Coffin-Building Advice from a Master Woodworker

Graphic source: http://motomom.tripod.com/CoffinPlans.jpg

Graphic source: http://motomom.tripod.com/CoffinPlans.jpg

Funerals and wakes are great parties thrown on one day the guest of honor can’t enjoy them. Master woodworker Chris Schwarz presents one way around that conundrum, sort of, in this description of a coffin-building party.

Chris Schwartz is the best popularizer of hand-powered wood working of his generation. His manifesto The Anarchist’s Tool Chest is a wise and skilled reflection on the simple collection of hand tools necessary to build most furniture, as well as instructions on making a handsome chest in which to store them. He writes with a wry wit and practice-honed insight. In a recent blogpost, Schwarz describes his experience of building the last piece of furniture he’ll like use, his own coffin.

The style he chose featured a tricky but elegant design that bends the boards used on the sides. To accomplish this feat, a fire is built in the cavity of the coffin which helps coax the necessary bending. This stunt required assistants and what better way to summon helpers than by having a coffin-building party.

We’re written before about home-grown funerals. I myself built a couple practice coffins using a modified toe-pincher style construction which I use for bookshelves. To be honest, my attempts weren’t entirely satisfactory, but the results are distinctive, functional book-holding shelves as well as “conversation pieces”. Even as a non-master woodworker, I totally comprehend the urge to build my own coffin. It’s yet another way of getting more comfortable with and recognizing one’s own mortality. I wouldn’t mind a couple dozen more years though to improve my woodworking skills and get used to the thought.

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Support IndieHorror.TV and the future of independent horror film-making

Robert Poole is a modest, rather mild mannered guy… and the evil genius behind IndieHorror.TV. Most every weekend for the past couple years, IndieHorror.TV has streamed an evening full of scary movies, supplemented by live Q&As with directors and actors, features and interviews, plenty of gory goodies that I guarantee you haven’t seen before. These flicks are never going to show at your local megaplex and honestly, many of these titles won’t even get direct to video distribution. What these micro-budget shockers may lack in slick production values, they more than make up in freshness and spark, not to mention the accessibility to the artists provided by IndieHorror.TV. When was the last time you had a live chat with Michael Bay?

Oh, and did I mention all this creepy content was free?

Not that financial contributions wouldn’t be appreciated, especially right now. In fact, IndieHorror.TV is at a cross roads. Robert is running a Kickstarter campaign to increase the quality of their streaming service and, like most crowdfunding projects, they’re offering a bunch of nifty premiums as well. I already snapped up an autographed monster figure and I might contribute again before the campaign closes on October 2.

Consider tossing them a couple bucks, even if you haven’t yet watched one of their shows.

Why? Because IndieHorror.TV provides an interesting, possibly essential role in fostering the next generation of truly cutting edge horror. One of the most exciting movements in contemporary culture is micro-budget film-making. Cheap powerful video technology is now so widely accessible that nearly everyone with a passion and a pulse can make a motion picture. One trouble is that the distribution of these cinematic visions is still not well evolved. Yes, shorter pieces pop up on Youtube or Vimeo, and there is a vibrant festival circuit for longer works. IndieHorror.TV provides a better distribution option, delivering these evil visions to hungry eyeballs. The benefit goes both ways. Horror fans get to see creations that are often far outside the safe and predictable mainstream-scream factory, and these micro-budget film-makers get access to candid feedback with their audiences.

Sure, not every movie-maker will go on to create the next fresh shock, but already IndieHorror.TV has clued me into a couple production teams I’m keeping an eye on. For instance, director Scott Schirmer and others involved in making Found (2012) (which gained distribution from October People) and Danny Delpurgatorio (whose Other (2012) won the Impy and is now in production as a feature-length movie.)

And without IndieHorror.TV I never would have encountered the truly bizarre work of Toledo based film-maker Dustin Mills. Look for a review of his Puppet Monster Massacre(2010) movie soon.

The real value of IndieHorror.TV, as I see it, is to nurture these films and, more importantly, these filmmakers. Send ‘em $15. And tune in to IndieHorror.TV to watch new, upcoming and surprising horror films and filmmakers.

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How to Haunt Your Home, Part Two: setting the stage

Zed's Hat

By Michael Cieslak

Welcome to part two of our discussion of how to haunt your home. As noted in our first installment, we’re investigating what is required to turn your residence into something fantastically frightening for Halloween.

In terms of full disclosure, I should let you know that my own level of haunting is probably somewhere around Beginner+ to Intermediate-. I have multiple fog machines, an extensive light array, and pneumatics. I both purchase and make my own props. I do have some experience with mask creation and foam latex prop making, but not much. My soldering skills are non-existent.

Oh, you can call me Zed.

