks of Herakles (the Greek spelling of Hercules), who was sent down to the underworld to subdue and retrieve the dog as part of his trials.[1] These trials are depicted throughout the famous epics, including Homer’s Iliad, one of the great epics of the ancient world. According to Schefold and Giulani, this task is ‘illustrated as early as the middle Korinthian period’ (p.129). They also discuss the painting…

by the powerful Lakonian artist dubbed the Hunt Painter… Here for the first time Kerberos has three heads to which Sophokles, following epic authority, refers… and he is completely covered with a shaggy coat of snakes, a feature already suggested on the Korinthian skyphos.’ (Schefold & Giulani, 1992, p. 129)

It’s interesting to see that it’s not even the written word, but pottery, that has clearly defined the monster and set in stone the attributes we associate with him. Even Sophocles, the famous Greek playwright, uses this image as his basis for Cerberus’ depiction.

Something I feel is often misunderstood is that Cerberus is that he stops unwanted people coming into the Underworld. This certainly may be a by-product, but his main function is to stop anyone escaping. Charon was the one that stopped anyone getting in, really, as he was the only transport over to Hades, and not many people that were alive ventured down to the underworld. According to Robin Hard, Charon was so shocked at seeing Herekles, alive, that he took him across to the land of the dead, ‘and was punished for this breach of his duties by being thrown into chains for a year.’ (Hard, 2003, p. 268) For the most part, Cerberus was the perfect creature stopping anything escaping the underworld, as Hard’s description makes plain:

Kerberos would not allow himself to be captured without a struggle and he was a formidable opponent even for the greatest of heroes, for he was not only large and powerful but had three heads (in the usual tradition at least) and a snake in his tail.’ (Hard, 2003)

In a way, Cerberus is the perfect guard dog of mythology. As with all mythology, it’s had some allegorizing over the years, such as being the ‘corrupt earth’ and Herekles’ victory representing his defeat over base, earthly passions, but it’s also perfectly fine to think he’s just a big dog with vicious teeth that will rip your face off. Certainly, one of the most well-known dogs of legend, not only has he featured in re-adaptations of Greek myths (such as in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, (Riordan, 2005), but in video games such as Final Fantasy 8 (Kitase, 1997). Cerberus is a legend, quite literally, and a hell of a lot of fun to imagine and reimagine throughout the years.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Follow him on Twitter: KJudgeMental

Bibliography

Christie, A., 1947. The Labours of Hercules. United States: Dodd.

Hard, R., 2003. The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology: Based on H. J. Rose’s Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Routledge.

Hesiod, 1914. Hesiod, Theogony. [Online]
Available at: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Hes.+Th.+311
[Accessed 08 06 2019].

Homer & Butler, S., 2008. Iliad. Waiheke Island: The Floating Press.

Kitase, Y., 1997. Final Fantasy 8. s.l.:Square.

Riordan, R., 2005. The Lightning Thief. s.l.:Miramax Books.

Schefold, K. & Giulani, L., 1992. Gods and Heroes in Late Archaic Greek Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[1] Interestingly, these twelve tasks/trials were adapted by Agatha Christie as a series of short stories for her famous detective, Hercule Poirot, which form some of his last investigations in The Labours of Hercules. The detective is, as many can see, is named after the hero, so the theme fits very nicely.

Odds and Dead Ends: Rustic Terror

Why The Wicker Man Still Scares Us by Kieran Judge

Released in 1973, Robin Hardy’s British pagan horror movie takes a policeman (played by Edward Woodward) onto the Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate a girl’s disappearance. Despite a bad remake with Nicholas Cage, and a spiritual sequel that failed to impress, the original film still has the ability to deeply disturb on a strange, fundamental level. I’m going to outline why I think The Wicker Man, despite its age and lack of blood and monsters, still manages to thrill and scare today.

When Howie arrives on the island, you’re initially greeted by great aerial shots of the little plane flying past the rugged terrain of the island, merely a white speck against the blue ocean. For the rest of the film, Howie is completely removed from the traffic in the pre-credit scenes, away from the churches and the police stations (these scenes re-added in the director’s cut). As Martin-Jones writes of the film, ‘The wilds of Scotland are thus considered a potentially treacherous location where a more ‘primitive’ attitude to life and death persists and duplicity and double-cross are deadly commonplaces against which the unwitting outsider must guard.’ (Martin-Jones, 2009). We’re on our own now in a cut-throat world.

And you get this impression right from the start. Upon landing, Howie asks the townsfolk to send a dinghy out so that he might come ashore, and their reply is they can’t do so without permission. Even announcing himself as a policeman seems to have little to no effect. Not only is this an island from which one cannot easily escape except by plane, but it is an environment where the people are dismissive, if not yet overtly hostile. It’s going to be hard going at the very least to find our missing girl.

