5 Jan 2008

There's Nothing Funny About A Clown In The Moonlight

Firstly, because it's Halloween, let's take a moment to enjoy the scene that retroCRUSH chose as "The Scariest Movie Scene". I agree completely with their choice - this is so awesomely freaky I can never watch it enough. It's from Mulholland Drive, of course…

Mind you, in my professional opinion, the best movie to watch on the all-hallowed eve is "Halloween III : Season of the Witch". It's about evil Irish druids melting the heads of children with cursed masks. Despite the 3.5/10 rating that IMDB gives it, it has a loyal (cultic?) following among horror fans. You should at least check out I-Mockery's fantastic demolishment of it here.

When one thinks of the vampire, there's a rich archive of images and archetypes that come to hand. So many movies are regularly cranked out as we redefine this old metaphor. You've got the classic suave predator type, like Dracula as played by Lugosi or Lee. There's the outcast Orlock, or nosferatu type, which harks back to the old Balkan legends. Anne Rice gave us a sweaty and desparate vision of vampires as immortal angst-ridden bores. There's the head-tripping, not-really-dead types like Romero's Martin (based on real, so-called "vampire killers"). Postmodernist flicks like Near Dark and Lost Boys created a vigorous and very modern bloodsucker. Currently, the newest and most popular is the Angel-type, the vampire as hero. Altogether, it's nothing profound to say the view of vampirism has changed regularly to meet contemporary demands.

So consider this : what kind of unlife would a vampire have in New Zealand? The world "incongruous" does not begin to describe the situation. Growing up here, one doesn't exactly have a lot of ruined castles that would invoke the image of the undead. Maori mythology contains some creatures and figures, like Whatitiri, which could be vaguely classified in the European mindset as a vampire. But there's no brooding Dracula stalking the silent streets of Foxton or Havelock North. The endless plastic inanity of NZ's culture rejects the classic vampire as a weird foreign element. We've got ghost stories aplenty, and enough grisly murders, but even your most lunatic believer in the supernatural would never suggest that the undead are real and unliving in your town.

As a keen young vampire fan in my teens (Anne Rice again) I wondered at the ironic miseries of, say, Lestat living in NZ. He'd definitely have something to whine about then! What if one of these cliched Eurotrash vamps arrived in NZ during the colonial era, and got stuck here? Immortality would have never felt longer. Stalking about muddy tracks and small towns in your ragged cape, shouting "BLERH!" at hapless mortals, feeding off the same three people for decades; playing dark lord over a bunch of provincial dullards.

Let me put it this way : you couldn't get a quiche in this country before 1975. Consider that for a moment. Can you imagine an urbane, immortal creature of the night in such circumstances? What kind of world would our stranded vampire be enduring? I always felt there was some satire to be mined there. The only thing for it, would be for our hypothetical Kiwi vampire to take over a small town, a la Salem's Lot. The amount of blood required could be a problem. If said vampire needed to kill, then the large pile of bodies would get attention pretty quickly around here. Generally, things would be very awkward.

Vampirism, in fact, has far too many drawbacks to be of appeal to me. All things considered, you only really have about a twelve-hour active cycle. According to all the legends, the sun is anathema to vampires; at best it depowers them, at worst it fries 'em good. Your human enemies get the whole twenty-four active cycle to find and destroy you. So either you move to the Arctic, or hide real good. There's the issue of immortality - the mind, even a vampirically enhanced one, wasn't built to take that. Madness and self-destruction seems to be the usual termination of vampiric immortality in the stories. Then there's the dependence on blood; it is akin to the worst addiction you could ever experience; and no-one ever lasted long with a possessive addiction. The need to feed always comes across as being a defining agent of unlife; vampires are junkies who live forever, but their fix is all there is. So - here it comes - you could almost say being a vampire SUCKS!

Keeping on the Halloween theme, here's a line I've been thinking about. It's commonly attributed to Lon Chaney Sr., one of horror's old masters:

"There's nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight"

This is a fantastic summation of a horror concept. It's all about capturing that essential sense of wrongness, which invokes those genuine gut feelings of horror. I've got no problems with clowns, or moonlight, but by Hades if I encountered a clown while walking the streets after dark, I would not be comfortable. Evil clowns have gotten a high profile in recent years thanks to "It", and that celebrated city councillor, children's clown, and cannibal murderer John Wayne Gacy. But the creepy fellows in the face paint have been freaking people out for ages. The plot of the opera Pagliacci revolves around a very unstable bunch of clowns who get all stabby. There is something very unsettling about people who dress up stupid, paint their faces, and then run about like maniacs. All to entertain children.

I think the Joker has a lot to answer for. That guy is a fully realised psychopath, and his character has a had pretty serious effect on the modern psyche. He never fails to chill. Harley Quinn should get a mention too!

Another aspect may be the laughter. Like the Joker's or a clown's fixed smile, there's something about laughter out of context. That's why our clown in the moonlight is to be feared; there's nothing to laugh at here. Remember the Mad Hatter? He had (possibly apocryphal) parallels in the mercury-poisoned folks who would have giggled crazily as they died. The victims of kuru, a disease contracted through eating infected human brains, laugh themselves to death without being able to stop. (I saw some video footage from PNG of that shit once. Scary). Laughter can be pretty creepy sometimes.

So coulrophobia doesn't sound unreasonable to me, even if I don't share it. I only have Dealingwithrealityophobia. And after all, what does one of the most evil corporations in the world have as their symbol?

That's right.

You know what actually scares me about Halloween in this country? It's horrifically ironic that some people send their kids to take lollies from strangers. The panicking moral majority go on about how every kid's obese, and how there's a paedophile behind every door. Now this is obviously not the case, just the fear-ridden mentality that calls the shots these days. But then even in the face of that, some people allow their kids to fall for the "trick-or-treat" fakelore. That's what really scares me. If the kids are really interested in Halloween, you could find better ways to indulge it. After all, it was all different once. Right, Mr Cochran?

"... I do love a good joke and this is the best ever, a joke on the children. But there's a better reason ... you don't really know much about Halloween ... you thought no further than the strange custom of having your children wear masks and go out begging for candy. It was the start of the year in our old Celtic lands, and we'd be waiting ... in our houses of wattles and clay. The barriers would be down, you see, between the real and the unreal, and the dead might be looking in ... to sit by our fires of turf. Halloween ... the festival of Samhain! The last great one took place three thousand years ago, when the hills ran red ... with the blood of animals and children. To us, it was a way of controlling our environment. It's not so different now ... it's time again. In the end ... we don't decide these things, you know ... the planets do. They're in alignment, and it's time again. The world's going to change tonight, doctor, I'm glad you'll be able to watch it. And ... Happy Halloween."

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