Archive for July, 2008

Vaginal Ectoplasm and Teleplasmic Third Hands (The History Behind Mignola’s Johann Krauss)

Posted in Rotten with tags , , , on July 27, 2008 by davehurwitz

My first introduction to ectoplasm was in Richard Matheson’s novel Hell House, later turned into The Legend of Hell House by John Hough. Here there is a scene where spiritualist Florence Tanner exudes ectoplasmic pseudo pods from her fingertips. Mr. Barrett commands the spectral force to leave a sample in a jar. The teleplasm, of course, does not oblige, veering away.

Another writer who actively uses ectoplasm is Mike Mignola. He even has a major character in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (the B.P.R.D.) who is entirely made up of ectoplasm. His origins were finally revealed in a Dark Horse one-shot, B.P.R.D.: The Ectoplasmic Man. Basically, Johann was a medium, whose ectoplasmic form survived his body’s death. He “lives” in a containment suit that allows him to interact with the physical world (an keep his ectoplasmic vapors from dissipating).

The character was recently introduced in the Hellboy II movie. His containment suit received a substantial remodel courtesy of Guillermo del Toro. Here, as in the comic, he demonstrates his ability to “possess” dead flesh and reanimate it.

Ectoplasm was “big” in the Victorian era. People went nuts for the stuff (along the same vein as fairy photography). Often ectoplasm (sometimes called teleplasm) issued from various bodily orifices (ears, mouth, nose, nipples and vagina). The term ectoplasm was coined from two Greek words, ecto (outside) and plasma (substance). These amorphous shapes had to be coaxed out of the medium, where they proceeded to slither about through the air. Sometimes they moved tables or interacted in some way with the physical environment.

People have often tried to snip a piece for analysis, yet all these have met with failure. The ectoplasm was believed to be like an umbilical cord. The medium would die if it were severed. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in his History of Spiritualism (Volume 2), related the story of a medium who suffered a “near severe hemorrhage” after a flashlight was shone into her mouth by someone trying to get a better view of the ectoplasm.

One Russian scientist, Simyon Zinovieff, did manage to acquire a bit of the psychic stuff. His lab suffered a terrible accident. Molten glass, dripping from an unwatched test tube, ignited some chemicals. These exploded and set fire to the lab. Zinovieff committed suicide immediately afterward. To further compound the myth that ectoplasm kills, Zinovieff’s second wife died from a heart attack minutes after tossing a jar of ectoplasm into the Seine.

This photo, taken in December 1948 in complete darkness with a Kodak Infra-red plate, shows an ectoplasmic rod emanating from Minnie Harrison. The ectoplasm is solid enough to clearly see the shadow behind it. The tip of the pseudo pod has connected to a trumpet (no word on whether or not it could play Taps). The spirits “spoke” through the trumpet, which was suspended about five feet from the floor.

One of the most notable mediums was Mina Crandon, better known as Margery. Famous photographs show long strings of ectoplasm, like umbilical cords, pouring from her mouth, ears and nose, where they seemed to hang by tiny threads. Other extrusions came from between her legs. She even produced a third hand, grossly formed, from her navel. This feat was never fully explained, yet when touched, the hand felt live sewn tracheae tissue.

Analysis of small pieces of ectoplasm yielded few clues. Several critics claimed the stuff was chewed paper, gauze or other fabric, probably regurgitated, or even animal tissue.

Harry Houdini alleged that all of these ectoplasmic manifestations were tricks. Usually people swallowed fabric or cotton balls only to regurgitate them during the séance. He would know, being able to spew up needles on command. He claimed that that Mina’s surgeon husband altered her vagina and this was where she concealed her teleplasmic hand. She would then use her groin muscled to “produce” the hand. Quite a nifty trick. Mina refused to wear tights, or be internally searched. Proof that Mina had been surgically altered has never been found.

