Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #2-9: Let’s Get Physical

The topic of physical components for use in spells cast in horror settings has been touched on only briefly so far. Where the spells are cast and the rituals performed can be a very important first step. A first requirement can be an altar. An altar sounds like a pretty specific thing. They are found in churches of all kinds and not just the forte of evil religions or cults. However, for magic, an altar can mean any separate staging area. The area must be properly set up, or ‘blessed’ as it were. Blessing methods range anywhere from special chants or prayers during the construction of the area, to anointing it in blood or other substances, to cleansing it of the exterior world and its energy. The blessings may even need to be kept up regularly.

Returning to physical components there are staples such as virgin’s blood, eye of newt, frog’s warts--anyone can find warts on a toad--wax, and incense. Some spells and rituals may call for holy water. Others call for unholy water. Unholy water is differentiated from the holy kind beginning with the fact that it has ingredients, only one of which is usually human or animal urine. Changing gears there are different roots and herbs. Mandrake root is a good example of an ingredient that has something innately magical about it from the start. Mandrake is said to scream when pulled from the ground. Then there is the magical component, the Hand of Glory. Initially the Hand of Glory was an alternate name for mandrake root. Since then it has become something vastly different.

A magical object known as a Hand of Glory starts with the severed left (or sinister) hand of a criminal, which is often turned into a candle. Symbolically a Hand of Glory might serve the purpose of a cross, Star of David, staff or sceptre, or even a knife. Knives often hold their own purpose and frequently are blessed similarly to altars. A knife need not only be used for bloodletting or sacrifice. What’s left then, aside from a laundry list of ingredients, are the one other common materials of casting spells, narcotics. Often the practitioners of rituals require being in a specific state of mind. Taking drugs, quite often hallucinogens, helps achieve these altered states. This is traditional to the magic of medicine men around the world, but some still see it as a modern, lackadaisical trend.

Mood: pleased.
Music: Too Young to Fall in Love by Motley Crue and Game of Fear by Royal Hunt.

Motley Crue: Shout at the Devil
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Royal Hunt: Paper Blood

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #2-8: Things Man Was Not Meant to Read

Books of spells are a staple of much magical fantasy. They are written and wielded by bearded men in pointy hats and long blue droopy-sleeved robes with silver stars and moons on them. In horror though the books far eclipse the men, women, and children who use them. The authors of these dark books are often irrelevant. Instead the focus is on the content and the materials of which the book is made. The prime example is the “Naturan Demanto” which was bound in human flesh and inked in blood. It is more physically impressive than its famous cousins the “Necronomicon” books--the “Al Azif”; later in history renamed the Necronomicon, and the “Egyptian Book of the Dead”. Other unrelated tomes include the “De Vermis Mysteriis”, the “Book of Eibon”.

The bulk of the dark evil books are roughly divided between two of the schools of magic previously discussed. The first half deals with Necromancy. This is a fitting choice of medium for passing on information given the need to illustrate the practices and procedures for working with bits and pieces of anatomy, as well as the drawings of the pieces themselves. The other half deals with conjurations and summonings, where the magical circles and symbols need to be depicted accurately. Incantations tend more to be passed on verbally, especially since somatic or movement components are required and hard to express in word or drawings. Some texts exist on alchemy, but they are few beyond the diaries and journals of the alchemists.

The generally more modern settings of horror add a distinct dimension to the locations within which these vile magical manuals rest. The books reside in the restricted sections of dusty University libraries. Conversely they can be lovingly shelved in personal collections obscured by numerous volumes hiding the evil trees in the forest. Others yet are locked away in trunks hidden at the back of attics. This is not say that these same books do not exist in more fantasy-based locals. Such places include sitting upon alters in long hidden cities, guarded by the restless dead. They can be in the walled up tower of a castle. Or they can be clutched in dead hands in a crypt, or casket nestled into the ground. Wherever they are someone always finds them and then the malign fun begins.

Mood: studious.
Music: Lights in the Sky by Nine Inch Nails and Welcome Home (Sanitarium) by Rockabye Baby!.

Nine Inch Nails: Slip
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Rockabye Baby!: Lullaby Renditions of Metallica

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Liar Liar, Script on Fire

Welcome back to Horror on Hump Day at R.G. Male’s Dark Corners. It was a good hiatus, but like any vacation all too short. I may ease back into it this week. Next week I should resume with the magical setting discussion. For now I want to talk about a terrible trend that sometimes plagues movie, maybe horror movies in particular. The title says it all. Sometimes the scriptwriter lies to us, and the director is usually implicit for going along with it. There is a specific example I’m thinking of and I’m going to go ahead and name names!

I’m looking at you Victor Salva of Jeepers Creepers fame. I am speaking of the TV show “Fear Itself” airing this summer, and the episode ”In Sickness and in Health”. What we have here in this episode is a perfect of example of a lie being perpetrated upon the audience. Not a misdirection, not a blurring of reality, not a matter of interpretation, not a taint from a character’s perspective, but an out and out lie. Looking at the IMDB entry for this episode, Salva is the listed as writer and the director is “An American Werewolf in London” director John Landis. Doubly heinous that two famed people are involved.

Since actors have little say in these things I can only hope William B. Davis who played a short part in the episode is ashamed of having been attached to this calamity. Perhaps as Cancer-man/The Smoking Man of X-files fame he got perverse enjoyment out of such a non-useful conspiracy as lying to a TV audience. So, what happened in this episode to raise such apathetic ire? The plot is set up to make us believe the premise of the story and all of its tension. Everything points to one conclusion and one conclusion only. However, when it comes to the climax of the plot that conclusion is entirely false. This in and of itself is not a bad thing necessarily.

What is bad is that all of points forming this conclusion make absolutely no sense, what so ever, in light of the actual truth. If this were intended to make the audience go, “Oh, I get it now”, then it is an ‘epic fail’. There is nothing to get. It’s claptrap, meaningless gobbledygook, and a total waste of an hour better spent on a different hour of this otherwise decent new horror mini-movie series. This of course is not the first story to plain lie to the audience and sadly it likely won’t be the last in the history of the genre. Frankly, I would rather much approve of a story that attempted to mislead and misdirect that failed, than one of this kind of story where there is no attempt to try for any sort of believability.

Mood: lethargic.
Music: Travel In Stygian by Iced Earth and One Tin Soldier by Me First & The Gimme Gimmes.

Iced Earth: The Blessed And The Damned (2CD) [Best of]
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Me First & The Gimme Gimmes: Have a Ball

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