Monday, December 11, 2017

The Rusalki

Hello readers!  Today we're taking a look at a creature out of Russian legend and folklore.  Though their first appearances were as relatively peaceful beings, in later centuries they evolved into haunting presences which lure men to their deaths.  Without further ado, let's dive into the tale of the rusalki!

A rusalka is a water spirit, usually associated with lakes and ponds, but occasionally with rivers and streams.  Rusalki are described as incredibly beautiful women.  Most accounts credit them with long hair, sometimes green.

Originally, rusalki were somewhat associated with fertility.  They were beneficial to nature and minded their own business.  They could be mischievous, luring men to the water and then tickling and sexually teasing them until the man was exhausted.  However, rusalki in the early legends were not deadly.

There's a few Russian folktales about a rusalka who fell in love with a human man.  He was so entranced by her beauty when he saw her bathing that he proposed to her on the spot.  She lived with him in mortal lands for a time, but missed the water greatly.  Her husband, noticing her sorrow, asked her what was wrong.  The rusalka explained everything, and begged him to return to the lake with her.  She took him under the surface, where they lived for long years in the kingdom of the rusalki.  Eventually, however, he began to long for the mortal world.  The man made the sign of the Cross - something pagan creatures in Russia were powerless against - and opened his eyes to find himself back in his village.

Later iterations of the rusalki completely changed the creatures.  Instead of being spirits of water, they became literal spirits of water - unquiet dead, haunting lakes.  These female ghosts are said to be the victims of violent drownings, or the souls of women who committed suicide.  The lore paints men as the reason behind their deaths; in the first case, it was a man who murdered them; in the second, it was because of a man that they killed themselves.

This gives a reason to the viciousness of the rusalki, who lure men to their watery graves.  Akin to a Greek siren, a rusalka will call out to men with an alluring voice.  Sometimes her whispers target a man, luring him to her with her knowledge of him.  In other stories, the rusalka calls out men's names, until at last she stumbles upon the name of a wanderer near her pond.  Upon hearing his name, he is drawn inexorably to the waiting rusalka.  The man is then lured into the water, where the rusalka tangles him in her hair and drowns him - or, in a perverse twist on the original stories, tickles him until his lungs give out.

I find the differences in these two iterations of the rusalki fascinating.  The first seems more reminiscent of a naiad or mermaid, a water maiden not dangerous, merely beautiful.  The stories of men descending to the underwater kingdom and living parts of their lives there echoes tales around the world.  One such is the Chinese story of the Dragon King's Daughter.  The idea of an inhuman woman being seen naked in a body of water, and taken for a man's bride, also appears across multiple cultures.  Selkies and kelpies, crane maidens, and buffalo women are some examples.

However, the second version of the rusalki also has parallels in other cultures.  The Latin American legend of La Llorona is one of the most famous, having been featured in the TV show Grimm.  There's also a more recent Egyptian legend called El Naddaha (which may or may not have originated on Creepy Pasta).  Both of these examples, along with many other creatures from all over the world, are females who died by drowning, and whose spirits lure and drown others.

It makes me wonder if the two different descriptions of the rusalki are actually describing two different creatures.  What do you guys think?

I'll be back next week with another post!  See you then.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Kama-itachi

Greetings, reader!

The legendary creatures I've spoken about so far have been spread across a wide array of time.  Some, like El Chupacabra, have only appeared in recent history.  Others, such as the vampire, have appeared in lore for centuries.  The Wendigo, while an ancient creature, mostly disappeared from lore a hundred years ago.

For today's post, I'd like to focus on a creature who first appeared in Japanese literature several centuries ago, during the Edo period.  It also has a long oral tradition.  Though belief in this legend has largely faded away, there are still rural areas, particularly in northeastern Japan, which believe in them.  Let's take a look at the Kama-itachi!

Also sometimes spelled Kamaitachi, these creatures are sickle weasels.  Yep, that's right - sickle weasels.  I know I pranked people with the Drop Bear last week, so let me hasten to assure you: These are a real legend, and have long been believed to exist.  For those who don't know, a sickle is not just a silver coin in Harry Potter.  It's also a small, curved blade used for harvesting grains - think of it as a miniature scythe.  The "kama" part of the name stems from a Japanese variation of a sickle, which has also commonly seen use as a weapon.

