Discount Nightmares

Now that we’re past the equinox it’s officially okay to obsess with monsters, right?  (Any excuse will do.)  Nightmares with the Bible was officially a pandemic book.  Academic publishers (especially) found out that books released in 2020 tended to flop.  People weren’t thinking about much other than the pandemic (or crying about losing an election fair and square).  Books, of course, take a long time to write and a long time to produce—it’s not as simple as it looks.  And if your production schedule falls during a pandemic, well, be prepared.  In the case of Nightmares there was the added burden of price point.  When all you’re thinking about is survival, cashing out a Franklin to read about demons seems hardly wise.

Just yesterday I received a flyer, that I’m passing along to you, for the book.  It has a discount code on it (look at part 2 below) so that the book is merely expensive rather than very expensive. Nightmares is part of a series titled Horror and Scripture.  The series, published by Fortress Academic and Lexington Books, is now coming out with its third volume.  The publisher, starting to recover from the pandemic, is promoting all the books in the series.  You see, Nightmares was not only a pandemic book, it also missed that highly sought-after pre-Halloween release.  Books that deal with horror get a boost during the holiday season.  Ironically the same thing happened with Holy Horror.  Both books came out in December when nobody but Charles Dickens is thinking about scary things.

Academic book pricing is based on a model that’s beginning to crumble.  It’s that capitalistic trope of what the market will bear.  The market is academic libraries, and it has been demonstrating lately that even they aren’t made of money.  I don’t know if libraries get to use discount codes or not—it can’t hurt to ask your librarian.  Fully employed academics, however, will sometimes pay a hefty price for a book they really want or need.  My shelves upstairs are filled with books that were overpriced but were required for the books and articles I wrote when it was an expectation of my job.  My next book, which is now in the negotiation stage with the publisher, will be more reasonably priced.  It will likely have a smaller appeal, but you’ve got to start somewhere.  I sincerely hope I’m through writing hundred-dollar books.  Please pass the flyer along to all your rich friends—it’s just in time for the haunting month of October.


Al’s Rhythm

Algorithms.  Who can understand them?  I’ve been having some trouble with searches lately.  Not on the internet in general, but on specific websites (including this one).  While Sects and Violence in the Ancient World isn’t a particularly media-heavy site, I find it difficult to find images by searching.  For some reason, even when I put the title of the image in the WordPress search bar, it doesn’t always come up with the answer.  Well, given the time of morning I suppose I might’ve misspelled something.  Then I went to Amazon.  I’ve been working on my author page and wanted to update something.  I tried typing the distinctive title of my most recent book (Nightmares with the Bible—it is apparently the only actual book with that title [and titles can’t be copyrighted, in case you’re interested]) and found that it didn’t show up on the first three pages.  They were filled with books with other titles.  Algorithms.

Now granted not a lot of people seek the book on Amazon (I’m a realist), but if you type an exact, and unique title in the search bar and it doesn’t come up, isn’t something wrong with your algorithm?  (By the way, algorithm is one of the many words English borrows from Arabic.  It’s named after a ninth-century mathematician, al-Khwārizmī.  You could do worse than to have something so useful named after you!)  I’m not so naive as to think Amazon isn’t thinking to throw better selling books at you first—if you’re like others you’ll buy those before you’d consider shelling out a Franklin for mine.  But still, isn’t searching made easier when what you enter is what you want to find?

The internet’s primarily about selling you stuff.  Some of us look up sites for information or entertainment, but then someone tries to sell you something.  (I’m not trying to sell you my book here, by the way—it’s not priced for individuals, or even mortals—I’m not even putting a link to it on Amazon here.)  I’m just wondering why, if you tell websites exactly what you’re looking for they can’t find it.  You have to wonder if we’ve reached the level of too much stuff.  There’s a lot of sorting to be done and new webpages are added every day.  Even though I’ve been writing here a dozen years now, there are far older blogs and many more newer ones.  Finding things is an important exercise, and maybe if we sit down with al-Khwārizmī for a while, we’ll be able to figure something out.

