Tuesday, October 27, 2015
First off, I'll hit you with a little challenge: on Halloween night, hie thee after a night cache. Night caches are great fun, in that they're generally set up so that you use a flashlight to follow a trail of reflector tacks through the woods, often to several different stages before you reach the final cache. I own two night caches — a lengthy, Star Wars–themed cache called "Darkness Falls" (GC14WGB), which I adopted some time ago (see "Darkness Falls Restored," February 24, 2014), and "Dweller in Darkness: The Missing" (GC3G3N7), which is loosely based on my Lovecraftian short story, "Threnody." The latter is the one I'd most recommend for a Halloween outing. It's a fairly straightforward but hopefully disconcerting venture into the woods near Lake Brandt, just north of Greensboro, a round trip of approximately two miles. It can usually be completed in about an hour — so long as you avoid the fate of poor Professor Zann, whose secret you seek to find....
Very close to "Dweller in Darkness" — on the parallel trail on the other side of the lake — I have a cache titled "Hellraiser" (GC4D26T), and you can guess where the inspiration for that one came from. It's not a night cache, but it can be done relatively easily at night, as long as you have a good flashlight (and you don't try to work the Lament Cube you might find in the cache container). This particular cache is located near a large beech tree bearing the inscription "Hell Is Just Ahead," which was apparently carved there in 1962. I don't know whether anyone actually knows the nature of this particular hell, but it's an intriguing locale that was just screaming for a cache to be placed there.
Over at Northeast Park, along the Haw River in northeast Guilford County, you'll find "Day of the Dead" (GC371JE), a two-stage multi-cache, which I placed on the day after Halloween a few years ago. What makes this one personally memorable was that, apparently, there had been a haunted trail set up at Northeast Park for Halloween, and when I went out to hide the cache, all the props remained in place. I seemed to be the only human being in the woods that day, and as I went down the trail, I chanced to bump into the gentleman you see in the photo at the top of this page — not to mention quite a few other horrifying thingummies in the woods. To me, that was more enjoyable than actually going to the attraction as it was intended. The props may not still be there, but the trek out to the stages of this one might provide you with a shudder or two.
At the Richardson-Taylor Preserve in northern Greensboro, there's a trail named the Bill Craft Trail, but to me, and a few other local cachers, it's The Bigfoot Trail. Before the official trail opened, I was caching regularly back in those woods, and I frequently heard something quite large slogging through the marsh, which I naturally assumed to be Bigfoot. Out in those woods, you will find "Bigfoot's Library" (GC2XMG1), which was initially filled with a number of scary books, including some of my own. I don't know whether any of them remain, but the cache itself is still in place. Also out that way is "The Nightmare Frontier (Redux)" (GC3MNR6), which, as you might gather, gets its title from my novel of the same name.
"Fire Walk With Me" (GC35QJY), located in Gibson Park, near High Point. This one poses some slight risk to life and limb, but no one has ended up wrapped in plastic after attempting it, at least to my knowledge. And just off the Beech Bluff Trail, near Lake Higgins in Greensboro, you can hunt "Let's Rock" (GC5W99P) — if you're able to figure out the cache coordinates from the clue on the web page.
One of my favorite but seldom visited caches, in Martinsville, VA, is "Sticks" (GC1WNG9), based on Karl Edward Wagner's well-known horror short story. Locating this one requires that you find and follow a trail of sticks woven into shapes such as the one you see in the photo below. Finding the sticks can be a challenge all its own, and a misstep in these woods might draw down from the stars the ghastly entity known as Nyarlathotep, the Messenger of the Great Old Ones. If this should happen, well... I shudder to think.
"Abandon Hope All Ye..." (GC325VM), which is not large enough to hold any swag, but may in fact contain more evil than many that, on the surface, seem menacing as all getout.
Visit www.geocaching.com for the answers to all your questions about caching. Go forth, have fun, and... beware.