And itachi...well, itachi means weasel.  Japanese folklore lumps spirits, demons, and monsters under the term yokai, referring to things mysterious, otherworldly, and inhuman.  While not all weasels are yokai, there is a long tradition of weasel spirits.  Some legends make them out to be mischief makers, like the gods Hermes or Susano.  They enjoy pranks, but are usually harmless.  Others paint the itachi as a more grim creature.  They are harbingers of doom, ill omens that bring death and devastation in their wake.

So what do you get when you combine the two?  The Kama-itachi is a weasel creature whose long claws resemble sickles.  Its fur is said to be dense and prickly, like that of a hedgehog.  Their barking cries echo through the night.  They travel upon the wind, and in some cases can even control it.  In fact, in some regions of Japan they are known as Kamakaze, meaning "sickle wind" (not to be confused with "kamikaze", the "divine wind" immortalized by suicide bombers).

Depending on the region of Japan, Kama-itachi are said to travel alone or in groups of three.  They attack in three strikes.  The first knocks its victim to the ground; the second makes a series of slices into the victim's flesh, using its razor sharp claws; the third applies a healing salve, keeping the wounds from bleeding.  This is all done in the blink of an eye.  It happens so fast that the victim is unable to see the Kama-itachi.

Why do they do this?  No one knows.  They don't drink the blood, don't steal anything from the victim.  Perhaps they merely enjoy knocking people on their butts and laughing at them.  I don't know the answer, so here: Have a cute picture to distract you!

There are numerous theories as to what causes the phenomenon associated with Kama-itachi.  The two I've seen most often explain that the legends stem largely from areas with strong winds and intense cold.  The strange cuts inflicted by the Kama-itachi, which do not bleed, but sting and take days to heal, are said to be caused by the weather.  One explanation says that the skin cracks open due to the cold, but does not bleed.  Another says that it is caused by small but powerful whirlwinds.  Someone out for a walk could be bowled over by a whirlwind; leaves and debris caught in the wind would cause slices similar to papercuts, which don't bleed very much, but do sting.

While this seems like a more logical explanation than the Kama-itachi, I find that I rather prefer the mischievous sickle weasels.

Though they are mostly relegated to the past, the Kama-itachi have made their mark on modern pop culture.  They have inspired songs, been the name for bands, and have found their way into modern anime and manga.  If you're alright with lots of blood and decapitations, here's a terrifying look at what can happen when a Kama-itachi turns evil.  A lot of artwork and stories also anthropomorphize Kama-itachi, giving them clothing and making their sickle claws blades instead.  As someone who grew up reading the Redwall series, I very much enjoy this trend.

I hope you've enjoyed this look at the Kama-itachi!  See you next week.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Drop Bear

Hello readers!  Today I'm off for a family vacation to Disneyland.  As such, I thought I'd make today's post an entertaining one.  Most of the monsters I've talked about so far have been pretty fearsome creatures, and while today's is terrifying as well, it's also rather tongue-in-cheek.  With that in mind, lets drop into the lore of...the Drop Bear!

Native to regions of Australia, the Drop Bear is a horrific critter: mangy, reeking, and, above all, carnivorous.  It gets its name from its tendency to lurk in tall trees, dropping onto the heads of its victims.  Many Australians are familiar with this monstrosity, having known family or friends-of-friends who have been attacked by the Drop Bear.  As such, they go out of their way to warn tourists about the dangers of the monster.  Still, many non-Australians have never heard of the fearsome Drop Bear - my own mother included.  When I showed her a picture, she stared at it in horror, then demanded that I show her a picture of a regular, cute koala.

Be warned!  It is difficult to find PG images for the Drop Bear.  Due to this, many of today's pictures are gruesome in nature, and not for the faint of heart.

(Sorry, mom.)

At this point I'm sure some of you are scoffing at what appears to be a koala bear with fangs.  This is how the Drop Bear surprises its victims, and why tourists are the most likely to be attacked!  It is common knowledge that the koala bear is a slow-moving, adorable herbivore.  Well, the Drop Bear is its lesser known carnivorous cousin.  While both are arboreal, the Drop Bear uses trees as a means of hunting its prey.  Its name comes from its habit of lurking in the tree tops.  When an unsuspecting victim passes underneath, the Drop Bear drops from its hiding place onto their head, stunning them long enough for it to begin to feed.  If the prey is small enough to carry, the Drop Bear will haul it into the tree and eat there.

