Thursday, July 25, 2019

Disinformation Please: LOS ESPOOKYS, and the Mythic Real

“Nothing is wholly obvious without becoming enigmatic. Reality itself is too obvious to be true.” ― Jean Baudrillard
"Fake it 'til you make it" - old AA proverb
Written and conceived by doe-eyed El Salvadorian ex-SNL writer Julio Torres (the genius behind the 'Wells for Boys' sketch) and the startlingly deadpan young writer/comedian Ana Fabrega, LOS ESPOOKYS, a new HBO comedy is one of the first to be filmed in Spanish meant for American audiences as well as the world. Set in Mexico, the show chronicles the interlocking adventures of a group of horror make-up/effects specialists who--for a fee--stage 'real' scares: everything from UFO abductions, to exorcisms, sea monster sightings (to drum up seaside tourism), and old dark house hauntings and so forthFans of  classic Mexican horror, Ed Wood, Alejandro Jodorowsky, the ficciones of Borges, the deadpan drollery of Fred Armisen (i.e. Portlandia) and all the true (?) ghost and UFO shows on cable--ay dios mio!-- must love it.

Aside from the deliriously deadpan ultra-fey Torres (as emo/goth/his own thing cookie fortune heir Andres) and the vacant Tati (as the group's idiot savant intern), the show stars Bernardo Velasco as Renaldo, the sweet-hearted ringleader, and badass flaca Ursula (Cassandra Ciangherotti). José Pablo Minor is Andres' hopelessly vain fiancee; Paloma Moreno Fernandez is the possibly hypnotized TV hostess whose E-style clip news show becomes a showcase for these 'real' happenings; John Early is a coked-up pyramid scheme health drink scam artist who power talks Tati into buying hundreds of cases of his energy drink on credit, then comes after her with the coked-up fury of a rabid dog; Fred Armisen is Renaldo's Uncle Tico, who lives in America where he's a master valet who rescues and then hooks the gang up with Carol Kane as a kind of Doris Wishman/Roberta Findlay horror director; a stereotypical blonde American ambassador (Greta Titelman) enters the picture when they need work visa and she may be willing to expedite if it means they stage a haunted mirror abduction that will garner her an extra week vacation. It all only gets weirder from there, but hey - we're with these unfadable titans of scariness, every haunted step.

Aside from this powerhouse cast, great concept and deliriously rapid but easygoing pacing, it's just nice to find a show on HBO that cares nothing for sudden, disturbing misogynistic sexual violence. Instead we're blessed with a colorful, good-natured zesty comedic dissertation on the way reality encompasses the fictional to create living myth, popping with great colors, sublime ensemble acting and subtext that brilliantly encompasses the way magic-realism keeps myth alive in Mexico (the way it just isn't in hopelessly materialistic Yankee-land).  In stepping out of the borders of the US it delves deep into the more open-minded mythic social structure of Catholic-heavy Mexico, a land where imagination still reigns and one can believe in haunted houses, get thoroughly scared by a bunch of ghosts, but then show up the next day to hire the gang who faked it all for your own event, never once letting the dichotomy of that, of belief/scared coupled to knowing its 'faked' - bother them.

The Age of Post-Reality
“What you knew in your childhood is true; the Otherworld of magic and enchantment is real, sometimes terribly real - and certainly more real than the factual reality which our culture has built...” ― Patrick Harpur
While Smithsonian and the 'SCI' channel deliberately obfuscate UFO "truths" by exploring already debunked cases (then proudly debunking them), and History and Travel go the other route, Los Espookys transcends both to arrive at a 'hole' truth superior to both fiction and the socially-accepted parameters of 'reality'. As we see with the clients that hire them and the people they scare or entertain, knowing (or suspecting) something is fake doesn't detract from the power of the myth, especially in a more mythic place like Mexico. There the metatextual post-modern simulacrum of our current era is implicitly understood in ways America, being itself a simulacrum, will never see (the way fish don't notice water). There's no need to add a logos-choked materialist 'skeptic' like Gunnar Björnstrand in Bergman's The Magician (1958) or one of the smarmy hipster naysayers that even History Channel UFO shows once employted to keep in the idiotic little investigatory teams (see "Zealots of Doubt"). Free of America's terrified knee-jerk tenure-brass-ring grabbing first-world 'expertise', there's no need to protect the borders of what constitutes reality. Once undefended, it disappears.

You can read that last paragraph two ways, either as racist (Mexicans are dumb enough to believe anything and can't afford to go to Harvard) or as an example of the Latin American gift for magical-realism ala Garcia-Lorca / Jodorowsky / Castaneda / Borges. We come to the zone where we have to realize that Spanish /Latin American conceptions of the supernatural exist on an infinitely higher plane than the true/false dichotomy of the North. In the mythic reality of Mexico, the wall between the real and the vividly imagined is not only elastic, traversable, and illusory, but porous. The ability to traverse freely across this barrier is something that Americans only get during the LSD trips, or as young children, or during schizophrenic breaks, or when suffering from an intense fever. It's something we'd never usually see in an American TV show where we're constantly on the scent for hoaxes and scams. We're so terrified of looking foolish to our peers(and maybe attracting all sorts of scam artists who sense our 'kook' gullibility) that it's far better to just keep our lips frozen in a perma-sneer of disbelief.

Will get fooled again - Jaime Maussan
The Mexican consciousness (based on this and other shows, purely) is by contrast not as concerned with governing one's belief system based on popular opinion as if they are still stuck in some stressful high school pecking order.. An example of this difference is the undiscerning Mexican TV UFOlogist Jaime Maussan (left) who tends to take all evidence presented as truth rather than hoax or misidentifications. If photos, video or witnesses are proven either deliberately or accidentally off the mark, Maussan never seems to feel ashamed or taken for a fool - he merely puts one case down and moves onto the next.  For him it's the wonder, not necessarily the affidavit. A snarky UFO doc I saw awhile ago actually released a close-tied bunch of big silver balloons into the air above Mexico City when they knew he was out filming to trick him - and he fell for it. But is he dismayed? Nope. And frankly, that's what makes him way more intriguing than some of the other authenticity-obsessed types who never seem to get any evidence at all.

In the world of Los Espookys, there are multiple realities within the diegesis: the horrors staged by the group are fake, but demonic events, hauntings, inter-dimensional mirror abductions, etc. seamlessly occur as well. The funniest of these being an ancient underwater creature who promises to tell Andres the truth about his birth (he believes he's a demon child who was left on the doorstep of his adopted parents), provided he first show her The King's Speech on his laptop.

In the meantime we in Los Estados Unidos turn to horror films for our fakery, living the myth through that extra window of separation. That's the end moral in the show, where Renaldo learns that it's better to scare people for real in Mexico than make bad movies in America. To make fake reality is to make myth - this is not hoaxing, this is the anti-hoax. The skeptics of America would stamp HOAX on pictures of Santa, and FAKE on Easter Bunny mall pics (as in my own expose of Bunny Fraud, via Queen of Disks - above left) this is aiding the supernatural with a screen for itself to project on from within the collective unconscious.  Trying to say what percentage of the universe is still unknown makes one look stupid for just trying to answer, like casting a fishing line into New Jersey and when you don't get a nibble, declaring it an empty lake.

Certainty is a luxury reserved for the ignorant.

The Panacea of Myth

More than ever, the mountain of evidence in favor of UFOs is so high you only have to start reading and watching cable to get that stoner jaw-drop kind of feeling. If you doubt, just look into Dr. Roger Leir's implant removal and the subsequent forensic research on said implants; the death bed confessions from high-ranking leaders in the military and aeronautics industry (Phillip Corso, Richard French, etc);  the case of Phil Schneider and the Dulce Wars; the stories of Bob Lazar; and the videos and firsthand accounts from military personnel assembled by the Pentagon's exotic technology study group vis-a-vis whistleblower Luis Elizando - the evidence stacks higher and higher if you can handle it. But it's terrifying the more convinced you become. That's why a parallel belief that it's all just hoaxes, our own advanced technology misidentified (due to lack of communication between black budget military projects) or drones piloted by mischievous third world supervillians or brainiac little rich hackers - is so important for our peace of mind. If you think the fabric of our social reality wouldn't tear in a million pieces if such news as an alien presence was made 'undeniable', as in, pics of the aliens landing on the White House lawn on CNN, you haven't really thought it through. We haven't officially acknowledged the alien presence in at least 3000 years. As a result, we've been allowed to build some neat shit, confident it's the first time it's been done. Would a neanderthal feel inspired to learn basic math if he was met by people of today?? He'd just bow and pray or try to smash your smart phone out fear. He'd feel no sense of actual progress and achievement, only an ocean of inferiority so vast there's no point trying to build a boat.

