Archive for the ‘historical perspectives’ category

Krampus, and Having a Scary Little Christmas…

December 11, 2019

He just might be the perfect antidote for too much enforced Christmas sweetness…Krampus, that is, the nightmarish figure with goatish and demonic features  out of European folklore.  He’d be right at home pursued by paranormal or cryptic investigators as he’s usually portrayed with hooves, claw-like fingers, long spiraled horns, and covered with dark hair.  His tongue is long and protrusive, and his specialty is dealing with naughty children, beating them with birch switches and stuffing them in his sack for transport back to his lair, perhaps to become dinner…

The worst that Santa would do to you is put you on his “Naughty List,” or perhaps leave you a lump of coal. Santa’s a milquetoast compared to Krampus, who would terrorize you as kind of an anti-Santa.  In “Old World” Europe, fairy tales weren’t always for entertainment…they could be morality plays intended to scare children into good or at least compliant behavior.  Grimm’s fairy tales in the original could actually be pretty grim.

In Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, adults get involved in a chaotic Krampus tribute involving public drunkenness and men running through the streets dressed as devils, with Krampus Night traditionally December 5th.  In recent years, some people in the U.S. have begun throwing Krampus parties as a sort of twisted, anti-Christmas celebration. Krampus has enjoyed kind of a renaissance lately, and been featured in horror movies.  So be good, for goodness sake! – -Ahh,  I do so like Old World traditions… ūüźļ


“We Are Gone,” The Terror, Episode 10

May 22, 2018

All good things must come to an end, and so The Terror wrapped up its tenth and final season episode (“We Are Gone”) with more than a bit of Grand Guignol, complete with cannibalism and the Tuunbaq ripping into Hickey and his rebellious men, literally tearing the sadistic psychopath in two before succumbing to its poisonous diet. You are what you eat, after all…

We were given more of a close-up of the Inuit monster in this conclusive episode, his countenance a disturbing mixture of human and bestial elements, almost resembling someone’s crazy old uncle; maybe¬†Uncle Fester¬†of¬†The Addams Family. A “spirit who dresses itself as an animal,” the mythological creature was said to consume not only the flesh but also the soul of its victims.¬†

Where human flesh eating was concerned, there are suggestions in the historical evidence that some cannibalism occurred in the actual Franklin Expedition, although it was ramped up for horrific effect in the Dan Simmons novel as well as the series adaptation of it. In this television adaptation, surgeon Goodsir poisoned himself unknown to his captors¬†and¬†slit his wrists, his body then becoming a fatal feast for them. Other subtle differences between the book and the screen adaptation occurred as well, and without issuing spoilers I did find the novel’s ending more satisfying. If you were captivated by the televised series, check out the book as well as a really well done and worthwhile horror tale…

“The Terror” is Coming!

March 19, 2018

I love creepy stuff, and there’s so little of it that’s done really well! ¬†For this reason, I’m really looking forward to The Terror, an upcoming horror series on the AMC network. Based on a novel by Dan Simmons and the ill-fated real life Franklin Expedition, The Terror looks like wonderful stuff indeed. ¬†

Incorporating elements of the movies The Thing with Alien and the rich period atmospherics and fine acting of the Penny Dreadful tv series, The Terror has it all.  It kind of combines a real-life historical event, the Franklin Expedition, with a horror/fantasy overlay. This kind of thing has been done in a lot of sci fi/alternative history fiction, and has lately been seen in films like Abraham Lincoln:  Vampire Hunter.

Now the ill-fated Franklin Expedition was real stuff which was kicked off in 1845 when the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror left England in search of a segment of the Northwest Passage, a kind of 19th century wormhole which it was felt would convey trade to the Orient.  The vessels, advanced for their day, became hopelessly ice-locked in the Canadian Arctic, forcing their crews to abandon ship and walk in search of a settlement.  They faced slow and miserable deaths from exposure, starvation, and lead poisoning caused by their badly-canned food.  All 129 souls on board the ships died from their ordeal.