For a NSFW image of a Drop Bear attack directly from the Australian Museum, click here.  For everyone else, I have this:

Still not convinced as to the authenticity of these creatures?  The Australian Museum has an entire exhibit dedicated to them.  In addition, basic information may be found on their website, on this page.  The Department of Dangerous Fauna Management also has a public warning about the Drop Bear - but the mangled corpse in it makes it NSFW, so I'll just link it here.

So how does one combat the deadly Drop Bear?  Well, if at all possible, avoid making contact with them at all.  They can weigh up to 120 kg.  (For my American readers, that's over 250 pounds!)  Between their size, their strength, and their teeth, you're unlikely to escape once they drop on you.  Keep an eye out for signs warning of Drop Bear location in the area.  If you must wander beneath a tree, check its branches first.  Listen for the telltale hiss of the Drop Bear.

Folk remedies have also been suggested, though it is not known how effective they are.  The most popular is the spreading of Vegemite, an Australian condiment, behind the ears.  Toothpaste is also said to have the same effect.

But most importantly, my friends, remember:
Look up.  Stay alive.

I'll see you next week!

Author's note: Please note I am aware that the Drop Bear is an openly admitted hoax.  This post was written as a joke.  I have two friends in Australia who've been trying to convince me of their existence for some time.  When I discovered that even the Australian Museum is in on the joke, I just had to make a post about them.

Drop Bears are fake, folks.  Think of them as a really elaborate, nation-wide April Fool's Day prank.

That being said, I hope this gave you a smile!

Monday, November 20, 2017

El Chupacabra

Hello readers!

Today I'm continuing my series of posts about monsters.  While some can be found in nearly all cultures, such as the vampire, others are more regionally specific.  Growing up in southern Arizona, I've heard the tale of the Chupacabra very often - but I know some friends from northern states and other countries have not.  With that in mind, let's dive into the lore of this goat-sucking terror!

The name Chupacabra translates to "goat sucker".  This strange etymology stems from the fact that most stories about el Chupacabra involve dead livestock, drained of their blood.  While cattle, sheep, and all manner of livestock and domesticated animals have been reported as victims of the Chupacabra, goats were the most prevalent during its first appearances.  Strange puncture marks to the neck, coupled with the complete absence of blood in the dead animal, led to the name "el Chupacabra": the goat sucker.

El Chupacabra has been sighted in numerous parts of the world, but is predominantly found in Latin America and the far south of the United States.  Its first sightings were in Puerto Rico in March of 1995.  (Given that I was born in March of '95, the Chupacabra holds a special place in my heart.)  Reports soon spread across Latin America, from countries including Brazil, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile.  In each case, animals had been found drained of their blood - and sometimes, a strange creature had been sighted near them.

So just what does a Chupacabra look like?  This is where it gets really interesting.  El Chupacabra has been described in two drastically different forms.  The first, beginning in 1995, is considerably more reptilian in appearance.  Think of it as sort of a scaly kangaroo, bipedal, a sickly green in colour, with long spines protruding from its back.  Sounds pretty scary, right?

Though this description was popular for some time, another soon overtook it.  The second version of the Chupacabra is described as more dog-like in appearance.  This creature's skin is taut against its bones, leading to pronounced eye sockets and a prominent spine ridge.  Terrifying teeth and claws complete the horrific visage.

How did two appearances so different from on another come to be used for the same creature?  Well, zoologists have been researching el Chupacabra for years, and believe that they have the answer.

The second description of the Chupacabra, its canine form, has actually been documented through photos and videos.  Numerous corpses of the Chupacabra have been found and inspected by scientists.  Their conclusion?  El Chupacabra is usually a canine of some sort, dog, coyote, or wolf, which has been infected with mange.  In animals mange will cause hair loss and itchiness.  A canine afflicted by this disease would tear its own skin trying to scratch the itch away, and would look like some sort of otherworldly monster without its fur.  Hunger, brought on by weakness caused by the disease, could lead to an emaciated appearance - which would account for the pronounced bone ridges.

(A dog afflicted with mange.)

But what of the first description of el Chupacabra, the scaly monster with a spiky back?  For that answer, investigators have turned to science fiction.

