Urban Legend: The Ghosts of Slaughterhouse Canyon

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Urban Legend: The Ghosts of Slaughterhouse Canyon of Arizona
In 1882 the town of Kingman, Arizona was officially established; throughout its history it had served as both a military camp and a reservation for Native Americans. It eventually experienced growth when a section of railroad was routed through the area.

The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush started in Arizona around 1858 and just like elsewhere in the western United States, it was a rough experience for those who expected to strike it rich. Once prospectors realized their chance of finding gold in Arizona was rare, they instead sought out the more common copper and silver ores. At one point, the worth of gold sank below that of copper and silver, due to its lack of prevalence in the region.

The established families that were uprooted and relocated in the west in search of wealth and success ended up being the ones who sacrificed the most. After lengthy and often excruciatingly difficult searches, many ended up starving to death.

The Ghostly Legend of Slaughterhouse Canyon

Like any urban legend that has arisen from times of extreme hardship, this story reeks of trauma spurned by sickness, starvation, heartbreak, and madness. This particular ghost story is one that swiftly turned from being a simple tragedy to macabre madness, which is why this canyon was put on the map of paranormal destinations.

Luana’s Canyon

When the first white settlers found the area, the area was named Luana’s Canyon, after the matriarch of the impoverished family who lived in a small wooden shack near the dry wash in the heart of the canyon.

Dreams of Wealth

As one might expect, living in a small shack in the desert was no easy task. One miner, notably a dreamer, wanted to be able provide a better life for his wife Luana and their children. This miner would regularly venture off into the mountains to work in the gold mines and to search for food for his family. Their lack of a regular income made it difficult to keep food on the table, so the only food the family had available to them was what the miner was able to bring back from his regular expeditions.

The miner would set of to the Northwestern Mountains on his trusty mule, but different accounts of this story can’t agree on whether the miner left home every two weeks, or if he would be gone for two weeks at a time. What is known is that this was a pretty typical experience during the Gold Rush era. Regardless of how often he was away from home, his family’s only source of food, money, and supplies was what the miner was able to bring back with him. Luana and the children could consistently expect the miner to return with what they needed for their comfort and survival.

One fateful day, the miner kissed his wife, Luana, and children goodbye and was on his way—unfortunately, that would be the last time the family would see their father. Days turned to weeks and soon Luana began to worry that something had happened to her husband. As the supplies dwindled, her concerns that her husband had fallen ill, had an accident, or worse, had been killed by wild animals, or even the victim of robbery. The miner had seemingly become another tragic victim of the unforgiving Gold Rush.

Descent Into Madness

Luana’s reliance upon her husband’s consistency meant that she had not rationed any of the supplies that her husband had brought back on his last trip, so when food and supplies ran scarce the family began to starve. Living alone in the canyon meant that the family had no other possible means of support and soon the children wither and wept in pain. Despite being pale and weak with starvation, their screams and cries echoed throughout the canyon and even traveled on the nighttime breeze. The starving sobs of her children constantly begging Luana for food began to tear her down mentally.

Each day that went by pushed Luana closer toward the brink of insanity until one day, she just could no longer stand to see her children suffer and she snapped. Unable to cope with the reality of watching her children starve to death, Luana’s psychosis drove her to do the unthinkable. One night during a thunderstorm, tormented by her children’s screams and own agonizing hunger, she put on her wedding dress and slaughtered her own children to end their suffering.

Her mind lost, she chopped their dead bodies up into several pieces, splattering the walls of the small shack with blood, which earned it the name of the Slaughterhouse. After finishing her horrible deed, she carried the pieces of her children and tossed their remains into the river. At the river she collapsed into a heap, her wedding dress soaked in the blood of the children she had slain. Luana was overcome with sadness and guilt; she remained on the river bank, wailing and screaming over what she had done until she succumbed to starvation herself, the next morning.

Slaughterhouse Canyon

Slaughterhouse Canyon

Today, Slaughterhouse Canyon can be accessed by the public, it’s only a twelve minute drive from Kingman, AZ. It is said, that on quiet nights when the moon is full and the air is thick, that those brave enough to venture into the desert canyon after midnight are likely to have experiences. The dark oppressive nights allow the anguished screams of the mother and the bloody cries of her slaughtered children can still be heard throughout the canyon.

Similar Legends

The legend of Slaughterhouse Canyon bears striking similarities to other urban legends and ghost stories, such as the woman in white and the tragic Mexican legend of La Llorona, or the Weeping Woman. While it’s true that the stories are similar, make no mistake, they are separate legends.