Sunday, October 25, 2015
This one is just a quick personal memoir. After returning to Greensboro from a nice visit with Mom yesterday, I set to work turning Casa de Rodan into a proper haunted house for the evening's supper club gathering — putting the jack-o'-lanterns (Ernst and Emilio) into their proper outdoor perches, laying out interior decorations to horrify the unwary guest, and getting dinner (authentic Mexican tacos with chicken and chorizo) underway. We ended up with the full gang in attendance, which made for a somewhat crowded house, but everything came together well enough. After dinner, we had the annual celebratory viewing of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which means that Halloween can actually happen now. It was clearly quite fun for Joe Albanese, who hadn't seen the show since childhood. Mortifying, I know.
After the gathering broke up, Ms. B. and I inaugurated the fire pit I had won at the office Employee Appreciation Day back in the spring. Very pleasant out there, to be sure, despite getting dribbled on by a bit of rain.
This morning, Bloody Rob and Bridget came round so that we could hit the road and snag a few caches up Reidsville way. I only needed three, which I found, but because I'm the nicest rotten bastard geocacher in town, I took them around to get a bunch of others I had picked up on past excursions. Happily, I was rewarded with a fantastic lunch at The Celtic Fringe, where I had chicken wings with their ultra-potent Welsh Dragon sauce.
Something tells me I'm going to be having leftover chicken tacos for dinner tonight.
|Just a few goodies for anyone feeling peckish before dinner last night|
|Ernst, standing vigil as the guests began to arrive|
|A couple of ghouls searching for delectables around the old Governor Reid house in Reidsville|
Saturday, October 24, 2015
Last night, I headed up to Martinsville to take my mom out for a slightly belated birthday dinner — it was her 80th last week — and returned to Greensboro today, which I did, as I often do, by way of the back roads of Henry County, VA. The route takes me through a little rural community called Sandy Level, which I pretty much consider the southern redneck version of H. P. Lovecraft's Dunwich. There's not much to Sandy Level; just a few houses, a business or two, and a rather spooky old church — the Gospel Light Church, for which a relatively new building has been constructed, but the original still stands nearby. Not far from the church, an old fellow I call the Sandy Level Creep stands by the road side with an arm raised in greeting. This is not a Halloween prop (although he may have started that way); he's out there 365 days a year, and he always has a smile and a wave for passersby. Yep, that's him in the photo there. Today, he was accompanied by a tall, bony, shambling figure that sent me a long, hard stare as I drove by; almost certainly one of the local walking dead, of which I'm told there are many. I made it through without mishap, but this is not a place I'd much care to have my automobile break down.
|Red oak and red maple trees growing as one|
at the Bold Moon Preserve
From there, it was off to the Bold Moon Nature Preserve, where a new geocache had been published. I had been there last year (see "Bold Moon at Twilight," November 11, 2014), and I'd found it a slightly creepy and very endearing location out in northeast Guilford County. When I arrived at the trail head this morning, the place was deserted, mine the only car in the little parking area. It's an easy hike out to where the cache was placed, but just before arriving at ground zero, I had to cross Reedy Fork Creek, which in this area is fairly wide and fast-moving. I did so without mishap, but the briers on the other side did a number on my clothes and exposed skin. I was first to find the cache, which made me happy, but I had just signed the log when I heard the sound of someone — or something — approaching. My god, it was more of the undead! A pair of zombies, sometimes known as the McTwins, were having a time of it getting across the river, so I very cleverly goaded them into crossing at the riskiest point. And then — success! — a wee bit of a splash, and one of the carnivorous monsters uttered a few words of dismay, for there were now wet feet. However, because I can be sporting even when it comes to the walking dead, I offered to share in the first-to-find honors on the new cache.
On the way out, the parking area was no longer empty. More like full and then some, as there was apparently a grand opening ceremony about to commence, which struck me as a little odd since the trail opened over a year ago. No matter, it was kind of nice to be coming off the trail as those folks were preparing to get on it, especially since I had a couple of dangerous-looking zombies in tow. There's always a little spectacle involved with that.
