Cleansing the lens of cinematic perception... until the screen is a white glaring rectangle

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 BLAIR WITCH PROJECT:

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.


7/4/99
-------------------------------------------------------------------

II. Frightened Mail: 

This month: Answering the continuing question:
NOISES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT - WHAT ARE THEY?

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?

Sincerely,
Scared
--
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!

DOES THIS EVER HAPPEN TO YOU?

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.

HELPLESS HINTS:

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?

--------------------------------

V: TO PEE OR NOT TO PEE
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


THE IRON GIANT
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.

TWIN FALLS, IDAHO

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...

DEEP BLUE SEA

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)

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