Jan 31, 2014

Jan 30, 2014


A photograph allegedly leaked from the Erie, PA, police department appears to show a disproportionately large hand-print on a missing students dorm room window.

19 year old Elizabeth Hetzler disappeared from her dorm in Edinboro University of Pennsylvania on the night of February 12th, 2007. Her room was located on the third floor of the building, the door was locked, and there was no ledge outside her window. Her roommate awoke in the morning, having heard nothing unusual overnight and simply assumed that Elizabeth had left to go to class early. The roommate later told investigators that when she noticed the hand-print, she screamed and knew immediately that “everything Elizabeth had been talking about was true. It was real.”

The previous evening, Elizabeth had remarked to her friends that she’d had a strange experience walking back to her dorm from a late night dance rehearsal. As she made her way across campus, she gradually got the uneasy feeling that someone was watching and following her. “She seemed so relieved to be back in her room again,” her roommate said.

No trace if Elizabeth has yet been found, and investigators have called it the most baffling missing person case of their careers. Since the above image has been circulating the internet for nearly two years, it is difficult to say for certain if it is genuine, although it matches what students and investigators have described (note its size in relation to the coffee pot in the foreground). Remarked Detective Stephen Broze, “You’d think our suspect would be pretty easy to spot. He must stick out in a crowd with eleven-inch fingers.”

Jan 29, 2014



Over a year ago, I reviewed Ransom Rigg's first novel about his misfit kids, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. I did it for no other reason other than I found it an enjoyable read with some real emotions built upon the fond recollection of childhood love and nostalgia, so I thought I would share it with you. Strictly by happenstance, I later crossed paths with Quirk Books, the Philly-based publishing outfit responsible for bringing Miss Peregrine to the world. As luck would have it, they offered me the chance to review its highly anticipated sequel, Hollow City, and I happily accepted.

Hollow City picks up precisely where the previous story ended: Jacob, Emma, Bronwyn, and the other peculiar children are now stranded in the middle of the ocean in a few rickety rowboats, their only earthly possessions remaining a couple suitcases of clothes, a doorknob, and a book of fantastical stories. With them trapped by miles of ocean, and Miss Peregrine trapped in the small body of a broken-feathered bird, things seem entirely hopeless. Jacob's peculiar power as one who can sense the presence of a wight, or a hollow, or any manner of dangerous mystical predators, is not yet at this point fully formed, so he feels more isolated than ever: a little more than human, but not quite peculiar, he doesn't feel as if he belongs anywhere anymore.

Hollow City will see our peculiar children undertake several dangerous locations, from forests, to train stations, to the streets of London. And all during this, each of the children, who are now more in the forefront of the action unlike their previous novel, thankfully have more to offer about themselves and a bit of their histories. There's something strangely sweet about these children and how they protect each other in times of danger. There's a wistful kind of feeling to these kids that, depending on the reader, will make the reader recall their own childhood chums. Granted, said chums likely did not have the ability to shoot bees from their mouths, but that didn't make their presence or loyalty any less treasured.

And while Riggs continues to expand upon each of his characters, he also adds a few completely unexpected new ones. Books of this type taking place in an environment where nearly anything can happen can sometimes go off the rails. If there are no rules, it becomes literary anarchy. But Riggs keeps everything grounded using a nice assemblage of both emotion and humor. So when a talking dog shows up with a hat and pipe, just go with it, because this is how it goes in Peculiar Lanf.

One thing you may notice about Hollow City is that, while it's just as impressively written and realized as the previous novel, there's something about the prose that seems a bit more...I'm not sure...poetic? Melancholy? Perhaps it's simply the nature of the story that has left that kind of impression on me, but the events that guide the book along its path seem a bit more..I hate to use an overused word...dark.

The relationship between Jacob and Emma continues to intensify, but also bring with it complications. Theirs is not a typical love story, and even the normal boring folks out in the real world can hardly ever get it right. Riggs continues to effortlessly explore their budding romance; love has gotten all of us into all kinds of trouble, and so Jacob not only has to wrestle with who he is, who his grandfather was, and what his future may or may not entail, he's doing it while slowly falling in love with Emma, and letting that love guide much of his determination to press forward with this strange journey that he has begun.

