The Halloween History of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The theme of science gone amok is pervasive in 19th and 20th Century Horror and Halloween iconography.

Another work of fiction that explored the idea of science gone amok is Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In this, Dr. Jekyll creates a formula that separates man’s good aspect from his bad. Testing the potion on himself, he eventually finds himself turning uncontrollably into the evil Mr. Hyde when he is angered or stressed.

Two of the more famous legacies of the Jekyll and Hyde story are the comic book characters “Hulk” and “Two-Face.”

Both Frankenstein and Jekyll clearly are the main sources of that Halloween and Hollywood staple: The Mad Scientist. In the best of these stories (such as The Fly and others), the scientist intrudes on THINGS MAN WAS NOT MEANT TO KNOW, and the results are inevitably bad.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:11:49.

Aliens In Horror Movies

Many of the monster movies of the past 40 years also dwell on the themes of the consequences of science. And these monsters are increasingly incorporated into our Hollywood lore.

Godzilla, for example is apparently the result of a nuclear test, as are the giant ants in Them. It’s no accident that Godzilla comes from Japan – the only country to have been hit with a nuclear weapon.

The many aliens that now populate Halloween and Horror imagery offer a variation on the science-gone-amok-theme. The superior technology of the inhabitants of flying saucers is another instance of how we are threatened by science, but in this case, a science far greater than our own.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:06:58.

Robots In Horror and Halloween Legend

Killer robots are another being from the realms of science fiction that have found their way into the Gothic Horror and Halloween lexicon. No Halloween night is complete anymore without at least one robot, constructed of cardboard boxes and tinfoil has found its way to your door.

Robot comes from the Czech word Robota, meaning worker. It was first used to refer to artificial men in Karel Capek’s 1920 play, Rossum’s Universal Robots (RUR). In the play, robots destroy humanity after being given souls, which allow them to behave more like humans (now there’s a chilling commentary).

But Capek’s robots were not the first mechanical men in literature. Greek mythology tells of a bronze automaton named Talos. The aforementioned Golem is a sort of mechanical man. And the beloved Oz stories by L. Frank Baum feature any number of mechanical men, including the Tin Woodman, Tik-Tok and a mechanical giant which guards the entrance to the kingdom of the Nomes. And of course, there are the robots in Fritz Lang’s 1927 cinematic masterpiece, Metropolis.

Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov coined the term “robotics” in his 1941 short story, “Liar!.” That also was the story in which he created the now-well-known “Three Laws of Robotics”, which state:
1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Of course, not all robots follow these laws; some have never even heard of them. Without feelings, they proceed according to a logic all of their own. And that is what makes them so scary. Robots are cold and unfeeling. You can’t appeal to their emotions. They don’t care if you beg. Worse, their hydraulic systems make them inhumanly strong and fast.

Perhaps the ultimate expression of robotic horror can be found in James Cameron’s Terminator trilogy (1984’s The Terminator, 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines). In the trilogy, a global computer system rebels against its human creators and unleashes mechanical horrors bent on the destruction of man. A similar theme is found in the Matrix trilogy.

Robots occupy much the same place in our modern imagination that the undead and other horrors occupied in the superstitious minds of our ancestors. Just as demonic horrors are unfeeling and unstoppable, so too are robots. It’s just that robots are more believable to the modern mind.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:03:14.

The Halloween Horror of Mad Slashers and Psychos

The Halloween Horror of Mad Slashers and Psychos

Another relative newcomer to the Halloween scene is the psycho / serial killer. Popularized by film series such as Halloween and Friday the 13th, they reflect any number of modern fears – just as ghost stories reflected the fears of times past. In a way, they ARE our ghost stories.

Consider the ghostlike qualities of Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s classic movie Halloween. He slips, unseen, from location to location. He’s always ready to manifest himself at the worst possible time. And, as it turns out in the innumerable sequels, he is just this side of immortal.

Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street take it even closer to the ghost story. Freddy is the spirit of a dead child killer who manifests himself in teen aged dreams.

The frightening qualities of these Halloween horror movie serial killers is made real by the knowledge that there there doesn’t seem to be any end to man’s inhumanity to man. And the media just serve to amplify those fears with their constant coverage of sensational crime.

The original media superstar killer was Jack The Ripper. In the year 1888 in London, the “Ripper” murdered at least six women in grisly fashion (some claim that he murdered as many as 15, but the other victims are not “official”). Some of the women were prostitutes – all were less than desirable denizens of the seedy Whitechapel neighborhood. Then, as soon as the murders started, they ended, leaving the police empty handed. The murders remain unsolved to this day.

The Ripper’s name comes from a letter that he sent to the police, taunting them and containing the signature “Jack The Ripper.”

In their time, the Ripper murders created a media storm, with newspapers covering every aspect of the gruesome killings. The social status of the victims just made the whole thing more salacious.