A movie called Species was released in 1995.  One of its primary characters was an alien played by Natasha Henstridge, whose design was created by the same man who designed the Alien xenomorphs.  Its appearance?  A scaly green-grey creature with spine-like appendages protruding from her back.

Parts of Species were filmed in Puerto Rico, where the first report of a Chupacabra originated.  The woman who first described el Chupacabra even admitted in her description that it looked similar to the monster from Species.

However, there is a flaw in this theory.  The first report occurred in March of '95 - but Species did not release until July of that year.  Could the woman have seen previews or stills of the creature in the movie, colouring her description?  Or does el Chupacabra truly exist, and merely bear an eerie resemblance to the fictional monster?

Chupacabra sightings continue to this day, and have spread past Latin America to other parts of the world.  The Philippines have a similar creature in their legends, and Russia has reported Chupacabra appearances.  Though numerous attempts have been made to disprove the creature's existence, el Chupacabra's legend continues to grow.

I'll see you guys next week!

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Wendigo

Greetings all!  I hope you're having an awesome Monday.

Today I'd like to take a look at a monster from North America.  Stories of the Wendigo can be found in the legends of many Native American tribes across Canada and the northeastern part of the United States.  Wendigo are popular in modern urban fantasy, featuring in television shows such as Supernatural and Grimm, and book series such as The Dresden Files and the Pax Arcana.  Portrayals of the creature, as well as the reasons behind its existence, vary from story to story.  Let's take a look at some of the original lore about the creature!

First things first: The Wendigo is a monster.  It is a malevolent spirit that twists and warps someone who was once human.  It has been described as possessing a soul, or as a disease which infects someone.  Once taken, there is no way to restore the person to their former humanity.  Killing the Wendigo is the only option.

Some Native American tribes performed mercy killings on individuals who had begun to turn into a Wendigo, killing them before they had a chance to consume a human and turn completely.  These killings occurred as recently as the early 1900's, when a shaman named Jack Fiddler and his brother Joseph were arrested and tried for the murder of a woman.  They claimed that she had begun to turn into a Wendigo, and that killing her was the only way to save her and to protect those around her.  The brothers also confessed to having killed thirteen other Wendigo.

But where does this monster come from?  It is created by a lust for human flesh.  Cannibalism will turn a person into a Wendigo.  In many legends Wendigo have strong ties to cold weather and to winter.  During these times, food was incredibly hard to come by.  If someone was trapped with no other source of food, cannibalism became the only option.  Even eating someone who had already frozen to death would be enough to turn the consumer into a Wendigo.

A Wendigo is incredibly strong and fast, with enhanced vision and hearing.  Some stories even say that it can control the weather.  However, there is a price to pay for this power - an eternal Sisyphean struggle against starvation.  The Wendigo is consumed by its hunger for human flesh.  It will consume anyone it comes across; and yet, no matter how much it eats, it is never sated.

As to its appearance: In some stories the Wendigo is said to grow with every mortal meal it consumes.  Because of this, Wendigo are said to be incredibly tall, around fourteen feet.  However, its battle against starvation also takes its toll on the Wendigo.  They are extremely thin, their skin stretched like butter over too much bread (couldn't resist the Bilbo quote, sorry!).  Emaciated in the extreme, their bones are visible, their bodies hunched with hunger.

"The Wendigo was gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tautly over its bones.  With its bones pushing against its skin, its complexion the ash gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, the Wendigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave.  What lips it had were tattered and bloody.  Its body was unclean and suffering from suppurations of the flesh, giving off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption."

Sounds lovely, right?  Let's take a look at another description.

"It was a large creature, as tall as a tree, with a lipless mouth and jagged teeth.  Its breath was a strange hiss, its footprints full of blood, and it ate any man, woman, or child who ventured into its territory.  And those were the lucky ones.  Sometimes, the Wendigo chose to possess a person instead, and then the luckless individual became a Wendigo himself, hunting down those he had once loved and feasting upon their flesh."

I've mentioned that some Native American cultures believed the Wendigo to be an evil spirit which possessed humans and filled them with a hunger for flesh, rather than a human who became evil through cannibalism.  Government and church documents from several centuries ago document this idea under the term of "Wendigo psychosis".  Native American tribes told their guests about the legends of the Wendigo, leading to the adoption of the term for men who turned to cannibalism.  Individuals who snapped for no apparent reason and ate their friends and loved ones are documented as suffering from this break in the mind.