Image credit: Gregor Reisch via Wikimedia Commons

Conjuring an Exorcist

In both Holy Horror and Nightmares with the Bible I discuss The Conjuring.  In the latter I actually go through the universe that the films spin around the investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren.  Like most series where the writers and directors shift, the story line isn’t always consistent.  I suppose that one of the features of the series that appeals to those of us who love monsters is the fact that many of the movies have more than one.  The main threat, however, always seems to be demonic.  I enjoyed exploring this in both my book and in my recent piece on Horror Homeroom—check it out here.  

This series, in financial terms, has been highly successful.  There is little that attracts attention in any media more than money.  The Conjuring universe also shows that people are very interested in the topic.  A materialistic worldview doesn’t work for everyone.  We sense that there’s more going on that what the laboratory reveals.  I’ve often wondered why we can’t consider the world “both and” rather than “either or.”  We seem to think knowledge is some kind of zero-sum game.  I suppose that’s because the spiritual interferes with the material.  If there are outside forces working against the “laws” of physics then all that hard work is open to question.  It’s far easier to suggest that human beings (and other animals) who experience something “supernatural” are deluded.  Or superstitious.  Demons are a good case in point.  If they exist it would complicate the world of science.  And yet people pay good money to see movies based on them.

The Conjuring franchise pays off most of the time.  Some of the stories—those of the main series especially—are based on cases that the Warrens actually investigated.  There’s sometimes an element of the sideshow (the amazing Warrens!) to some of their work, but that doesn’t necessarily detract from the experience of real people.  Experience is an important way to navigate this strange world in which we find ourselves.  I’m not the only one who finds horror films to be a reasonable guide through this territory.  The Warrens’ case files leave lots of opportunities to explore this strange world of demons, and there are further movies in the franchise currently under development.  The most recent film, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, changed basic concepts from its early days.  It was delayed by the pandemic.  And yet, it made money.  There must be a lesson to be learned here.


Highgate Cemetery Again

Vampires can distort your thinking.  For example, whenever I hear of Highgate Cemetery in London, my mind immediately goes to the Highgate Vampire.  (There was somewhat of a comment kerfuffle on that topic right here on this blog some years back that resulted in several comments being removed.)  Highgate is the amazing final resting place of a remarkable number of famous people.  Still, when I visited a few years back I couldn’t get the vampire out of my mind.  (A friend of mine lives a short walk from the cemetery and that made the visit possible.)  This all came rushing back when I saw a book on Highgate Cemetery up for review on Reading Religion.  (And hey, Nightmares with the Bible has been available there for free, for any interested takers!)

Given my current vocation, writing actual book reviews is considered conflict of interest.  More’s the pity, since that’s how I often managed to get ahold of expensive books back in the day.  I’m pretty sure the book advertised (edited by Marie-Therese Mader, Alberto Saviello, and Baldassare Scolari) has nothing to do with the vampire, but I can think of it no other way.  Highgate is an architectural marvel for a necropolis.  It is spooky, inspiring, and impressive.  When something happens in a place, even if the facts are in dispute, it takes on an atmosphere that reflects such happenings.  At least that’s the way it feels for Highgate.  I’d heard about the vampire incident before visiting, but didn’t have the details.  Besides, you’re only permitted in on guided tours and the docents don’t point out such things.

Nevertheless, having been there I still have an interest in the cemetery itself.  It’s odd in a way.  Nobody I know personally is buried there.  No ancestors, as far as I know.  It’s the sense of place.  I’ve written about this many times before—there are numinous spaces in the world.  Science may deny it, but even scientists feel it.  Some places transport you somewhere beyond just the physical dimensions of where your body happens to be at the moment.  Cemeteries are filled with the memories of lives past.  They remind us that our time is limited, and that we too will cross that numinous threshold some day.  We all contribute.  Well, I can’t review the Highgate book and I can’t afford to buy it.  I nevertheless suspect that there’s nothing about the vampire in it.  I’m sure it’s my thinking that has been distorted by vampires.


More Conjuring

It was an almost surreal experience.  First of all, it’s been well over a year since I’ve been in a movie theater.  Secondly, I’ve never been to this particular theater before.  And in the third place, I’m absolutely alone in here.  I didn’t rent the theater out or anything, but I’ve been wanting to see The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It since June 4.  Actually, since September when it’s initial release was delayed due to the pandemic.  Everyone else around here must’ve seen it already.   I knew the story of Arne Johnson and the Warrens, having found and read Gerald Brittle’s book, The Devil in Connecticut.  Loosely based on that event, this story focuses on the actual fact that this was the first time not guilty by reason of demonic possession was proffered in a US courtroom.  The story is a strange one and the movie, as movies do, makes it even stranger.

