Monster Madness Month: What Monsters Scare Our Staff

We surveyed our staff to see what Monsters scare them.

Mark Orr – Historian of Horror

When I was maybe three or four, my dad was watching a show about the Golden Age of Hollywood on TV. This would be in the very early 60s. I sat down with him but when it showed Lon Chaney Jr changing into the Wolf Man, I ran out and hid under my bed. So, yeah, werewolves.

Daphne Strasert – Review Director/ Daphne’s Den of Darkness

I HATE zombies. I don’t need hoards of the undead running after my tasty tasty brains, thank you. If the zombie apocalypse ever comes, I’m out!

Naching T. Kassa – Head of Publishing/ Chilling Chat

The monster that scares me most is the Teke-Teke. It’s a Japanese Urban Legend about a kid who was cut in half by a high-speed train. The kid became the Teke-Teke, a creature without legs who drags what remains of its torso behind it. The torso makes a “tik-tik” sound so you know the creature is coming to get you and make you a Teke-Teke too.

Kate Nox – Blog editor

The monster that scares me most is Old Baldy, the former caretaker of a camp I attended in the mountains of Northern California. You can hear him rustling through the trees at night waiting to kill campers and staff who cross his path.

What monsters scare you? Leave us a comment below!

Historian of Horror : Staccatos From The Black Lagoon


When my daughters were young, we listened to Dad’s radio station when Dad was driving. This was back in the days when you were lucky if your vehicle had even so much as a cassette player, so I, being a child of the 60s, had oldies radio stations mapped out for the entire route, wherever we might go. As we passed through Dalton, Georgia, for example, we would let the Chattanooga oldies station go and switch over to the Atlanta station. And so on, all the way down to the southwestern tip of Florida, a frequent destination.

When I was home, all the buttons were set to the local oldies station, WMAK-FM, until that horrible morning in about 2003 when I got in my car and discovered that the station had changed format overnight to ‘whatever we want to play’. Which was not oldies, and not acceptable. After my first “Dude, where’s my radio station?” reaction, I found another one to program all the buttons for, but eventually had to give up and buy a car with a six-CD changer. It was a rag-top Mustang, so that was all right, but I still missed the spontaneity of wondering what great song by the Beatles or the Supremes or Marvin Gaye or Joni Mitchell that Coyote McCloud (God rest his soul) would offer up after this brief message from our sponsor.

Before that horrible day, however, my daughters’ friends would often ask, “Why does your dad listen to so many TV commercials?”, after I’d dropped them and my offspring at the skating rink or movie house or factory for their twelve hour shifts gluing labels onto bottles of shoe blacking. Even in those halcyon days, television advertisers mined no-longer-current popular music for the soundtracks of the mini-dramas designed to entice you to buy their specific brand of depilatory or laxative or breakfast cereal, which my less-enlightened passengers confused with my choices in musical entertainments. Think Bob Seger and Chevy Trucks.  

At least “Like a Rock” makes sense. Trucks are supposed to be tough and solid, like a rock. They should have more mobility than your average boulder, but that’s beside the point. The song fits the commercial. Not all do.

I recall one ad for a cell phone company that used a song from 1973 by the glam-rock band T-Rex. It’s a great piece with a driving guitar hook, but somehow ‘Twentieth-Century Boy’ just doesn’t seem quite right for a 21st Century technology. Similarly, the one for some product I was too appalled to remember suggested that supreme happiness was attainable only by using said product via the medium of having a lovely young lady rip rapturously through what opera buffs know as ‘The Staccatos’, smiling ludicrously as she (probably) lip-synced whatever coloratura soprano actually sang the aria from which they were so rudely plucked. For ‘The Staccatos’ are notoriously challenging for even an experienced diva, and anyone who can do them well can make a lot of money singing them regularly at the Met or La Scala or Covent Garden. I couldn’t recall ever having seen her perform them onstage, on television or in a video, hence my suspicion that she was a shill.

They are also not a part of a happy aria. Not even close. ‘Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen’ (usually shortened to ‘Der Hölle Rache’) is about as far from being the light, pleasant piece the advertisers apparently believed it to be as possible. It is dark, it is direful, it is full of horrific forebodings. The title, which is, as is usual for operatic arias, the first line, translates to “Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart’. Which seems to me unlikely to inspire much confidence among average consumers – but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are masses of Americans ready to insert something or other into one or another of their various corporeal orifices the creation, manufacture, and marketing of which was inspired by the wrathful rage of His Satanic Majesty. 

