With Halloween upon us, it's time to settle down and curl up with a good horror novel or horror movie. But when tomorrow dawns, you may want to know a little more about the horror genre and its history. May I suggest picking up a copy of my Knowing Fear or A Hideous Bit of Morbidity?
I've received a few requests for a list of some of my favorite horror movies, so for Halloween I'm going to share ten of the movies I enjoy this time of year. This is not meant as a critical assessment of their absolute value as cinema, or even their ultimate value for the horror genre. (For that, read my Knowing Fear.) As you'll see, I tend to enjoy older films more than modern ones. I think this due to horror's relationship to the Gothic, and the age of the film creates that layer of historicity that recreates some of the ancient terror of the Gothic.
Matt Staggs calls my attention to a story making the rounds of alternative websites suggesting that a “Skyman” reported in Canadian ethnographic literature may have been an extraterrestrial being, an ancient astronaut. The ancient astronaut claim appears to have originated in 1994 in John Robert Colombo’s Voices of Rama (reprinted in his 2009 Big Book of Canadian Hauntings), and Colombo’s description of the story is retold in remarkably similar language—down to the suggestion that the story describes one of Erich von Däniken’s ancient astronauts—in recent online reports. One such report claims “Many modern UFO theorists believe Skyman was a marooned extraterrestrial astronaut whose own craft was somehow damaged or destroyed. […] Many researchers believe Skyman was no mythological tale, but rather an actual encounter of the first kind between an ancient alien and an entire Ojibwa community.”
So, let’s turn to the original reports and find out what happened.
In the 1930s, Lord Raglan published a study of the hero-pattern in mythology, outlining the biography and journey of the hero that would appear a decade later (with additions drawn from Jung’s archetypes) in Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. Raglan belonged to the “myth and ritual” school of thought, believing that the origin of this myth pattern derived from an ancient ritual practice that was degraded into wonder stories in an attempt to explain the long-forgotten meaning of the ritual. Although this school was popular in the early twentieth century (especially in the work of James Frazer and Jane Harrison), it is much less popular today.
In honor of Halloween I present today one of the original cases of vampirism that served as a foundation for Bram Stoker's Dracula. The story comes from the region near Transylvania, and it is recorded in the "Jewish Letters" as preserved in Augstin Calmet's The Phantom World. This alleged incident, which the author of the "Jewish Letters" explains is likely due to the hyperactive imagination of invalids combined with the propensity of corpses to plump up and leak blood, took place around 1732. As a result of such reports, the Empress Maria Theresa, who reigned over Transylvania and its adjoining territories, sent her personal physician to determine if vampire attacks were real. Learning they were not, the Empress enacted laws ending the desecration of corpses in the name of combating vampires.
After yesterday's exciting attack from Philip Coppens, I'm feeling a bit lazy today. So, in honor of that, I thought I'd share another example of how alternative writers aren't just bad at science but are also bad at writing. Here is a sample of Erich von Däniken being a lazy, sloppy writer. The text on the left comes from his 1997 book The Return of the Gods, while the text on the right comes from his 2009 book Twilight of the Gods:
Get this: I—despite having only this blog as a forum—have annoyed Ancient Aliens star Philip Coppens enough that he deigned to blast me on his blog yesterday, and in flattering terms! He discusses me after complaining that Ancient Aliens Debunked filmmaker Chris White had the gall to respond to Coppens’ criticism of him after Coppens had specifically insisted that any such rebuttal was inappropriate, offensive, and “blablabla.” Coppens, you will recall, previously stated that he would no longer respond to criticism because he considered it an effort to goad him into personality-driven conflict, which is beneath him. That lasted a week:
With the American election rapidly approaching, much of the talk in the media has been political. I don’t usually like to talk politics on my blog because it only serves to make people irrationally angry; however, there have recently been several stories that discussed the connection between politics, culture, and alternative claims, all trying to claim the moral high ground for a particular ideology.
In this week’s episode of Monster Talk Eve Siebert discusses creationist claims that in the Old English epic poem Beowulf, Grendel and his mother were actually dinosaurs. Therefore, since Beowulf is a medieval hero, dinosaurs lived in the Middle Ages and Darwin is wrong, QED. Siebert has an article about this coming out in Skeptical Inquirer, and I am eager to read it.
Alternative history thrives on ignorance. I came across this fascinating bit of historical nonsense describing the ridiculous work of Augustus Le Plongeon, who imagined himself a reincarnated prince of Atlantis and thought that the Maya were coeval with Egypt and both equal sons of Atlantis. The following quotation comes from "A Monument to Atlantis," published in Mind magazine around the turn of the twentieth century.
As we continue the countdown to Halloween, I thought I'd share today a short excerpt from the article I wrote for 21st Century Gothic (Scarecrow Press, 2010), the massive compendium of critical appraisals of the best Gothic of the past decade. Our subject is the haunted house and why exactly it is that we envision it as a nineteenth century Victorian. Obviously, the Victorians who built them didn't think they were living in spooky, evil homes.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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