I’ve been anticipating The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, despite the title, for a few years now.  If you’re familiar with Nightmares with the Bible you’ll know that an entire chapter is devoted to The Conjuring franchise.  You may also know that it is the most lucrative horror series of all time, apart from Godzilla in its many, many iterations.  One of the points in Nightmares was to try to make sense of the demonic world presented in the Conjuring universe.  The franchise, for the most part, deals with actual case files from Ed and Lorraine Warren.  Some of the episodes are pure fiction, however, and the explanations given in the films are all, well, conjured for the big screen.  The movies call attention to the Warrens’ work, but in a way that requires an entire chapter to untangle.

My initial impression is that this isn’t the best movie in the series.  I can’t replicate my previous work here, and I’ve only seen the movie once, so there are details I certainly missed.  The demon isn’t named this time.  Indeed, the backstory proposed is drawn from the spin-off film Annabelle.  A fictional satanic group called Disciples of the Ram is posited as causing the trouble.  Like the demon behind Annabelle, they’ve placed a curse on the Glatzel family for some unknown reason.  During the opening exorcism Arne, in an Exorcist move, asks the demon to take him instead of the young David, the brother of his girlfriend.  The movie leaves the Warrens to find out who put the curse on the Glatzels in the first place, and break it.  With some time for pondering I’ll likely come back to this movie again.  I do have to say that the book was probably scarier, although sitting in a theater alone to watch a horror movie is not something I hope to make a habit of doing.


Unconventional Demon

In my book Holy Horror I limited my discussion to fairly widely available and well-known films.  Part of the reason for this is that nobody can watch all horror movies and for those of us who work, there’s just limited time.  All of the films are at least American co-produced, most of them American productions.  The one exception to that is The Wicker Man.  I couldn’t bear to leave that particular movie out.  I didn’t realize at the time that it was classified as the newly coined “folk horror.”  Another film, released two years earlier was the strangely titled The Blood on Satan’s Claw.  It’s a strange but competent British horror film that has an eighteenth-century village falling prey to a demon that is accidentally plowed up in a field.

It is a film that could’ve been included in Holy Horror.  Indeed, the Bible appears in it and one of the adult characters is the local curate.  As the children are succumbing to a Satanism that’s raising a demon, he tries to teach them their Bible lessons.  Like Village of the Damned, the horror here centers on the children.  Flaunting the reverend’s rules, they play in the woods, raising the Devil.  Almost literally.  The demon they summon is called Behemoth.  Perhaps surprisingly, the judge actually saves the day in this one.  At first he’s convinced that the age of superstition is over and insists that it not be brought back.  He learns, however, that the demon is real and deals with it by rather physical means.  Who is Behemoth?

The word translates rather literally to “beasts.”  In the book of Job Behemoth is the land-bound companion to Leviathan, the two monsters that God cites to demonstrate his superiority over mere mortals.  As time wore on into the middle ages Behemoth and Leviathan were recast as demons, although it’s pretty clear that the book of Job doesn’t present them that way.  One of the points I make in Nightmares with the Bible is that demons aren’t fully formed beings in the ancient imagination.  Since the Bible says so little about them, ideas were drawn from folklore and other sources to flesh out these somewhat amorphous entities.  Descriptions of The Blood on Satan’s Claw quite often state that the children of the village are possessed.  If so, it is quite a different form of possession than will become standard two years later with the release of The Exorcist.  It is fitting, I suppose, for folk horror to have a folk demon for its antagonist.


You Have the Right to Remain

It’s strange sitting in a meeting where you’ve written a book on the topic under discussion and nobody knows about it.  This is one of the problems of publishing with an academic press.  Books get lost and buried.  Maybe the other way around.  A problem we academic editors frequently run into is that authors tend to think a book is a book.  Publishers recognize several different kinds of books, well represented among them those that are destined for the “library market.”  You can tell them by the way they’re priced.  Now I must confess that I’m behind the times in this regard.  I still tend to think twenty dollars is a lot to pay for a book.  I say this even though my job, day after day, includes pouring over book budgets to see how an academic book can be made not to lose money.