In the television horror drama, the Royal Navy expedition instead of finding the Northwest Passage discovers a cunning, monstrous gothic-style predator who stalks the crew in a game of survival which could impact the region and its indigenous people forever. ¬†For a tale of frozen wastes, sailing ships, and Arctic monsters I’m booking passage on The Terror for sure!

“Penny Dreadful” is Dreadfully Good!

July 1, 2014


If you have a taste for horror that’s complex, intelligently written, and well-acted you might find Showtime’s series “Penny Dreadful” a real gem! The title of the series hails from sensational serialized British literary entertainment of the 19th century that was pitched to working-class males, each installment of which cost a penny.

Now before your eyes glaze over, this framework unites classic literary horror characters of the 19th century, such as Victor Frankenstein, Van Helsing, Dorian Grey, and others all updated and re-imagined in refreshing ways. Victor Frankenstein, for example (pictured), is portrayed as a young man, vital, intellectual, and with knowledge and capabilities light years ahead of the Victorian times.¬† His creations (yes, there is more than one “monster”) are not mute, shuffling brutes, but rather agile and articulate if socially impaired creatures who read and learn, grow, and suffer angst; they wander about London. ¬†We are really starting to like the second-generation “Proteus” when the first-born unexpectedly appears to rip him apart. ¬†Characters not presented in classic literature are also introduced, such as the dark and formidable Vanessa Ives, an at times demonically possessed medium and clairvoyant who reminds me of Wednesday Addams as she might have been in adulthood; a seance scene featuring her is absolutely incredible. Timothy Dalton, who has taken a turn as James Bond, portrays Sir Malcom, the leader of a group of Victorian-era “ghostbusters” including Dr. Frankenstein who are trying to retrieve his one daughter from a particularly nasty group of vampires. ¬†Each team member has a unique skill set; these characters could do¬†Mountain Monsters,¬†and actually catch and subdue something!

It’s all wild stuff played seriously, and the series isn’t for the squeamish or the young as there is violence, blood, occasional nudity, and adult themes. The Victorian setting is recreated lavishly and with attention to detail; this is upper-level television, even if death and the supernatural as art. – – What furry elements are there is all of this? Well, in the last episode of the first season that has just concluded, one character when his back is hard pressed to the wall by bounty hunters about to drag him off in chains is revealed to be a¬†werewolf! ¬†I won’t reveal which character so as not to spoil the surprise for those who have yet to view the series or the episode, each of which has a dramatic twist of some kind you probably won’t see coming. ¬†

With a dynamite ensemble cast and an underlying idea that hasn’t been visited since¬†The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, this series is great for those who like psychological thrillers and dark horror. ¬†Catch it on¬†Showtime, or view it on Xfinity On Demand…

The Zombie? – – Of Corpse!

November 2, 2013

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РРOn this Dia de Los Muertos following hard on the heels of Halloween, the mind runs more naturally to a consideration of supernatural, creepy, and scary considerations.  Zombies are much in vogue, having developed as a horror sub-genre through the work of George Romero among others and more recently, well-written and acted shows such as The Walking Dead.

In our modern age, death is kind of a final taboo, and the dead are swiftly and antiseptically spirited away so our delicate sensitivities are not offended by them, and we can postpone dealing with our own mortality. ¬†Such was not the case in earlier times, when people would have been well-acquainted with both the sight of the dying and dead bodies. ¬†In ancient times especially during plague years, dead bodies could be seen in public places in varying stages of decomposition, their numbers at times overwhelming burial details. As zombies are essentially animated corpses, their presence in film and literature may hark back to a kind of revulsion and fear in the collective unconscious over events that transpired earlier in human history…

“Diving Horse” Revival Scrapped…

February 27, 2012

– – In times gone by, New Jersey’s fabled Atlantic City featured at their Steel Pier a so-called “diving horse” act which began in the 1920’s, and was shut down five decades later.¬†¬† In the stunt, a horse ascended to the top of a 40-foot platform, and didn’t as much dive as was tipped off it, plunging the animal and its rider into a 12-foot deep water tank below. ¬† Animal rights advocates maintained that the act at the very least scared horses, and carried the potential for them to be injured or even killed.