A good morning it was. Tonight... our regular monthly supper club gathering, this time at my place, appropriately Halloween-themed, with It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown in the lineup. Yay!
|The old Gospel Light Church building in Sandy Level|
|Clearly the lair of an unearthly horror, not far from the cache. Possibly the McTwins' summer hideaway?|
Thursday, October 22, 2015
1973's Messiah of Evil, written, produced, and directed by Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, somehow got on my radar several years ago; I recall not the specific circumstances. I do remember that the big draw for me was Anitra Ford, who was one of the original models from The Price Is Right. I might as well confess that in my young teens, I watched The Price Is Right from time to time because... well... Anitra Ford. Our main female protagonist, however, is a young woman named Arletty, played by Marianna Hill, who comes to a small town on the California coast to find her missing father, an eccentric artist, played by familiar character actor Royal Dano (fresh from Night Gallery). Another familiar face is Elisha Cook Jr. (fresh from just about every movie from the 60s and early 70s). Now and then, especially during the Halloween season, I find it necessary to load up the DVD and give it a look, largely because of Anitra Ford, but also because it's a creepy-as-hell movie. More than a tad Lovecraftian, with a dash of Mario Bava and George Romero thrown in, Messiah of Evil offers a handful of gory moments, but it's the pervasive sense of the locale and its inhabitants being pretty far off-kilter that makes the film suspenseful and occasionally unnerving.
Indeed, as soon as Arletty arrives in the town of Point Dune, it's clear that something about the town is out of whack. Most of the time, the place is deserted, and the few people in evidence usually appear quiet, sullen, furtive, bringing to mind Lovecraft's description of the town of Innsmouth and its strange, quasi-human population. In her father's studio, Arletty discovers that he has been producing some rather disconcerting artwork: stylized, distinctly creepy portraits painted in duo-tone, a rendering of a huge staircase, a life-sized painting of a figure that resembles Rod Serling from The Twilight Zone. But of her father there is no sign, and no one at the local art shop even knows him.
Soon, Arletty makes the acquaintance of an odd trio who have arrived in town: a young, aristocratic chap named Thom (Michael Greer) and two young women, Toni (Joy Bang) and Laura (Anitra Ford), who appear fascinated by a local legend — that when a blood-red moon appears, as it did a hundred years earlier, a strange darkness will overtake the town. Thom interviews an old man (Elisha Cook Jr.), who claims he has seen the blood moon, a "dark stranger," children eating raw meat, and other bizarre goings-on that suggest everyone in town — except for him — has gone mad. He says the townspeople don't kill him because he's a harmless drunk (a strong parallel to old Zadok Allen in Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth"). However, due to their association with with the old man, the threesome is ordered by the motel manager to leave. Reluctantly, Arletty allows them to take up residence with her at her father's place.
To her horror, Arletty begins to have strange cravings for blood, and she feels no pain when she accidentally burns herself — the very kinds of things the old drunkard indicated was happening to others. Her companions appear to be immune to this seemingly contagious condition. Laura, however, desperate to get away from the oppressive studio, ventures out for a walk, only to encounter a truckload of townspeople who appear almost catatonic — except for the driver, a strange albino (Bennie Robinson) who offers her a ride. Against her better judgment, she accepts. To her shock, the driver presents her with a live rat, apparently to eat. When she refuses, he gleefully chows down on it. Disgusted, she gets out of the truck and goes to a nearby supermarket, which, like so many places in town, appears deserted. However, inside, she finds a number of townspeople gathered in the meat department, happily gorging themselves on raw meat. Upon seeing her, they chase her down and, in rather Romero-esque fashion, happily devour her alive and screaming.
Shortly afterward, unaware of her companion's fate, Toni visits the local cinema. Once she goes inside, the theater staff close and lock the building. At first, there is only a handful of people in the auditorium, but as the movie runs (a western featuring Sammy Davis Jr.), more and more townspeople fill up the seats, all silent and robotic in manner. When Toni realizes they are closing in around her, she panics and tries to escape, but the crowd traps her and are soon enjoying a feast of flesh and blood.
Arletty has found her father's journals and, as she reads them, discovers that he underwent the same cravings and lack of pain she has been experiencing. He relates that, in years past, during the blood moon, a dark stranger — a survivor of the Donner Party — came to Point Dune and began converting the locals to a new "religion," which involved worshipping an unknown, evil deity and eating human flesh. While her father is fighting this strange conversion, which is as much physiological as psychological, his will is beginning to falter. He finally appears to her and warns her to get away from Point Dune and never return, but now the evil cravings overwhelm his resistance and he attacks her. To save her life, Arletty throws an oil lantern at him, which sets him alight and finally destroys him.