What seems to be a common thread in all renditions of these stories is that the woman murders her children, but it’s the reason behind their vicious murder that varies from story to story. In La Llorona the most frequent rendition is that the mother kills her children after she finds that her husband has been unfaithful. However, every account of the Legend of the ghosts of Slaughterhouse Canyon alleges that the husband was not only a caring and loving partner, but a devoted father as well.

Personal Accounts & Experiences

Locals will tell you that it was popular when they were of high school age to load up a car with their peers and park down in the canyon by the remains of the old slaughterhouse shack. They would roll their windows down and sit in silence as they waited for Luana—inevitably, they would hear strange sounds that would prompt them to vacate the premises.

Another account recalls their experiences of hearing the stories of Slaughterhouse Canyon and their regular trips to the area with their brother. Their motives were simple curiosity and the desire to be teenagers away from prying eyes. They would have bonfires and act their age without consequence, until one night, after midnight they began to hear the wailing cries surrounding them. A quick search of the area revealed nothing, but frightened them enough to leave the canyon entirely.

Others still, primarily ghost hunters in search of the ghosts of Slaughterhouse Canyon, report that while driving down the road that leads into the canyon they would witness a mysterious woman wearing a black dress and dark veil while walking down the side of the road. Upon turning back to find her again she had mysteriously disappeared.

Sources

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How Friday the 13th Became a Renowned Superstition

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Featured Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle

Friday the 13th is an iconic day, especially for horror fans. So let’s dig into the history of Friday the 13th and rediscover where this all began, shall we?

The History of Friday the 13th

Paraskevidekatriaphobia—do you have it? Well, if you’re irrationally afraid of the natural occurrence of the thirteenth of any given month falling on a Friday, then yes—yes, you do. If so, then you might have a hard time this year, since we’ve got two of them coming up. Friday the 13th, supposedly the unluckiest day of the year, occurs at least once, but never more than three times in a calendar year. March and November are the unlucky winners this year, so if you’re scared, arm yourself with some of these facts and prepare to understand your superstition better than ever before.

The Origin of the Superstition

Within western culture, there are many superstitions that circulate on a regular basis—Friday the 13th is but one example of a superstition that has become so well-known that it has been worked into the very fabric of horror culture itself. From walking under ladders to breaking mirrors, stepping on cracks, or having a black cat cross your path, it seems as if there is always something to be superstitious of—people even subject themselves to their own superstitions, such as wearing their favorite sports team’s jersey to increase the odds of their team winning. Regardless, it seems that people still choose to purposefully avoid black cats, sidewalk cracks, and treat mirrors with respect, especially on Friday the 13th—as if these superstitions, when combined escalate into something even worse. Dr. Phil Stevens, an associate anthropology professor at the University of Buffalo, suggests that it’s important to respect the convictions that people display about their superstitions, noting that, “sometimes these are frivolous things, but sometimes they are deeply rooted cultural fears … you can insult somebody by making fun of it or you can be ignorant yourself. Some people have deep cultural taboos that you cannot change by denying them.” The question that has long plagued people, however, is why do we subject ourselves to these blatant paranoias—how did these things evolve to being harbingers of bad luck, and why do we continue to pay tribute to these traditions year after year?

How Thirteen Became an Unlucky Number

According to Dr. Simon Bronner, a notable professor of American studies and folklore at Pennsylvania State University, Friday the 13th is just a “convenient milestone for people who are looking to trace bad luck to a certain cause,” but he always state that there really is nothing special about the date itself—in fact, in countries like Italy, the number thirteen is actually considered a lucky number! To be perfectly honest, it’s unclear how Friday the 13th became such a totem for bad luck, but the number thirteen itself has been speculated, to have been considered unlucky since the Middle Ages.

First mentioned in the English language, this day was first introduced as an unlucky happenstance in the biography of Gioachino Rossini, an Italian composer who died on—you guessed it—Friday, November 13th, 1868. It was further extended into superstition by Thomas W. Lawson, an American businessman who published a book titled Friday the Thirteenth, in which a crooked stockbroker takes advantage of this superstition to create wide-spread panic on Wall Street.

In Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York an analysis conducted by CityRealty presented findings that fewer than five percent of mid-rise and high-rise residential condo buildings have a thirteenth floor. Not to say that the thirteenth floor doesn’t exist—it’s just not labeled under the number thirteen.

Norse Mythological Origins

While not the most notable mythological origin, according to Donald Dossey, in Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun, a Norse myth told of a dinner party that was set for twelve gods, where the thirteenth guest—the god of trickery, Loki—crashed the party and shot Baldr, the god of joy and happiness. Thanks for all the bad luck, Loki.