How Wendigo are portrayed in modern pop culture varies drastically.  Some are gaunt and lean.  Some are covered in fur, and seem more similar to Bigfoot.  Weather control is rarely mentioned, but books and shows do tend to show Wendigo in places which are cold.  Several versions have Wendigo being former shaman who turned to a dark path and devoured a family member in order to gain their power.  Cannibalism is consistent in most adaptations of Wendigo, as is the fact that they were once human.  In fact, in Grimm the Wendigo appear to be normal humans...until they invite their prey over for dinner.

Though native to North America, the story of the Wendigo has spread throughout the world thanks to its portrayal in modern media.  Sightings are still reported, especially around certain areas of Canada.  This legend is alive and well.  The Wendigo is here to stay.

I'll be back next week!

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Vampire

Hola all!

Last week's post got me thinking about a genre I haven't really touched upon in my posts: monsters.  At a reader's suggestion, I've decided to delve a little deeper into some of the rich history of legends and folklore surrounding some of the monsters with which I'm most familiar.  To kick things off, let's take a look at the vampire!

At its most basic definition, a vampire is a dead being who consumes life force to survive.  Creatures matching this description appear in the mythologies of various cultures from all over the world, including Mesopotamia, Greece, and China.  It is most common for these predecessors of the modern vampire to consume blood; however, some preferred alternative sources of food.  Youth, beauty, innocence - one way or another, these monsters would drain the life essence from their victim.

Speaking of the victims, they varied across cultures depending on the type of creature.  Some only preyed upon the innocent, preferring the life of virgins.  Others targeted family members, or neighbors they had known in life.  There's even a vampire-esque creature from South African mythology who preyed solely upon those with noble blood.

There are numerous takes on vampires across cultures, and they vary drastically, each deserving their own post.  Since most of modern vampire lore stems from Western lore, I'd like to focus on the European vampire.

Vampire lore began to grow in Europe during the medieval ages.  It was a time marked by plagues, fear of witchcraft and devilry, and high mortality rates - particularly among children.  Many legends sprung out of this time period.  Just as early civilizations had used the gods to explain phenomenon they could not understand (like Zeus being responsible for lightning), monsters and witches were blamed for what man could not solve.  The dead were said to rise from their graves and attack the living.  They were said to be angry spirits, or possessed by demons: revenants.

"The vampire is a revenant, a being from beyond the grave, which destroys life in order to continue its own unholy and unnatural existence."

But it was between the sixteen and eighteen hundreds that vampire lore truly exploded across Eastern Europe.  The term vampire appeared in a massive number of works, from scholars, theologians, and church officials.  For example, a French botanist named Tournefort made a journey to Greece.  He documented an incident in a village on Mykonos, where the villagers suspected a consumption-type disease of being caused by someone who had died recently.  It was determined that the man was not so dead as they had thought.  Vampirism!  The body was produced and dealt with.  First the heart was cut out and burned - then, the body followed it into the fire.

Methods for detecting vampires - and for bringing an end to their reign of terror - became widely known.  Disturbed soil above a grave could mean that the corpse was actually a vampire.  Walking a horse through the church graveyard was another means of detection - it would balk at the grave of a vampire.  When the grave was dug up, the appearance of the corpse would be a dead giveaway.  Where modern vampires are pale, youthful, and have suspiciously sharp teeth, these vampires were instead bloated, discolored, and yet shockingly fresh.

Killing methods varied depending on the region.  Sometimes staking the heart would suffice.  Other areas required that the heart be cut out and burned.  (One region in Germany solved their vampire problem by putting a wedge of lemon into the dead person's mouth.  Perhaps vampires have a citrus allergy?)  The most popular method seems to have been beheading - usually accompanied by staking, cutting out the heart, and/or burning.  It pays to be thorough when dealing with vampires!

Certain precautions could be taken with corpses to ensure that they would not rise again as vampires.  These too varied depending on location.  Some areas would bury their dead upside down to keep them from finding their way out of their grave.  Others severed the tendons at the back of the knee.  Try stalking now, vampire!  My personal favorite are the groups who buried their dead with a large number of seeds scattered across the grave.  For some reason, vampires are attributed as being rather OCD about counting - a condition called arithmomania.  If they see a large number of some item, they have to stop and count it.  The theory behind the seeds was that the vampire would be occupied all night trying to figure out how many seeds there were, so they would be unable to attack.