The more we explore the culture, trying to get to the very heart of the matter of the missing Rowan Morrison, the more we feel we are intruding too far into a completely different world. Their pagan rituals are everywhere, from the maypole dancing and education at the school, to the chocolates being sold in the local shops. The Christianity that Howie holds so dear to him, (the virtues that Edward Woodward says are the most important values to him of all, in the DVD’s video commentary (The Wicker Man, 1973)) are up against a brick wall that we slowly, horrifyingly, realise is actually a trap, ensnaring us. Kbatz has a great review of the film from a few years ago in which she discusses some of the conflicts between the different religions, and I highly recommend you go and read it if you haven’t already: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/kbatz-the-wicker-man/

Many people have commented on the music in the film, with the cast and crew on the DVD commentary saying that it fits the movie like a glove. I’ve known people to find the songs funny at times, which I think is telling in itself. It isn’t the usual score to a thriller film. Around 13 songs, based on traditional Scottish tunes and poems, form a surreal background to a completely alien world. It’s unnerving, and people trying to laugh it off may be a form of emotional relief

This also highlights that all of the people are genuinely enjoying the festivities. All of the townsfolk are smiling and treat Howie with the greatest of respect because, again referring to the audio commentary, they believe they are doing him the greatest service by plotting to make him a martyr. They believe they’re doing the right thing. And that’s one of the most terrifying things upon reflection, they believe in their hearts that they are rewarding him.

And then of course, for Howie, things go sour in the final act. Like the rotting apples and the crumbling churches, everything falls apart for the modern values of the western world embodied by our policeman. When he tries to leave he finds the plane broken and sabotaged, technology failing. Worshippers with animal masks watch on, and when Howie turns around they hide again. There’s a definite air of malice now, a concrete threat to Howie, and what was unease throughout the film suddenly becomes fear.

As we reach the climax of the film, we, like Howie, are clutching at straws. From feeling like the imposter in a strange land, Howie puts on the outfit of the fool and becomes the imposter. Now we’re in the very midst of the danger, aware that they intend a human sacrifice, and the very Christian policeman has to imitate the very thing that goes against his core values in order to carry out his job. The snapping hobby horse are the jaws of death. It’s a personal conflict of monumental importance, a moment where the personal micro tensions and the theological macro tensions come to fruition, and we have to hope that the man we follow will win out.

The entire parade is dragged out as long as possible for maximum tension. The scene with the sword dance in the stone circle is particularly tense, because for a moment we suddenly realise that there’s the possibility the worshippers know Howie is in the outfit. Thrust into the line, he has no but to go into the ring of swords and trust and hope his disguise holds out. With the chop! chop! chop! we have again a perverse soundtrack, substituting the war drums of conventional movie scores for a pagan call for death.

And then we arrive at the final scene. Howie is thrust into the Wicker Man, crying for his Lord, and we suddenly have to hope for the traditional horror movie to return. Horror films always save the protagonist, give us some kind of catharsis, but there’s nothing to be found here. The helicopter doesn’t arrive, rain doesn’t pour as an act of God and douse the flames licking at the wood, Howie doesn’t manage to escape and run to freedom. The cries for Jesus and the singing of traditional hymns are drowned out by the chanting ring of happy pagan faces as the head finally crumbles, burned to a crisp.

The Wicker Man takes our traditional western values and puts them into a world that has reverted to the past. The crusade Howie goes on fails to convert the islanders to the ‘modern’ ways of thinking. We leave the film having watched the protagonist having journeyed to a strange, unnervingly backward land and burned alive to appease ancient gods. We as an audience, his modern kin, have failed him. In a world of cut-and-paste zombie flicks, ghost girl movies, and lacklustre monster films, there’s just something about rustic terror of The Wicker Man that manages to unnerve. Everything comes together and culminates in a film that defies all the conventions, brings together the best cast and crew possible, and leaves the viewer having watched one of the most terrifying final scenes ever put to film.

 

Article by Kieran Judge

Follow Kieran on Twitter: KJudgeMental

 

Bibliography

Martin-Jones, D., 2009. Scotland global cinema: genres, modes and identities. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

The Wicker Man. 1973. [Film] Directed by Robin Hardy. UK: British Lion.