Last time around, we discussed the importance of having a centralized theme around which your haunt is based. To explore this further, why don’t we take a quick look at two of the biggest haunts in the area, Realm of Darkness and Erebus. Both are located in Pontiac, but each approaches the idea of theme in a different way.

Realm of Darkness features the classic Quest To Defeat The Wizard. Visitors are lead through a medieval castle filled with various monsters and ghouls until they reach the Wizard at the end. All of the characters and props fits this theme.

Erebus, on the other hand, tells the story of a mad scientist who creates a rift in time and space which allows all manner of horrible things to fall into our world. Using this pretense, the owners can explain areas of science fiction technology next to dinosaurs, swamps inside of a building, and zombies and madmen inhabiting the same space.

So how do you choose your theme? The easiest way to decide is think about what scares you. If there is an idea which creeps you out, odds are it will do the same to someone else. Also, take a look at what you already have purchased. If you have already started building up a supply of props, get them out and see what they have in common. You might have your answer right there.

There are a number of staples for the haunted house which you might want to invest in. These include:

Spiders and webbing — Nothing says “old and creepy” like cobwebs, and spiders rank among snakes and heights as the things most people are afraid of. Large spider webs are also readily available at Halloween stores and are an inexpensive way to start making your house look frightening. The downside to this is that everyone else on the block will have them as well. If you do go the spider route, you might want to invest in a webspinner, a simple device that is essentially a hot glue gun with a fan attachment. This blows the hot glue wherever you point it (wind permitting) and creates gorgeous spiderwebs.

Tombstones — The cemetery is a staple backdrop, whether you are featuring zombies, ghosts, skeletons, or just something eery. They are also inexpensive, fairly easy to make, and an efficient way to make your haunt look bigger than it is. Placing large tombstones in the front of the yard and progressively smaller ones as the boneyard continues rearward will create a forced perspective effect, and the illusion that the space is much larger.

Skulls, skeletons, and bones — We’ve all got them under our skin, but for some reason people are freaked out by bones. You can use full sized skeletons as scares, skulls as background decorations, or bones in the hands of your zombies and werewolves for an added ick factor. I recommend the 4th Rate Bucky Skeleton, available from a variety of retailers, including The Skeleton Store and the Skeleton Factory. Bucky is an anatomically correct skeleton, quite sturdy (I’ve had mine for ten years or more), and it won’t break your bank.

Fog-Machines — We will go into more detail on fog machines in a later post, but they are a great way to add atmosphere.

A number of resources will help you get ideas for your haunt and in some cases learn how to make your own props.

If you are in the Metro Detroit Area, you should check out the Motor City Haunt Club. This group of haunters and horror fans meets once a month on the campus of the University of Detroit-Mercy. They discuss prop creation, lighting, sounds, fog machines, and just about everything else related to home haunting. Meetings usually feature a how-to demonstration of a Make and Take session where attendees create a prop during the meeting.

On-line Resources:
The internet is an ever-changing landscape. A number of websites devoted to home haunting are only occasionally updated, but they are plenty of archives of useful information which has already been posted. These include the Home Haunters Association, Home Haunt News, and Halloween Show.

Conventions:
Several national conventions devoted to professional Haunted Attractions can be fantastic opportunities to learn. Although some of the material may be beyond the scope of the average home haunter, there are usually also panel discussions and demonstrations which can be applied on a smaller scale. Most feature a sales floor featuring all sorts of ghoulish goodies as well. Some of the biggest and best include HauntCon, TransWorld, the Mid-West Haunters Convention, and local favorite the Great Lakes Fright Fest.

Other Material:
I recommend the following material for anyone interested in bigger, scarier Halloween material:
Boneyard Productions DVD set: Includes Horrific Haunted House Tips, Scenery Made Easy, Scares Made Frightfully Easy, and The Official guide to Haunted House Actor Training and Operations Management.

The DC Prop Builder’s Handbook: Devious Concoctions Custom Un-Earthed Creations Volumes 1 and 2. These books are excellent resources which cover everything from corpse and coffin creation to building pneumatic lifters.

Grande Illusions: Books I & II by Savini, Tom (2013) Paperback. The master of horror make-up illustrates some of the best of his cinematic creations including behind the scenes material on how they were constructed.

Stay tuned for more tips, tricks and guidance for building your best Halloween haunt yet.

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Alice in Ypsi

MadonnaPark

A quasi-legal street performance of Brillig, a snippet of Nerve’s Alice, erupted in downtown Ypsilanti last Friday, a couple blocks from that oh-so-phallic Water Tower, just down the way from the Heritage Festival and in front of a church where (allegedly) a wedding rehearsal took place. The juxtaposition added context. Call it sudden theatre, guerrilla spectacle, maybe aesthetic shenanigans, the proceedings had an overall religious feel (maybe just “relig-ish?”) blended with a raucous rule-bending of theatrical expectations. These performers eschewed the mystic darkness of a black box stage and brought their Wonderland to city streets.