It’s probably not a coincidence that, in the Halloween horror slasher movies, the bad girls die early, and the good one generally is left standing – if somewhat bloodied – at the end.

Another famous slasher killer from history is Lizzie Borden. After her parents were hacked to death with an axe in August, 1892, Lizzie, a 32-year-old spinster was charged with the murder. The trial became a media circus; Lizzie was eventually exonerated. But not before she became enshrined in history with the rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty one.

Of all the historical serial killers, perhaps none has had as much of an influence on fiction as Ed Gein. In the 1950s, Gein, who lived in Plainfield, Wisconsin, committed a series of gruesome and bizarre murders at his rural farmhouse. His crimes eventually became – at least in part – the basis for the movies Psycho, the Texas Chainsaw Massacres and the character Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. You can see photos of Ed Gein’s House of Horrors here.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of not being safe anywhere. Fear of those without “our” morals – or without any morals at all. All of these are why serial killers are such effective Halloween horror icons. While we know that ghost and vampires are figments of our imagination, we know that serial killers are all too real.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:00:28.

The Halloween History Of The Mummy

Reanimated mummies are, like the alien me

nace, a more recent Halloween invention – and one that, like the werewolf, owes much of its lore to Hollywood. They’ve now become a staple in modern horror writing and movies.

Mummification has been practiced by a wide variety of cultures throughout history. Mummies are found in China, Japan, Tibet and Peru. Natural (and presumably accidental) mummies have been found in a variety of arid or frigid climates.

The most famous society that engaged in mummification, of course, was that of the Ancient Egyptians. The Egyptians believed that the body was the receptacle for the Ka, which was necessary for the afterlife. Skilled embalmers prepared the body by removing the internal organs, eliminating excess moisture with salts, and then wrapping the body with linens soaked in resin.

Egypt has long fascinated western man. The Romans – especially in the time of Caesar adopted Egyptian themes in their art and architecture. The ancient order of Freemasonry, adopted Egyptian motifs in their organization. The involvement of some of the founding fathers in Freemasonry led to the inclusion of a pyramid in the Great Seal of the United States.

During his expedition to Egypt, Napoleon Bonaparte took with him teams of scientists to study the ancient civilization; Napoleon founded the Institut de l’Égypte in Cairo in 1798. It was this Institute that discovered the Rosetta Stone that finally allowed Egyptian writing to be read when it was deciphered in 1822 by Jean-Francois Champollion.

One the mystery of Egyptian writing was unlocked, Egypt became a Victorian era fad. It became fashionable to visit Egypt (Theodore Roosevelt toured Egypt as a child), where tourists picked up innumerable artifacts with which to decorate their homes. In England, public mummy unwappings became a form of entertainment. Some Victorian era religious cults, such as the Order of the Golden Dawn adopted Egyptian motifs in their ceremonies. In 1871, the composer Verdi unveiled the Egyptian themed opera, Aida.

Still, it never seemed to occur to anyone that there might be a reanimated mummy, or a curse of the mummy’s tomb until the publication of an obscure book in 1821 called The Mummy. This was the first use of a mummy in horror literature.

In 1869, Louisa May Alcott of Little Women fame, published a book called Lost in A Pyramid: The Mummy’s Curse. In both of these books, the trouble seemingly begins when an Egyptologist lights a burial chamber by burning the resin-laden body of a mummy. But there is no lumbering, murderous mummy to be found. In Alcott’s book, the curse comes from some seeds taken from the tomb.

Interestingly, in one of his travelogues, Mark Twain reported that he observed mummies being used as fuel for steam engines in Egypt. But given Twain’s penchant for exaggeration, it’s probably best not to believe this one.

Following the sinking of the Titanic, rumors circulated that the giant ocean liner was transporting the mummy of a priestess of Amon-Ra.

But the idea of a Mummy’s curse probably didn’t really catch on until Howard Carter’s opened and excavated King Tut’s tomb in 1923. The unexpected death of Lord Carnavon, Carter’s sponsor, two weeks later, immediately gave rise to the idea of a curse.

Carnavon’s death was not so mysterious – even if it was a bit odd. He had been bitten by a mosquito, and then cut the bite while shaving. The wound became infected, and he died of blood poisoning.

It’s weird, but it’s hardly the stuff of a curse. One study showed that of 58 people directly involved in the opening of the tomb, only eight had died within a dozen years of the event. From an actuarial point of view, that’s nothing unusual.

Hollywood, of course, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. In 1932, Universal Pictures released “The Mummy,” starring Boris Karloff. The story involves an ancient Egyptian priest, Im-Ho-Tep, who spends his time over the centuries guarding the mummy of his lost love, Princess Anck-es-en-Amon. When the body of the Princess is taken to England, Im-Ho-Tep (now known as Ardrath Bey), follows and sets about the job of resurrecting her. This, of course, requires the body of living woman.