For various reasons not appropriate for expression here, it occurs to me that perhaps there are such people in this country who are comfortable with a proposition of that nature. Regardless, I only saw the commercial once, and never again, so, maybe there aren’t. That does leave us with this question, though: What makes this either horror related, or women in horror related?

The piece is often referred to as ‘The Queen of the Night’ because that is the character who, in the second act of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s final opera, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute),  sings it. Die Könegin der Nacht, as she is called in the opera’s original German, is an amalgamation of every evil sorceress and wicked stepmother in all the fairy tales of The Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault combined. She has decided that one Sarastro, high priest of the cult her daughter has joined, needs to be killed, and is such a horrific monster of a being that she hands the girl a knife and tells her to do the dirty deed herself, or be disowned and cursed.

As is often the case, the true horror lies in the presentation, and for this, one must needs judge how much menace and terror each great soprano is capable of bringing to the stage. Some bring more, some less. Some none. And a few, well, they just bring it.

Many have sung the role since 1791. The best are probably lost to the mists of time. The first was Mozart’s own sister-in-law, Josepha Hofer, who sang it to great acclaim for ten years. Alas, the technology to record the human voice wasn’t available for almost a century after Mozart’s demise, which occurred two weeks after the opera premiered. Fortunately, we do have quality recordings of many more recent divas essaying the role so that it is possible for me to pick a specific one to recommend, one in which all the fear and terror the Queen of the Night herself is capable of inflicting is brought down most brutally upon her poor offspring. And upon a receptive audience.

There are certain roles in opera that have become closely associated with specific singers in the minds of those of us that enjoy the artform. We might not all necessarily make the same connections, but I suspect we would understand why someone else might. I think of Aida, for example, and Leontyne Price comes to mind. Mention Medea, and Maria Callas pops up. Lucia di Lammermoor, Joan Sutherland. Violetta from La Traviata, Anna Moffo. For some, Lucia Popp is inextricably connected to her first starring role, which was The Queen of the Night, and I can see why some might feel that way. There are those who consider her the greatest Queen of all time. And again, I can see why, if only at a distance of nearly sixty years and based solely on the one audio recording we have of her performance. Which I love. She had an incredible voice and a technical mastery of it that made it truly magical. However, for me, the crystalline clarity of her divine instrument was just a little light for the weight of the horror that the role demands. The Queen is not a being of light, or lightness. The one video recording of her in the opera was from 1983, and she played the daughter, Pamina. This seems to me a more fitting role for her, if only in consideration of the one prima donna I and many opera buffs agree was, and still is, the best ever.

I would like for the populace to pay particular attention to the following video at the two minute and nine second mark. As was once said of Cruella DeVille, if this doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will. Prithee, watch it before continuing on. I’ll wait for you, right over here. 

 

That is German soprano Diana Damrau. She has practically made a career out of playing this part. There are several videos on YouTube that showcase not only her skill as a singer, but as an actress able to project the appropriate menace the role calls for. This one, though. This one gets to me at that 2:09 mark, when she lifts her gaze to yours and snatches the very soul from your helpless body.

Ahem.

Women characters in operas are so often the tragically unwitting victims of careless or thoughtless or ruthless men, it’s refreshing to see a true villainess dominating the stage. And, so, The Queen of the Night is my nominee for the great female monster of her medium, even if Mozart couldn’t resist a happy ending for this work. 

Curses, foiled again.

Speaking of women being the victims of the male villains in their lives, I would like to commend to the populace Mallory O’Meara’s recently published biography, The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick. Patrick was one of Disney’s first female animators and went from there to Universal Studios. In 1954, she was the primary designer of the head of the costume for the titular star of the classic horror film, Creature from the Black Lagoon. The studio planned a publicity tour with her playing Beauty to the Gill Man’s Beast, but the head of Universal’s makeup department, Bud Westmore, was having none of that. He took all the credit, got her fired out of his infantile masculine jealousy, and she was virtually forgotten. 

That just pisses me off. What an asshole.

The book is quite well-written, and is available in hardback, as a trade paperback, and as an ebook. Highly recommended.

I can sense that we’re getting to the point that I can almost feel through the internet ether the seismic quiver of eyes glazing over and rolling back, so I’ll wrap this edition up by offering the populace a small lagniappe: a few of the sources I use in my research for your own perusal. 

Please do feel free to browse around in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

http://www.isfdb.org/

I suspect you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a few familiar names there. Yes, including mine, although their entry on my works is woefully inadequate. Guess I’m going to have to crack the whip on them.