The Last Supper

Folklore historians all agree that isolating the exact time when Friday the 13th came to be known as a taboo and superstition, many of them agree that it may have originated from the Last Supper. As popular mythology agrees, Jesus was crucified on a Friday—some speculate Friday the 13th, immediately after the Last Supper, attended by Jesus and his twelve apostles to a total of thirteen people at the table. The longstanding superstition within the Christian religion is that having thirteen guests at a table is a bad omen that, “courts death.” Dr. Stevens told TIME that “when those two events come together, you are reenacting at least a portion of that terrible event … you are reestablishing two things that were connected to that terrible event.” So what started with what happened in Christian mythology, this somehow led to the modern phenomenon that has Americans avoiding things that are labeled with thirteen. Room number thirteen in a hotel, the thirteenth floor, the thirteenth row in an airplane—all of these superstitions are attached to the number of people who sat at the table the night before the crucifixion. Bronner believes that there is, “a grain of truth,” to the theory of the Last Supper, but that there is, “not much of a connection to the modern belief … it may be a case of religious folklore that rose to explain a belief.” He further tells us how psychologists treat the fear of Friday the 13th as a real phenomenon, but he believes that it was a constructed belief that is convenient for people to place blame upon.

Oddly enough, the crucifixion wasn’t the only biblical tragedy that befell mankind on Friday the 13th—in fact, it’s said that the story of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden, the day Cain killed Abel, the Great Flood during the time of Noah, and the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel also took place on this fated day.

The Occult, Witches and their Covens

A long-standing myth that surrounds Friday the 13th puts a firm association with witches—likely another confirmation from the origination of this superstition from Christianity. For those that are not in-the-know, covens are said to be a formal gathering of witches who perform rituals together—a sort of religious or spiritual gathering, where they perform spells, rituals, or seasonal offerings to honor whoever they may worship. The Christian leaning of this is due to the witch trials where women were forced through torture to admit to things that weren’t necessarily true, stating that they were convening with the devil and attacking other members of the community to do his bidding.

What holds in the tradition of witchcraft is that a traditional coven recognizes twelve followers and a leader, which brings the total to—you guessed it—thirteen. In medieval covens, it is stated in The God of the Witches from 1931 that, “the number in a coven never varied, there were always thirteen, i.e., twelve members and the god.” In any case, the leader or god was always believed to be the Devil himself—or a man who represented the devil. This is of course, not backed by any substantial evidence from within the community of witchcraft practitioners, but instead considered more of an accusation from more mainstream religions such as Christianity.

The Thirteen Club

A New Yorker by the name Captain William Fowler made an attempt to remove the hardened stigma of the number thirteen in the late 19th century. In particular, his goal was to remove the stigma surrounding thirteen guests at a table—he attempted this vigorously by establishing a private society by the name of The Thirteen Club. As a general practice, this group dined on the thirteenth day of each month in room 13 of the Knickerbocker Cottage, which Fowler owned from 1863 to 1883. Before sitting down to dinner with twelve other guests, each participant of the club would pass under a ladder and a banner that read, “those of us who are about to die salute you,” in Latin. Notable members of this club were four former presidents of the United States of America, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and Theodore Roosevelt.

HMS Friday—The Urban Legend

An urban legend centering around the Royal Navy from the 19th century considers this the ultimate Friday the 13th legend—the story goes, that it was an attempt by the Royal Navy to dismiss the superstition against sailing on a Friday. While the details vary from telling to telling, they christened the ship HMS Friday; her keel was laid on a Friday, she was launched on a Friday, she set sail on her maiden voyage on Friday the 13th, and all of this under the command of a man by the name of Captain James Friday. After her launch, she was never seen or heard from again. While it’s a great story, the truth is there has never been a Royal Navy ship by the name of HMS Friday.

Staring up the stairs, in the darkness
Photography by Yang Miao

A Timeline of Friday the 13thDisasters

  • October 13, 1307—officers of King Philip IV of France imprisoned and executed hundreds of the Knights Templar.
  • September 13, 1940—German forces bombed Buckingham Palace during WWII.
  • November 13, 1970—A cyclone in Bangladesh killed 300,000 people.
  • October 13, 1972—A Chilean Airforce plane disappeared in the Andes mountains, sixteen survivors turned up two months later, having been forced to cannibalize the dead in order to survive.
  • February/August 13, 1976—(no we’re really not sure which month) Daz Baxter a New Yorker with a raging case of paraskevidekatriaphobia decided to ride out his least favorite day of the year by staying in bed; his bad luck was illustrated when the floor of his apartment block collapsed that day and he fell to his death.
  • October 13, 1989—Black Friday—a $6.75 billion buyout for the parent company of United Airlines caused the crash of global markets.
  • September 13, 1996—Tupac Shakur succumbed to his gunshot wounds six days after multiple gunshot wounds during a drive-by shooting.
  • March 13, 2009—the SAW ride at Thorpe Park in Chertsey was scheduled to open but was shut down due to computer failure.
  • January 13, 2012—the Costa Concordia cruise ship crashed off of the coast of Italy, killing 30 people.
  • November 13, 2015—ISIS organized seven simultaneous terror attacks in Paris, killing 130 people and leaving hundreds wounded.
  • April 13, 2029—an asteroid is rumored to come within 22,000 miles of Earth—what will happen?