(A vampire obsessed with counting.  Now why does that sound familiar?)

How one became a vampire, and who was likely to do so, was different depending on region and time.  Some believed that suicide victims rose from their graves as vampires.  Others thought that the creatures were brought about by witchcraft and a pact with the devil.  Victims of especially violent deaths, or children who died, were also deemed especially likely to rise from the dead.

Now so far, none of this really sounds like the modern vampire.  How do bloated corpses and copious quantities of beheading lead to the seductive, mysterious stranger who lurks in the windows of maidens?

The answer lies in authors and poets of the 18th and 19th centuries.  Though Polidori's The Vampyre was one of the first, it was the serialized penny dreadful Varney the Vampire that really got the ball rolling.  All of this literature eventually culminated in one of the greatest horror masterpieces to ever grace a bookshelf: Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Within the space of about a century, these authors laid the foundation for the modern vampire.  They were ingenious in how they went about it.  Lore and legends from numerous countries were collected, writings examined, and all woven together to create something new and terrifying.  There was enough of the old vampire left in the stories to give them a foundation in history, to make them more believable to the masses.  But the new vampire was much more terrifying than the old, especially by the time Stoker's Dracula made his debut.

Vampires could now control the weather.  They could shapeshift.  They cast no shadow and had no reflection.  They were charming and sophisticated, and looked almost like everyone else in the world.  They were strong, powerful, and hypnotic.  Difficult to hunt, nigh impossible to kill.  It was during this time that vampires became known for their sharp teeth, and were solidified as draining blood from their victims.

They were also highly romanticized.  Sexual undertones ran rampant in vampire stories, and continue to do so.  Entering a maiden's chamber uninvited, watching her sleep, corrupting her innocence and taking her life force as the vampire's own...It was creepy, provocative, and highly effective in captivating readers.

The writers of the time also wove strong Christian tones throughout the vampire stories.  Holy water and the cross held some power over vampires.  The monster was said to be a damned soul.  One of my favorite quotes from Dracula is this:

"That like soul who has wrought all this misery is the saddest case of must be pitiful to him too, though it may not hold your hands from his destruction."

All of these are traits that can be seen in modern vampires, to certain extents.  Vampires now are usually only seen to shapeshift into a bat, though earlier fiction also showed them as wolves and rats.  The inability to be seen in mirrors has been extended by some to cameras and film as well, updating for the modern world.  Though the 1922 Nosferatu portrayed a hideous creature as a vampire, later movies showed a handsome count with a sharp hairline and two prominent fangs.

The sexualization of vampires has been perhaps the most played upon trait in modern portrayals.  Ranging from creepy yet mostly innocent romances between teenage girls and guys a hundred years their senior (I'm looking at you, Twilight) to heavy levels of BDSM and domination (Google at your own risk), vampires are all about sex appeal.  They are the romantic leads, like in True Blood.  One of my favorite episodes of Supernatural has a vampire covering himself in glitter and seducing a girl who really, really likes Twilight and wants to be a vampire herself.  (In real life, live action roleplay games such as Vampire: The Masquerade are extremely popular, and have been for years.)  Even when vampires are portrayed as the villain, as in the Gary Oldman Dracula, they are still romanticized and pitied.

(One of my favorite book series, The Dresden Files, has three separate courts of vampires.  Drawing from the modern vampire, the traditional vampire, and the vampire's origin story, Butcher made each court different from the others.  The Black Court features desiccated, hideous undead creatures who drain their victims of life.  The Red Court is the more Dracula-esque set of vampires, who throw balls, enthrall others, and drain their blood.  Lastly, the White Court feeds upon emotion - either fear or sexual energy.  They are the seducers, the well-dressed party goers - though they stop just shy of sparkling.)

Vampires have changed a lot across the centuries, and have been portrayed in any number of settings.  From retellings of the Dracula myth, such as Dracula Untold, to vampires in space, like Dracula 3000; from soap opera romances like The Vampire Diaries, to erotic literature like that of Anne Rice.  There have been conflicts between vampires and werewolves in Van Helsing and the Underworld franchise.  Vampires have dominated the world in Daybreakers, and have been superheroes in Blade.