Odds And Dead Ends: Cuchulain

Cuchulain: The Champion of Ulster-Violence by Kieran Judge

Native myths and legends are something that are quickly glossed over in schools, or not taught enough. In Wales, or when I was at school here, aside from anything to do with dragons, you’d get a brief introduction to The Mabinogion through the story of the black cauldron, which some people might know of from a Disney movie roughly based on an adaptation of The Chronicles of Prydain, which was based on the Mabinogion in turn. That, really, was about it. In the island of Ireland (to avoid any political debates I’ll refer to the whole land mass as such from now on), the main texts are the four cycles, the Ulster Cycle, the Mythological Cycle, the Fenian Cycle, and the Historical Cycle. From these legends, perhaps no figure has captured the imagination more than Cuchulain.

Spelt in various ways (Cu Chulainn, Cúchulainn, etc), Cuchulain is a mythic descendant of the gods known for being almost unbeatable in battle even from a young age. He was the warrior hero, the Champion of Ulster, as many of the tales will tell. Renowned poet and playwright W. B. Yeats wrote a whole series of plays and poems about the mythic man as part of his attempt to revive Irish culture, a movement heavily tied in with Lady Gregory and the National Irish Theatre in the early 1900’s. However, Cuchulain was also a madman, prone to becoming overwhelmed in his bloodlust, going on to slaughter hundreds, thousands, without stopping. In his frenzy, he recognises neither friend nor foe, and in one tale, even kills his own son when he refuses to identify himself.

It’s this blood lust that I find most fascinating about Cuchulain. When he fights he becomes a man who is unable to tell his allies from his enemies, much like the typical description of the werewolf. He slaughters everyone in his path. This frenzy, however, can be stopped in a very unique fashion, as the final section of Jeffrey Gantz’s translation of The Boyhood Deeds of Cú Chulaind tells:

‘The women of Emuin went to meet Cú Chulaind gathered round Mugain, Conchubar’s wife, and they bared their breasts before him. …Cú Chulaind hid his face, whereupon the warriors of Ulaid seized him and thrust him into a vat of cold water. This vat burst, but the second vat into which he was thrust boiled up with fist-sized bubbles, and the third he merely heated to a moderate warmth.’ (Gantz, 1981, p. 146)

It’s clear to see that Cuchulain is much different to many of the hyper masculine heroes we see in other myths, such as Pryderi or Arthur from The Mabinogion, in that there is a switch inside him which takes tremendous effort, and the feminine form, to subdue. Even most of the Greek heroes remain themselves throughout the course of their many trials. Other heroes remain mostly gallant or noble, if a little misogynistic at times, but the Champion of Ulster seems to have that Jekyll and Hyde double inside him which I think is fascinating. It’s something that Cuchulain can’t control.

Perhaps, if we were to look into this a little further, one could suggest that the thrill of the battle brings out the warrior in him, the masculine of the superhuman. In contrast, the sight of the female form brings him back to the feminine human. The godly side of him, when in control, never wants to be contained again, never wants to accept the feminine. If you were really going to go into it, you could argue that the vats represent the womb and Cuchulain must be reborn through this into the mortal realm once again from his divine rage. I think this may be getting too far into it, however.

That Cuchulain was a flawed hero is obvious, but he was also understanding in his own way as well, as one of the tales in The Boyhood Deeds of Cú Chulaind shows; ‘…they met Cúscraid son of Conchubur; he was badly wounded, so Cú Chulaind carried him on his back…’ (p.138). The mighty warrior that would defend Ulster in single combat for months, defeating an entire army (as the prophet Fedelm says of the upcoming attack on Ulster, ‘‘I see it crimson, I see it red.’’ (Carson, 2008, p. 13)), also has the time to help his fellow soldiers in combat. This is a classic bit of storytelling. If we know he is human, and have a reason to sympathise with him, we can get behind him and we can forgive him in the future for any misdeeds he may commit.

Though not known outside of Ireland, he is still one of the main figures of legend on the emerald isle. At the Tayto Park theme park, their flagship attraction is the Cu Chulainn rollercoaster, complete with gigantic stone figure near the entrance to the ride. Many murals in Belfast also depict him as a reminder of the figure who would ward off Irish attacks to protect Ulster from its armies. Though both sides of the border may try to claim the figure, Cuchulain remains Ireland’s Hercules, their Arthur, and their Conan. A man who would slaughter thousands to defend his land, but turn on his own side just as quickly. Perhaps, disguised in a mighty warrior, this is a discussion on the meaningless of violence, the way in which a price must be paid for the blood that is shed.

 

Article by Kieran Judge

-Follow him on Twitter: KJudgeMental

Bibliography

Carson, C., 2008. The Tain. England: Penguin Classics.

Gantz, J., 1981. Early Irish Myths and Sagas. Great Britain: Penguin Books.