Strange Friday the 13th Facts

There are of course strange facts surrounding any supernatural phenomenon or superstition, but Friday the 13th even more so—perhaps because more people pay attention to things that they’re afraid of, or perhaps because Friday the 13th is such a notorious date for strange occurrences. Here are a few—maybe more than a few—strange facts about the superstitions regarding Fridays.

  • In Somerset, if you turn a bed over on a Friday, you’re risking turning a ship over at sea.
  • In Cumbria, if a baby is born on a Friday, they immediately lay them upon the family Bible.
  • In some areas, if a doctor is called upon for the first time on a Friday, it is an omen of certain death.
  • According to English Folklore from the 1800s, a marriage conducted on a Friday is destined for an unhappy future—on the plus side, this superstition generally leads weddings conducted on Friday the 13th is substantially cheaper for couples.
  • If you cut your hair or nails on a Friday, you’re doomed for misfortune.
  • If thirteen people unwittingly dine together, the first to rise will certainly be condemned to misfortune—another fun fact attached to this one is that President Franklin D. Roosevelt was known to uphold this superstition almost religiously.
  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt also refused to travel on Friday the 13th.
  • Winston Churchill refused to sit in any row that was numbered thirteen—cited in particular are rows on planes or theatres.
  • In North Carolina, the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute conducted a study that found a loss of $700-800 million every single Friday the 13th because people simply refuse to conduct their lives as they normally would.
  • If you’re brave enough to fly on what’s considered the unluckiest day of the year, you’ll find that prices are actually a little bit more reasonable.

Unlucky in Reality, but a Pop-Culture Boon

Just like anything in the horror genre—if it’s unlucky, scary, gruesome, or lies somewhere within the realm of supernatural, it’s bound to have a selling idea. The movie franchise Friday the 13th firmly placed the date into the greater arena of cultural recognition. Jason Voorhees, the star and villain of the franchise has inspired so many sequels, spinoffs and more that if you were to google Friday the 13th, you’ll get more results about the franchise than the lore that launched the idea for it in the first place.

Final Thoughts…

It seems that Friday the 13thmay only be a western superstition though—as it’s cited that in Italy, the number thirteen is actually quite lucky, instead they rather fear Friday the 17th. Personal curiosity causes one to wonder if the movie franchise of Friday the 13th should be renamed in countries like Italy, to make it more culturally relevant. In Greece, it’s not Friday the 13th, but Tuesday the 13th that causes people to be unsettled, whereas in China the number four is considered to be unlucky as it has a similar pronunciation to the word for “death.”

So, in the long run—is Friday the 13th really a day of bad luck? According to Dr. Caroline Watt at the University of Edinburgh, it’s actually the belief in the superstition that causes all of the kerfuffle to happen on this date. She appeals to baser instincts when she suggests that, “if people believe in the superstition of Friday the 13th then they believe they are in greater danger on that day. As a result, they may be more anxious and distracted and this could lead to accidents. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy … It is like telling someone they are cursed. If they believe they are then they will worry, their blood pressure will go up and they put themselves at risk.” With that in mind—are you still afraid of a naturally occurring phenomenon?

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Urban Legend: The Night Marchers of Hawaii

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Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

Hierarchy and Beliefs of Ancient Hawaii

In ancient Hawaiian society there was a highly stratified hierarchy, where the mo’i, or king, was the highest authority in all areas. Just below the mo’i were the ali’i, who held the highest chiefly rank. It’s important to understand that this hierarchy was absolute, and the only way to achieve an elevated status within the society was to be born into it. The rest of the social ladder also consisted of positions that people were born into. The common people, or maka’ainana, were the laborers and workers, then the lowest rung was designated for the outcasts, or the kauwa.

The indigenous religion of Hawaii is steeped in traditions that descend from the Tahitians and other Pacific Islanders. The approach to spirituality is polytheistic and animistic, which means they not only believe in multiple gods, but that non-human beings, such as other animals, the surf, and even the sky have spirits. Altogether there are over 500 ghosts, spirits, and minor deities—then of course there are the gods that make up the main pantheon. Lastly, each family is believed to have at least one guardian spirit, or ‘aumakua, who shields them from harm.