It costs a lot of money—most of it overhead—to produce a book.  In order not to run a publisher bankrupt, it needs to sell enough copies to cover its costs.  Library market books are priced that way because they are expected to sell only to libraries.  Certainly, if they were priced lower some academics would buy them, but the truth is not many academics do.  I realize I was an outlier when I was in the academy.  Without a research budget I would spend my own money on a book priced a hundred dollars if I really needed it for my research.  I was aware, even at that time, that others seldom did this.  As an academic colleague once told me, “I like to buy shoes.”  And let’s face it, there are just too many books out there to buy.  “Publish or perish” has more than one meaning.

So I’m sitting in a meeting where the topic of discussion is something on which I’ve written a book.  My opinion is not asked—my book is priced for the library market and I know it—so I don’t really expect it to be.  The question is whether general readers will find the subject compelling.  Speaking strictly for me I’m pretty sure they will.  I signed my contract for Nightmares with the Bible before I knew the series would be priced for the library market.  That designation also indicates minimal marketing.  What publisher is going to try to push a book that costs that much when they know individuals can’t afford it?  So I sit in the meeting and keep my mouth shut.


Reviewing Nightmares

If you’ve wanted a copy of Nightmares with the Bible but the cost is a little dear, I might recommend you look on the Reading Religion website where, as of my last look, a free review copy is available.  The catch is you have to write a review.  This is, of course, first come, first served service.  I tried, more than once, to get Holy Horror listed on their website for review, so I’m glad to see one of my books finally made it.  The idea of the horror hermeneutic seems to be catching on.  Technically speaking, however, what I’m doing is more history of religions than hermeneutics.  History of religions, at least part of it, examines whence ideas arise.  Nightmares asks that question specifically about demons.

The specific focus on horror in religion is a fairly new field of study.  Biblical scholars—indeed, those who specialize in very old fields of study in general—must keep looking for new angles.  Unlike any other piece of literature, the Good Book has been the target of scholarly interest from the very beginning of the western academic tradition.  It’s easy to forget, when looking at many secular powerhouse schools, that the very idea of higher education arose from what is now the discipline of the lowest paid of academic posts.  Being so old, religious studies, known at the time as theology, is hardly a venerated field.  I tend to think it’ll come back.  If you look at what’s happening in politics in this country, it’s bound too.  And yes, there will be horror.

Horror studies in the field operates by recognizing that horror and religion share common ground.  Like religion, horror is considered backward and uninformed.  Neither is really true of either horror or religion, but perception becomes reality for most people.  Finding themselves in remedial class together religion and horror have begun to speak to one another.  Horror has quite a following, even if those who like it keep mostly quiet about it.  The same is true of religion.  Many of the most effective horror films bring religion directly into the mix, often making it the actual basis of the horror.  The first books that I know of that brought the two explicitly together only began appearing at the turn of the millennium.  At first there were very few.  Now an increasing number of tomes have begun to appear.  For better or worse, two of mine are in the mix.  If you’d like to review the most recent one, you might check out Reading Religion, and maybe spare a kind word or two for what are, after all, baby steps.


More about Nightmares

I became aware of TheoFantastique many years ago.  Being new to social media myself, I was impressed at how professional and intelligent the site was.  Eventually I decided to introduce myself to John Morehead, the creator behind it.  (It is possible to be shy on the internet, so this took a few years.)  When Holy Horror came out I asked if TheoFantastique would post a review of it and got an even better response with an interview.  Now that Nightmares with the Bible is out the tradition has been kept going.  If you’d like to see an interview on the book take a look here.  One of the topics that comes up in discussion is how popular culture—TheoFantastique is cleverly named in that regard—influences the way we think about religion.

Religious studies was, not so long ago, a growing field.  Many of us have been trying to understand why interest began to sag, somewhat abruptly, and came to the point that it now feels like an endangered species.  Two of the consequences of this are important: one is that we don’t invest in studying what motivates just about everything in American politics and society, and the second is that the average person gets her or his information about religion from popular culture.  Movies, for example, are impactful, brief, and entertaining.  Humans are visual learners and although books punch above their weight in the learning division, having someone show you something is faster and requires less commitment than reading.  Academics, most of whom love reading, have been very slow to cotton onto this fact.  Society learns by looking.