Also present and accounted for is Riggs' use of antiquated photographs to tell his story. I've not done proper research into the writing of Hollow City because I'm a lazy bum, so I'm not sure if the photographs included here were written into the story they have indirectly inspired, or if they were created after the fact to continue this theme of found photography. Of course it's entirely possible that old photographs of, say, two zeppelins above a mountainous landscape, existed long before the realization of the book, but it still has me wondering, anyway. If nothing else, remember: Internet has connected us with more stories of the fantastic and incredible than any other medium; perhaps at one time, way before ISPs were ever a thing, people collected proof of the abnormal the old-fashion way: by taking a photo. Perhaps, at one time, someone really did have a photo of a boy holding up his sister by her hand...as she's suspended in the air above him upside down. Frankly, I'd rather not know the photos' origins, and it doesn't matter either way, as the story is simply too well-constructed and engaging. I suppose if you find yourself wondering for too long which came first - the photo or the story - then you're simply not being grabbed by all Hollow City is offering you.

Jan 28, 2014


Type 52.376552,5.198303 into Google Maps. 

You'll find a man dragging a body into a lake.

Just kidding. Turns out it was Rama the Dog.

Jan 27, 2014


It could happen to anyone. People bury a person alive to scare them or to get rid of them. In this situation, rely only on yourself.

Do not waste oxygen. In a classic coffin there’s only enough oxygen for about an hour, maybe two. Inhale deeply, exhale very slowly. Once inhaled - do not swallow, or you will start to hyperventilate. Do not light up lighters or matches, they will waste oxygen. Using a flashlight is allowed. Screaming increases anxiety, which causes increased heartbeat and therefore - waste of oxygen. So don’t scream.

Shake up the lid with your hands. In some cheap low-quality coffins you will be able to even make a hole (with an engagement ring or a belt buckle.)

Cross your arms over your chest, holding onto your shoulders with your hands, and pull the shirt off upward. Tie it in a knot above your head, like so:
This will prevent you from suffocating when the dirt falls on your face.

Kick the lid with your legs. In some cheap coffins the lid is broken or damaged already after being buried, due to the weight of the ground above it.

As soon as the lid breaks, throw and move the dirt that falls through in the direction of your feet. When it takes up a lot of space, try pressing the ground to the sides of the coffin with your legs and feet. Move around a bit.

Whatever you do - your main goal is to sit up: dirt will fill up the empty space and move to your advantage, so no matter what - do not stop and try breathing steadily and calmly.

Get up. Remember: the dirt in the grave is very loose, so battling your way up will be easier than it seems. It’s the other way around during a rainy weather however, since water makes dirt heavy and sticky.

Jan 25, 2014



I NEVER write about anything remotely dealing with politics or social issues on this blog. That's not why you come here, and this isn't at all what I want to write about.

But this...there's just no turning a blind eye toward it. I would feel completely ashamed if I didn't at least try help to spread the word about this, what's potentially about to go down, and what it could mean.

First, the issue, using complicated jargon:
On January 14, 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the Federal Communications Commission's open internet rules, commonly known as "Net Neutrality" because ISPs are not classified as "common carriers". This ruling allows ISPs to charge companies for access to its users and charge users for access to certain services. Fewer companies will be able to afford access for innovative ideas and products.

We urge the President to direct the FCC to classify ISPs as "common carriers" so that the words of the FCC chairman may be fulfilled: “I am committed to maintaining our networks as engines for economic growth, test beds for innovative services and products, and channels for all forms of speech protected by the First Amendment.”
What this means to you, the avid Internetter, whether for leisure or your job:
CNET: For instance, the ruling opens the door for broadband and backbone Internet providers to develop new lines of business, such as charging Internet content companies, like Netflix, Amazon, or Google, access fees to their networks. Companies like Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, and others could offer priority access over their networks to ensure streaming services from a Netflix or Amazon don't buffer when they hit network congestion, providing a better experience for end users.

NPR: Net neutrality advocates fear that if the federal government stops enforcing rules to keep the pipelines free and open, then certain companies will be able to get greater access to Internet users. That, they say, creates a system of haves and have-nots — the richest companies could get access to a wider swath of Internet users, for example, and that could prevent the next Google from getting off the ground. Judge David Tatel, who was part of the three-judge panel, said that striking down net neutrality could have negative effects on consumers.  "The commission has adequately supported and explained its conclusion that absent rules such as those set forth in the Open Internet Order, broadband providers represent a threat to Internet openness and could act in ways that would ultimately inhibit the speed and extent of future broadband deployment," he said, adding that broadband companies have "powerful incentives" to charge for prioritized access or to exclude services that competed with their own offerings.