 

 

Odds and DEAD Ends: Analysis of Casting the Runes and Ring.

M. R. James’ classic ghost story, Casting the Runes, is perhaps one of the most beloved of all time. It follows Mr. Dunning, uncovering a plot by Dr. Karswell to kill him via a series of ancient runic symbols. Similarly, for the modern age, Koji Suzuki’s novel Ring, (thanks largely to Hideo Nakata’s film adaptation), changed the face of Japanese horror films, much in the way that Scream did for the slasher genre. Examined in this article is the concept of infecting a victim with a deadline, by which, if the deadline isn’t passed on, the victim will die. This concept is, in both texts, a product of history and the past, which can infiltrate the modern day to scare the reader.

CASTING THE RUNES

James’ story is rooted in folklore of witches and magic. James himself was a noted historian of folklore and mythology, writing many papers on medieval manuscripts and other texts. It’s not surprising, therefore, that this interest seeps through in Casting the Runes, his uncovering of ancient texts mirroring the discovery of the slip of paper with the runes.

The main conflict I perceive in the text is the tension between the modernity presented by Dunning and Harrington, and the history and past presented by Karswell, fighting for power. Karswell, a man who has “…invented a new religion for himself, and practiced no one could tell what appalling rites” (p.238), has cast a hex on Dunning for shunning his new book. The past, in its runes and legends, is here the antagonistic force presented through Karswell, his book described simply as ‘an evil book’ (p.242), the mythic past’s main point of origin. Karswell’s magic lantern show presents the darker side of children’s myths and fairy tales, such as Red Riding Hood, which bleed through into the modern world:

“At last he produced a series which represented a little boy passing through his own park – Lufford, I mean – in the evening. Every child in the room could recognize the place from the pictures. And this poor boy was followed, and at last pursued and overtaken, and either torn into horrible pieces or somehow made away with, by a horrible hopping creature in white, which you saw first dodging about among the trees, and gradually it appeared more and more plainly.” (p.239)

Not only do we see the past colliding with the modern present through this passage, but after this, showing slimy creatures on the slides, “…somehow or other he made it seem as if they were climbing out of the picture and getting in amongst the audience” (p.240). Dunning and Harrington, on the other hand, are modernity’s flag-bearers. Dunning investigates the noise in the night, “…for he knew he had shut the door that evening after putting his papers away in his desk” (p.252), proving a logical, empirical mind, later reinforced here: “It was a difficult concession for a scientific man, but it could eased by the phrase “hypnotic suggestion” (p.255). Dunning even suggests that Karswell was “…mixing up classical myths, and stories out of the Golden Legend with reports of savage customs of to-day…” (p.258), showing a scholarly knowledge of the subject matter.

Therefore, the strange atmosphere about Dunning, the mysterious death of Harrington’s brother, the strange wind, “I supposed the door blew open, though I didn’t notice it: at any rate a gust – a warm gust it was – came quite suddenly between us, took the paper and blew it into the fire” (p.258), only increases our fear and trepidation, especially with the three month deadline hanging over our heads before Dunning’s eventual demise, for they can only be supernatural, against Dunning’s core beliefs. We try to decipher it rationally, following our protagonist’s example, but are unable to. Modern science cannot fight back against the curse of the runes. When Dunning and Harrington resort to deception and return the slip to Karswell, we slip into the past, so to speak, presented with the evil past that the characters have tried to deny for so long. We want to see evil banished back to where it belongs, away from Dunning’s modern day, back into the history books.

This brings us to the final moral dilemma. We are asked at the tale’s conclusion, “Had they been justified in sending a man to his death, as they believed they had? Ought they not to warn him, at least?” (p.266). They have become like Karswell, dispensing an ancient, malevolent death upon those they deem a threat. Though they justify this by claiming Karswell deserved it, and that Dunning would be dead otherwise, it is an unnerving note to end with, asking if they should have asked the darkness of history to prove itself, or descended to the old ways as they do, dispensing justice in, what is for them, a “new rite”, much like Karswell created for himself.

RING

Suzuki’s novel, Ring, adopts a similar structure in terms of its narrative. A malevolent force (the spirit of Sadako Yamamura) has given a victim (Asakawa) a time limit (seven days) to find what mysterious instructions he needs to follow in order to save his life (copying the cursed tape and passing it on). The runes have been replaced by the video tape, and it is here that we see one of the key, fundamental differences to James’ story. Sadako is built upon the myths and folklore of Japan, but her embodiment of ‘the past’ is intertwined with modern technology. The distinct opposition inherent in James’ tale is no longer as easy to see in Suzuki’s novel.