Rather than an outright, and mysterious curse, Hollywood’s curse of the mummy involves a staggering, unstoppable monster in hot pursuit of a victim. Like his portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster, Boris Karloff’s interpretation of the creature has left an indelible mark on our consciousness.

Today, when a mummy is portrayed in Halloween art and costumes, it is a tall, lumbering figure, arms outstretched, bandages hanging, and fluttering in the air. Pure Karloff. (Real mummies have their arms bandaged to their bodies, and their feet wrapped together. They would have hopped, not walked.)

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:52:14.

The Halloween History of Zombies

Like the Mummy, Zombies are a lumbering, staggering, Halloween and Horror presence.

What makes zombies different is that they do not come from a European gothic tradition. Instead, the zombie story originates in Haiti, where West Africans were brought as slaves to work on the sugar plantations.

As a part of the voodoo religion, Haitians believe that magicians, or houngans, can revive the recently dead, turning them into mindless, soulless servants. Believers in voodoo will guard the grave of deceased relatives until they are certain that it has begun to decay, for the magic only works on fresh bodies.

Today, scientists have studied the zombie legend and have developed several of explanations for the belief. Victims of a number of psychiatric disorders such as catatonic schizophrenia may exhibit symptoms that could be wrongly interpreted by the superstitious as zombies.

Another explanation suggests that the houngans may have used combinations of toxic drugs to send their victims into a deep coma. Mistaken for dead, the victims would be buried, only to be disinterred and revived by the Houngan. Other drugs would be used to keep the “zombie” in a passive and obedient state.

As with much of the horror mythology, the Hollywood version is the one we most recognize. The first zombie movie may well have been the 1932 Bela Lugosi film, White Zombie. In it, Lugosi plays a zombie master who orders his creatures to kidnap a woman with whom he has fallen in love. The woman is rescued by her husband, who throws Lugosi over a cliff. The zombies, faithful lemmings that they are, follow him to their own (second) deaths.

In 1968, George Romero re-imagined the zombie in his low-budget film, Night of the Living Dead. In the Romero films – and, indeed, in most subsequent zombie films – the dead are a sort of plague, spreading beyond control. In Night, they are resurrected by a nuclear spill (another great modern fear), and go in search of human flesh to eat. It’s quite a change from the original voodoo concept.

The zombies in the more recent 28 Days Later are the result of a biological disaster, as a germ kept in a laboratory is let loose by animal rights terrorists.

Biological contamination and nuclear radiation are both real modern fears. People don’t believe in vampires and werewolves anymore – we’re much too sophisticated for that. But nuclear accidents and biohazards are real possibilities.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:49:09.

Halloween Around The World

Today, Halloween celebrations with costumes, trick or treating and Hollywood monsters is the order of the day in the United States, Canada and Ireland.

In Mexico, it is celebrated as El Dia De Los Muertos, a three day celebration that begins on October 31, and ends on All Souls Day. Like North America’s Halloween, the event is a complex mixture of cultural traditions. It can be traced to Aztec ceremonies honoring the dead, which apparently were traditionally held in August. Spanish priests moved the event to coincide with All Souls Day, hoping to co-opt the natives into Catholicism.

Observances of the holiday apparently vary from region to region – and village to village – so it is hard to generalize, but it seems that they all observe the common practice of honoring the dead.

During this festival, the dead are supposed to return to their earthly homes on October 31, so all manner of things are set out to make them feel welcome. Some families will build a small display that includes photographs, candy, decorations, the deceased’s favorite food and so on. Some will go so far as to set out wash basins and towels. On November 2, families will gather to clean up and decorate the gravesites of the departed.

More modern Mexican families apparently will skip much of this and celebrate mainly by sharing a family feast where a “Bread of the Dead” is served. Each loaf contains a small plastic toy skeleton, which is said to be good luck to the one who finds it. Families also will celebrate by giving each other gifts with a skull or skeleton theme.

The holiday also is often marked with a parade, in which the participants dress up as skeletons, ghosts and other ghoulish creatures, and carry a coffin through the town. Spectators will throw fruit, flowers and candies at the participants.

In England, Halloween is overshadowed by Guy Fawkes day, which is celebrated on Nov. 5. Fawkes was a Catholic sympathizer who attempted to blow up the Parliament building and kill the protestant King James. He was caught and executed on Nov. 5. 1605.

As the story goes, after his execution, bonfires were lit in which Englishmen burned effigies of the Pope. Later, the effigies of the Pope became effigies of Fawkes himself.

Today, Guy Fawkes day still is celebrated in England, although the extent of the celebration varies, In some communities Children will go about, carrying an effigy, or “Guy” and ask for a “penny for the Guy.” The figure has further been popularized in the graphic novel “V For Vendetta” and the movie by the same name. Modern protest groups often now use Guy Fawkes masks.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:44:30.