Wired: Whether we want to admit it or not, we continue to give more control over the internet to the government.  We’ve been so focused on how the FCC “lost” the net neutrality order, that we may not realize the Commission could now have unchecked powers over regulating the internet, argue TechFreedom’s Berin Szoka and International Center for Law & Economics’s Geoffrey Manne. No matter what you think of government regulation — that it’s always somewhat necessary or inevitably inadequate for complex issues – nothing good comes out of giving any agency unchecked power (just look at the NSA, or even the U.N. attempts at internet governance). What’s worse is that we won’t see it coming, because the FCC’s power will creep in incrementally, on a case-by-case basis — a death by a thousand cuts.
Now that you've soaked all of that in, go here.

Jan 24, 2014


In 1877, four men, John Donahue, Edward Kelly, Michael Doyle and Alexander Campbell, were found guilty of the murder of mine boss John P. Jones and sentenced to be hanged.  
The trial was a kangaroo court. Not all of the jurors spoke English. The judge was prejudiced against the Mollie Maguires. Today, appeals would be granted on these grounds. Then, there were no appeals.  
Campbell said he was innocent. He didn’t kill Jones. Although he admitted to being an accessory to murder because he was present when Jones was shot, he was found to be guilty of this capital crime. As proof of innocence, he put his hand on the cell wall before being forcibly removed to be hanged, swearing the print would forever remain as evidence.  
Over the years, county sheriffs have tried to remove the handprint to no avail. 
In 1930, Sheriff Biegler had the wall torn down and replaced. The next day, the handprint reappeared. 
Around thirty years later, Sheriff Charles Neast covered the handprint with latex paint, but it reappeared. His son, Tom, in the 1960s, loved to tell friends about the ghostly phenomenon. Word spread and people visited the Carbon County Jail to see the print.  
Attempts to wash the image away failed.  
In recent years, James Starrs, George Washington University forensic scientist, and Jeff Kercheval, Hagerstown MD police chemist, analyzed the handprint using high tech equipment. They found no logical scientific explanation for the handprint’s existence. They finally measured the exact location of the image in the event it there were attempts to remove it and it reappeared, they would know if the phenomenon returned to the same location or a different one. 
The jail’s last sheriff, Bill Juracka, said he wouldn’t try to remove the handprint.  
The prison was closed and is now the Old Jail Museum. Tour guides show groups Cell # 17 where they can see the ghostly handprint. Campbell’s story is told. It is pointed that, although multiple attempts were made to remove the image, it always returned. Many of those who have visited the museum say the atmosphere is eerie.

Jan 21, 2014


As I’ve said before, there’s been no better friend to the horror genre than Edward Gein. Perhaps you’ve heard of him? He killed two women (that we know of), dug up the graves of a dozen more, and kept parts of them in his home for various purposes. Which parts? I’ll let the author of this book tell you in his own words:
“What follows is probably the most unusual case in modern times. It is the story of Edward Gein, America's most bizarre murderer, grave robber, maker of exotic household items, wearing apparel, and possessor of undoubtedly the finest private collection of female heads, vagina, vulvas and unquestionably the most notorious character ever to stand before me in court.”

Without Gein, Robert Bloch would not have written the book that became the ultimate slasher film Psycho; same goes for Thomas Harris, who would not have written The Silence of the Lambs. And perhaps the most “accurate” account of Gein’s crimes, never would we have met Leatherface, Grandpa, and the whole Sawyer clan with Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. (As far as films go, I’m only naming the good ones. There are far far more titles, and boy, do they plummet that ladder of quality.) Gein even enjoyed a brief appearance in the recent Anthony Hopkins film Hitchcock, in which he was played by character actor Michael Wincott (The Crow).

