Sunday, May 9, 2010

Review: The Human Centipede

There have been some sick and twisted movies made (and I love 'em all!) but The Human Centipede might beat them all for its warped and demented distortion of the crazed doctor genre.

This is not Saw -- the original, and not its derivative sequels -- which provided at the time a unique twist on what you thought you were seeing, and which spawned a never-ending variety of ripoffs. It's not Hostel, which was also a unique vision of torture amped up to a higher plane. The Human Centipede simply ups the quotient of "Holy crap! Did they just do that?" to a new level and for fans of extreme horror (is it horror? I'm not even sure, but it doesn't matter), this is just one of those movies you must go watch by any means possible.

Two American girls on vacation in Germany break down in a deserted area. So far, mundane enough as plot builders go, and their salvation at the house of Dr. Heiter who lives far removed from civilization is a pretty well-worn, conventional plot device for horror film fare. Where the movie seeks to differentiate itself from other similar films is what it proposes to do.

Dr. Heiter, a renown surgeon specializing in the separating of Siamese twins (check out his living room art), now wants to join people together instead of taking them apart. We're not given a reason for his desire. There is no "why" for his ambitions. What we are given is fetishism revealed in a new light. Dr. Heiter's greatest desire is to conjoin humans mouth-to-anus with their digestive tracts combined. His patients knees are then removed to prevent them from standing up and their mobility is reduced to a hands-and-knees crawling existence, like a human centipede. Think of it as Frankenstein on steroids, using the human body to create a new, living thing.


When you consider the typical slasher horror movie, The Human Centipede is different. We're not witness to high body counts, buckets of blood, unstoppable killers, or gore. But if you were sickened by the video Two Girls, One Cup yet watched it anyway, then you can imagine what The Human Centipede descends too.

When the lead section of the centipede, a Japanese tourist kidnapped for the purpose of bringing the hideous creation to life, has to make a bowel movement, the terror on the girl's face in the middle as she realizes what's about to occur, is palpable. Dr. Heiter's comment, "Yes! Feed her,"is diabolically evil, every bit as much as Dr. Frankenstein's signature exclamation, "It's alive!" particularly because he has placed her in that exact middle position as punishment for her attempted escape.

The movie has its cliches: the near escape, the cops who almost discover the plot, the operating room-in -the-basement. But you manage to forget all that because the plot device itself is so monstrous. Even so, The Human Centipede is a well-made movie, with good acting and cinematography. Maybe that makes it worse. This is no shot-on-video schlock. It is definitely a worthy edition to the extreme horror genre, even if there is a certain element of sadomasochistic porn introduced, which to a certain extent, I guess, all such horror is. Yet, by all means possible, rent this today!


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Open Graves, Open Minds

Vampires are hiding out in academia. The University of Hertfordshire hosted a conference last month  entitled Open Graves, Open Minds to explore the "Americanization" of the undead in popular culture. But in typical professorial blather, they've managed to make vampires as unexciting as Twilight has. 

"The irony of creatures with no reflection becoming such a pervasive reflection of modern culture pleases in a dark way. Since their animation out of folk materials in the nineteenth century, by Polidori, as Varney and in Le Fanu and Stoker, vampires have been continually reborn in modern culture. They have stalked texts from Marx’s image of the leeching capitalist, through Pater’s Lady Lisa of tainted knowledge, to the multifarious incarnations in contemporary fictions in print and on screen. They have enacted a host of anxieties and desires, shifting shape as the culture they are brought to life in itself changes form. More recently, their less charismatic undead cousins, zombies, have been dug up in droves to represent various fears and crises in contemporary culture."

If you're still awake after that, this video from The Wall Street Journal (of all places) makes it seem much more interesting, particularly the part where they're eating "finger foods" out of a coffin replete with a skeleton. Looks like a lot of the Halloween parties I've seen.

While the program was put together by Dr. Sam(hain) George (heh!), it covered such gripping topics as identity politics, the metaphor of reflection, and "the artist as vampire Marx." I'm sure this was an excellent use of university resources, but somehow I think some of us haunters could have brought the conference to a much higher, more interesting level.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Creepy Bit of Nostalgia

Yesterday I wrote about a part of New Jersey's "haunted history" in the 1970's that led to the rise of haunted attractions at the Jersey shore. That brought back to mind another haunt, the Gingerbread Castle in Hamburg, NJ.

The Castle didn't start off as a haunted attraction. In fact it was a children's park built well before our brains were addled by instant gratification and digital excess. Ahh, simpler times. I think I might have gone here when I was very young because when I returned a few years ago there was a very real sense that I had seen it all before.

Now that it has fallen into a state of disrepair, the creepiness of the site is enhanced that much more. And it was a perfect setting for a haunted walk through which someone obviously hit on. About three years ago I found that it had been converted into a Halloween haunt and it was truly an enjoyable one. You walked through a lot of the original castle, though much of it was closed off. Even so it was a pretty extensive haunt and the actors did a good job out of scaring the bejesus out of people. That's why when I returned the following year I was surprised to find out it had closed down.

