Archive for July, 2011

Robert E Howard’s “Pigeons from Hell”

Posted in Uncategorized on July 28, 2011 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Not so long ago, I read “Pigeons from Hell”, by Robert E Howard (creator of Conan the Cimmerian) and loved it. I had held off from reading his stuff for years because I wasn’t interested in his usual swords & sorcery stuff, but this Southern Gothic tale of voodoo and vengeance is one of the scariest and atmospheric things I’ve read in a while. The pigeons of the title are more of a gimmick from what I can see, as they don’t figure prominently in the story. Supposedly, they represent the lost souls of some of the previous inhabitants of the haunted plantation where the protagonists (some New Englanders on a car trip through the Deep South) decide to camp, thus beginning their horrific misadventure into a world of voodoo, zombies, assassin snakes and hatchet wielding hags.

Just a note to readers unaccustomed to reading stories written before the enlightened Post-Civil Rights era: there are some very offensive racial slurs in here. There are many words used here to describe people of color and none of them are nice. I am not sure whether they were added for period authenticity or if Howard was actually a bigot, as many were in those days, but it might be shocking to someone in this current age of political correctness to see such a proliferation of racial epithets in one place, especially in an old fashioned horror tale. Unfortunately, this was not so unusual back then, as H.P. Lovecraft was guilty of almost xenophobic descriptions of foreigners and people of different races in his stories, although he did apologize for this later in life, and even Agatha Christie has had her works cleaned up posthumously because of some insensitive titles and such. That being said, this is an awesomely creepy yarn and well worth a look-see.

In fact, this story is so good it was made into an episode of Boris Karloff’s Thriller series back in the early 60’s. The episode is pretty faithful to the story and even shows some fairly bloody scenes for that time period. If you can get a copy of the Thriller box set, it is the penultimate episode of Season 1.

For a link to the story see here: http://classic-web.archive.org/web/20080513211605/http://arthursclassicnovels.com/arthurs/howard/pighell10.html

 

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One Man’s Conch is Another Man’s Cooch

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on July 28, 2011 by Manuel Paul Arenas

In the grand tradition of awkward teenage ingenuousness, I put forth for your diversion (or more likely derision) one of the most embarrassing episodes of my adolescence. From around 1980-1983, my family lived in Montevideo, Uruguay. This was primarily a happy time for me, although like any teenager, I had my issues. Even so, my friends were many and my cares were few, and I think back upon those days with much fondness in my heart. Despite the fact that I had many friends, with whom I spent most of my free time and weekends, I always looked forward to the occasional family outing as well. My parents used to hang out with some of the other married couples from my father’s job at the American Embassy, and all of these families would get together and go off on weekend jaunts and camping trips. I was friendly with some of the kids, so it wasn’t such a drag for me, and I always loved to travel, as I still do to this day.
On one such an occasion, we went to a little riverside town, off of the Rio de la Plata, which featured a lighthouse. Now, by the time of our visit, the lighthouse had been converted into a souvenir shop, with all sorts of maritime knick-knacks and bric-a-brac, most of which I didn’t have much interest in, but something in the window caught my eye. Hanging amidst the usual fishing nets and nautical gewgaws was a shiny metal medallion commemorating the feast of St. James. Hanging from a rectangular bar with an inscription that almost 25 years on my addled brain cannot recall, was a silvery-plated medallion in the shape of a downwards facing clam shell, which bore, emblazoned thereon, a red cross. The top three points of this cross ended in little triangular shapes, unlike the bottom point, which was elongated; the whole effect suggesting a blade of some sort. At the time, I did not know what it stood for, but I thought it looked cool, so I decided to go inside and inquire as to its price, thus beginning one of the most awkward and baffling experiences of my pubescent life; the gist of which went something like this:
Walking up to the register, I was greeted by an attractive young girl, maybe a couple of years older than me, although seemingly more so from my adolescent point of view, and I informed her politely, and in my best Spanish, that I would like to purchase the concha in the window, concha being the Spanish word for shell. This simple request was greeted with the wide-eyed response of, “You want to buy what?”
Wondering whether the young lady hadn’t heard me correctly, I replied, “The concha.”
“Which concha?” she asked, obviously taken aback.
“The metal one.” I said.
“The metal one?” she repeated, incredulously.
“Yes, the metal one,” I reiterated, adding “with the red cross on it,” slightly perturbed, but too shy to show it.
“The metal one, with the red cross on it?” she vociferated, her disbelief changing to amusement.
Then, smiling, she put up her hands, and told me, “Wait here!” as she darted into the backroom. A couple of minutes passed before she returned, giggling, with two of her girlfriends in tow, each one as lovely as she, if not more so. I was overwhelmed by so much beauty, and mortified at the thought of having to go through this whole ordeal again in front of this specious trio. Obviously, there was something going on that I was not aware of, and I resented being made to look so foolish in front of these girls, but I wanted the medallion pretty badly, so I plucked up the courage to see this through, and played along when she said, “Okay now, ask me again.”
“I’d like to buy the concha.”
“Which one?”
“The metal one.”
“Which metal one?”
“The one with the red cross on it.”
“The one with the red cross on it; where?”
“In the window!”
“In the window? Show me!”
So, I went outside and pointed out the aforementioned medallion to her and her friends, who all went “Ah,” in acknowledgment, and laughed, before taking it down for me. The whole interaction left me perplexed for weeks as I tried to figure out what the joke was. Finally, a friend, who was a native speaker, informed me that in Uruguay, the word concha is a colloquialism for a woman’s pudendum, thus ending my first lesson in dialects; that, even though people from different lands may sometimes speak the same basic language, there’s no accounting for the myriad transmogrifications it may take once filtered through aboriginal tongues and regional slang. This is the sort of thing that turns prophylactics into galoshes and one man’s conch into another man’s cooch.