In 1924, Eric John Dingwall of the British Society for Psychical Research, requested that Margery perform in tights. She refused. Most mediums were subjected to a thorough body cavity search that would make Homeland Security operatives proud. To avoid this invasion of privacy magician and medium investigator Harry Price invented the “séance garment.” It covered the medium from head to foot, including her hands, so that only her head stuck out. This would avoid the body search, and also ectoplasm leaking out the vagina or rectum. (A whole new meaning to anal leakage).

Hiram Maxim tells the story of a materializing medium who was put in such a garment that had been sewn tightly around her neck. The medium simply ripped open the outfit and stuck flowers under her breasts for later materialization.

Another medium, Eva P, would perform completely naked, in the company of another woman, Juliette Alexandre-Bisson. She secreted ectoplasm from her vagina. There are photos of Eva P. at the Met that depict ectoplasm as it emanates from Eva’s nude body. Alas, I could not find pictures for this.

Ectoplasm and physical mediums has virtually vanished from the world. It had a short reign at the turn of the century. Seeing how so many of these pseudo pods were obvious fakes may have dealt a death blow to what might be a true phenomenon.

Chris Kalidor

Heroin, Cameras, and Lisbon: The Worst Thing That Happened in My Life

Posted in Rotten with tags , , on July 12, 2008 by davehurwitz

Recently I was challenged to write about the “Worst Thing That Happened in My Life”. The bit was for a promo piece promoting Legendary Horrors, an anthology of horror fiction that includes my short “Zombie Maker”. I was frankly stumped. The editor at Bards and Sages, Julie Dawson, said it could be tongue and cheek, which I would have loved, had I been able to think of something good. Oh, how I wanted to say that toothpaste had ruined my life. Or perhaps shoe laces. I even thought of a good bit where a sliver of ice had caused me to fall and start a series of events catapulting me into a horrific event. But none of these were true. Finally, I searched through my memories and came up with this bit. It’s a bit of a coming of age story. In my notes, I wrote that when I came to Lisbon, I was like a boyscout in a whorehouse. A bit over the top, I’ll admit. Here’s how the piece runs:

I arrived in Lisbon on a summer evening in 1992, bouncing along the sidewalks constructed of cut black and white stone. I sought a guide, someone who would show me things regular people didn’t see. No, that was a lie. I wanted to write stories, to live in them like Hemmingway or Burroughs.

I don’t recall how I met him. He simply appeared. His name was Gao (pronounced “jow”). He encouraged me to see the Old City. I recall my guidebook saying something about it being a bit unsavory. The area also contained the remains of the original castle.

I should have seen the danger in this. I should have seen a great many things. Instead I saw Hemmingway traversing the streets of Madrid or Burroughs holed up in a room in Tangiers. The gauze over my eyes was so thick, I doubt I actually saw that city.

We walked east, the sun stamping down on the black and white checkered sidewalks. A bus drove us around the bay to the Old City. I had to pay for Gao. I imagine now that he paid less attention to the sights and more to my wallet. After the bus stop, the character of the city changed. Squat walls had risen up around us.

The streets were a maze of smooth plaster walls, winding left and right. We delved deeper until the walls opened up onto a valley. On the far side stood the castle, brown dusty bricks towering above these mud-brick walls. Gao sat me down and disappears. I hardly noticed. I stared at the horses, three of them by the castle. I couldn’t hear their galloping. The sound wouldn’t carry that far. Their movement was like a silent picture, the dust trailing into the wind. I snapped a photograph, to capture the moment. I had no idea it would be my last.

Gao returned. He wanted to see my camera. As I turned to ask him why, I noticed the other men gathered behind me, leaning on the walls. I handed him the camera as beads of sweat sprouted along my arms and neck. He told me he needed to borrow it. He said he’d have it back to me in no time. Then he disappeared again.

There I sat, helpless, on this dirty brick wall. The horses were gone. And the castle looked run down now, a decrepit shell of a once great people. Instantly my mind went to the money in my wallet. There wasn’t much there, maybe seventy-five dollars worth. The rest was stored in a pouch around my ankle.