There's a fascinating episode of M*A*S*H--the season six finale ("Major Topper") where the unit runs out of morphine and has a full house of suffering casualties. Colonel Potter decides to try the giving out placebos until the real stuff arrives. He instructs his doctors and nurses on the importance of acting as if this placebo is the real thing: they must show absolute confidence in the power of the pill. They tell patients it's a very potent new drug, etc, even stronger than most opiates. The slightest lack of conviction on the staff's part can lead to... nothing... no effect. But they pull it off, and for most of the wounded, it works great.

Is not the razzle-dazzle carny tricks, the shaking rattle and strange dances of the shaman, the mix of hocus pocus and hypnosis, similar to the belief in the placebo? Conjuring healing spirits up out of feathers and sage smoke, the shaman conducts the air, blows tobacco smoke in the face of invisible demons, and create psychic currents in the mind the way the snake charmer blows his drowsy reed.

In the eyes of a debunker, this would be a hoax. Would the "Mythbusters" feel the need to storm the MASH tent and wise the patients back into a world of 'honest' pain? Since the mainstream medicine can't quite figure out how a trick of the mind can affect the physical healing process so strongly (or vice versa, as in the stigmata), surely they must point out it cannot technically be working.
The mind is a curious, unknowable thing, as vast and strange as the universe it's part of. Fiction is seized on as needed - thus a book that never existed, like the Necronomicon, is now sought after by people who believe it's real; then some enterprising genius writes one --a kind of post-myth truth. Or consider the case of Carlos Castaneda's "Teachings of Don Juan," based on the teachings a Yaqui shaman who, by most accounts, doesn't actually exist, but people say they have 'studied with him' - did they mean the took mescaline in the Mexican mountains and spent an hour having a life-altering psychic conversation with what he thought was a snake but turned out to be an abandoned grouse nest?

The brain that works so hard to deny the unknown is itself dangerously unaware of its own unconscious. The person with such an attitude may be in some form of repetitious denial from, say, being laughed at in elementary school for believing in fairies. An affirmed atheist is usually reacting against being forced to go to a very dogmatic church as a child, little knowing or allowing himself to know that there are millions of other, better ways to envision God -they have killed off their sense of wonder by a desperate bid to belong to the 'right' side, to believe only in what is firmly and conclusively 'known' and areso hostile to ideas involving aliens, ESP, reincarnation and ghosts that even concrete evidence is dogmatically disregarded. They have a flimsy sense of self and groundedness, otherwise they wouldn't have such a closed-minded reaction. They are the witch burners of their age.

The American Embassy in Mexico City in the Age of Trump
In their way, atheists are really no better than the creationists, for really, any decent Pisces could show them a third alternative, where both evolution and creation, where God and no/God can easily fit into a single paradigm (DNA as the computer language God uses to code itself into existence).

This goes both ways of course - the undeniable power of God-- a holy visitation - a heavenly hand reaching from the clouds opening up behind you, to touch your shoulder and electrify your kundalini like a bolt of lightning, can either lead you to join a holy order and renounce selfish ways - you asked for a sign and received one! Or to think about doing that, then shrug it off after awhile when you realize what a drag that would be. Maybe you were just 'expecting' some big holy event, some Potter placebo effect, and it was delivered. Thus the doubter who insists on a sign before belief--and then gets just that sign--often refuses to believe anyway.

In sum, we're better off without either undeniable evidence or a dead worldview that allows no wonderment about the world. Los Espookys' genius lies in this, in becoming the "/" in the either/or dichotomy. To find the truth behind the unknown too soon may seem like a good idea, but then you're stuck having to pretend to be surprised later, when it's finally time to open your present. The trick is to have already forgotten what it was, because you're so stoned all the time.

Here's an example of Disinformation and the Mythic in action: After the massive triangle shaped UFO sighting over the Phoenix skies in 1997 (thousands saw it, video evidence galore), the city's mayor was under extreme pressure from a panicked public to provide answers. He didn't have any, so what were they expecting? What did their panicked unease demand? The idea it was military flares didn't really gel (the local air force did drop some flares afterwards, in a classic bit of disinformation/obfuscation after the fact), and the demand for an explanation itself became a looming threat to the local government - how could they ease the public without lying to them?

"Phoenix lights" press conference 1997
The fact that anyone would even call the police when they see a UFO proves the point. If you need the police to come because you see some lights, you can't handle the truth. So what can the mayor say that will allay pointless panic and dissolve expectations of 'action' and answers from local government? The mayor's masterful psychological solution: bring the alien (an aide in a costume) to the press conference.

The worry ended in a scattered eruption of nervous laughter. The gut response of the city and the thousands of witnesses was both momentary amusement followed by lingering resentment - feeling their concerns weren't being taken seriously. Clearly they weren't deconstructing the tactic or they would have 'gotten' its brilliance. Sure, the arrival of that costume and alien mask on the podium made a a lot people mad --they felt the mayor wasn't taking their concern seriously. But he was, he just didn't have an answer for them. The only way to dissolve their fear of the unknown was by turning it to disgruntled disaffect. It was a masterful example of a kind of anti-placebo, the wrapping of an unwieldy football field-sized question mark into a sugar pill of fiction.

As in the hauntings of Los Espookys, the alien at the press conference is a 'true' joke, a classic example of disinformation and the mythic real. Look at the the alien mask/head above for a minute: its a far too large to be a grey - but otherwise looks just like one, even suspiciously so if you really stare at it. Even the hands and uniform are on point. The 'joke' aspect is a way to admit there's really nothing the government can do. There's no real need for the public to know that the most powerful nation in the world can do absolutely nothing to stop these strange unknown phenomena from doing just as they please. The only response the president of a fully 'disclosed' nation could make about alien visitation concerns would be either "Don't worry, if it comes back we'll shoot it down! USA Number One!" Or "I think we should take our five purist virgins and leave them on a mountain as a welcome present." 

Welcome to our new squid overlords, 2029!

Think back to being a child and watching bad old movies and not noticing the special effects because your own vivid imagination helped sketch in the missing details. But back on fuzzy local TV as a six year-old in the 70s, my childhood imagination painted movies like Yog! The Monster from Space (above) so much more vivid than they look today. I remember watching this as a kid of around nine or ten, being coated in sweat from the dread caused by that alien, who could jump from body to body, enlarging a crab or a squid offshore or becoming a dangerous man in sunglasses. I cheered the bats that scramble its sense of radar, like they were the cavalry. I have a clear vision of a bat's eye view shot looking down from the height of the thing, seeing that massive drop to the ground and feeling a vertiginous rush. I saw it for the second time recently, on HD widescreen and, eh - it was okay. Those bats weren't the same. My adult blinders had closed off my sense of wild wonder. There was no shot from the bat's eye view at all, just the medium shot you see above. But does that mean I imagined it? Am I somehow wiser than a Mexican Catholic version of myself who still swoops swoops to those nutty bats? 

Similarly, a bunco spiritualist might bilk old ladies out of money but they give them assurance - and a place to project their own wishes. The medium provides the sound effects and the spirit lights and the ghostly voices, the grief-stricken participants project (unconsciously) the voice of their departed loved one onto the noises. The medium works with the client's unconscious mind, opening it up into a kind of auto-hypnosis due to grief, guilt, and fervent longing to say one last thing - to project/create a 3-D image of the departed spirit (and maybe the combination of that image--maybe a photo of the departed projected onto a silver/white balloon released by secret lever--plus the unconscious drive of the participant and the psychic openness of the medium, all combine to allow the projection of the actual spirit, much like the way a newborn body provides a screen for the projection of the soul (beamed down from the heavenly projector). The trappings of the skulls, darkness, candles, hand-holding, deep breaths and chants, etc. all soothe and orient the mind towards suggestiveness, towards a child's kind of keyed-in imagination, painting in details with such ease even the most mundane setting is imbued with memorable magic (that will later pay off as an adult with endless nostalgic comfort).