And that's how you find it today. Abandoned, dilapidated, with all the signs of the grandeur it once held, but now all silent -- perhaps even scarier than if it was a haunt again. Here's a YouTube video I found that shows a little bit of what it's like today:

And that reminded me of yet another fairy tale park called, appropriately enough, Fairy Tale Forest in  Oak Ridge, NJ. Now this park I had gone to as a child and had very fond memories of it. So when I moved to Oak Ridge with my family in the late 1990's I was very excited to take my own children. Well, all I was able to say was it wasn't like I remembered it, though it was exactly like it was back then. Nothing had changed, except it was much more rundown.

Here's a video of Fairy Tale Forest as it is, having been turned into a self storage facility:

It held fond childhood memories, but it had fallen on hard times and kids today just don't appreciate that sort of amusement that required the use of one's own imagination.


Monday, May 3, 2010

New Jersey's Haunted 70's

New Jersey was fortunate to have had a brief period in the mid-1970's to the early 1980's when haunted attractions were a major hit in the state. What started with Brigantine Castle in Brigantine soon spawned the Haunted Mansion in Long Branch and then the Haunted Castle at Six Flags Great Adventure.

According to an online history, Brigantine Castle's demise began after the seaside community limited the number of charter buses that could bring in tourists to the Castle, as well as restrictions on advertising. When a summer storm damaged the underinsured attraction, the owner closed the Castle for good in 1984.

The Haunted Mansion was born after its owner had visited Brigantine Castle and asked its owner for help in building one in Long Branch. If you view the commercials for the two attractions preserved on their individual history sites, you'll see the similarities in the promotion (even including parts of the same video). At its height, the Mansion would attract 100,000 people a week. The haunted aspect of the attraction was toned down in 1985 when the pier it was located on was dubbed "Kid's World."A gas leak in 1987 caused a fire that burned the Mansion down to its pilings.

This "golden period" of haunted houses came to a tragic end in 1984 when eight people perished in a fire at the Haunted Castle Six Flags attraction and building inspections became more strict. Built in 1979, it was destroyed by fire in 1984.

There was apparently a fourth attraction called Castle Dracula in Wildwood, but I have no recollection whatsoever of it. It opened in 1977 and also met its death as a result of fire.

Although I remember the first three attractions, it was only because of their advertising. I may have seen Castle Dracula ads too, but it doesn't shake any of the cobwebs in my brain. I never actually visited any of them, since unlike many fellow haunters, while I enjoyed Halloween as a kid it wasn't an obsession of mine until, oh, last year.

One of the ads at some point said "...and Renfield and his spiders." I'm thinking it was Brigantine Castle, but I can't find any confirmation of it. Does anybody else remember this? I recall them showing Renfield sitting in a cell shoving spiders into his mouth.

Now none of these places approached Disney's Haunted Mansion (but then again, what does?), but it seems a shame that for a state that had a brief, shining moment in permanent haunted attractions it really has nothing to show for it now.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Halfway to Halloween

Damn! I went the whole month of April (and a week or two in March, too) without posting anything.

Following the inundation of rain last month, my posting here got disrupted and I found it difficult to get back on track. Still I've been slowly working on props and learning new techniques at a local make & take group (thanks, Hauntforum, for introducing me to a great bunch of people).

I've been thinking, though, about what it is we do. Of course there's a large component of selfishness that goes into the props we build and the scenes we create. The admiration from family and friends is nice, and there's the part that allows us to have an outlet for whatever creativity we possess that doesn't get a chance to be expressed in other means in our regular lives.

But a large component is the joy and happiness we get from sharing all of this with others. Yes, with our friends, families, and trick-or-treaters, but also with each other. Without the generous nature of others I would never have been able to create -- or even to make the attempt to make -- the props I have, however poor the effort has been to the original design.

Because SpookyBlue (and others) provided some detailed instructions on how to do papier mache, I was able to make ground breakers and can plan for other props to populate my haunt this year. Due to Pumpkinrot's incredible talent, we have a high ideal to shoot for in our own creations, and because of a regular stream of links to other haunters' haunts and props on his site, I've found many other talented artists to emulate. Stolloween has given me some new ideas on where to take papier mache next. The Hauntcast podcast gives me a dose of monthly haunting fun that keeps me occupied -- and smiling -- as I work on my props. And the people I meet with monthly at the M&T have been teaching me new techniques that I can add to my display and take the haunt to another level.

In short, the Halloween community is a very giving one, despite our otherwise selfish reasons for doing what we do.

So, as we've hit the halfway to Halloween marker (shouldn't there be a celebration or something?) I just wanted to thank all my fellow haunters for providing me with the inspiration to take my own haunt to the next level. I have a long way to go to match your level of skill and dedication, but it's a fun journey I don't mind taking. I'm looking forward to the next six months of prop building and then the Big Day. Has it been six months already and do we really only have six more months to go? I gotta go. I've got haunting to do. Thanks!

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