Gao returned without my camera. He sat next to me. I turned away from the castle to face him, though I couldn’t make my eyes meet his. His arms had bruises along them. He said he had AIDS. A heroin habit delivered it to his veins. He needed money, more than my camera would furnish. He asked for my wallet. It was not a request. He counted the money and shoved it into his pocket.

“You should leave,” he said to me. “If you stay, I will find you again. I will ask you for more money. I can’t help myself.” And I knew it was true.

I left that very afternoon. I packed up everything and checked out of my hotel. As I walked to the train station, I saw Gao in every face.

This memory clings to my flesh, crawling out to visit me when the days grow bright and hot. I cannot rid myself of it. I cannot send it back. It is mine to relive again and again. I can see the castle. It lies, burned to my retinas, at the center of the Old City. And next to me is Gao. I look at anything except his face. I wish I had. For all my memories of this place, I have almost no memory of how the man appears. Perhaps he’s a reality I wasn’t ready to face.

Chris Kalidor

Wanted: Timur Bekmambetov

Posted in Cinema with tags , , , on July 2, 2008 by davehurwitz

Hey, you!

Yes, you. Come a little closer. A little closer. Don’t worry, I won’t bite. That’s better. Have you seen that movie Wanted yet? Yep, that’s right, the one with Angelina Jolie shooting from the hood of the red sports-car. And that guy from Atonement. And Morgan Freeman, too. Right. What did you think? You liked it? Good. That’s very good. Now we’re getting somewhere.

It was kind of unusual, wasn’t it? Full of strange visuals. Like that’s guy’s face outlined in shattered glass when he jumped through the window. Or the letters of the smashed keyboard spelling out ‘fuck you’ as they flew by the camera. There were some pretty awesome stunts, too, huh? Stuff you’ve never seen done before? Like the Atonement guy getting sucked into the passenger door of the sports car during that chase. Or Angelina making that bus flip and then driving over the side of it. Pretty cool, huh?

Wanna see more?

Well, friend, let me introduce you to Timur Bekmambetov, the director of Wanted. What’s that? Yes, I know, the name sounds foreign. Timur’s from Russia. Well, Kazakhstan, actually. Wait a minute now! Don’t walk away. You’re not one of those people who hates to read subtitles, are you? Shit, you are? Hold on, hold on. I’ll make it worth your while, I promise. C’mon man, I got the goods here, I swear. That’s better.

Now then, my friend, this is Night Watch, the flick that made Timur famous in Russia and got him his shot at Hollywood. It’s based on a book by another Russian dude, Sergei Lukyanenko. Don’t sweat it, friend, the book’s available in English. What’s it about? Well, there are these people living among us who have supernatural powers, the Others, and they’re divided into Light and Dark. For hundreds of years, both sides have observed a truce that prohibits outright bloodshed. This doesn’t stop them from jacking with each other of course. There’s this one Light Other who…

What’s that? Yeah, I guess it does sound sort of like to Wanted. You’ll notice a lot of similarities, really. Timur really digs flies. And murky industrial spaces. And carcasses. It’s all about butchered animals with this guy. And you know the crazy Russian? The rat guy? That’s Konstantin Khabensky. He plays Anton Gorodetski, the main character in Night Watch. Don’t worry, he can do stuff other than act nuts. Honest. And hey! Keep your eye out for that pink rose stick-shift ball.

One more thing. I know you’re gonna think I’ve lost it, but Night Watch has the most kick-ass subtitles ever seen on film. They swell and pop when Anton’s vampire neighbor screams at him. They dissolve in bloody swirls when his son hears voices. They flicker like the dieing fluorescent lights and bubble like Anton’s bloody lungs. Whoever created these things is a mad fucking genius. They don’t just translate the dialog. They show you the full flavor of the words. They become a part of the film itself.

Sold yet? You should be. This is one of those movies that changes the way films are made. Sets a new standard. Go rent it already. And don’t you dare watch it in English.

Dave Hurwitz