A brief return of the act happened in 1993 with riderless mules substituted for the horses, but protests ended that revival.¬† Nostalgia for Atlantic City’s edgy past prompted recent plans for another diving horse comeback, but successful online petitions against the plan caused the revival rather than the horses to be tanked…

Permian Pompeii?

February 23, 2012

РРRoughly 298 million years ago, a volcano erupted in the Inner Mongolian district near the modern-day city of Wuda, China raining down volcanic ash with such intensity that a forest was quickly buried and essentially preserved in remarkable detail down to branch and leaf structure. American and Chinese  scientists have recently excavated this lost forest, ironically through coal mining activities in the region. 

The preserved forest of about 11,000 square feet gives researchers the unique opportunity to examine an ecosystem essentially frozen in time by a natural disaster dating back to when the earth had only one giant landmass known as Pangaea.¬† Scientists have worked with artist Ren Yugao to capture how the sites may have looked at the time…

The Dogs of War…

June 10, 2011

¬†– – I think it was Shakespeare who in one of his history plays (possibly Julius Caesar) had a main character utter a line about “…cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.“–Well, the dogs of war are with us, they are valuable supports for our troops, and are doing really cool things, all the while looking great while doing it!¬† They do furry proud!

Consider that a canine commando came with the Navy SEALs team that nailed Osama bin Laden, arriving strapped onto one of the assault team members.  While the composition of that team is understandably kept secret, most likely the canine  involved was a German shepherd or a Belgian Malinois, although Labrador retrievers are also becoming popular.

There are over 2,700 canines in the military dog program who may function as specialized search dogs or combat trackers, moving ahead of the humans to find explosives or people that are hidden.¬† Dogs have seen military service for more than 100 years, seeing combat in the Civil War and World War I.¬† It was only beginning in 1942 that canines were officially inducted into the U.S. army, and today they are a central part of U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan…

Howl Hitler?

May 27, 2011

¬†– – The Nazis weren’t much on human rights, but apparently were fond of animals and liked the idea that dogs were intelligent and could communicate with people. ¬† According to a new book “Amazing Dogs:¬† A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities,”¬† Nazi specialists attempted to train an elite group of dogs regarded as intelligent to read, write, and speak!

Research from Cardiff University associate professor Dr. Jan Bondeson found that the Nazis collected pups from across Germany and put them through intensive training in the 1930’s at the Tier-Sprechschule ASRA (School for Dog-Human Communication) in the town of Leutenberg.¬† According to Dr. Bondeson, the hope was that the superior dogs would eventually communicate with their SS masters and act as the ultimate guard dogs. Where it gets really strange is in the contention that an institute-trained dog such as one named Rolf the Airedale could communicate with humans on such topics as¬† religion and mathematics by tapping out an elaborate code with his paw!¬† Another dog, Kurwenal, supposedly could crack jokes.

Hitler himself was widely recognized as a dog lover, and had two German Shepherds named Blondi and Bella.¬† Where talking dogs are concerned, we of course will always have Scooby-Doo…

Grin and Bear It!

April 16, 2011

– – During medieval times, animals were at times tormented as public entertainment through such displays as bear-baiting and what was termed the “horse and ape” spectacle; dogs were also trained to fight bears and bulls confined in a pit.¬† To add insult to injury, animals were occasionally even put on trial!¬†¬† In 1499, a bear was charged with terrorizing villages in Germany. ¬† Defense lawyers cried foul (not bruin), and pleaded that the defendant should be tried by a jury of its peers…peer bears, that is!

If,¬† however,¬† Yogi Bear is ever put on trial, I’d volunteer to be judge, jury, and Lord High Executioner…sorry, Boo-boo!