The Legend of the Night Marchers

Hawaiian Night Marchers illlustration

Within the mythos of Hawaii, the Night Marchers, or huaka’i pō, are murderous shades, demons, and revenants that haunt the islands. These undead spirits are the fighters, heroes, and warriors of ancient Hawaii who are well-known throughout the Hawaiian archipelago. It is also known that these dangerous spirits, in life, were the traveling guards of the highest-ranking chiefs (or ali’i) who were said to be so sacred that no mortal man or woman was allowed to look at them. In Hawaiian society, the ali’i believed that they were imbued with power, or mana—a sort of spiritual energy of power and strength—that they needed to safeguard. The decisions they made directly impacted the amount of mana they possessed and one way to lose this mana was to let their shadow touch someone of a lower status. So, if these ali’i came across a commoner and their shadow touched them, they would have to kill the offending party to recover the mana they had lost.

This was problematic because the ali’i needed to be able to move from one sacred site to the next to perform their chiefly duties. Thus the procession would be announced through the fierce beating of drums and conch shell calls. Since it wasn’t the job of the Night Marchers to terrorize people, but instead to protect the most sacred, high-ranking chiefs, these processions were held at night. They even went so far as to hold these processions at the nights preceding the new moon in order to lessen the likelihood of their shadow casting upon someone of a lower status.

Unnatural Encounters

You may be wondering what an ancient Hawaiian procession has to do with a casual trip to the islands. Well, the sightings and encounters with the Night Marchers are still happening to this day! They appear first as a line of torches off in the distance, typically marching down the mountainside. As the torches get closer, you’ll hear the drumming and a conch shell resounding in the air. Those who have survived their encounters talk about how they see warriors gilded from head to toe in their traditional regalia.

While it might seem as simple as hiding inside, that has been reported to not necessarily deter them—as it is said that structures that have one door facing the mountains and another door facing the ocean act as vortexes, or pathways for the spirits. Regardless, it is advised never to interrupt their procession, lest you meet their deadly glance.
So, beware the Night Marchers. If you see them, it might already be too late!

How to Survive the Night Marchers

Any commoner who knew the rules knew to hide indoors when they heard the sound of the conch shell being blown, or the intense beats of the drums which announced the procession—and they would do this for their own protection. Our recommendation is that you heed the warning of those who came before you—if you hear the beats of the drums or the bellow of the conch shell, you’ll want to be as far from the Night Marchers as possible. Otherwise, you may find yourself in grave danger.

If you are seen by the Night Marchers, the best thing you can do is remain quiet, with your eyes averted to show them the respect they deserve. If you’re lucky enough to have an ancestor in the procession, then you will likely be spared, for your ancestor will claim you as one of theirs and you will not be harmed. The rest of us will have to suffice with embracing our own humility, stripping down naked, and soiling ourselves. It may sound like a joke, but they would take it as a sign that you are either incredibly pathetic (then take pity upon you), or that you’re mentally disturbed and don’t know any better.

If you somehow find yourself in a situation where the Night Marchers have seen you despite all previous warnings, follow our advice, and good luck!

Sources

https://olukai.com/blogs/news/legends-hawaiis-night-marchers
https://laghosttour.com/the-nightmarchers-of-hawaii/
https://www.pbshawaii.org/the-legend-of-the-night-marchers
http://www.hawaiihistory.org/
https://atlantisadventures.com/hawaiian-legends-the-night-marchers/
https://www.honolulumagazine.com/friday-night-frights-the-legend-of-hawaiis-night-marchers/

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The Serpent and the Rainbow: Dissecting the Truth of Voodoo in Movies

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Featured Reviews Scary Movies and Series
The Serpent and the Rainbow Movie Poster
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Even if you’ve never been buried alive, rest assured, this movie cannot hope to capture the terror that one must feel waking up to the darkness and heart-stopping fear of waking up in a coffin, with no possible hope of being rescued. If you have not yet seen The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), then perhaps it’s time—this movie has aged well, at the time of this posting, it’s nearly thirty-two years old, still relevant and pretty terrifying through the right lens. Given the fact that this movie was created in the late eighties, it stands to reason that if it were remade, it could be given new life, it definitely has the potential with a higher-rated actor and better cinematography to be a more nail-biting journey to have a glimpse into what zombification in the voodoo culture is truly about. The Serpent and the Rainbow was based on a book with the same name and directed by Wes Craven—a highly regarded thrill-maker in his heyday—and is given the attribute of being inspired by a true story, which is believable considering the attention to detail that was paid to even the most insignificant aspects of the story.

“In the legends of voodoo
The Serpent is a symbol of Earth.
The Rainbow is a symbol of Heaven.
Between the two, all creatures must live and die.
But because he has a soul
Man can be trapped in a terrible place
Where death is only the beginning.”