At the same time, a debunker, too, would find what they were looking for. The reverse of Col. Potter's placebo may well apply too. If the patient is sure they're getting a placebo but they actually get the real medicine, would it even work?

Sorry - lots of tangents. But as someone who is fascinated by the living myths of the supernatural and extraterrestrial via a Jungian lens, I just have to chime in. I hope you too will enjoy LOS ESPOOKYS and pay attention to the progress of alien information dissemination as it gains more and more momentum via cable TV channels like History, Travel and Destination America. As more and more dis/information is gathered, the line between speculation, theory, evidence, belief gets moved closer and closer over the border into being incorporated into social doctrine. Can our immersion into a childlike sense of agog wonder be far behind, I mean ahead? Los Espookys predicts it all by pointing out it's already true in its glorious falseness. Has it never not been?

Communion (1989)
PS - If you do research the Leir implants, especially the recent scientific examinations that have found microscopic nanobot sub-frequency wave generators within their unique weave, don't let it scare you to the point you call the cops. You can always peek out from behind the curtain and just watch the big green head projection telling you not to worry. You are granted, by a parental government, the freedom to doubt everything you see and read. The grey alien face itself is probably just a great and powerful OZ-style mask, and behind that, still another, a human face, then a lizard's, then Christopher Walken's -- just stop looking when you get to the face marked 'fiction' if you're scared, and 'real' if you're bored. If you can find the perfect balance, you must be in Mexico, or are a Pisces. Duda realidad y creer ficciónes -  solo si es mito es verdad

For more, visit Divinorum Psychonauticus - my extremely "other" blog, for occult theory, trippy art, and... is that it? Just those two things?

UFOs in sky, or close-up on powder blue bowling ball?

Here are some recommended vistations:

Unconscious Contact: COMMUNION (1989)

from Divinorum Psychonauticus:

The Truth is a Hoax and that is a Lie (2.12)
Keeping Roswell's Plain Sight Secret: Phillip Corso and The Day After Roswell. (8/13)
Anthropological Amnesia: Humans aren't Human (March 2012)
Guide to Cable's Paranormal-Ghost-Hunting Shows (August 2012)
Aliens do it up the Nose: HARD Evidence (Aug 2010)
A Bug-eyed Look at UFO Disclosure (May 2010)
Demon Sheets: Sleep Paralysis Theories (Aug 2013)
Through a Dark Symbol (Nov. 2012)
Disclosure Happened: you missed it (3.11)
From Satanic Rite to the UFO to the Afternoon Nap (2/11)
I Blur the Line (July 2010)

Friday, July 19, 2019

Happy 20-Year Anniversary: BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and 'Frightened Male Monthly'!

Let the human blood be spilled as the witch's special request dietary cake, for it is 20 years ago today the Blair Witch opened wide and gave the world the willies. After so many 'POV' / SOV horrors that came after, The Blair can seem pretty innocuous, but that's the point, isn't it? We never see a witch, or even a murder. But that's what weirded us out. Val Lewton knew the secret, and so did... well, so did Kirk Douglas in The Bad and The Beautiful, but it's been forgotten ever since.

But not by some of us.

The origins of Acidemic began twenty years ago, as a young film critic / art gallery assistant / film lover named Erich looked for a way to vent his irritation at the absurdity of the art world (and--say--exhibits of  all white-on-white canvasses, Cy Twombly scribbles, etc) with his love of bad old monster movies. An art collector friend assured me I'd never 'win', satirizing the art world, as the art world has always eagerly incorporated its own critique; at the same time I realized that if you push the connections hard enough with bad old movies (finding wartime paranoia in Return of the Apeman for example) you'll find them - they're there.

It was my Big Epiphany: the root of all deep thought might be satirical. That which we satirize we later work to preserve.

But then... then... Blair Witch rocked my world.

Theming my website around classic horror and random film reviews, my 1999-created Dr. Twilite's Neighborhood gave birth to a moldy forest fungus of fear.

Frightened Male Monthly was born from this fear, an offshoot - it was as if the horror of Blair Witch  had rekindled some weird primordial cave man fear of the dark in me - not unpleasant but so palpable as to fill me with an electric jolt that needed an outlet. Hence I wrote the whole 'magazine' in a weekend - it poured out of me like a maniac's laughing fit. Only gradually did that jolt fade. I've only seen it a few times since, not wanting to discover it's not as great as I thought, or to be so unnerved once more!

In the interest of preservation I've moved it over lock stock and barrel from whatever the 'Wayback Machine' Internet archive my buddy Max found it on. The story must be told.

(from August 1999)

Seeing BLAIR WITCH PROJECT even in the middle of NYC--really put the hook in me as far as waking me up to a kind of Jungian archetypal terror - the kind you can feel rekindling from all the way back through to the dawn of the tribal indigenous nomadic cave-dweller past, up to scary moments in the past camping, as a child weirded out by the slasher movie-besieged early 80s, and nightmares as a child. Suddenly, after Blair Witch, shadows of trees along the street took on eerie life at night and going to the bathroom walking past a chair with a shirt draped around it made me jump out of my skin as it seemed like a person, etc. I had to get it all down fast, so whipped up FRIGHTENED MALE MONTHLY - a journal positing this new-old archaic fear revival was the latest thing in a kind of 'Men's Health' or Esquire parody (at the time I was getting free subscriptions to both, ugh)..

A monthly men's magazine devoted to branding fear as a hip new direction for young men: the irrational fear of the unknown as rekindled from its dormant-since-childhood slumber via the new movie The Blair Witch Project - it's new, now and cool. Are you in?

NOTE: This site is devoted to fear of the unknown and unknowable, there are no pictures or descriptions of any tangible monster or human-related terrors. To bask in the comparatively comforting glow of tangible horror, look to
Dr. Twilite's Neighborhood. 

In this Issue:

I. The Blair Witch Project's Influence on the Collective Unconscious
Jungian scholar Erich Kuersten gives us an analytical reading of the recent film which has launched of the current "return to primal fear" craze.

II. EXCLUSIVE! Noises in the Middle of the Night!
What are they? FMM tries to come up with some explantations in answer to your concerned letters.

III. Shirts/Coats Left Hanging on the Backs of Chairs - an In-Depth Analysis
They've practically leapt out at you as you passed them on your way to the bathroom after a really frightening dream... This month FRIGHTENED MALE MONTHLY looks into just how much of a threat these body-less garments really are.

IV: Photo Gallery
Rocks, trees, branches, and other unexplainable terrors of the outdoors. Get ready to be weirded out by them as you've never been weirded out before. 
V. To Pee or not to Pee
You know the drill, you get up in the middle of the night, have to piss really bad, but know there's something out in the hall waiting to get you. Do you hold it in all night... or do you dare piss under the bed? FMM has checked all the pros and cons, and you'll be surpirsed at what we've come up with.

VI. Film Reviews
FMM Looks at What else is in the Multiplex, and find: The Iron Giant, Deep Blue Sea, and Twin Falls Idaho 

VII. Links
(Removed by EK 8/19 - as all the links are... dead)

Main Feature:

The Dark Heart of our Collective Unconscious, Exposed!

by Erich Kuersten

The scary new film "The Blair Witch Project" isn't really a "horror" movie in the traditional sense. That we have a "tradition" for our horror at all is telling. Usually a horror movie is expected to be a series of gradually mounting shocks, with a masked or tentacled beastie revealed halfway through the film. The Blair Witch Project throws that formula out the window. Shot entirely on two handheld cameras by the protagonists in natural settings, there is no discernible script, and no one appears to be "acting." The movie is alleged to be actual found footage of three lost film students who went into the woods somewhere in Maryland to do research on a mythical figure called the Blair Witch. They were never heard from again. Instead of pulse-pounding music, creepy figures with knives, and bloody limbs, we are presented trees, rocks, and a few noises in the distance. Amazingly, this works, and we find ourselves far more scared by the sight of a tree at night in this movie than any million dollar effect they can cook up in Hollywood.