Being that I am a true crime obsessee, Edward Gein, America's Most Bizarre Murderer  seemed an obvious choice for me. I find Ed Gein to be nearly as fascinating as I do Carl Panzram—in fact, it was through reading Killer: A Journal of Murder that I realized reading horrific accounts that befall humanity when crossing paths with the inhumane, while morbidly interesting, can be that much more interesting when the text utilizes the subject’s own voice. It was after reading this that I decided any further reading on a particular true crime would hinge on that one requirement. After reading something as powerful as Killer:  A Journal of Murder—a tome comprised largely of Panzram’s own words—other true crime accounts I’d read by people unconnected to the cases they were examining utterly paled by comparison.

Though I’m sure true crime authors who have written about all kinds of serial killers/mass murderers have done their homework, I’d rather read about it from the point of view directly connected to the case. That, to me, makes the book seem more legitimate. Very rare can such a book be made up of the subject’s own words, as, by law, a killer cannot profit off the sharing of his or her crimes. The next best thing is to get the story of someone who was there.

Enter Judge Robert H. Gollmar, who presided over the murder trials of Ed Gein.

Wiki crash course:
Edward Theodore "Ed" Gein (August 27, 1906 – July 26, 1984) was an American murderer and body snatcher. His crimes, committed around his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin, gathered widespread notoriety after authorities discovered Gein had exhumed corpses from local graveyards and fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin. Gein confessed to killing two women – tavern owner Mary Hogan on December 8, 1954, and a Plainfield hardware store owner, Bernice Worden, on November 16, 1957. Initially found unfit for trial, after confinement in a mental health facility he was tried in 1968 for the murder of Worden and sentenced to life imprisonment, which he spent in a mental hospital.
I’m not sure that I would call Edward Gein, America's Most Bizarre Murderer, the definitive account on Ed Gein the man, but as for the crimes that rocked Plainview, Wisconsin, in the late 1950s, as well as the trial that would follow a decade later, it does provide a pretty complete overview of the case. Interviews with psychologists, law enforcement, and transcripts directly from the trial are provided—sometimes with mixed results. When the subject of discussion is of Ed Gein, or his crimes, then the book is incredibly interesting and compulsively readable, but in the interest of providing detailed accounts of how evidence was removed from the scene to satisfy the reader who might, perhaps, doubt that Gein was responsible for the crimes of which he was charged, pages upon pages of explanations on which guns were removed from the scene, and which bullets were found, and which bullets fit which gun, and could you describe how these bullets were loaded into this gun?, and on and on, it can read monotonously after a while. Ditto for the fingerprinting techniques, which also went on for too long.  Again, this was crucial testimony for the prosecution, and I understand its inclusion in the text; it just doesn’t make for compelling reading. For the legally minded, however, I’m sure this particular material reads just as interestingly as the others.

Because why not?

The book really pulls no punches with the sharing of very graphic details, even going as far as including crime scene photographs taken of one of Gein’s victims—flayed and mutilated like a hunter would a deer.

Oddly enough (and perhaps for padding purposes), following a trend the judge noted occurring at the time, also included are examples of “Gein humor”—more specifically, jokes that began circulating following the news of his arrest, and for which type of crimes. These are as bad as you might suspect, but were probably hilarious to Wisconsin farmers in the late 1950s.

Q: Why did Ed Gein's girlfriend stop going out with him?
A: Because he was such a cut-up.

Q: Why did they keep the heat on in Ed Gein's house?
A: So the furniture wouldn't get goose bumps.

And, you know—other jokes just as stupid.

The book ends with one final interview, performed between Judge Gollmar and Ed Gein, with the latter being forever confined to a mental asylum for the criminally insane. This is the only point in the book in which Gein comes off as aloof—even lighthearted—and it makes you wonder if this man had played the entire court system in order to get away with murder. Yes, his sentence was still life behind bars, though they were not prison bars, but those of a hospital, where some of his rights and comforts would still be maintained. To summarize the defense’s entire strategy, a tactic combining claims of an accidental shooting and “I don’t remember what happened” allowed Gein to skate having to plead guilty to murder. And this was perhaps the most interesting part of the book. Yes, women being killed and mutilated, and bodies being unearthed from graveyards, all makes for cheap shocks and creepy thrills, but the most eye-opening was the spotlight on the American justice system. The prosecution and the judge knew Ed Gein was guilty of murdering at least two women, and likely responsible for dozens of other disappearances from surrounding areas. They simply knew it. The dissected body of one of his victims was found strung up in his shed, decapitated, and shackled with ropes as if she were a trophy deer shot during a hunt. But despite this, coupled with the fact that his confession was later thrown out, as it was determined to have been delivered under duress and persuasion, certain evidence obtained during the investigation was deemed inadmissible because preliminary investigating law enforcement did not obtain the proper search warrants to enter his property. That and Gein simply had no motive.