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Set during the political unrest of Haiti in 1978, Dr. Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman), an anthropologist turned field-researcher has just come back from exploring for medicinal herbs and plants; he’s hailed as a hero at the biological research company, at which he works because he’s brought back medicines that no one before has ever been able to collect. No rest is given for the weary though and he’s immediately asked to go investigate the mysteries of zombification in Haiti—they have just come across evidence of a case eerily similar to that of real-life Clairvius Narcisse. Christophe was a man who died and was brought back to life. So, Dr. Alan sets off to find this mysterious zombification powder, something his bosses hope to find useful in their medical research.

Surprisingly, much of the lore of voodoo is represented quite faithfully, which has a lot to do with the fact that most of the movie was filmed on location during a time of political and social unrest; the scenes in which voodoo rituals occur, they were actually filming voodoo practitioners who were in a trance state. The authenticity of these scenes sets this movie apart from any other movie about voodoo that is out there, it can’t get more realistic than this without being an outright documentary. The whole movie was based loosely around The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985) a non-fiction book was written by Wade Davis. The author is to this day, an anthropologist who initially made himself famous by his research in the field of psychoactive plants; he was one of the first outsiders to gain access to the secrets of zombification and how the powder was created, which are highly guarded secrets in the community of voodoo in Haiti.

So, while simultaneously staying true to much of what voodoo is about and not intending to create a horror movie, director Wes Craven was somehow able to make the movie a psychological experience that kept it both interesting and entertaining, long enough to get to the meat and bones of the plot. Insights into the poorly staffed insane asylums and the psychological state of a person who had undergone the trauma of being drugged, declared dead, buried alive and then being dug up and made to serve a master, created an environment early in the movie that this entire expedition was going to be a dangerous one for Dr. Alan. Like a well-trained and eager anthropologist, our antagonist goes above and beyond what any sane field researcher would do, finding himself in graveyards searching for a mentally unstable resurrected Christophe, attending voodoo rituals in which he witnesses men chewing on fire and women eating glass, and running into an evil witch doctor, Peytraud, who does not want him to be successful in finding the secrets to zombification. It’s important to watch this movie without any lens of bias, as far as what valid religion and spiritual practice are, it requires people to be open to what is possible when belief in the strange and unnatural is strong and unwavering.

Possessing the knowledge that Wes Craven never intended this movie to be a horror flick, it’s quite easy to see past the dated effects and experience Dr. Alan’s nightmarish visions with the depth of fear that someone that has had the superstition of the land seeded into his brain. With an added element of complexity, Dr. Alan falls for the beautiful psychiatrist who aids him in his journey to the highly sought-after zombification powder, which allows him to be more easily manipulated by Peytraud who later has Dr. Alan in his clutches. The cinematography in the torture room of Peytraud is intense, especially considering the time in which the movie was made, the gore wasn’t a necessary element to induce fear in audiences. We know what is going to happen to our antagonist when we find him being strapped into a chair, with his underwear around his ankles, when Peytraud reveals a coffin nail and tells Dr. Alan that he wants to, “hear (him) scream.”

Dr. Alan drowning in blood in a nightmare in the serpent from the rainbow horror film
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Not to be deterred, we see the effects that Peytraud has had to Dr. Alan’s mental state, his nightmares and visions get worse—he’s being buried alive in his dreams, he screams as blood begins to fill the coffin and quickly consumes his body. Political tactics are taken to scare Dr. Alan into leaving Haiti without what he came for, which nearly works if it weren’t for his hidden ally who ends up sneaking it to him after he has been forced into a plane that will take him home. Threats of being arrested and executed have been levied on him, which means he has to leave his lover, Marielle (Cathy Tyson), behind despite the danger she would be in for her associations with him. The brief time back in Boston is punctuated with the powder having been researched, which the movie is also incredibly true to its source, noting that the subject would be aware of everything that was going on, while still appearing clinically dead. Peytraud shows himself through magical means, making it clear that he can reach Dr. Alan wherever he may be—his visions have not ceased since arriving back home. Dr. Alan returns to Haiti in order to make sure Marielle is safe, he finds the ally that gave him the powder has been executed for what he has done—this is where things truly turn bad for him.

Don’t let them bury me. I’m not dead.

Dr. Alan – The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

After having zombie powder blown into his face by one of Peytraud’s associates, Dr, Alan stumbles through the village and eventually falls to the ground, pale and apparently dying–he utters the words that the movie is famous for, “Don’t let them bury me. I’m not dead.” The fear in his eyes is not overplayed, in fact, this part was incredibly well done. After being declared dead in the hospital, we see Peytraud has taken control of his body and is seeing to it that Dr. Alan is put in the grave.

“When you wake up, Dr. Alan—scream.
Scream all you want, there is no escape from the grave.”