She and Thom attempt to escape from town, but the rabid townspeople pursue them as they run along the beach. Thom drowns in the ocean, the zombie-like horde captures Arletty, and, at last, the "dark stranger" manifests himself. This character is never fully revealed, though it seems clear that, at least in body, the stranger is Thom. Rather than kill her, he charges Arletty to go forth and spread his evil influence wherever she goes. At the end, we see that she has complied with the stranger's order — only to end up confined in a mental institution.
Messiah of Evil takes its time getting where it's going, relying on an atmosphere of wrongness to keep the viewer engaged — an aspect of the film that earns my whole-hearted approval. I am beyond weary of the slam-bang cuts and endless crashes of deafening noise that are the hallmark of most contemporary horror movies. These tricks do not for horror make. The long, slow scenes that introduce Point Dune, with its weirdly mesmerized inhabitants, these instill far more dread than any clashing, clanging, jumping, and screaming. Most of the more frenetic scenes in Messiah are accompanied not by deafening bursts of sound but by a warbling, whistling electronic score that generates a sense of other-worldliness, of emotional rather than mere physical discomfort.
The first truly bizarre character we meet is the albino played by Bennie Robinson. With his deep baritone voice and penetrating glare, he conveys a unique and ominous presence. When he stops to give Laura a ride and shows her the rats he is carrying, she asks what he's going to do with them. With a hellish chuckle, he says, "I'm going to eat them, that's what I'm going to do with them!" He then proceeds to bite the head off a rat, turn, and smile at her with blood running from the corner of his mouth. It's his delivery of that line and his smile, more than the actual chomping of the rat, that make this scene so disconcerting. Given his early introduction and remarkable screen presence, he appears to be a character bound to play a more significant role in the film than he actually does. After his first few scenes, he fades more or less into the background. Less a shortcoming than a surprise, I would say; still, not presenting him as the actual "dark stranger" seems a wasted opportunity.
The true standout set pieces in the movie are Laura and Toni's death scenes, in the grocery store and the movie theater, respectively. Both are nerve-wracking in their build-up — excruciatingly so. However, both scenes, while ending on violent notes, only suggest the brutality of the young women's deaths; unlike the gory violence of George Romero's zombie films, the less-graphic depiction of these young women being devoured by animalistic humans nonetheless has the power to make one squirm.
Messiah of Evil is a true product of its time — featuring characters, settings, pacing, and a style that couldn't be reproduced in today's world. But much like Night of the Living Dead, the open window to the past it presents admits a chill that is right here and right now. Certainly, this film is fraught with imperfections and at times falls short of its promise. However, I'll spare you specific examples to keep from going overlong and because, for its better part, the film does deliver, in spades.
Fans of Lovecraft, Romero, and atmospheric horror in general can't go wrong with this one. I rate Messiah of Evil a pretty good slew of Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
|Creepy cannibal albino, played by Bennie Robinson|
|Arletty (Marianna Hill) visits the local art shop in search of her father.|
|The odd traveling trio: Thom (Michael Greer), Laura (Anitra Ford), and Toni (Joy Bang)|
|Laura (Anitra Ford) is nonplused by the goings-on at the supermarket.|
|The goings-on at the supermarket|
|The Last Picture Show, at least for Toni (Joy Bang)|
Sunday, October 18, 2015
Team Old Fart — "Bloody" Rob Isenhour, Scott "Diefenbaker" Hager, "Yoda" Rob Lee, and Old Rodan — reunited after way too long apart on the geocaching trail, sadly still minus Debbie "Cupdaisy" Shoffner, whose family obligations have kept her too busy for much caching in recent months. It was a damn fine day for it, so we Old Farts made our way out to the game lands/waterfowl impoundment zone between Chapel Hill and Durham for some enjoyable, occasionally rugged hiking and caching. There was a lot of bog, swamp, and mire to make our way through after all the recent rains, but we managed without major mishap or injury, although Bloody Rob lived up to his piratical epithet, as usual. We worried a little about Yoda Rob ascending a precarious, mostly rotten tree to get a cache that needed to be got, but he made it up and down with only a few minor abrasions and a less-than-gentle bumpity-bump on a backward slide that left him with a slightly higher pitched voice for a few minutes. And being such thoughtful souls, we signed a log sheet or two as "Shoffnerless," since we were, in fact, without.