"The Blair Witch" is a mythical figure based on a witch 200 years ago who was sent to die in the forrest after abducting small children. Over the course of the centuries, many mysterious disappearances in the surrounding area have occurred, usually children, (shades of Hansel & Gretl). Whatever it is that is pursuing the protagonists is never identified, and there is never a resolution, nothing in short, to bring this film out of the unconscious "maze" and back into the conscious reality.

In this day and age, the breadcrumbs are long gone.

The three filmmaker/protagonists, Heather, Josh and Mike, are jaunty and self-assured in the first part of the film. They never consider for a moment the myths might have some grounding in reality. Anyone familiar with working on film projects knows the confidence that accompanies a film shoot, where you don't really have time to second-guess yourself. Heather, the director of the story, is very strident in dealing with the locals, for example. And when Mike and Josh begin to feel they may be lost in the woods, she is not afraid, nor does she even stops to think, carried deeper into danger by her own blindly cinematic pretensions.

So they become lost in the woods. There is never any sudden simple "attack" that makes the fact that they are in danger obvious. The fear deepens gradually, and then never lets up. The terror of being lost in the dark, surrounded by tall, twisting trees and unexplained noises is made palpable, heightened by the dim lighting from the cameras, and their limited, subjective focus (we keep feeling the presence of some evil thing just off camera). This is primal, basic terror that goes much deeper even than fear of something under the bed as a child. This is the fear of the dark at the core of our collective unconscious. This is "first" fear.

For me, lying awake last night, I realized that this primal terror had been waiting dormant in me, patiently waiting to be turned on by some stimuli. Buried under loads of information, culture and civilization, it's a dusty, antiquated light switch in the basement of the unconscious that has been flipped on by this movie. And the electricity still works, the "hardwiring" of the psyche still holds powerful current. It remembers the lifetimes of cringing in terror in the black of night to the sound of something unseen in the trees, something that couldn't be comprehended by my half-starved, primitive brain. That a low budget film can sneak past hundreds of years of civilization and push these buttons so easily is testament to the power of these basic fears, and the ultimate ineffectuality of all the civilized trappings of our society to keep them at bay.

I remember being a kid at a Maryland Presbyterian summer camp around 1980, where all of us children terrorized ourselves with contagious fear over some creature called "The Goatman," who was said to prowl the woods around us, bleating like a goat and killing children. I was with the older boys, all down a steep hill in an unlighted row of tents right next to the deep dark Maryland woods with no lights or anything at night. It was terrifying. We started out just shy and awkward with the older boys but bonded when one of them noted he heard footsteps crunching around the tent in the early morning. Goatman talk began, caught on like wildfire, and by the end of the week we were whipped into a frenzy of fear over it, banding together, freaking out constantly. By night we slept with our bibles clenched tight to our hearts (not that we ever read them - the camp made us bring them - we were glad they did). Each morning we were thrilled to still be alive. By day we made fun of the goat-man and drew pictures of him in the arts/crafts room. At night we burned the pictures in the fire to drive him off; we cringed in our bunks once again.

This experience was very formative for me and when later studying anthropology and indigenous cultural use of demon masks and tribal mimetic magic, I understood exactly the motivation, and for Halloween as well. In becoming that which we fear, we transmute our terror.

But masks and mockery are no use against the faceless, unseen Blair Witch. There is not even an old woodcut or witness drawing. This manages to make the movie so much more frightening than if there was a face ascribed to the "witch." After this experience, it's clear that when monsters in horror movies are revealed it's to make you less scared of them, to achieve a sort of catharsis. The audience can stop shivering and start laughing at the obvious fakery, the phony-looking mask. Following this line of reasoning, one must can't help but conclude that this need to draw a face over our collective heart of darkness is the fundamental source of folklore, mythology, even religion.

We are so used to having these ceremonial exorcising faces on our monsters, and rational scientific explanations for everything that we tend to forget there is a very real and irrational fear under the surface of ourselves, a fear we hide under as many masks and explanations as we can find. As Jung wrote in his essay Flying Saucers, "Mythology and magic flourish as ever in our midst and are unknown only to those whose rationalistic education has alienated them from their roots." (Hull, p. 63-4.)

PS 5/18: It was important that we didn't really believe it - it worked because we could pretend we believed it, and let the documentary 'this is true!' vibe overwhelm us. Today we're used to these POV horrors, but then it was brand new, and the filmmakers played it dead straight, as if this had really happened, so it was like the non-promotion promotion, the site crashed from hits (this back in the early days of internet - 1999)

Heather, the heroine of the movie, and a product of a rationalistic education if ever there was one, thinks initially of the Blair Witch as a myth in the vaguest and most harmless sense of the word, a piece folklore which can't possibly affect her, as insulated as she is in the armor of rational thinking. With her big camera eye separating her from the physical world, she imagines herself immune to the subtle terrors of nature. Once she is lost in the woods for a few days, however, the charade of civilization falls away. Her armor is stripped off over the course of a mere couple of days and she is reduced to her distant ancestor, scared and hungry, completely at the mercy of some vaguely malevolent personification of the forest. In short, she gets shown her "roots" and she is not prepared for the sheer power of the un-representational.  She meets the "other," something defying logical description which is the direct source of her (and our) primal, collective fear, and she can do nothing about it but keep filming, using her rationalistic, technological tool to record the irrational, primal mythological world as it emerges from the shadows to envelop and devour her. She can't film it, therefore she can't see it, and thus exorcise it through the reproduction of its image.

"This is America, we've destroyed most of our natural resources" she says at one point, consolingly, to point out the woods shouldn't prove as vast as they worry. Her eco-friendly education is now used conversely as words of comfort against the terror of nature.  The lesson is clear - give nature a chance and she'll devour us, no matter how much of it we destroy. Even the nature of our own unconscious minds can devour us no matter how many of our inner demons we can map out, mimic and otherwise exorcise through art. No matter what strides in science and technology we make, now matter how many hours of therapy and fear-facing we endure, our reduction back to primal animals cowering at unknown noises in the dark is only a lost map or broken compass away. This faceless threat, conceived so brilliantly in "The Blair Witch Project" is what lies at the root of primal fear. It is the sensation of our unconscious shuddering at its own reflection in an empty mirror.


II. Frightened Mail: 

This month: Answering the continuing question:

Dear FMM,

The last few weeks I have been hearing a strange tapping noise at my window. I live in a suburb right outside of Baltimore, and since that is officially Maryland I am quite afraid it might be "you know what." Basically it is like a screech screech screeching, but when I go up to the window, my heart beating with terror of the unknown, all it is seems to be the finger-like twigs of an old maple tree brushing against my window pane. My heart is so dizzy with raw fear I am sure this can't be the only explanation. Do you have a better one?

Dear Scared,

There is no doubt you have a very good cause of being duly terrified. The unknowables of nature in all her unfathomable mysteries are never as explained away as we would like with a simple "oh, it's just a branch." Maybe in the light of day, with a gentle autumn wind rolling in, it can be 'just' that --but in the chill and death-like silence of night, we know full well it is something far more inexplicable. If there is some manifestation of the unknowable and unseeable something at your window, then you are doing right by letting your irrational terror of the unexplained chill your soul to its foundations. You could just trim the branch, but who knows where the noise would strike next? Maybe inside your room this time! Best to leave it- FM
Caro Dottore,

When I was nine years-old, I had quite a disturbing encounter that to this day remains unexplained. My sister (then 11) and I began hearing a strange braying noise outside our windows in the middle of the night. At times it sounded almost like a small deformed boy trying to say "help". At other times, it sounded almost disembodied and ethereal, and one night it was right outside our window (second floor). I could distinctly hear the flapping of small, leathery wings. The sounds continued for about a month then disappeared. My sister and I, deeply shaken, slept in the same bed all through the following year. Later that winter, as I was exploring the deep woods in two feet of snow, I discovered a small barn containing a family of goats. While it is conceivable that a small kid had escaped the shoddy fencing of the barn, I cannot imagine what the source of the flapping sound was. Can you?