That observation stands behind both Holy Horror and Nightmares with the Bible.  Both of these explorations look at how people come to understand two aspects of religion: the Bible and demons.  Instead of attempting to tackle all of religious studies (nobody can) or all of cinema (ditto), these books look at the horror genre to see how fans come to understand the Good Book.  As the interview explores, other scholars—mostly younger ones—are beginning to realize this is where people live.  It’s rare to find someone who commits to reading an academic monograph unless they’re in the academy.  Even academics, however, watch movies.  When the locus of information shifts to popular culture we need to start taking seriously what popular culture says.  More people will watch The Exorcist than will ever read an academic monograph about demons.  If we want to understand how people understand religion—what religion is—we need to pay attention.  And TheoFantastique is a great place to start. 


Movie Demons

There’s an old tradition regarding demons that even discussing them is dangerous.  This was certainly in my mind as I wrote Nightmares with the Bible, as the topic is an uncomfortable one, at best.  A recent story by Paul Seaburn on Mysterious Universe references this danger in the title “Exorcist Claims ‘The Exorcist’ and Other Horror Movies are Sources for Actual Demons.”  Others have made similar suggestions that merely mentioning a demon is a form of summoning.  The post focuses on Fr. Ronnie Ablong, a Catholic priest in the Philippines, and an exorcist to boot.  Fr. Ablong claims that a number of recent cases involve fictitious demons from horror movies that possess those who watch them.  This is scary by implication and indeed is similar to what I learned growing up.

One of the things researching  Nightmares revealed was that demons in the ancient world come in many varieties.  There wasn’t one origin story behind them and ideas that make it seem that way had to evolve over time.  Of course, you can’t write a book like that without watching the movies and reading lots of books about demons.  It is a creepy thing until you start to reach the point where the material starts to break down.  In the case of Fr. Ablong, the demons come from movies, but often movie demons are based on ancient grimoires that name various entities.  The real question, and one which Seaburn raises, is whether such demons are real.  Given that we don’t know what demons are, and that some of the movies mentioned use made-up demons, such as Annabelle, it becomes suspect.

After finishing Nightmares with the Bible I was ready to put the subject aside for a while.  I’ve got other projects going and it’s important to have some balance, even in horror watching.  Still, the article caught my attention because it was one I’ve frequently heard—the danger of “opening doors.”  Often this is done unintentionally.  There’s no doubt that in the biblical world demons were frightening.  They still are.  Part of the reason is that they are so poorly defined.  In many more recent treatments they’ve become somewhat secularized, but they are, by their nature, religious monsters.  There is some truth to the Mysterious Universe story, however; our modern conception of demons goes back to the movie The Exorcist.  This is something I discuss at length in Nightmares and I don’t want to give too many spoilers here.  The topic, it seems, remains relevant even in our technological era.


worth a mention

It is always gratifying to see a review of a book you’ve written.  This is one area where I’ve struggled since I tend to write between categories.  Outside the discipline itself religion is a pretty suspect topic, treated with some embarrassment among academics.  Combine that with another subject (meteorology, horror movies) and journals that specialize in either discipline tend to ignore it.  Horror Homeroom, however, has proven a collegial place to explore the connections between horror and religion.  A review of Nightmares with the Bible, by John Morehead, has appeared there, and I’m honored by the attention.  When you write books between discipline boundaries you wonder what people think of them.  When they’re priced stratospherically you will wonder a long time.

Long ago I started to notice how often religion came up in horror contexts.  I’ve also been aware for a considerable time that although horror has lots more fans than religion does, the discipline hasn’t been considered a “respectable” one.  (Yes, scholars are open to prejudices as well.)   I’ve tried to keep up as well as I can with books written about horror and I’ve done my homework on the religion side, I think (although I continue to study).  The two crowds (horror and religion fans) tend to be about as opposite as you can find.  I’m learning the wisdom of publishers firsthand—if you do interdisciplinary work instead of broadening your reach you’ll find that neither discipline will touch it.  Especially if one of those disciplines happens to be religion.