Director-provacateur Kathe Koja arrived first, parading with her riddle stick, enticing passersby. Soon the Carpenter ushered in a noisy procession of the March Hare, the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter. As cars drove past, blaring their horns in solidarity, the Carpenter then intoned a solemn poem about (I think) the origins of Wonderland that felt like genuine Lewis Carroll, though I fought my pedant’s urge to consult the text. Apocryphal or echte, the rhyme certainly conjured that wacky mood found beyond the Looking Glass. After being politely baptized with Mad Hatter’s tea, audience members were issued random instruments and deputized as an impromptu marching orchestra. Together we serenaded Ypsilanti, up and down several blocks, before coming to rest at the feet of a Madonna in a park. All too soon, the service was over and the performers whisked away, leaving a whimsical blessing.
Koja1
Let me share the benediction: Wonderland is nearer than you think. In fact, tickets are now on sale for the full performance October 2014.
Koja2





Posted in Art, Dissections, Performances | 1 Comment

3DKitBash: Your Source for 3-D Skull Models

kitbash1You felt like a Mad Scientist, didn’t you, the day you got that 3-D printer, whether it was a MakerBot, a Cube or a home-brewed RepRap… but, admit it, the let-down set in as soon as you tried printing your own skulls. Brain bones are wickedly cool but also notoriously complex items to model. The devious geniuses at 3DKitBash have you covered with their high quality digital 3-D models, shown here printed in an oddly appropriate hunter’s orange.

KitBash3

Their “BoneHeads” collection features models of various skulls, including dragon, sabre-tooth and alligator, all rendered with lovingly organic-feeling texture. At least of couple of the models even have working jaws and I noticed one of the collections came with a femur model, handy for printing an actual skull and crossed bones. But any rec-room Dr. Frankenstein knows the demented potential for mix and match given 3-D files. 3DKitBash is already ahead of you. A human skull with the ram horns makes a quite effective demon skull but frankly, my favorite bit of kitbashing was their jackalope skull. Alas, I didn’t get a good photo of it but it’s prominently displayed on their website. Be sure to download the wall trophy base, when you buy a collection so you can display your skull… that is, unless you’re planning to insert it into the head of your next nightmare creature. Be sure to check out the “Free and Cheap” section to grab the “Monster Parts” collection.
Kitbash4
Elsa and I had a pleasant chat with Quincy Robinson and Natalie Mathis of 3DK at the Maker Faire Detroit this past weekend. Quincy was a professional toy designer before launching 3DK a little over a year ago with a remarkable 3D printable fashion doll named Quin. They’ve run a couple successful Kickstarter campaigns including one for a rather ingenious kit to test the calibration of your 3D printer. It’s exciting to find creative folks making cool stuff in the Midwest– 3DKitbash is based in Cinncinnati! And popular stuff too: their “3DK Launcher” toy, a free download from their site, has had over 22,000 downloads.

I get it, seriously I do. You’re an Evil Genius, so I know you *could* learn CAD software, wrangle your own scans, burn through a million test prints and come up with your own 3-D skull models. But wouldn’t you rather just print some first-rate skulls and get on with your other plans for World Domination? If so, 3DKitbash is your Igor.

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Submit your Horror Film to the Three Corpse Circus Film Festival

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The Three Corpse Circus is soliciting submissions for their 5th Annual Film Festival coming up in October, 2014.

The Three Corpse Circus event brings together horror artists and fans to enjoy their passion for the macabre at a day-long film screening.

Their objective is “to promote talent and honor success in the horror genre and to build a thriving horror community in Southeast Michigan that is connected to the world.”

The Three Corpse Circus ONLY accepts original films that fit the description of horror, sci-fi horror, nightmare, weird, suspense, thriller, and/or horror-comedic. Content that would be considered discernibly pornographic will NOT be accepted. The broad categories shown at the event include animation, documentary, experimental, fantastic, fiction, terror, horror, science fiction, weird, strange, and nightmare. There’s truly something for everyone.

All films must be submitted by August 9, 2014. Films submitted after July 11 pay a late fee. Any submissions received after the deadline may be considered for next year’s festival.

Notification of acceptance into the 2014 film festival will occur no later than August 24th.

For more details about joining the Circus, visit the Three Corpse Circus’ submission link at Festhome.

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#359: Very Hairy

Photo by http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Arz. Used under the Creative Commons License.

Photo by http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Arz. Used under the Creative Commons License.

(Female, 30’s)
Okay, here’s a hilariously weird, hairy dream I had recently.