Peytraud – The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Before watching this movie, I read reviews of it, so this is always where I was led to believe that the movie ended—our hero, the noble anthropologist, seeking secrets for the future of medicine gets buried alive and that’s that—the ultimate fear of someone who is claustrophobic, meeting their demise in a cramped box with severely limited oxygen. Except, this isn’t where we end—Christophe, comes to Dr. Alan’s rescue when he awakens from his drug-induced trance and begins to scream. In a moment of unexpected vulnerability, Christophe consoles the anthropologist, “You’re alive. You see things the living can’t see. In a daring rescue of his lover, Dr. Alan squares off against Peytraud where he encounters several setbacks and finally overcomes the mind control of his nemesis, defeats the bad guy, rescues the girl, and saves the day. His visions cease and we’re led to believe that he goes on to live a happy and full life.

All in all, this movie has stayed relevant over the past three decades and is highly recommended for being both unique and authentic in its representation of zombies. You’ve got to check this one out!

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Fact or Fiction: Found Footage Horror

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Featured Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Scary Movies and Series

What is Found Footage Horror?

If you’re newer to the horror community, then you may not be aware of the found footage style that makes up a widely celebrated part of the genre. That being said…

Relatability and Morbid Fascination

The dark, savage aspects of human nature have a certain allure that cannot easily be disregarded. We’re more likely to see characters who are awkward, trashy, creepy, oblivious, or skeptical throughout the movie—the found footage style has been known to explore those traits more fully since it needs to feel like candid camera footage. As a culture, we tend to have a fascination for things that we can identify with and many people find reality entertainment more relatable—while others find them to be like a trainwreck they can’t stop watching.

Fact or Fiction?

When The Blair Witch Project premiered in 1999, the world witnessed what could reasonably be believed to be real footage of three student filmmakers. These students would go on to disappear while filming their investigative documentary; their footage, as revealed by the movie, was later found by a third party and published for the world to see. The documentary-style film allowed the audience to see through the eyes of the protagonists. We were able to step into their shoes, with a growing sense of trepidation, as they dove into the gruesome legends woven into the history of Burkittsville, Maryland (Derry 228).

Indie Horror Creation

There are only really a handful of found-footage films that directly benefited from the cult following The Blair Witch Project developed at the turn of the century. Regardless, the horror genre branched out into the of found-footage and made it feasible for indie filmmakers to put themselves out there with a low film budget and then expect a larger profit margin in return. Since the mockumentary style of The Blair Witch Project required nothing more than handheld cameras, or more recently, a GoPro. The technology was no longer a barrier. There was a preference of unknown faces that were hired for talent because it would leave the audience with a more authentic quality of film. The promised result was an otherwise cheaply produced finished product with no over-the-top special effects. This style lent directly to the perceived authenticity of the events that would occur within the confines of the film (Derry 229).

Growing Popularity of Reality Horror

The rising popularity in this “reality” horror soon caused the film budgets of these types of movies to rise significantly and the profit margin to subsequently decrease—but why is that? Because, when you think about it, if a found footage film is properly executed they can be an indie filmmaker’s dream. Then again, there also has to be the consideration that most indie horror filmmakers would love to have their film be the next Blair Witch Project. Most just aren’t naive enough to believe that their film will achieve that level of notoriety. Even a movie such as Cloverfield (2008), arguably one of the highest budgeted movies in the style can showcase archetypal lo-fi aesthetic (Kring-Schreifels), but then they blow their budget on special effects. Explosions, enormous alien monsters, and entire buildings being knocked over certainly didn’t help them to cut costs. If their featured talent hadn’t done a wonderful job at performing their roll, it would have been a lot less convincing (although, let’s be real, none of us thought it was real—unlike many with The Blair Witch).

Convincing Storytelling

Thankfully, it’s no longer the believability factor, as much as it is the feel of authenticity and the purity of the scares or creepy story they tell. So, it’s now far less important that these films are regarded as found footage, if we’re distinguishing films being true to the style. If we’re looking for a true found footage film, we must consider movies that fully utilize a diegetic camera, which means that both the camera and if applicable, the person behind it are part of the story. Since the diegetic camera in found footage films is acknowledged by the characters, it can be considered a prop of the fictional world (Turner 8).

Whether we are witnessing the events of the film through security footage, or we’re experiencing the events as a camera-wielding character or part of a film crew, we’re left with room for interesting developments. Even though I won’t deny that security footage style is a diegetic camera, it does have the drawback of removing the closeness we’ve obtained with the character behind the character. When we’re seeing through the camera being held by one of the characters, it feels like we’re literally seeing through their eyes.