That loopholes like that exist in our justice system is actually scarier than any old murder.

Edward Gein, America's Most Bizarre Murderer is essential reading for anyone interested in the murderous exploits of Ed Gein, or those interested in true crime, but it may perhaps be invaluable to those considering entering law as a career. And if you'd also like to know the silent partner behind some of your favorite horror films, he's been waiting for you. 

Jan 20, 2014


Coffins used to be built with holes in them, attached to six feet of copper tubing and a bell. The tubing would allow air for victims buried under the mistaken impression they were dead. Harold, the gravedigger, upon hearing a bell, went to go see if it was children pretending to be spirits. Sometimes it was also the wind. This time, it was neither. A voice from below begged and pleaded to be unburied.

"Are you Sarah O'Bannon?" Harold asked.

"Yes!" The voice assured.

"You were born on September 17, 1827?"


"The gravestone here says you died on February 20, 1857."

"No, I'm alive, it was a mistake! Dig me up, set me free!"

"Sorry about this, ma'am," Harold said, stepping on the bell to silence it and plugging up the copper tube with dirt. "But this is August. Whatever you are down there, you sure as hell ain't alive no more and you ain't comin' up."

Story source.

Jan 15, 2014


After much wavering and second guessing, I finally bit the bullet and returned to graduate school last fall. I'm sure several of you know how difficult it is to juggle a rigorous PhD program and a full-time job. I was going to need a small source of income, but wanted something that would allow school to be my first priority. As luck would have it, a good friend of mine knew a family in desperate need of a quality babysitter. Their current sitter had recently graduated high school, and was heading out of state for college. Initially, I felt a little odd accepting work as a babysitter - after all, I was in my mid twenties, a PhD student, and engaged to be married. But hell, the hours were flexible, the money was fantastic, and I could anticipate a great deal of solid study hours after the toddler was sleeping soundly.

To be quite honest, it was smooth sailing from the start. The family was overwhelmingly generous with their money, and their three-year-old daughter, Alison, was quite well behaved, even in all her mischievous, toddler glory. Over the next few months, I found myself up there several times a week, mostly relieving the mother, Renee, in the afternoons so she could run errands and catch a coffee break. I occasionally sat on Saturdays, so the parents could enjoy a date night to the movies. I wasn't especially fond of the weekend night shifts, especially because the family lived in a large home, high up in the mountains, surrounded by acres and acres of trees. During the day, their heavily wooded property was serene and majestic, but once darkness fell, it was eerie in its silence. I tried not to pay attention to the rustling of small, forest animals brushing past bushes, or the sharp snapping of tree branches as the wind went about its nightly weaving. Mostly, I just tinkered around on my laptop, or buried my nose in a textbook until I was relieved to go home.

Everything changed this past February. It was an especially cold Saturday evening, and I was due to babysit around 7 that night. Renee's husband Eric was out of town on business, and she was excited to share a night out with girlfriends. Armed with a backpack of heavy reading, I had my fiance, Marc, drop me off on his way to the gym. The night was mellow; heated up some frozen pizza, drew a bath with an embarrassing amount of bubbles and Elmo toys, and had the kid in bed by 8. I had an exam the following Tuesday, and admittedly had a lot of studying to conquer. My fiance arrived around 9:50, about 10 minutes before I was expecting Renee back home. Right at 10:00, and I mean on the nose, we heard footsteps on the wrap-around deck, and noticed Renee making her way to the front door. I remember finding it funny that I had been concentrating so hard, I hadn't even heard her suburban drive up.

Marc and I exchanged a knowing glance as Renee made her way into the living room where we sat. It appeared she might have had one glass of wine too many that evening, because she had this intoxicating, frozen grin on her face. At first, I chalked it up to booze, but when the grin remained, I started to feel uncomfortable, the way an unknown stranger staring from across a restaurant can make you feel. Renee was usually very chatty, perhaps even a bit ditzy, but tonight, her answers were short, but still polite enough. I began to gather my things, as my fiance continued a game of solitaire on his phone.