In the dream, I was getting dressed to go out. I decided to hear a sleeveless top, so I stood in front of a mirror and lifted my arms to see if my armpits passed inspection or not.
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Chocolate Skull: Life-sized, accurate, delicious

Chocolate Skull from Black Chocolate Company, Manchester England

Chocolate Skull from Black Chocolate Company, Manchester England

Here’s an off-the-beaten-path present that astonish and surprise even the person who has everything! Black Chocolate Company out of Manchester, English crafts life-sized anatomically correct skulls in four tempting flavors, including dark chocolate, milk chocolate, caramel chocolate and chili chocolate. They hand-cast their chocolate skulls using a mold “taken from a genuine human skull.”

Even from the pictures, one can see that the details in chocolate are quite amazing! And the company ships worldwide.

A handmade chocolate skull is a gift that says you really care. Check out Black Chocolate Company’s edible art on Etsy.

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#358: Child Vampire

"Vampire Teeth" Photo by flickr user Daniel Orth.(https://flic.kr/p/5wV2DY) Used under the Creative Commons License. No changes were made.

“Vampire Teeth” Photo by flickr user Daniel Orth.(https://flic.kr/p/5wV2DY) Used under the Creative Commons License. No changes were made.

(Male, 30’s)
I don’t remember the whole nightmare story, but I remember one awful scene involving a child vampire.
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An Encounter with Horror Writer, Editor, and Digital Soothsayer, Séphera Giron

Séphera Giron 5

If I found myself cast in a remake of The Wolf Man, I would hope to find Séphera Giron portraying the traveling fortune teller I encounter in the woods. She would be perfect in this role. In addition to her smoldering beauty, Séphera has published a couple dozen works of horror — so she’d be familiar with the problems facing a lycanthrope; she is a professional tarot counselor — so she would have access to occult resources to foretell the troubles I’d encounter as a man-wolf; and she is an experienced editor, who has worked on over 600 works over the past decade, which could come in handy if I had the opportunity to re-write the typically dire narrative fated to most werewolves. Fortunately enough, I had the chance to consult with Ms. Giron on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Annex area of Toronto, far from any misty wilds and as yet un-bitten by any strange wolves.
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Ann Arbor Book Festival 2014 with David Hayes and Ken MacGregor

DavidHayesThe Ann Arbor Book Festival resurrected its Street Fair, and Doktor Leech braved the blinding sunshine to haunt a table shared by fellow HWA members David Hayes and Ken MacGregor. Hayes, shown here arranging some of his many publications for sale, is perhaps even better known for his contributions to B-grade horror movies, as writer, producer and actor. Check out A Man called Nereus on the istore.

His “splatire” book series blends extreme horror with social commentary. Seriously, they’re smarter than they might first appear, although the covers themselves are pretty awesome. Cannibal Fat Camp, the first in the series, aptly recalls a Garbage Pail Kid and the second Die, You Zombie Crackers! echoes the prolific Goosebumps series. I opted for the deluxe hard bound edition put out by Brian Keene’s Thunderstorm Books White Lightning series. The limited edition is sold out through the publisher but David had a few copies in reserve. Check out his webpage for more details.

Ken MacGregor‘s first collection An Aberrant Mind caught the eye of many passersby at this all-ages bookshow. Kids seemed particularly attracted to the ‘smiling clown’ on the cover, so we became adept at giving the NSFYA (Not Safe for YA or younger) wave. Ken released this new volume at a book launch reading that demonstrated both his twisted sense of humor and fresh take on the horror story.

Doktor Leech sold the last few copies of last year’s anthology, 13 Quick Shivers: from Dailynightmare.com, though they’re still available through Amazon. A second printing will be available in time for the second annual anthology’s launch.

We anticipate being back for Ann Arbor Book Festival 2015 armed with more books hot off the presses– and lots of sunscreen.

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How to Haunt Your Home, Part One: Planning

Zed's Hat

By Michael Cieslak

My name is Zed, and I’m a home haunter. I’ve been approached by the Head Nightmarian to discuss the ins and outs of turning your home and/or yard into something terrifying this October.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the home haunter dwells in the middle ground between person who puts up some decorations at Halloween and the Haunted Attractions which spring up around the end of September. The typical home haunt has detailed props, some of which may use light, sound, and pneumatics to achieve their scares. Some home haunts are large enough that the rival the professionals, drawing hundreds or even thousands of people a night.

If you are thinking “this guy is talking about Halloween already?” then this post might not be for you. Everyone else, read on.
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Nightmare #357: Awful knowledge

Fairfield Cemetery, Monkton, Ayrshire. Photo by Rosser1954 Roger Griffith. Used under the Creative Commons License.

Fairfield Cemetery, Monkton, Ayrshire. Photo by Rosser1954 Roger Griffith. Used under the Creative Commons License.