Nevertheless, this is a celebratory post.  Rarely do my books get written up.  Holy Horror has been out for over two years now and not one academic review has appeared, not even in Reading Religion, where readers can request review copies.  McFarland, my publisher for that particular volume, doesn’t do much with religion and apparently doesn’t send review copies.  So I’m thrilled that Horror Homeroom has published a review.  I am genuinely curious as to what others think about my ideas.  Not only has the internet thrown a kind of lifeline to those of us without academic libraries, it has also given a voice to those the academy would rather not recognize.  Does religion have anything to do with horror?  It most certainly does.  Does horror fear anything?  Yes, it fears religion!  And so the two have much to learn from each other.  My thanks to Horror Homeroom for putting the review out there and I hope some may comment upon it.


Horror Story

Last week, according to an article a friend sent, Ronald DeFeo died in prison.  DeFeo was made infamous by the Amityville murders in 1974 that led to the Amityville Horror franchise, a series that I covered in Nightmares with the Bible.  Many of the other individuals in that famous haunting/possession have also passed away, including both George and Kathy Lutz, the owners who bought the house and brought it to the public notice.  Controversy still surrounds the story with some claiming it was all a hoax and others suggesting that the hoax doesn’t add up to the sum of what happened there.  DeFeo and the Lutzes were all considered unreliable narrators—DeFeo because he was mentally unstable and the Lutzes because they made money out of their misfortune.  If anything can complicate truth, it’s money.

Academics, of course, won’t touch the story.  Claims and counterclaims, all swirling around lucre, fog one’s vision.  The story illustrates just how difficult it can be to get at the truth.  Even allowing for exaggeration, it seems something happened there.  A worldview that dismisses any possibility of spiritual entities—however defined—will necessarily come up negative.  No doubt, considerable money changed hands.  The franchise is still going with no less than four movies being released last year with Amityville in their titles.  Getting at the truth involves decided which human beings you trust.  The one Lutz child that has been willing to talk, Daniel, has continued the claims.  How can we ever know?

I object to those who claim that such inquiry is a waste of time.  If such things as claimed in Jay Anson’s book do happen (even if exaggerated), it may be that they’re exceptionally rare.  Rarity of objects in the physical world is seldom in doubt.  Ask any auctioneer.  Getting into the accounts around the events, however, betrays a list of money-seeking individuals.  Just about anyone making a counter-claim had a book deal in mind, and given the phenomenal success of Anson’s original the possibility of getting to the truth after that would always involve wading through greed.  No wonder politicians so easily become crooked!  Money makes people do strange things.  Not surprisingly, those left with questions regarding the truth of the matter are left hungry.  It’s clear that Ronald DeFeo killed his family.  It’s a matter of record that the Lutz family moved into the house just over a year later and moved out without their belongings less than a month after that.  Beyond this what happened is less and less likely ever to be known.


Early Literature

In a recent discussion I was asked what piece of literature that I first recollected as being superior.  A couple of provisos here: I’ve got a few decades to reach back and memory may not be as sharp as it once was, and as a child I didn’t have a ton of reading choices.  (There were no local bookstores, for which we didn’t have money anyway, and I had to be driven to get to a library.)  The first piece of writing that, apart from the Bible, I came up with was Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.”  It’s still my favorite short story.  Today is Poe’s birthday.  While not a national holiday, it is a literary one.  Poe was one of the early experimenters in trying to make a living from his pen alone.  His fame was primarily posthumous.

I don’t recall how I learned about Poe.  I know that I picked up a book of his stories at Woolworth’s in Oil City (you see what I mean by no bookstores) for something like a quarter.  It was a cheap, large-print edition with a strange selection of stories, but the first one was Usher.  Such an impact was rare in my young literary experience.  Many years later, riding a horse as a counselor at horse camp, the initial scene of Usher was the one that kept coming to my mind although I hadn’t read the story for a very long time.  I ended up writing one of my first high school English papers on Poe.  By this time I had a good library I could access, even if I couldn’t drive myself there.  While sometimes submerged for years at a time, my appreciation for Poe always eventually resurfaces.

For anyone who’s read Nightmares with the Bible the appreciation of Poe should be obvious.  One of the peer reviewers suggested I should remove the Poe references since he didn’t write about demons.  Struggling against demons, to my way of thinking, counts.  In fact, Poe is largely the thread that holds the book together.  I’m aware that at its price point the book will be little read.  Still, having a literary tribute must be a form of consolation.  Mine is but one of many, I know.  As we stand on the cusp of an unknown future, hoping the maelstrom is truly behind us, I gladly acknowledge that Poe has helped me get this far.  And like the Raven, let us hope it is truly nevermore.