- Sleepless in New Jersey

Dear Sleepless,

Since you are from New Jersey, we cannot help but feel that this was a cousin of, or the actual, "Jersey Devil" (left) that was menacing you. Of course, goats can get a little weird to the delirious minds of children and trippers in the dead of night, but they can't fly.

 There are theories that the Jersey Devil sightings might in fact just be stray goats. Goats are rumored to be very susceptible to possession by spirits of the forest when left on their own in the strange woods. They are also remarkably good climbers thanks to two-toed hooves. We are all familiar with the appearance of goats in association with things Satanic. In my own experience in the Maryland woods (!!) at summer camp, there were rumors of a similar figure abducting, chopping up children, the "Goatman," who, aside from the wings, fits the Jersey Devil description to a "T." 

To write the experience off on the goat farm nearby does not solve anything - it only adds to the mystery. Strange that you never noticed this goat pen before. Chances are it vanished mere minutes after you left. By day, these spirits might often assume the form of a harmless domestic goat. And to create a pen, fence, etc. to complete the illusion is probably no great effort on "their" part.

A winged, goat-like man has been synonymous with the devil for aeons, and it is logical to speculate that sightings and auditory impressions may not be made by some mere Christian symbol but an actual metaphysical "being" or spirit, essence, etc., who has been incorrectly labeled the "Devil" due to its supernatural intangibility. I would venture to guess that you and your sister were in fact being stalked by some child-snatching demon (maybe the Goatman or Jersey Devil itself) and you should both count your blessings that your house proved impenetrable to it. If you had gone to the window to see what the flapping noise was, it would probably have got you. The bleating sound it made, like a child crying for help, was probably its attempt to draw you out to it or get you to open the window, the way witches and evil spirits lure innocent samaritans into the woods by imitating the crying children. You should be congratulated on your foresight in not getting up to look out the window to see what the noise was, not going outside to investigate what might have been a child in danger, and for sleeping together for as long as you did. Since these paranormal spirits tend to work most effectively on an isolated mind, the key to survival is "togetherness."

If you've been hearing a strange noise, report it to Frightened Male Monthly


III. Shirts and Coats Left Hanging 
on the Backs of Chairs
By Day just Laziness... By night.... TERROR!


It's the middle of the night and once again you wake up from a nightmare, terrified by some unexplained noise in the house. Bladder bursting, you get up to go to the bathroom- half-asleep, still reeling from whatever just spooked you. On your way to the toilet, you walk past a coat or a shirt hanging on a chair and your semi-unconscious brain reacts to this stimuli as if it was some supernatural threat! The hairs on the back of your neck begin to crawl and you yelp in surprise and fear faster than your conscious mind can step in and point out it's just your shirt--where you left it--on the back of a chair.

Now that the movie Blair Witch Project has made being shit-scared of the unknown cool again, fear of the dark and strange noises in the night have become part of the inventory of what it takes to be a "real" man. We have been getting many letters asking just how important it is for the "Frightened Male" of today to cultivate the split-second sudden sleepy shock that results from beholding piles of clothes, coats in closets, and so forth- when none are expected. But we here at FMM can tell you, nothing has more "fear cred" than the shirt left on the back of the chair.

Be scared of shirts on chairs - or be square!

We don't make the rules. In the new fast-paced world of unconscious terror we must always bow to what the unconscious finds frightening, and at no other time does the unconscious have more of a vote than on that half-asleep trek to the bathroom or into the kitchen for a drink of water, or, god forbid, to the front door to investigate what we could have sworn was a tiny knock but turned out to be nothing at all. When your semi-awake mind sees that shirt on the chair, it reacts -and you're cool again - a frightened male reacting just like your caveman ancestor might to weird shadows on the cave wall at night.


Now the reason for this scare of course are obvious, something called pareidolia. It's in our achaic DNA to be able to discern faces and figures hidden in the brush or camouflaged in the dark - so nothing can sneak up on us. Figurative representations (art, etc), trades on this, activating our psychological hardwiring, enabling us to identify certain figures in the landscape, ala a scarecrow for... crows. The unconscious is reacting in a basic way to anything remotely alive, in the same way we might "jump" in shock if we suddenly saw a mouse streak across the kitchen floor.

If you want to really scare the pants off yourself and test this theory, just try making a "dummy" like you did for Halloween as a child. Stuff a pair of pants and a shirt with old newspapers and pin them together, attach shoes and sit this thing in a chair, stick gloves on the ends of the sleeves, and stuff a pillow case or plastic bag for the head, and put a redneck baseball cap on top. Set this monster in a chair or crouched in a corner so that you will have to walk past it in the middle of the night on your way to the bathroom, and then forget about it, until... sometime late that night or early in the morning, WHAM! You jump for a second as it seems to be moving in the corner of your eye.

You may ask, what's the point? But the first thing a would-be frightened male must realize is that the whole purpose behind this re-embracing of primitive/unconscious/irrational terror of the unknown is to proceed past it to ultimately embrace the duality of our psyches. To move past the flesh-creeping horror of it all and embrace the darkest, most reptillian aspects of our unconscious is to begin the steps up the ladder to self-transcendence. To jump in shock at the sight of our own shirt on our own chair in the middle of the night is symbolic of duality and repressed self-revulsion. It's like, step one, so... get into it, baby! Be a man! A frightened man!


Frightened Male Monthly IV: IMAGES OF HORROR

Below  are some images of the woods at night and in the day. They are guaranteed to conjure up slightly dizzy feelings of existential anxiety and unaccountable terror of the unknown. Do not be overly alarmed, a deep-seated revulsion towards the pitiless and ungraspable elements of the natural world is understandable. Trees, leaves, rocks, these are like words and thoughts of some incomprehensible spirit-force that the Native Americans respected but which we, entombed in our fancy high-tech civilization, have for too long been ignoring. Faced with these images now, we realize the extent of which we have alienated ourselves from the very stuff of which we are made. To stare unafraid into the true cosmology of the woods is to begin the journey back down the darkening roads of our true selves.

Try to decipher what appears to be the arcane language somehow inherent in the random fractal patterns of the leaves and branches. Whatever the message, the reading of it produces a spine-tingling, flesh-crawling chill. Doesn't it?

Look at these, with much less sharpness and quality - but stare long and hard into the blobs and blackness, the patterns of trees and pixels and shadows, can't you see them? Can't you see the things?


A Bursting Bladder vs. The Nameless Terror in the Hall:
 Is there a 3rd Solution?

Frightened Male Cofession #34859506: I still recall being four or five years old and waking up in the dead of night, having to go to the bathroom really bad, but too scared of the monsters in the hall. Finally, I would piss under the bed. - I.P. Freeley, Lansdale, PA

Here is an excerpt from a story by rarely noted author Erich Kuersten, called "Monster Models" (Stokely Pub., 1998):

When I was about six I was afraid to sleep: Each rustle of my own sheets seemed to be deafeningly loud, and something out there in the hall was maybe listening for signs of life. Something was awake and moving in the house. Maybe it was not entirely real, but it was real enough that it scared me. What it was, I didn't know. And my imagination seized on the black question mark of its identity to send rolling chills up and down my body. It seemed to female, like an ancient crone, it would hover over my bed, looking for any sign of movement in my paralyzed limbs, any irregularity in my breathing to show I was awake.

If there was any light or noise to signify even one awake parent down the hall, even the sound of dad's snoring and all menace would be dispelled. But most of the time when I would wake up it would be dead silent, allowing the faint scraping and breathing sounds of the... being... to seem as loud as my racing heart.

Usually the reason I woke up was I had to get up and pee, or 'tinkle' as we called it then. I would strain to hear movement in the hallway, working up my nerve to get up and bolt to the bathroom. Each night I lay still and I prayed and prayed, bladder bursting, for either of my parents to wake up and go the bathroom, turn on lights, runs some water, something.

Finally, unable to bear it any longer, I would pis in the corner behind my bed, down the wall so I didn't have to get up or move.

In the morning I woke up and ran downstairs, I was alive! Alive!

So as you can see, IP - it HAS been done.

The main problem of course, is carpeting; getting the ammonia smell out can be a bit daunting, especially if you decide to not admit the truth to your mom or girlfriend or whomever you intend on getting to clean it. I denied any knowledge of the underlying pee smell cause for years. Luckily, we moved in 6th grade - though by then it was starting to fade. I only was able to admit it to my mom when I came home from college sophomore year.