The female ghost with long hair avenging their death is a well-established trait in Japanese folklore. These stories are called kaidan; the vengeful ghost termed an onryō. Theatre Group Soaring, in the novel, would no doubt have practiced traditional Japanese kabuki theatre, itself one of the main vehicles through which kaidan tales were passed throughout the centuries. Even in the film adaptation, the strange, contorted movements of Sadako (as played by Rie Inō) is directly inspired by stereotypical movements of onryō from kabuki theatre, and Rie Inō herself was apparently trained in kabuki. The story of the spirit in the well has also been around for centuries, the story of Okiku and the plates, being a potent example.

Sadako is therefore very much rooted in Japan’s past, in more ways than just being dead. Asakawa, on the other hand, is very much the modern man, constantly carrying around a word processor, saving files to floppy disks, phoning Yoshino from the island to help his investigation. Ryuji is a professor of philosophy, a discipline which “…as a field of inquiry had drawn ever closer to science,” (p.88). These two men are built of the modern world. They even live in Tokyo, one of the largest cities in the world. When arriving at Pacific Land, Asakawa notes that “Faced with this proof that the modern power of science functioned here, too, he felt somewhat reassured, strengthened.” (p.61).

Suzuki uses technology, the statement of the future and urbanity, to steer his antagonistic force, striking at civilisation’s heart. Sadako’s wrath and anger takes over the videotape, itself situated in a cabin complete with “A hundred-watt bulb lit a spacious living room. Papered walls, carpet, four-person sofa, television, dinette set: everything was new, everything was functionally arranged.” (p.63). Asakawa, despite his hesitations and fear of what the tape might show him, ‘No matter what sort of horrific images he might be shown, he felt confident he wouldn’t regret watching” (p.73). Why would his regret watching? It wouldn’t be as if anything could happen to him, constrained as it were by the (very much Western) technology before him.

Just like Karswell’s magic lantern show, however, the images on the tape have their own weight and reality, “Startled, he pulled back his hands. He had felt something. Something warm and wet – like amniotic fluid, or blood – and the weight of flesh.” (p.77). When Asakawa answers the phone, it is described that:

“There was no reply. Something was swirling around in a dark, cramped place. There was a deep rumble, as if the earth were resounding, and the damp smell of soil. There was a chill at his ear, and the hairs on the nape of his neck stood up. The pressure on his chest increased, and bugs from the bowls of the earth were crawling on his ankles and his spine, clinging to him. Unspeakable thoughts and long-ripened hatred almost reached to him through the receiver. Asakawa slammed down the receiver.” (p.81).

That silence from the other end of a telephone gives this impression, this startlingly sensory imagery, showcases Sadako’s reach and wrath, without her saying a word.

In the finale, Asakawa, realising why he survived and Ryuji did not, agrees to wager the entirety of humanity by spreading the virus to his parents-in-law. Whereas James simply had the characters return the curse to Karswell, he the price for Dunning’s survival, here, Suzuki has entire the world be the price for saving Asakawa’s family. Whereas Casting the Runes ends with a definite confirmation of Karswell’s demise, Ring ends with the ominous passage, “Black clouds moved eerily across the skies. They slithered like serpents, hinting at the unleashing of some apocalyptic evil.” (p.284). Asakawa has become accomplice to Sadako’s malice, the past in control of modern technology and, through that, the modern man. “In order to protect my family, I am about to let loose on the world a plague which could destroy all mankind.” (p.283).

CONCLUSION

Both James’ short story and Suzuki’s novel present characters eagerly, desperately trying to beat the deadlines they are faced with, wished upon them by people that want them dead. Through their representations of an evil, malevolent past, embodied by Karswell and Sadako, both authors present us with a moral choice of who we save, and who we kill in exchange. What is different about their endings is the level of intimacy and scope we are presented with. Casting the Runes is a story of personal vengeance, where the battle is between Karswell on one side and Dunning and Harrington on the other, with the evil-doer getting their just desserts, like a boxing match. Ring’s evil is much more impersonal, and the apocalyptic ending shows the sheer magnitude of what must happen for someone to live. You don’t end the curse; you just pass the buck and hope someone else will do it for you. The ending’s bleak tone implies that there is no hope, that nobody will sacrifice themselves to stop the bleeding, and that the virus will move from one soul to another, runes forever being cast.

Written by Kieran Judge

Bibliography

James, M. R., 1994. Casting the Runes. In: Collected Ghost Stories. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth, pp. 235 – 267.

Ringu. 1998. [Film] Directed by Hideo Nakata. Japan: Ringu/Rasen Production Company.

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

Suzuki, K., 2004. Ring. London: HarperCollinsPublishers.