My entry in the FictionMags Index is marginally better, I suppose, given that most of my shorter yarns have appeared in anthologies rather than magazines. 

http://www.philsp.com/homeville/FMI/0start.htm

It also contains information about my mystery work, as opposed to the ISFDb. Which is appropriate. Still, they’ve missed a few entries. Gonna have to fix that.

Fantastic Fiction is a goldmine of information, although it doesn’t separate out the non-genre works from those that are specifically horror.

https://www.fantasticfiction.com/

Still, I recommend it highly, despite there being no entry on your humble correspondent, at all. Quelle horreur.

Enough. I shall have mercy on you all and call it a night. As always, my friends, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Historian of Horror: Hath Music Charms to Soothe the Savage Breast? Not Necessarily

 

I would encourage the populace, if possible, to at least take a look at the recent Netflix series, Ratched. It will help if you’re familiar with the 1975 film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the one that took home a slew of Oscars for that year, the one in which the television series’ title character was the villain, but that’s not essential. Ratched is a beautifully mounted, albeit severely flawed work, and worth seeing if only for the sumptuous set design. Indeed, every frame looks like a photograph from a 1947 issue of Architectural Digest or some similar slick magazine of its type. The costumes could be out of Vanity Fair, the automobiles from Road & Track. It is gorgeous in its every visual element and blessed with a slightly languid pace that allows the eye to gorge itself at leisure on all that gorgeosity.

While I have several issues with the writing (cardboard and occasionally inconsistent characters, cliched situations, predictable plot points), I cannot fault the technical prowess of those who designed the visuals, or, indeed, the audio. The incidental music is eerily reminiscent of Bernard Hermann’s score from the 1962 film, Cape Fear, as well as Elmer Bernstein’s score for the 1991 remake. One day, I will discuss both film versions of that story in this space, and the music from each, but today I want to talk about the title music from Ratched, for it touches upon one of my passions.

Yes, I am a Baby Boomer, a member of that much maligned, fairly or unfairly, generation that for all its flaws did indeed spawn the best popular music of the past century. And, yes, I grew up a fan of, among others, the Beatles, the band whose massive output of incredible music in the space of less than a decade was not only the ne plus ultra of its time but the sine qua non of all popular music since. But they and the rest of the 1960s artists were not my first musical love.

That would be classical music. Before the Fab Four showed up on the Ed Sullivan Show on that momentous night in February of 1964, I had already begun to sample my father’s record collection. The first piece of music I remember being enraptured by was Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges. I had no idea at the time what that title meant, for although I was able to operate a turntable at that early age, I had not yet learned to read beyond a very superficial level. In fact, I suspect that it was to decipher the tiny print on the back of all those record sleeves that I set about becoming literate so assiduously at such a tender age. 

I still love classical music. It occupies a significant portion of my listening time. I don’t know squat about music theory, but I know what I like. And in the years since I discovered the wonders on those ancient LPs, most of which are now in my possession, new discoveries of what I like have regularly occurred with delightful frequency. 

I think I must have been about thirteen or fourteen when I first encountered the work of Camille Saint-Saëns, or, rather, a portion of one of his works. A radio station in or near Nashville began to broadcast episodes of the Shadow radio show from the late 1930s, the ones starring Orson Welles. The theme music was eerie and compelling, drawing the listener into the outré adventures of He Who Had the Power to Cloud Men’s Minds. No one I knew could tell me what that strange tune was. Fortunately, this was in the early years of a new cultural phenomenon, nostalgia, and every trip to the bookstore revealed a new volume on some aspect of the cultural ephemera of past decades, including radio. I knew of radio solely as a delivery system for current music, but as my dad told me at the time, it was in his youth the primary source of free entertainment in the home – musical, comedic, dramatic. Frightening.

More on that later. I think it was in a paperback edition of Jim Harmon’s 1967 book, The Great Radio Heroes, that I learned the provenance of that snippet of strange music. It turned out to be the middle section of a symphonic poem by Saint-Saëns, Omphale’s Spinning Wheel. Once I knew that, I began to search for more music by this new composer I’d discovered.

Skip years, indeed, decades ahead, and I’d just settled myself into my favorite spot on the couch to watch the first episode of Ratched. At that moment, my wife of nearly forty years came in, and I surrendered that spot, because when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. It’s okay. The seat I gave up is slightly off-center to the TV mounted on the wall opposite, and the spot I almost always wind up in has a more straight-on view. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

For some reason, the subtitle function was turned on, which was fine. I watch a lot of films in languages I don’t understand, and I heartily despise dubbing. Nothing ruins the rhythm of a film than the dialogue being out of sync with the actors’ expressions and mouth movements. Give me subtitles, every time. So, I’m used to them, and made no particular effort to turn them off.