Incidentally, this is not meant to be a joke. The terrors of the irrational child within when exposed to nocturnal silences and imagined (?) noises should not be merely laughed off in the comparatively comforting light of day. This is a very real problem. Of course, if you can anticipate it happening in advance, you would not be out of line to keep some sort of makeshift chamber pot under your bed.

But remember, to quote the crazed old hillbilly in the graveyard scene at the beginning of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, "There's them that laughs, and there's them that knows better." We here at FMM know better, and we know that irrational terror in the dead of night is no damned joke. So stay in bed and piss where you can, frightened male reader, we are with you, just right downwind.

VI. Frightened Male Monthly: MOVIE REVIEWS

In this animated childhood fantasy from Warner Bros., a giant robot befriends a comic-book reading young boy. As any frightened adult male who remembers being a comic-book reading young boy can tell you, there are no iron giants in real life to lift you up over the dark and foreboding woods of youth. In other words, the soul-shaking terror that might have been were the giant not friendly and not seen, is never developed. At least there are woods at night in this animated kiddie feature, which is a start. But as far as terror of the unknown goes, it's back across the multiplex for you.


If Siamese Twins are something you find frightening in a genetic sort of way, fine, go see this film. But, for us, after being exposed to the terrors that are buried in the deepest recesses of the unconscious, Siamese twins are just welcome aberrations in a human form that is otherwise banal in its uniformity. In this black comic drama, one of the twins falls for a prostitute. She does not end up vanishing in any woods nor is she otherwise confronted with the indescribable terror of the unknown. Instead, there is some talk about duality. Duality -- don't get us started...


Sharks have their own deep-seated symbolic resonance in our primal unconscious, coming as they do from our prehistoric, pre-terrestrial memory. From a Jungian standpoint they represent the devouring aspects of our own unconscious. In this film by two-time loser Renny Harlin, the sharks are merely makos, not great whites, and they've been genetically grown and made intelligent. How strange that this makes them somehow less scary. Strange, perhaps, to all but the Firghtened Male, who realizes that the primal terror caused by "normal" sharks is due to the unfathomability of their ancient instinct. The shark is a symbol, it is the teeth on the unfathomable jaws of nature as it eats itself in a perpetual life-death-birth cycle. To be seen as mere food in the blank, black eyes of unfeeling animal is to know the raw terror of real existence. To be pursued by an artificially amped-up seabeast, however, is to merely participate in our mundane civilization gone amok, here sticking a new brain in an old shark and trying to call it "original."


Our Frightened Male of the Month is, once again, Shaggy from the beloved series, SCOOBY DOO. Keep on eating and running,  Shaggy! Your jitters are our jitters.

(part of the Blair Witch Project Webring)
(published circa Aug. 1st 1999)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Hallucinatural: MIDSOMMAR

One of the cooler and more noteworthy things about the critical buzz for Ari Aster's highly trippy new horror folk film, MIDSOMMAR (2019), is the widespread recommendation that one should not do psychedelics before seeing it. There have already been a few freak-outs in the theaters showing the film. (I won't link to the reports, because lightweights have no place on this site) but I am fascinated that psychedelics at the movies have become commonplace to the point it's not a question of whether one should trip at the cinema or trip, but a question of which tripped-out druggy horror films are best seen straight. "Sober audiences may feel like they’re tripping," notes Fast Company's Joe Berkowitz of Aster's new film, "but tripping audiences will probably feel like they’ve died or perhaps were never born at all."

I agree with Joe: Midsommar Delivers the Most Realistically Trippy Drug Scene Ever, for Better and for Worse. It didn't occur to me to go see it tripping, but now I sure wish I did! I'm a fan of that 'never born at all' feeling, isn't that what movies are all about? (3) Between Midsommar, The Beach Bum, Climax, and last year's Mandy, its heartening to see the ways psychedelics have moved from a kind of dirtbag-disreputable guilt-by-association into hipster mainstream respectability. Creating spiritual transformations when the time, dosage and place are all just right; and nonfatal nightmares of self-realization when they aren't, gone are the Judy Blume-style inaccuracies of after school specials like Go Ask Alice. Instead, in a culture where young college students roll joints at diners without having to look over their shoulders for cops, paranoia and knee-jerk condemnation has been replaced with a mainstream hipness to the importance of set and setting.

In the past, when psychedelics were represented on film it was always with a patina of gaudy mummery: naked broads in body paint would frug through a kaleidoscope as bad acid rock jams ate up the minutes. Hallucinations were usually embodied by actors or latex puppets, completely divorced from the context in which they were perhaps originally hallucinated thanks to the impossibility of getting the full scope of expanded consciousness across all the telephone game hands it takes to put script onto screen. (6) Drugs were associated strictly with a certain swath of music (Grateful Dead, Electric Prunes, Ravi Shankar), and mired in an ever-oscillating mix of naive idealism and burnt-out paranoia. Before we could really write down the specifics of our transformative drug hallucination, the hallucination would be gone. The trick of a true hallucination is that it lurks beyond the ability of language or the social order to fully define and circumscribe it. Strangers to psychedelics think hallucinations are along the lines of seeing a white rabbit hopping through the subway, but a seasoned tripper knows it's never so simple. There might be a rabbit there, but he turns into a white handbag if you look at him too long, either that or he just pops up out of the crowd for a split second, then is gone again, so you're never sure he was there. A hallucination never stays in one place or time long enough to really 'capture' it. But we all--writers and artists--sure have to try. A lot of us prefer to stay home alone rather than going out clubbing, so we can spend the night trying to record our visuals via painting, or ranting into a microphone, or scribbling poetry - but that carries its own risks. With one to bring you off the ledge one could think oneself into a bad trip pretty fast. Thus the bulk of drug-taking imagery in cinema has always been--until recently--of a Lowest Common Denominator kind of vibe, both naive and skeevy, a bunch of easily-influenced kids shimmying to a guitar solo like lemmings to a cliffside chimera OR like Warren freaking out in the gallery, 

With Midsommar and its tale of a gang of backpacking master's degree students joining a friend at his family's remote Northern Swedish very psychedelically-astute commune for the titular holiday (up where the sun never sets), we finally move past those breakwaters. Gone are the banal psychedelic cliches we're used to. Instead, thanks to CGI and director Ari Aster's modicum of restraint comes the imagery of psychedelics as they actually are, i.e. anchored to the expansion and contraction of the breath and the nature of seeing and hearing via the human nervous system. (Is one 'hallucinating' when they become aware that the entire planet 'breathes' in ever expanding/contracting waves of energy?).

As the backpacking guests at the weird Swedish commune take mushrooms and then drink some unknown herbal tea, we have to pay attention to the details of the frame to see the way the deep black interiors of the flowers in the lead girl Dani's hair widens and contracts just like a tripping pupil, or the way the tendrils of the vines wrap around her May Queen throne stretch to accommodate and encourage her ever-more tarot-style royal movements. The sacred space and time generated by ritual circular movement is made palpable in the flow of energy up the bark of trees, or between people entraining their breath and movements to the music guiding them in an endless May Pole dance during which she can suddenly speak and understand fluent Swedish. Or are she and her last surviving dancer talking with words at all, or just ESP-ing?

Ever quick to invent new phrases, I dub this new trend 'hallucinaturalism' - i.e. going for what a drug trip visual actually looks like, the way hallucinations actually work, not as a black light lava lamp excuse for gaudy excess but a space beyond time where we can see the breathing of flowers, the growing of plant tendrils, the spiraling out of the breath, the rays of the sun, the soul leaving the body.

The Ingestibles
“The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.” ― Joseph Campbell 
"Who is to say what is real and what is not? 'Real' is a distinction of a naïve mind." - Terence McKenna
Am I myself getting of ahead? Surely the plot should be pretty familiar to you if you've ever gone to visit a rural commune with a friend of a friend, for either a weekend camping/party at some friend's parents' farm, or a remotely located rock festival with a tent area. Such areas make the perfect tripping zones: no cops, no cars, no drawer-searching rehab-calling parents, and--unless there's a pen with a bull stamping around in it or a sudden influx of speed freak bikers- no real danger unless you accidentally get run over by someone backing out of their parking spot, or you OD. 