The Eyes of Narration

Going back to the previous example of Cloverfield we rarely see the character behind the camera and the longer we go without acknowledging that character, the more closely we get pulled into the him. When he’s nosey, we’re also inclined to be curious of what’s going on—likewise when he’s in a situation where he’s afraid for his life, the audience feels uneasy and fearful. I feel like this not only happens because we’ve identified as the character behind the camera, but because if that character dies, then we’re unaware of where the story will take us next. Typically, someone else is conveniently around to pick up the camera in order to continue to film. We’ve been allowed to suspend our disbelief just long enough to identify as the person behind the camera (Turner 4).

Anything that allows the viewer to more closely relate to the film or the characters within tends to provide a more interesting viewing experience. Whether it’s considered a diegetic camera film, a found footage film, or a “reality” horror film, if “the viewer cannot maintain distance between the events of the story and their own viewing,” then they cannot help but becoming part of the story (Turner 8).

The Beginning of Found Footage Horror

The Blair Witch Project isn’t considered the first found footage horror ever created—that honor is regularly attributed to Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) regardless of whether it was deserved or not. After watching Cannibal Holocaust I started to wonder why it was declared as being found footage at all—sure it utilized the technique for the recovered documentary crew’s film, but there was also a significant part of the movie that is noticeably shot with an objective camera. I submit to you that if we’re going to consider Cannibal Holocaust a found footage film, that we also consider Hellraiser: Revelations (2011) a found footage film.

Reality Entertainment

In many ways, shows like “The Real World” and “Cops” were more of an influence on the initial popularity of a movie like The Blair Witch Project than its found footage predecessors (Kring-Schreifels). Like the reality television trend that people were already enjoying, The Blair Witch Project blended fact and fiction; which appealed to the landscape of entertainment of the time and has helped it continue on as the benchmark for all indie horror creators. So despite the fact that The Blair Witch Project isn’t considered the first of its kind, it still held a unique draw for younger generations of adults who were already immersed in the trend of reality television.

YouTube and Access to the Internet

Just six years after the film’s inception, the world saw the arrival of YouTube which made it even easier to blur the lines between fact and fiction; it’s been noted by those involved in the film, that their successful marketing tactics slipped through a narrow window of an audience that was on the brink of overly accessible information. That, in today’s world, someone looking for more information on Heather Donahue, the female lead, would be able to find with no uncertainty that she was in fact, an actress who had not gone missing at all (Kring-Schreifels). Still, filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez drew on the most important aspect of creating horror by heightening tension and fear; they accomplished this by way of primarily composing the movie as POV shots which limit what the audience sees and creates feelings of anxiety (Turner 16).

Acceptance of New Styles

The Blair Witch Project took a simple and otherwise unprofound concept and made something that rocked the entire genre of horror (Derry 229). Rather than spur a new series of films, however, it signaled the beginning of almost a full decade with no overly notable films in the style (Derry 230). Hill explains that “horror nostalgia emerges precisely when new generations of audiences have embraced more recent developments in horror,” which leads to a sort of conservation of horror as it was when they first found their love of the genre (Hill 101). So when found footage films were making their way into the genre, children of the eighties were clinging to their late-era slashers like Scream and the newly emerging torture porn of Hostel and Saw. There was also an overwhelming boom of paranormal and supernatural horror films that were created in the 2000s.

Unrepeatable Success

Fans of the horror genre are known to form an emotional attachment to the version of a film they see first, regardless of which one is considered the better film. As a result, those who saw The Blair Witch Project during their youth are more likely to prefer the original to the remake Blair Witch of 2016 (Hill 101). It was clear that a remake of The Blair Witch Project would not be as successful as the original; not only because the guerrilla-style marketing campaign couldn’t be replicated, but a remake would hold less appeal for those who enjoyed the original film (Hill 102). Over twenty years since its premiere and there are still people who look back at The Blair Witch Project wanting answers. Of course, this isn’t because they still believe (if they ever did) that it was a true documentary, but because the movie left them with questions—namely, what does the Blair Witch actually look like?

There is no denying that what The Blair Witch Project accomplished was phenomenal. From the boots-on-the-ground marketing campaign to the missing person posters designed to boost the level of authenticity of the film, the filmmakers utilized tactics that could never again be repeated. The nostalgia for a time since passed contributed to the success of The Blair Witch Project and in essence has contributed to the success of many of the found footage films that have come since.

Works Cited

Hills, Matt. “Horror Reception/Audiences.” A Companion to the Horror Film, by Harry M. Benshoff, Wiley Blackwell, 2017, pp. 90–108.

Kring-schreifels, Jake. ‘The Blair Witch Project’ at 20: Why It Can’t Be Replicated. 30 July 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/07/30/movies/blair-witch-project-1999.html.

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