(Female, 50’s) I had a dream so awful last night that I haven’t been able to think or talk about it without crying, but you asked me to write it down so here goes. The dream was about carrying around some awful knowledge.

I dreamed that my daughter died. She’s grown now and living quite far away. She had some health issues as a child, and in my dream she was very sick again, but none of us knew it. I don’t think she knew it either. And she died. I got a phone call that she was dead.

But we were in the middle of some big, stressful event. I don’t know what exactly, but it was some happening, some convention or presentation that we were preparing for and needed to accomplish.

So I didn’t tell anyone that she had died yet– because knowing didn’t matter. There was nothing that could be done, so I had to wait with my knowledge. I felt very sad and very lonely.

And I knew that I had a lot to do too, but I wasn’t ready to deal with that. I had to make arrangements to get her body home and make plans for what– a memorial? a funeral? I didn’t know. We’d never talked or made plans with her because it hadn’t occurred to me that she could die.

So I was leaving the house and I ran into a neighbor. The dream neighbor was not a real person, sort of a conglomeration of people I know. She was a stocky woman with two little girls running around while we were talking in the front yards. She asked me how I was doing and I had to lie and say fine. Then she asked about my daughter and how she was. Her girls were always talking about my daughter, they enjoyed her company so much and they missed her. Again, I had to lie and say she was fine. I had no idea how to keep going.

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Book Launch: An Aberrant Mind by Ken MacGregor

It’s not every day that a local horror fiction writer and colleague launches a new short story collection– but this Saturday is such a day.

Ken MacGregor will read from this just-released book, An Aberrant Mind, and sign copies at BookBound at 1729 Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor on June 7 at 3pm.

We first encountered Ken as member of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers (GLAHW), a group of like-minded authors who share a love of horror, dark fiction, true crime and the like as well as a common goal of supporting local literacy efforts.

We also caught him in a short film which was part of the Three Corpse Circus Festival in 2013. He wrote, directed and starred in The Quirk and the Dead, a love story set in a post-apocalytic world that made us laugh, smile and cringe in quick succession.

From our perspective, Ken is an energetic, creative guy who brings flair, originality and style to whatever he does– so we expect his stories to delight, to surprise, to make us laugh or smile as well as scare us.

We’ll be there to mingle with the horror crowd and applaud the successful efforts of one of our own. Join us this Saturday at Bookbound; costumes optional.

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Nightmare #356 – The Child Coffin Merchant

Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/nerdcoregirl/. No changes made. https://flic.kr/p/4Ypu5U. Used under the Creative Commons License.

Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/nerdcoregirl/. No changes made. https://flic.kr/p/4Ypu5U. Used under the Creative Commons License.

(Male, 50’s) This happened at the end of a much longer dream. My partner and I were walking through a dark area, shadowy streets. There was some element of danger, too. We weren’t alone on these streets and it was late enough that the people around were up to no good but largely they ignored us. It was thrilling more than scary, rather fun. We strayed to an industrial area, cement buildings, some abandoned, that stood close enough to each other to make a maze of little roads, each barely wide enough for a truck to fit down. M partner wanted to turn back but I insisted we press on to the end of this alley. It opened up to a dark woods. We skirted the side of building. We passed a silent man who carried fishing gear, bound for a stream hidden somewhere in those woods.

Then we turned a corner and the wall of the factory building disappeared. It was a very dark market, busy with the commerce of death. Maybe a half dozen men, with ragged work clothes milled around the items, some buying some selling. There were at least three coffins, tiny ones. child coffins. Beautiful, hand assembled wood boxes. Antiques. But then how could they be antiques? Old coffins would be in graveyards, wouldn’t they? There was something unwholesome here, like maybe these coffins had been dug up. But I looked at them as if I was interested. The salesman said “You don’t want to put a child in these. They’d get used to being dead.” As if I would use a coffin for a cradle. I told him, “No, I have a special doll that I need to keep safe.” He nodded grimly, as if that was what these were good for, for some kind of black magic. But I was most interested in the metal grave liners. I’d never seen them before, just slightly larger than the coffins, thick rusted metal, industrial but grim, very grim. There’s only one way they could have gotten so rusty, so corroded.

I had the sense that no one walked away from this market without buying something. That if you were ever desperate enough to find this midnight sale, you paid whatever was asked for the item you needed. It was a compulsion, a craving, a need. No one simply browsed here.