But even so, one can find one's mellow being harshed by one's buzzkill girlfriend, the type who invites herself along, and then makes frowny faces every time you want to do whiskey funnels, or shrooms, or acid, or whatever (she doesn't want you to do them without her, but she doesn't want to do them yet... and it's always "yet" for her). Our main backpacker heroine is a kind of damaged co-dependent bi-polar buzzkill Dani (Florence Pugh). She's tagging along on the trip up north with her passive-douche boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), the kind of guy who's too cowardly to break up with her (it's so close to the triple suicide of her sister and parents he's worried about seeming callous). He also can't figure out how to not invite her along as he in turn invites himself along with his anthropology masters degree buddies to the solstice midsummer celebration at the agrarian commune of their Swedish friend Pelle (Vilhelm Bolmgren). They're expecting a kind of cross between Burning Man and an Amish barn raising party. Well, they get all that and more too, in the clear light of day, forever (the lack of a setting sun or nightfall is one of the film's most uncanny elements).

Bobby "Haxan Cloak" Krlic's avant garde string-heavy score might veer strangely close to Colin Stetson's for Aster's previous instant horror classic Hereditary - especially near the end, when the Phillip Glassy synth drones and cascading triplets come flowing into a kind of transformative sound re-baptism - but he gets just right the paranoid long-bowing bottom-dropping coccyx- tingling drones; the Lygeti-esque solar wind socking; the encounter group breath work flowing through the barn door cracks to just the perfect level of strange. On the downside, the cast lacks a force like Toni Collette to center things; and it doesn't really add up to much beyond the sum of its parts; and if --at 2 1/2 hours--it still feels like so much of the film is missing; it's got the 'truest' hallucinations ever in cinema, and maybe the best druggy ceremonial group sex scene ever. 

Encompassing all that is interesting, beguiling and terrifying about such 'communes' --the collapse of privacy, the loss of independent thought, the way 'breathing method' panting seems here a seamless part of conception, and the lack of abjectification within the ranks (no one sits it out) --Midsommar leaves us reeling in a kind of dream daze that the rest of the film takes and--if not runs with--certainly walks in imperceptibly slight slow-motion ceremonial steps right into the fire and flowers.

Dani's moaning and screaming at last finds its entrainment absolvement
“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” ― Joseph Campbell 
"It's very, very dangerous to lose contact with living nature." -Albert Hofmann
There's a feeling of being totally unmoored from one's place in the world very common today--when constant texting for validation from peers isn't enough to fill the 'god-sized hole' (as we call it in AA) and our leaning on a current sex partner or best friend to somehow make up that vast chasm of disconnect is a sure way to sink like a stone. For a lot of us, especially if we're not on SSRI meds, or not working anymore, the despair and isolation are so great that thoughts of suicide, on repeat, like a stuttering record, are our only salve. Dude, if even Ativan doesn't work (we see a bottle in Dani's cabinet - man, I'm so jealous), you know you're fucked. And if your pair-bond doesn't fill the hole, then what? You can join AA or some other group - but that's kind of a cult, and can be one if you wind up at the wrong meeting and let some weirdo sponsor you because you're too passive to say no. Or you can meditate... on drugs.. chant your way clear of the orbit around that damned hole. 

Accepting that one can never fill the gaping black hole at the core of the self is the only way to escape its gravitational pull. 

Paranoia and a feeling of secure group belonging, a kind of tribal security, are--one would think--opposites with a huge grey area in between. It's that grey area where most of us exist, never quite committing to the rapture of the group mind via becoming one of a tribe (a "worker among workers" as they say in AA) nor spinning off into complete isolation (wherein you paint your windows black and don't answer the door or phone anymore, and spend your nights screaming into a pillow as hands come out of the walls and just being able to put on your shoes and go outside for a six-pack seems like some impossible dream).

On psychedelics, one isn't necessarily free of one's issues, they're just magnified. But with the right group---a primal scream therapy group at your therapist's office every other week for example--you can magnify your woes to such a large degree they disappear from the horizon.

If you have taken drugs like psilocybin, LSD or ecstasy at a big hippy commune or outdoor music festival or pagan commune or weekend party on some sprawling farm, you may have been, dancing away, surrounded by happy hair-twirling hippies high as hell, and suddenly--out of the blue-- gotten paranoid. You think you might be sacrificed to some ancient god during the height of the ecstatic rave orgy and even if you could escape the parking lot, you have no idea where the nearest cop is, or if he's in on it, or even how to dial a phone in your current state. Every girl seems to be hitting on you through her ecstatic breathing. Tendrils of pink azure longing tap your chakras and fill you with her scent and wiles, but not in a good way - in a Monarch 7 Eyes Wide Shut kind of way. Every guy you know seems to trying to lure you someplace remote so they can hit you up for shrooms -- their neediness and jonesing like daggers in reverse. Only your reflection in the mirror reminds you that you're even you, and how far over the rainbow you are. A few shots of Jaeger and a deep breath, a song you like, a chance to go onstage and sing "Sweet Jane" and maybe you're okay again. The trees wiggle indiscriminately.


“The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims...” 
― Joseph Campbell

"Without a gang, you're an orphan!" - Riff - West Side Story

Whether via hot coal walks or bad acid trip paranoia, initiation ordeals leave us tightly united to the group without the need for a common enemy. Rather than bonding through collectively hating on some outcast-- which is like the cheap knock-off Elmer's of social binding--it is through this initiation one finds acceptance (which when it goes too far and frat dicks get ahold of it becomes 'hazing'). (2)

AA gets it (I mean Ari Aster, though it goes both ways) Between this and Hereditary he's proving himself the champion auteur of the New Dysfunction - one where drugs are so numerous the zone between one's shrink and her litany of anti-depressant and anti-anxiety meds and the herbalist with the plastic baggy or the 'tea' - cease to exist. There's no 'normal' to start out with anymore, only degrees of dysfunctional isolation and co-dependence. In neither film do we ever hear from anyone like a policeman, a narrator, a court appointed grief counsellor, a psychiatrist. As in films like The Shining- the socially conditioned polarities of right and wrong, linear time and the concept of future obligation cease. Like psychedelics themselves, the 'snap' of cabin fever frees us from the kind of rote empathy that locks us into the social order. Madness moves us beyond such things - life and death and the degrees of 'goodness' are lost in the presence of a kind of Hanging Rock/Quetzalcoatl sun god green man archaic pre-Christian hunger for human sacrifice. We become like Jack Torrance, or James Mason in Nicholas Ray's Bigger than Life, hankering to sacrifice his son like Abraham because he won't learn math, the in-denial mom refusing to so much as call a family friend for aid since father knows best.

Maybe you've seen 2000 Manics (left), The Cabin in the Woods or the Wicker Man (either version), and shuddered with the realization that in an alternate pre-Christian reality, macabre human sacrifice could become as routine and accepted as, say, fireworks on the 4th of July, or the lighting of a Lincoln Center Xmas tree. The scene at left is terrifying because we see the ease with which such a tableaux can fit easily into the apple pie and potato sack race shenanigans of a town centennial. As with Hereditary, Aster brings to the horror genre reflections of our own subconscious paranoia -that there's a secret society right there in plain sight, as banal as an old photo album of your grandma's showing a bunch of old ladies showing off their arts and crafts talismans, or a group of blonde farmers all dressed in white with big loving smiles and flowers in their hair--their actions too ancient, to rooted in archaic magics to be called evil in the pejorative sense. There is Machiavellian lip-smacking, no sordid rapey undercurrent. Everything is ritualized and slow according to the natural world, with which the commune is deeply in tune. They move in accordance of the breath, and the understanding that screams of the dying can be drowned out with group screaming in sympathy, that the most harrowing howls of pain and anguish can be matched and calmed through the entrainment of the support group and that all such negative emotions can be dissolved into the group like salt in the sea.