Salutations!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 27, 2011 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Hello there, my name is Manny and this is my Book of Shadows. I call it this because my tastes lean toward the macabre and from these pages I shall moot my opinions on art, music, film, literature and life in general. Eventually, I hope to even post some of my short fiction and poetry, which is thoroughly mired in the Gothic tradition. I hope that by sharing these things with you I may both amuse and inform you and, by doing so, spread a little more darkness into this harshly sunlit world. I welcome articulate comments and friendly discourse, so feel free to offer your own two cents on the articles you read. I look forward to sharing with you as well as hearing from you all very soon.

La Maldición de la Llorona (a/k/a “The Curse of the Crying Woman”)

Posted in Abel Salazar, Casanegra Presents, La Llorona, Mexican Horror Films, The Curse of the Crying Woman, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 27, 2011 by Manuel Paul Arenas

The Mexican folktale of “La Llorona” (or the “Weeping Woman”) has many variations and can be found in the local folklore of Hispanic communities from the American Southwest to the Philippines. Savvy moviemakers in Mexico used this popular tale to give a uniquely local flavor to their Universal-inspired horror films.
The best of these Llorona-themed films, in my opinion, is “The Curse of the Crying Woman”, which, oddly enough, doesn’t have much to do with the original legend. In this version of the story, the Weeping Woman is relegated to a background story. The real villain of this film is Selma (actress Rita Macedo), a witch who spends most of the film trying to convince her estranged niece, Amelia (actress Rosita Arenas), whom she has summoned to her home after a 15 year absence on the eve of the young woman’s 25th birthday, to perform a ritual designed to restore life to the withered husk of the powerful witch Doña Marina, a/k/a La Llorona. The completion of which will grant the former great powers.
Upon arriving, Amelia and her new husband, Jaime (actor and producer Abel Salazar), are greeted by Juan, a grizzled, scarred, unshaven hunchback with a gimpy leg and snarky attitude. Selma is nowhere to be seen and Juan’s cryptic and evasive responses to Amelia’s queries on her whereabouts just create a tension, which permeates much of the film. Later in the film we find that, much like Lugosi’s Igor in Universal’s “Son of Frankenstein”, Juan survived an execution at the gallows. In this case, he was cut down by Selma and has been her subservient minion ever since.
Selma is a femme fatale in the Gothic tradition: beautiful, clever, scheming, intensely passionate, wickedly self-serving, morally corrupt and she will stop at nothing to gain the supernatural powers promised to her in an ancient tome if she can get her niece to perform the aforementioned ritual, which needs to be completed by the youngest descendent of Doña Marina, who turns out to be Amelia. To cement her villainous status, Selma even plays spooky organ music and every time she speaks, she does so in these melodramatic monologues with an air of self-satisfied smugness.

Selma bewitches Amelia's husband, Jaime.

Selma bewitches Amelia’s husband, Jaime.

Director Rafael Baledón’s script for “The Curse of the Crying Woman” has references to witchcraft, voodoo, vampirism, you name it; if it’s evil, it’s in this movie! The atmosphere is thick, and there are many references to Gothic literature and film. In fact, the opening scene is heavily influenced by Mario Bava’s 1960 masterpiece, Black Sunday. The scene opens on the blackened eye sockets of Selma (a creepy trick used throughout the film to show when she is in “monster” mode) pulling back to reveal her cloaked figure standing in a murky forest road holding the reigns on 3 Great Danes à la Barbara Steele. The only difference here being that she sets the dogs loose on an unfortunate traveler who tries to escape the carnage she and her minion have made of his fellow travelers, one of whom is actually the real life daughter of actress Rita Macedo, who is run over by the carriage that carried the fey travelers.
Her house is the typical Gothic Victorian, albeit in a Spanish architectural style, complete with creepy portraits, haunted mirrors, and an insane relative locked in the attic. The dissolution of said house at the end of the film is even comparable to the breakdown of the manse at the climax of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”.

Amelia & Selma

Amelia & Selma

The lush camera work and authentic sets help to create great atmosphere, which draws one into the mood of the story. The actors are professional and well cast and the special effects, while primitive, are clever and effective. In fine, this is a great example of a film from the Golden Age of Mexican Horror, before the luchadores (masked wrestlers) and monster rallies came onto the scene and made them laughable. That said, one point to keep in mind is that, although of comparable quality to the Universal films that inspired them, the Mexican horror films are a little more graphic in content. In “Curse of the Crying Woman”, for example, victims are mauled by dogs, in explicit (if obviously phony) detail; a young woman is purposefully run over by a carriage, etc.
One last note of trivia for this film; in a scene where Selma recounts to Jaime the story of La Llorona, there is fade to some dreamy scenes shown in negative image reversal. In this montage, there are images from various other films in producer Abel Salazar’s canon of horror films. Included in the sequence are “World of Vampires”, “The Living Head”, “The Man and the Monster” and “The Witch’s Mirror”.
If you wish to view a great restored copy of the film, try the Casanegra DVD, which comes complete with the original Spanish language dialogue and English subtitles as well as an English dub version, which seems to be a decent translation. As an added plus, it also contains a nice booklet explaining the history of the Llorona legends as well as a list of relevant film treatments and an exclusive Casanegra Loteria Game Card.

Detail of Casanegra DVD contents.

Detail of Casanegra DVD contents.

References
Baledón, Rafael (Director/Writer), Fernando Galiana (Writer), & Abel Salazar (Producer) (1963) La Maldición de la Llorona [DVD] USA: Casanegra
Cotter, R. M. (2005) The Mexican Masked Wrestler and Monster Filmography Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co.
Guiley, R. E. 2000) La Llorona in The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits (pp. 211-212) New York: Checkmark Books