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“A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness” (2013) — Movie Review

A still from "A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness"

A still from “A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness”

Roughly half way through “A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (2013)” is a prolonged shot of a man fishing on a lake while a rainstorm gently builds around him. The shot is stable with the only movement provided by the boat as it drifts around in mid frame. Raindrops delicately splash in the foreground and, in the far distance, a bolt of lightning flashes too far away to be heard. The shot stretches out for several minutes, and it’s a testament to the transformative power of the movie, that by this point in the movie, I didn’t want this shot to end. “A Spell to Ward off the Darkness” is in a sense a spiritual travelogue, if not a cinematic vehicle for spiritual pilgrimage, best seen in a temporary commune of the like-minded that occur from time to time in movie houses and at festivals like the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

Why the hell am I reviewing a “spiritual travelogue” on a horror website? Regular readers of The Daily Nightmare know we examine Midwest Snob Horror as these products reveal the glories and travails of the human condition. “A Spell to Ward off the Darkness” is in no way a genre horror movie, despite the title’s intimation of both witchcraft and cosmic darkness, and despite the final scenes where the central figure dons corpse paint to front a black metal band. This is a movie about the durability of hope and the fragility of its specific expressions. But if you are a horror fan you would do well to see this movie. The endless, brain-eating parade of apocalypse-porn movies of recent years has slowly eroded our will to imagine a better life, a better life together, a better life together that may only appear fragmentarily, temporarily, and from time to time. “A Spell to Ward off the Darkness” examines three possible utopias, strung together roughly by a central figure’s pilgrimage. Sort of. An analysis here is appropriate because horror is best portrayed against a backdrop of hope.

The first provisional utopia is a commune somewhere in Eastern Europe. (End credits reveal it to be Estonia.) Time for these dozen or so members is measured in long moments of reflection, music, naps, sauna baths, cigarette smoking, and the construction of a geodesic dome from plans to a completed structure. The courage of the filmmakers is to let shots run until the magic happens. For instance, in one shot a woman leisurely smokes a cigarette on the porch when, about a minute in, a plume of woodsmoke from the shack felicitously wafts into the frame, revealing beams of dappled sunshine that entirely reconfigure the image, creating a cathedral of light that frames her. These long gazes into the oft overlooked moments of life provide an antidote to the manipulative, barrage of short shots quickly edited that assail us in so much commercial culture.

The central figure is a black guitarist who I believe does not speak a single word throughout the film. He smokes a cigarette in the nearly completed dome before embarking on a period of Thoreauvian solitude that forms the second possible utopia. This second section of the film presents some of the most striking images, one of my favorite being a closeup of an ant colony, miked so closely to detect their thrumming activity. But my double-plus good favorite shot of the entire film lingers on the fire that consumes the central character’s shack at the end of this section. I just LOVE watching shit burn down, something I first realized watching Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice. Maybe I should talk to a therapist about that predilection.

The final segment of the film focuses on the central figure as he fronts a black metal band. The camerawork is sinuous — in contrast to the sometimes jerky hand-held footage of the commune sequence — gliding amid the musicians, as the singer wails both plaintive and feral and the guitars and drum pound, complex and intense. The corpse paint on the performers liquefies with their sweat during the performance. Only in this final section are there faces of older people, scattered in the audience. As a middle aged guy myself, I was left wondering if the yearning for hope, for community is a young person’s dream. The central figure does not rest at this utopia either but wipes off his makeup to head out into the darkness, perhaps toward an enigmatically pulsing light.

The key insight I took from the movie was the allusion, made rather early on, to the notion of a temporary autonomous zone, that moment of free-play and synchronicity that sometimes occurs at a good party, or a good rave. Individual utopias emerge and pass away, but that yearning for a better way of life is an enduring ground of human hope.

I can hear the gore-hounds grumbling already. Sure, “A Spell to Ward off the Darkness” could be dismissed as experimental but it’s a successful experiment. In absolutely no way could it be called a thriller, though the sense of wonder and tenuous encouragement it kindles is, I suppose, a kind of thrill. Do not be deceived; it is NOT a horror movie in any sense but for cry it out loud, take a break from watching yet another re-made slasher film or still-born undead re-hash, could ya? See “A Spell to Ward off the Darkness” preferably in the presence of others with open hearts and open minds. If you absolutely have to counter-act its message with a bit of gloom, maybe make a double feature of the evening and watch “Until the Light Takes Us” about the grimmer side of first generation Norwegian black metal.

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“Inspired by…”?– From Nightmare to Your Submission

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We’ve had questions about what we mean that submissions should be “inspired by” an actual nightmare that we’ve posted on the site. Fair question. Lord knows, the words “Inspired by True Events” have caused us to roll our eyes so often we’ve suffered permanent brain damage. But even though nightmares are “true events,” sometimes devastatingly real for the dreamer, it can be challenging to get to the facts of the matter.

Clearly we’d like it best if you could travel to the dream-realm and uncover the events. You could merge your consciousness with the original dreamer, allowing you to re-enter the actual dream and craft a tale based on that direct experience. Perhaps via a hypnotic trance. Or hire someone to read the account of the nightmare to you, over and over, while you sleep. Alas, we know how hard it is to find professional dream-whisperers these days.