No issues with the first episode, although my lovely bride thought it moved a tad slowly. There was no title sequence that time out, the credits rolling at the end. And for just over five minutes, there was no such thing in the second episode.

And then, there was. I immediately recognized the music playing, although the first bit of it had been lopped off. It was Saint-Saëns’ 1874 tone poem Danse Macabre, a piece I play heavily around Halloween, for it is spooky and creepy and laden with dire forebodings.

And then, I noticed the subtitle that popped up as soon as the discordant violin screeched out its first few notes.[haunting classical music playing]

Say, what? Haunting classical music? Haunting classical music?!?!?!? Does no one at Netflix have access to a decent music library? This piece has a name, a title that has been well-known for one hundred and forty-six years. That’s as bad as people calling the tango Al Pacino danced with Gabrielle Anwar in Scent of a Woman ‘the tango from Scent of a Woman’, as if that’s its title. It’s not. It’s called Por Una Cabeza, and it’s by Carlos Gardel, a significant composer of Latin music in the first half of the 20th Century. It’s not quite as bad as pronouncing Porsche as a one-syllable name, but still, come on! Is it all that much trouble to identify a major piece of music by its actual name?

Ahem. Sorry ‘bout that.

Danse Macabre was based on a Late Medieval allegorical theme of death as the one truly universal reality, and its application in a variety of artistic expressions. Paintings, frescoes and woodcuts depicting souls of all financial stations and every societal stratum dancing their ways along to the grave accompanied by decomposing corpses and animated skeletons were all the rage in the waning decades of the Middle Ages, and into the Renaissance. 

I know most folks think of the term ‘classical music’ as encompassing all that stuff you had to sit through during school field trips to the local symphony hall, but for the cognoscenti, classical refers to the music of roughly the 18th Century, composed by folks like Mozart and Haydn in an organically structured and sometimes excessively ornamental style that reflected the artistic sensibilities of the concurrent Rococo period in art and architecture. During the preceding century, more-or-less, both art and architecture on one hand and music on the other were done in what was known as Baroque style, which was also overly ornamented but with a somewhat more constrained, almost geometrical structure. Kind of. That’s very much a Reader’s Digest Condensed version of things, but not, I hope, totally off the mark. 

The 19th Century in music was dominated by the Romantic period, and Saint-Saëns was very much a Romantic composer. That word does not mean, as applied to the music of its time, what you think it does, just as an opera comique is not necessarily funny. Romantic in relation to the music of composers from Schubert and Beethoven in the early 19th Century to Dvorak and Verdi near the end of the century, and even beyond with Rachmaninoff and Ravel, was intended to produce within the listener a sort of naturalistic evocation of emotions, so that the music inspired more than merely an aesthetic response. It is no accident that the Romantic period in music coincided in its later decades with Impressionism in painting. The intended reaction from the consumer was the same in both areas, an empathic connection with the artist through the medium.

And Danse Macabre did produce an emotional reaction from early critics, indeed. It was not received well at first, as it was considered to be a source of anxiety for those who heard it. As I stated before, I know little about music theory, but I have been given to understand that there are certain key signatures that lend themselves particularly well to certain types of music, and even the emotions those pieces are meant to convey. According to what I have read on the subject, G Minor is one of those keys that tends to invoke dread and angst, and Danse Macabre is in that key. I’m going to go ahead and assume my informant was correct, for it does put the nerves on edge. 

Listen to it throughout that title sequence in Ratched, when and if you’re able to watch it, and see if it doesn’t augment the show’s overall feeling of fearful expectation, even more so perhaps than the story warrants. Then, listen to it in its entirety. 

Then, please don’t tell me you felt nothing from that – no frisson, as it were. I hope you do. I might just worry about you if not, just a little. 

Also, rest assured I won’t leave you hanging regarding all the possibly unfamiliar references above. I will, one of these days, wax poetic on horror as it was used in old time radio programs and operas, comique and otherwise, as well as by other composers, artists, and even architects. I might even explain just what is meant by a ‘slick magazine’, translate the Latin phrases I love tossing around like confetti, and reveal from what major genre work I lifted the neologism ‘gorgeosity’. Stay tuned.

And, as always, be afraid. Be very afraid.