Starting in early civilizations around the world, vampires seduced their way into our stories.  They've been with us for the better part of a millennia, and show no times of departing any time soon.  We've invited them in - and they are here to stay.

What's your favorite vampire story, readers?  Hit me up in the comments below!

I'll see you next week.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Halloween: Monsters Through The Ages

Greetings readers!  Today we're celebrating the third anniversary of this blog.  Many thanks to all of my readers!

Tomorrow is Halloween, and since I've done seasonal posts for the past couple of years, I felt like carrying on the tradition.  With that in mind, I want to take a look at part of what makes Halloween so spooky: Monsters.

Monsters (and dressing up as them for Halloween) have gone hand in hand long before Universal began to create their monster movies.  The fictional costumes people now don for fun were once believed to be very real, and very fearsome.  Numerous folktales and legends from all around the world speak of these creatures.  From ghosts and devils, to witches and werewolves, up to vampires and zombies, here's a look at some of the most popular monsters throughout the ages...along with the reasons they were so feared.

The origins of Halloween lie in the Celtic holiday of Samhain.  During this festival, it was common practice to dress as one of the dead.  Ghosts, ghouls, and spirits were some of the guises worn by celebrants.  The vengeful, unquiet dead were said to roam free during Samhain, and humans could avoid their notice by dressing as undead as well.

A more cheerful variation on this theme lies in the Latin American celebration of Dias de los Muertos, the Days of the Dead.  Taken from the Catholic All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, which themselves stem from Samhain, Dias de los Muertos is a time to honor the dead and celebrate their life.  My own city does a parade every year for this holiday in which people paint their faces to look skeletal, and wear more traditional Mexican garb.

Witches and devils stem from Christianity's influence.  In fact, throughout the years Halloween costumes have been heavily influenced by religion.  A lot of the early horror writers were Christian authors.  (Nowhere is this more obvious than in The Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which both the dangers of repression and the horrors of a life without morals are explored.)  Because of this religious influence, most of the more popular costumes, those included, feature individuals either dead or damned.

For the most part, these monsters share similar goals.  They are deadly predators.  As such, they are immensely dangerous and something to be feared.  But it also means that they follow certain rules.  They seek prey.  They defend their territory.  Occasionally, they look for a mate.  Think of the Mummy seeking revenge on those who disturbed his tomb, or Dracula hunting for a bride.

It is when these monsters move outside of their territory, or attack for a reason other than food or revenge, that they are at their most terrifying.  Frankenstein's monster sees parts of this, because he has no real goal when he is first born, and cannot be predictable.  Dracula becomes infinitely more frightening when he leaves his territory and travels to another country - where his tactics are no longer known, and where most don't even know of his existence.

But there is one monster even more frightening than this, and it's one which has risen in popularity in just the last few decades.  Originally, zombies were very different from the creatures which now dominate movies, TV shows, and video games.  Raised by voodoo and witchcraft, a classical zombie was slow-moving, shackled to its creator's will, and had no brain function.  They were more in keeping with what one might expect from a necromancer's slaves.

Over time, these zombies morphed into the rage-virus zombies we're now so familiar with.  Many monsters owe their popularity to common fears at the time - fear of the occult, of the foreign stranger, of "heathen" religions, or of certain diseases transmitted by blood.  Modern zombies are no different.  They stem from fear of the viral outbreak, the disease with no cure which just keeps spreading.

In many ways, this is what makes the zombie so terrifying.  It's certainly why I find them the scariest of the monsters.  Unlike their other Universal brethren, the zombie apocalypse is not a traditional predator.  It does not seek to feed, to defend, or to find others like itself.  Its single goal is the extermination of all other life.  Like the Borg, it seeks to assimilate everything else, until there is only the virus.  This makes it difficult to defeat, and impossible to predict.  It breaks the mold of monsters that have come before it, which I think is part of why the rage-virus has become so popular.  It's something new and terrifying, and it holds audiences spellbound.  (It's also a good platform from which to explore the darker side of humanity, and to see just how far someone desperate to survive will go; just look at The Walking Dead, where most of the conflict is between warring human factions, not humans versus zombies.  That's another kind of horror all in itself.)

I'm very interested to see how the horror genre changes as society's fears change in the future.

What are some of your favorite monster movies?  The Mummy remains one of mine!

Happy Halloween!