Best location of the day really looked like an apt home for the Walking Dead: a long-abandoned water treatment facility out in the woods, down a forgotten little spur road road off Highway 54. Something was making a heavy clumping and bumping in there as we made our approach, but whatever it was beat a hasty retreat before we could get our eyeballs on it. Make no mistake, any creature that wouldn't beat a hasty retreat at our approach would worry the hell out of me. Just look at us.
I am the winner of today's inadvertent social faux pas. As we were passing a little place called Chubby's Tacos (I shit you not), I noticed on the window of the establishment a cartoony rendering of a hefty mouse or some such critter holding a taco. I said, "Hey, that must be Chubby!" only to realize a second later that a somewhat not really petite woman was at that moment going in the door. She stopped, turned, and gave me a death stare, which highly amused my caching companions. I am sure apologies would ring hollow, though I did not intend to be rude. Not to the woman in question, anyway.
Nineteen finds logged today, with one unfortunate DNF (Did Not Find) — which I just learned from the cache owners was missing because they had picked up the container to make some reparations. Ah, well. I'll be back. Current total number of finds stands at 8,268.
|Maybe that thumping and bumping in the old water treatment facility was Mom Zombie.|
|Why, yes, they do impound waterfowl. Careful; they might impound you too.|
|No. Just no.|
Friday, October 9, 2015
I wasn't sure whether I wanted to check out Eli Roth's The Green Inferno, mainly because, well, it's an Eli Roth movie. After Cabin Fever and the two Hostel movies, Roth struck me as very much a one-trick pony. However, having read a few positive remarks about the film — as well some some that one might politely call blistering — watch The Green Inferno I did. While it's not an altogether displeasing movie, little about it alters my original perception of its writer/director. It is, in the way of exploitation movies, exploitative, brutal, graphic, loud, and ultimately silly. It follows the Roth formula to the letter, introducing in its first act a bunch of youthful characters, most of whom are not even a little bit sympathetic and whom you can rest assured will end up in a pickle. If there is any departure, character-wise, from Roth's earlier movies, it's that these youngsters aren't out simply to get their jollies doing mindless young-person things; they appear to have a purpose in life, and an honorable one, at least on the surface: to stop the destruction of the Peruvian rain forest and protect the indigenous tribes therein from being massacred by corrupt developers and the militia that accompanies them.
The story in a nutshell (spoilers):
Swayed by a charismatic activist named Alejandro (Ariel Levy), naïve college freshman Justine (Lorenza Izzo) joins his group on their trip to Peru. They successfully stop — at least temporarily — a crew of developers and their attendant militia from devastating a village deep in the Amazonian rain forest. However, as the group makes a jubilant exit via small charter plane, an engine fire causes it to crash. Several of the young people are killed in the crash, but some, including Justine and Alejandro, survive. Members of the aforementioned tribe now arrive on the scene and, believing the youngsters are part of the team of developers, forcibly drag them back to the village. Neither the students nor any of the tribe speak the other's language, and this communication gap proves a serious obstacle to good relations, a fact made abundantly clear when villagers hack up, cook, and eat Jonah (Aaron Burns), one of the few sympathetic members of the team. Over the next few days, more of the survivors are added to the menu, and things start looking bad in a slightly different vein for Justine, who has been selected to undergo female genital mutilation, another of the tribe's less-than-gentle customs. However, before she meets her unpleasant fate, circumstances arise that allow her to escape the village, and she makes her way back to the original logging site, where she is rescued by the very militia she faced down at the beginning.