The next best solution —- and fully valid —- would be to evoke the sensation of a dream while using any element of the nightmare in question. ANY element. This kernel could be an image, a turn of phrase, the mood… We ask that your piece stand on its own because it’s highly likely readers won’t look up the original nightmare to check on how closely your account matches.

Pro Tip: Don’t go with your first thought. Or maybe your second or third. Sharpen at least one point of the literary pentagram: character, plot, mood, theme, setting. Further advice: imbue your piece with a “sense of completion” that grants the reader the same sensations experienced following a satisfying dream or nightmare.

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Death, Fear and Bad Decisions: Green Burial Options

graverobbedHalfway through the presentation on green burial options, I was fully creeped out but not at all by the practical and creative alternatives presented by Merilynne Rush of After Death Home Care. I was terrified by the fact of my own death in a way that was rather embarrassing. I write horror fiction, review horror culture, heck, I even collect skulls and skull-shaped sculpture. I’ve buried both my parents and, within the past four months, watched my brother-in-law die at home, at peace and surrounded by love. My earliest childhood memories are of family gatherings at the funerals of obscure relatives. I know death, right? But the photo of a hole in the ground ready for a shroud burial, a bare cavity in the earth, one without marker or protection from the elements, and I was side-swiped by the fact of my own fragility, mortality and insignificance. And this reaction really brought home the point of the presentation: how many important decisions do we make based on unexamined fears?

I am also no stranger to green alternatives. I’ve tended a compost pile since I was 7, grown at least some of my own food ever since and the grand “circle of life” is a potent metaphor in my imagination. Except, perhaps too often, I imagine the circle going on around me without fully realizing the realities of my own “passing away.” We don’t simply “pass away;” we leave a very corporeal residue. As a culture, we’ve fallen into certain habits for dealing with these physical remains. Embalming, I learned, became popular during the Civil War as a way to ship soldiers’ bodies home for funerals. Ms. Rush’s presentation taught me, however, that in most cases, dry ice can chill and preserve a body more than long enough for public services. Those services can be very personal affairs. Home funerals were common in this country less than a hundred years ago. The photos she showed of such home funerals– all with the complete consent of family — depicted dead persons surrounded with stuff of their lives, a guitar, a hand-decorated coffin, their own bed. The bodies looked peaceful, oddly wholesome, naturally dead without the professional interventions of a mortician. Bodies can be washed and dressed at home and the presenter noted that the task is often an opportunity for those grieving to understand and accept the reality that their loved ones are no longer there. I was surprised by how few legal requirements are actually involved and there are more in Michigan than in other states. If I understand it correctly, only two signatures are needed for a home funeral but getting those particular signatures on those particular documents during a time of grief can be a challenge. Green alternatives to conventional burial don’t just happen without a bit of forethought. The guidance of an experienced consultant like Merilynne Rush of After Death Home Care surely would be helpful.

The ecological impact of our deaths continues on long after our burial, however. Conventionally maintained cemeteries require continual investments of gasoline and attention to tend the grounds perpetually for visitors who might not ever come. Ms. Rush showed various green alternative burial places including a full conservation site that looked like a prairie dotted with saplings. And I found this image as hard to cope with as the one of a naked grave. Weird, right? I feel most alive when I am wandering that very kind of terrain. I have often joked about wishing to be composted when I die, but that humor must have masked some deeply seated fear of passing away without a trace. I found it oddly comforting that State records meticulously record the precise locations of all burial locations. I might dream of becoming as famous as Edgar Allen Poe, whose grave was visited by anonymous libation-bearing stranger every year on his birthday but seriously, is such a nebulous and unlikely dream really worth the real and predictable costs of a traditional grave? I wonder yet again, how many of my life choices are guided and constrained by such unfounded hopes and unexamined fears.

The presentation was hardly dour and grim memento mori. Merilynne exuded a peaceful, reverent demeanor, very conducive to discussing these hard options. She also played a segment of Caitlyn Doughty’s “Ask a Mortician” video podcast. We at the DailyNightmare LURV Doughty’s Order of the Good Death and have linked to her videos in the past. A little humor and good will goes a long way when dealing with such sensitive, final issues.