Between Chris Hemsworth's seductive cult freak in Bad Times at the El Royale and Tarantino's new Manson film, as well as new TV docs signifies the enduring appeal of the archetype of the holy madman is back, tapping into the aging millennial's desperate need for a blood-and-flesh tribe, a version of the fantasy of belonging they found in Twilight, Harry Potter, and so forth and the dozen other 'magical school' franchises glutting the market. They crave a world where they feel included, loved, protected, in a hermetic magical zone, able to face danger and the threats of life knowing a strong group of cool and capably friends have their back.

You or I might get this through being in a band in college, or belonging to a street gang, the military, or even sports team, but for the drowning psychotic the god-sized hole of desperate feeling of orphanhood is too much to navigate the give-and-take of a clique. For such people, being swooped up in the rescue gear of the cult-building mystic is a true godsend (ala Phoenix's character in The Master), the fragile ecosystem of social mores instilled in them by a failed family unit and educational system gets washed away with this shining all-inclusive paradigm. The ocean of support and 'being held' they receive more than makes up for things like the total loss of independence, personal property, and connection to the outside world.

Why it's so seductive in Midsommar's case is that we're not dealing with the usual Hammer Films gathering of British extras in robes cavorting and waving around goblets and bunches of grapes while Charles Grey glowers behind an altar - we're dealing with drug effects we may already be familiar with. Psychedelics' abilities to bond a social group and/or weird one out along the same line, is something we already know. At their best, they induce a harmony with nature, though a nature that is inscrutable in its demands - the sun and light of love they feel goes hand in hand with a clear-eyed and unflinching view of death, and a view of sex and mind-altering drugs completely free of all Christianity's and conservative parental hysteria's restrictions and taboos. We can't help but feel the attraction, the druggy pull of inclusion and oneness when, say, tripping really hard out in a park on a sunny warm day.

Coming out of the theater into the summer evening or late afternoon, walking home from the Alamo in the soggy summer heat, we may be grateful we're safe in the city, and sober, more or less, and happy more or less, in our world of pair-bond-cohabitation, our online communities ever a click away, aware finally that pursuit of balance not happiness is the key to... happiness. And that air conditioning, vaping, CBD gummies, anti-depressants, ant-anxiety meds, sleeping pills, herbal teas and Coke Zero, taken continually, makes everything all right, but not so all right we fall into mania and therefore, inevitably, a massive crash. If, like me, you spent the first 30 years of your life on a treadmill running from all-consuming massive depression, you know what heaven is - being able to stop.... running. The question then becomes... then what? What do we do now that we don't need to do anything?

"And goats have kids / like people have kids / like me / and you!"
- 70s Sesame Street song ("What Kids are Called")
"Mythology, properly understood as metaphor, will guide you to the recognition of your tiger face. But then how are you going to live with these goats?" - Joseph Campbell (full)
One thing I kept thinking about on the walk home was, what are these folks lives going to be like in the winter? Just as the days are endless in midnight sun Sweden, the freezing winters are eternal darkness. I couldn't help but feel the eerie echo of their Viking ancestors, imagining roaring fires and furs and elaborate homemade woolen wear. I thought too of the goats. Not that we see many of them, but enough. What is up with goats, in general? Wither their strange supernatural power? Their susceptibility to supernatural forces both coming and going is more than passing strange. My mom is currently reincarnated as a goat at the Carl Sandburg House goat farm in Flatrock NC, where she volunteered for years. If you see a goat named Nancy, tell her her son is glad she's found peace in a nice and supportive trip.

But why are goats such able vessels for human and daemonic spirits? Is it because we attributed this power to them, based on Pan, satyrs, the frolicking horned one, etc? From Hunchback of Notre Dame (where a little black goat is actually tried and accused of witchcraft to the recent The Witch) to my own part in the big Goatman scare in the Maryland woods in the early-80s. Which came first, the power we ascribe to the goats or the power they already have? Why is group of goats called a tribe or a trip?

Or does this shit go far deeper. If you don't think goats are supernatural you've never seen one standing out on a tree limb like a high wire act (above) when you know there's just no way that's even possible?

Sorry this ends so randomly. So does the film though; if it's not more than the sum of it's parts, its parts are still good. Maybe that's what tripping is like too. You may find nirvana, the pieces of your life coming together in a perfect mandala jigsaw puzzle you'd normally spend lifetimes completing, but with nothing else to do, one can't help but break it all up so you're not bored for the next 50 years.
Or you find the Hell of self-conscious empty needy anguish, the 'alone even in a herd of friends' despair, so amplified to become untenable, so that crawling into a lit fireplace seems the only available recourse. Either way, it's over then too. You can declare you're 'done' with psychedelics, that you've 'passed' the acid test like the man forced Ken Kesey to say after he got busted. Or you can try to minister to the onslaught of needy mouths as they sense someone with 'the answer' and a free tab, like a flock of hungry seagulls around a lone guy throwing breadcrumbs into the wind (ala Javier Bardem in Mother) or you can barricade yourself from the beaks and mouths and hole up with a lover or two and a bunch of recording equipment and art supplies like Turner in Performance. Or you can join a commune, experience the oneness, and maybe it's not a cult after all (no messiah figure). Either way, someone has to do the dishes, and it's not going to be me.

Shout out to Ryan for the req!

PS - second viewing thoughts (1/13/20) on Prime: (Note: contains Spoilers) 

This second time I was more aware of the key central relationship of passive aggressive bullshit from the boyfriend and the relative hunched-over postures of the non-members. It wasn't Florence Pugh's character at all, it was the boyfriend. He was just a pussy with no guts to break up with her NOR to commit fully, so he hangs in the doorway like a little shithead, thinking he's somehow doing the right thing. The whole movie is a kind of rape-revenge movie only there's no rape, just a boyfriend doing the kind of shit we expect from sophomores or juniors, not grad students. I wince, as I was that boy more than a few times, my girlfriends would sense my wariness and spend weekends trying to convince me to stick around. Looking back I see how I mistook squeamishness and fear of the unknown for somehow being 'a good guy.' It was actually shrooms that gave me the guts to break up with at least three girlfriends, despite one being super hot, one getting super violent, and one being super enabling and sweet-natured. Damn, it feels good to be able to judge this guy as totally deserving of his eventual burning, his symbolic casting out as the demon in the bear skin. 

Ask not whom the devil drives to his first day of school... He honks for thee. 


A cool movie with a similar plot arc, believe it or not, is 1978's THE LEGACY!

CinemArchetype 15: Human Sacrifice 
Bell, Book and Hallucinogenic Tampon: THE LOVE WITCH
13 Best or Weirdest Occult/Witch movies on the Amazon Prime
The Goat of Menses and the Fox in the Atheist Hole: THE WITCH
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call Summersisle: THE WICKER MAN (201o)
Genealogy of Flies: Lords of Salem, House of the Devil (+my own Salem ancestry)
All the Missed Mystics: Nicolas Roeg's GLASTONBURY FAYRE (1972)
Acid's Greatest Horror #1: ANTICHRIST (2009)
Avenger of Whatever: KILL LIST
Why don't we just Go Ask Alice? 
Alice 2.2 - The Looking Glass Dolls
The Ancient She-Shaman and her Shrooming Exhumer: SZAMANKA 
The Man in the Grey Flannel Darkness: BIGGER THAN LIFE

and David Del Valle's Lovecraft/Satan piece from back in Acidemic #6: Sympathy for the Devil:
Give my My Skin: BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW and the Devil Films of the 70s (2009)

1. yes I practice meditation daily with a light-sound machine, I recommend it 
6. My recent DT hallucination of Veronica Lake swimming in ice below the tiles in the ER waiting room, beckoning me to jump in, would no doubt by the time they made it into a movie, be represented by a real actress dressed as Lake standing, dripping in the middle of the room, pointing at me and making a drowning noise, in other words completely divorced from the floor waxer brush prints from which my brain's pareidolia center and my recent drunk viewing of Sullivan's Travels worked with my heated brain to conjure Lake dancing in icy water below the floor. I was there at 4 AM and the floor had just been waxed. Would that image last through CGI effects team interpretation, presuming the animator has no experience with such mental states? Consider how much better films like Altered States, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Naked Lunch might have been with a more vivid and alert recreation of drug hallucinations rather than this kind of broad cartoon literality? Nothing against those films per se, especially Naked Lunch. I imagine Aster doing them all very different - i.e. with this CGI breathing subtlety. 

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