Much has been made of the movie's stereotypical portrayal of cannibalistic natives and implied racism. Although I think it's been overplayed, a case could reasonably be made for such a view. On those grounds, there was at least one call to suppress the movie, which I don't think ever gained any momentum (more on this topic in "Ban The Green Inferno," July 16, 2015). While Roth used primitive people, indigenous to a little-explored, remote corner of the earth, as bloodthirsty cannibals, one could also argue that any less-than-desirable portrayal of any minority negatively impacts entire groups. As a writer of fiction, I have great difficulty applying blanket accusations of prejudice and worse over a totally fictional — not to mention implausible — scenario. No, The Green Inferno does not paint the Amazon natives in a pleasant light; neither does it insinuate nor otherwise imply that these characters are actually representative of such people, or that it's anything other than fiction. Whether it's good fiction is certainly debatable. Roth may be guilty of lazy storytelling; or insensitivity; or of nothing more than exploitation for exploitation's sake, which, for better or for worse, is his specialty. Roth uses tropes that might best affect his target audience, and who do you suppose that is? Hostel offered a negative portrayal of small town Eastern Europe, but we don't jump up on our moral high horses over that one. (Simply because the villains are white?) I hardly think The Green Inferno is a film of sufficient power to influence anyone's way of thinking about indigenous Amazonian tribes — certainly not anyone with the capacity for critical thought. The most power it has, I should think, would be the power to bring someone's lunch back up.
On that count, for me, it was quite the reverse. I worked up a hell of an appetite sitting in that theater. There's no question the violence is graphic and unsettling, Jonah's murder in particular. Immediately following, there's an effective scene with the villagers, down to the youngest children, happily feasting on the roasted body parts. The atmosphere here, as a matter of fact, is not unlike what one might expect to find at a neighborhood pig pickin'. (And I'd really kind of like to get the recipe they used for slow-cooking Jonah's body; it looked fabulous.)
Despite their savagery, the villagers, however, are not played as particularly evil. Brutal, yes, but many members of the human species behave with brutality against their enemies — and there's no question that in this film, they believe the activists are their enemies, not their allies. Apparently, the tribal mum (Antonieta Pari), takes a shine to Justine, since she decrees that Justine is to undergo an indelicate procedure involving her private parts rather than end up in the cooker. I've found myself a little peeved at certain critical reactions to this scene, in that more than one writer has appeared miffed that the movie makers should expect the audience to feel badly for Justine, since she's white and who knows how many women in cultures around the world undergo such torture. For God's sake, I should be quite the ass if, in real life, I could downplay the trauma this woman would suffer because she is not a minority. Roth, as a storyteller, focuses on the individual he feels is most representative of his audience. I've no doubt that Roth, like it or not, has a fair handle on his target demographics.
|Lorenza Izzo as Justine and writer/director Eli Roth on location|
Nope, Roth didn't hit on all cylinders here, not that I expected him to. Nor did he totally blow it. I cannot go so far as to say I enjoyed this movie; I think to truly enjoy it, you'd have to have more of the sadist about you than I do. And while I can get into some fairly deviant fiction — emphasis on fiction — I tend to stop shy of relishing sadism, except maybe when I'm driving to work in the morning or listening to Fox News. There are a few moments of levity in The Green Inferno that, despite being sophomoric as all get-out, actually caused me to crack a smile. And on the whole, since the movie doesn't lapse into cartoonishness — not much, anyway — it doesn't go south as badly as either Cabin Fever or Hostel, both of which ventured into some pretty chilling territory before turning ridiculous.
I suppose it's fair to say I have some appreciation for this movie, though I have no desire to watch it again. Of course, I believed the same thing about Hostel, until I happened to catch it again when I was in the hospital a few weeks back. It turned out to be a little more engaging than I remembered. Whether I might at some point feel the same about The Green Inferno remains to be seen.
|On the plane, before the poop hits the prop|
|Young activists Samantha (Magda Apanowicz) and Amy (Kirby Bliss Blanton) contemplating a hideous fate|
|A lot of this happens in the movie.|
|The tribal elder (Antonieta Pari) enjoys a little tongue.|
|After smoking a bit of high-powered Pervuvian pot, the natives get the munchies.|
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Now, you wouldn't want to miss out on that. Delve further into this and other horrific offerings over Dark Regions. Order two copies for Christmas — one for yourself and one someone you loathe.