Are you intrigued by greener alternatives to traditional funerals and burial? If you’re in SE Michigan, you’re in luck. After Death Home Care is sponsoring a showing of the movie “A Will for the Wilderness” a feature length documentary, at the Michigan Theatre in Downtown Ann Arbor, June 1st at 1:00. The film records one man’s attempts to be treated in death according to the values he held in life. Read more at the After Death Home Care site here. in ways that better align with his values in life

Tucked away in the thumb of Michigan is an old cemetery where my people are buried. I visit it usually once or twice a year, pause in front of the stones like a solitary family reunion. My beloved grandmother who taught me how to bake bread, the grandfather I never knew, my uncle who tucked a baby chick under his jacket, my aunt who had all the cats… and also my mother and father are there. But of course, they aren’t there. They’re in my heart, my oh so perishable heart. In a hundred years, it’s unlikely many will have such memories to attach to these very permanent markers. Merilynne Rush’s presentation certainly got me thinking about how I might better request treatment in death according to the values I held in life. I was startled to find that some facets of this question seriously creep me out, a devoted horror-hound. This terror intrigues me. This Memorial Day, consider your notions of what should happen to your remains after death if for no other reason than such unexamined fears shape our behavior in life.

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Nightmare #355: Locked out

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(Male, 40s) This bad dream came at the end of a night of bad dreams, one right after the other. They weren’t all scary, but they were all disturbing and unsettling, which made for a really crappy night of sleep. Nothing like being locked out to put a person in a fine mood!

In this final episode, I had a dream about living in a big city. I was just about to stand up at a wedding in the park, but at the last minute, I decided that I’d look better in my best suit instead of the jacket and pants separates I was wearing. I excused myself and ran down the rain soaked streets.

I ran past a person who was my girl friend, who was shouting up to me– a different me or an earlier me?– who looked out of a window. She was under the impression that she was invited to the wedding too and had made a cheese tray. The “me” standing in the window didn’t think this was a good idea or didn’t know what she was talking about.

I tried to hurry to my house, a large brick building, but the street had tilted so badly that I had to grab into the cracks between the pavers to pull myself along. It was almost like trying to climb uphill. I was worried that my wife had locked me out, or more likely that she hadn’t given me a key yet to my own house. We had lots of houseguests, I gather, and they each needed a key. I guess she had given someone my key. I was locked out.

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Call for Submissions for the DailyNightmare.com’s Second Anthology

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DailyNightmare.com is accepting submissions for its second annual anthology of 100-word prose poems based on any of the 350-plus nightmares currently posted on the site (http://dailynightmare.com/category/nightmares/). Payment will be $10.00 made via PayPal and a .pdf of the final anthology in exchange for First World Serial Rights, electronic rights, and reprint rights for posters and postcards. (After one year, rights can be reassigned to the author.) In addition to professional word-rate, this will be a cool-looking publication since we intend to exploit all the tricks of expressive digital typography.

The deadline for submissions is July 1.

A couple extremely specific criteria:

1) All submissions must be “inspired by” one of the nightmares posted on the site. (Hint: Want to submit a story based on one of YOUR nightmares? Then submit a non-fictional account of the nightmare along with the art or story that it inspired. We’ll assign it a Nightmare Number.)

2) Written submissions (stories or poems) must contain EXACTLY 100 words including title.

Email submissions to: anthology @ dailynightmare.com
and include the number of the inspirational nightmare in the SUBJECT line
Include a brief bio (~ 25 – 50 words) with the submission so we don’t have to track you with our hellhounds.

What are we looking for? We at the DailyNightmare groove on the idea of inhabiting each other’s dreams, even the nasty, ooky ones, and this anthology is one step toward that kind of communal nightmare-scape.

100 words aren’t many, so sharpen at least one point of the narrative pentacle: mood, character, plot, setting, theme, and try to imbue your piece with a “sense of completion.” Poetry or prose, matters not; word count does. DailyNightMare.com celebrates literate terror (or “snob horror” if you will), so heighten the language, make every syllable count and don’t be afraid to mean something.

Multiple submissions are AOK, though no more than 13 per author.

Why these rights? Legal rights nomenclature hasn’t caught up with digital realities yet, and we want to cover our tails since we plan to use every corner of the Web to publicize this endeavor. We are also planning to typeset each story “expressively” and hope the resulting pieces will be attractive enough to use as posters and postcards. We will keep the contributor in the loop and, where feasible, contributors will get a free copy of any of these subsidiary creations beyond the initial three publication types: a hoity-toity extremely limited hard-bound, a POD softcover edition and a .pdf and/or ebook edition. If “rights” is, like, “a thing” getting in the way of your submission, let us know which rights you’re reserving at time of submission and we’ll try to work something out.

If you’d like to receive a digital copy of the first anthology, drop us a note and will send one your way.

If you are submitting your own nightmare with your story, be advised that we publish the nightmares under a Creative Commons, attribution license. Basically, other folks can use the nightmares themselves in any way, as long as they note they got ‘em from theDailyNightmare.com. We anonymize the nightmares to binary gender and decade age (i.e. “Male, 30?s”) so please include those… and feel free to embellish or lie. On the internet, no one knows you’re not 200 years old and female.

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