Childhood Music

I recently happened to hear the Alice Cooper song “Desperado.”  If you’re thinking of the Eagles’ song, think again.  Cooper’s song is from his 1971 album Killer.  I came to know it as a child from his Greatest Hits album, and I came to know it very well.  Although I’ve not heard the song for probably two decades, I remembered every beat, every word.  In fact, anticipating music videos, as I child I penned a comic-strip rendition of the song.  Although it is long gone, I vividly recall every panel and how poorly they were drawn.  I’m not sure why that particular song spoke to me so intensely, but it is quite clear that Alice Cooper was a major childhood influence.  This was strange because I was an evangelical Christian as well.

Image credit: Hunter Desportes, via Wikimedia Commons

Vincent Furnier has had a tremendous impact on rock music.  When I went to see him in concert on his Along Came a Spider release tour most of the other people there in Atlantic City were guys my age.  I’d probably’ve been afraid of most of them if I’d met them on the street at night, but this wasn’t exactly a sell-out stadium event.  In fact the room for the show wasn’t that large and we could get fairly close to the stage.  You had to have tickets for the after-party, but Cooper was standing outside the room where it was being held, and we passed within mere feet of him on our way back to the car.  I wanted to let him know just how much he’d shaped my identity, primarily through his first solo album Welcome to My Nightmare, but I could barely hear after the show, and besides, I didn’t have a ticket.

I know Nightmares with the Bible isn’t being marketed or sold as a trade book but anyone curious about the title might consider Alice Cooper as an inspiration.  During seventh grade I missed a lot of school due to sickness (I was a sickly child).  During those days off I listened to Welcome to My Nightmare over and over, thinking about death.  Pretty intense for a thirteen-year old, but then I’ve always been that way.  Even at a young age I realized we all die.  It therefore made (and makes) sense to think about it.  That’s something my religion and fascination with horror tropes have in common.  Alice Cooper seemed to be able to blend these things, in his own way.  And that’s a lot to come out of a song last heard decades ago.


Comedic Horror

Spoofs can be a great way of preventing us from taking ourselves too seriously.  Extra Ordinary is a film I’d completely missed until my wife made a gift of it.  We weren’t quite sure if it was a horror film or a comedy, and genres aren’t always helpful here.  I would call it a spoof on possession movies, something of particular interest after writing Nightmares with the Bible.  Apart from being a bit of much-needed silliness after a terribly serious year, it’s also a demonstration of how genre can be helpful in knowing how to interpret what we see.  Not knowing anything about the film, it begins with the statement that it’s based on a true story.  There’s an interesting history behind that phrase, but when it comes with a spoof it only adds to the fun.

Extra Ordinary follows the adventures of Rose Dooley, a driving instructor who was raised by a ghost-hunting father.  Blaming herself for her father’s death, she’s taken on an anodyne career that she feels is safer.  A particularly desperate widower whose daughter is targeted by a hapless Satanist, brings her back to her true calling.  Although there are some horror-comedy scenes (that’s an entire sub-genre often eschewed by horror fans who don’t like to laugh at themselves) the witty dialogue and crude jokes make it fun rather than anything to be worried about.  Possession occurs in a specific way to move the plot along—Rose has to have a partner (the widower Martin Martin) accept possession by the ghost in order to send it to the beyond.  Although there are clever takeoffs from The Exorcist, the idea of possession is much different.

What is evil?  The film asks the question directly (if comedically).  Although washed-up rock star Christian Winter has become a Satanist, the demon in the film is Astaroth, a later development from the pre-biblical goddess Astarte.  As discussed in Nightmares with the Bible (for which this film could’ve been profitably discussed), there’s a confusion among demons.  (Beelzebub is also mentioned by name.)  The element that ties them together with the human condition is clearly sex.  The frantic search for a virgin, and the communal shaming of unwed mothers makes that obvious.  Although deliberately campy, Extra Ordinary answers the question of evil by noting that it is a person using their powers (magical, in this case) for their own benefit rather than for the good of others.  There is a moral to it, after all.  And if we can’t laugh about the human condition once in a while, we deserve to be spoofed.