Renee sat at the oak dining table, that bizarre and unsettling grin still plastered to her face, and wrote me out a check. There was something painfully uncanny about her movements - they were rigid, forced, almost animatronic. By the time we got down to the drive-way, my fiance and I both had baffled looks on our faces. Renee stood in the window, smiling down on us, waving her hand back and forth. I gave a short nod and wave, keeping my eyes on the gravel. That discomfort wasn't letting go. We walked past Renee's silver suburban, taking note of how absolutely dusty it was. Especially strange for someone that seemed to take her car in for a wash at least once a week. I traced my finger across the passenger door absent mindedly, leaving a light coat of soot on the pad of my index finger. The car was filthy, like it had been through the elements.

"Where the hell did she go tonight? Through a sand storm?" I joked.

"Seriously..." Marc trailed off.

"I'm not the only person who found that whole thing weird, right?" I asked, attempting to keep my voice to a whisper.

"Oh, relax. She was probably just tipsy. Her smile, though...." he said, closing the driver's door.

We began our trek down the winding roads, towards, after a long night of babysitting out in the boonies, what I always liked to call,"sweet, sweet civilization".

The drive from their house to the freeway was dark, lined with redwoods and deer, which I usually quite enjoyed. Tonight, it seemed endless. I had this overwhelming, new desire to be on that highway, surrounded by other cars, amongst other drivers and passengers, heading into the city. We drove for what seemed like too long - something wasn't right. I reached for my phone and glanced at the time - we were usually passing the first gas station by now. I pawed at the handle of my purse, for the first time noticing the bag's weight. Ugh. I had totally forgotten my text book. Reluctant to turn around when we had already been driving for so long, I made amends with the fact that I absolutely needed that text if I had any chance at rocking my exam. Marc let out a groan as he swung the wheel, turning back the way we came. Climbing the hill to Renee's house, I saw that the suburban was no longer in the drive-way. She must had moved it into the garage for the night already. As we made our way to the deck, I saw the burgundy spine of my text on the couch through the sliding glass door. I continued on to the front door and knocked three times - no answer. I knocked again, and then tried the door handle - unlocked, as I usually left it while Renee and her husband were out. We made our way into the house, making sure to keep our footsteps quiet.

"Sorry, it's just me; I forgot my book," I said, trying to keep my voice down. My fiance was a few steps behind me, peeking around the corner.

"Her bedroom door is open, but the lights are off." Marc said, a confused look spreading across his face.

"Renee? I asked, a little louder this time, "Renee, it's me, you still awake?"


We walked towards the kitchen, and I noticed the answering machine was blinking - I hadn't noticed it before I had left - there hadn't been any phone calls that night.

I'm not exactly sure what compelled me to push 'play' on that recorder, especially when, for all I knew, Renee and Alison were both asleep, and could be rudely awakened. My finger seemed to hover over that button for a mere second, before I pushed it in, rather aggressively. What I heard on that recording has never, ever left me. The time stamp of the message was 10:14 - we had left the house at 5 after 10.

"Hey sweetie, it's Renee. There is some kind of hold up on the highway here; maybe an accident or road work. I'll probably be about a half hour later than expected. I'm so sorry - help yourself to some dessert while you wait. Hope Alison didn't give you too much grief tonight." Her voice sounded cheery, normal...real.

I looked at Marc; my heart sunk, my eyes flooded with tears.

"A....Alison" I managed to sputter.

Marc disappeared up the staircase to Alison's room, taking steps three at a time. After a painfully long minute, he sauntered down the stairs, much slower than he has ascended them.

"She's fine. Sleeping soundly," Marc said, without emotion.

Marc and I found our way to the living room, where we sat without eye contact or conversation until Renee pulled up the drive way. She seemed exhausted, glad to be home and off the congested road. She chattered on about her evening, wrote me a check with a generous tip, thanked me for my patience, and smiled - the kind of smile that seemed absolutely genuine, and slowly faded when socially appropriate.

We stumbled down to our car in a daze, passing Renee's suburban, which still gleamed from a recent trip to the car wash.

I never had the heart to tell Renee what had happened that evening. I also never found the first check from the grinning woman. I ended up canceling my next two shifts, feigning sickness. I finally e-mailed Renee, telling her that my program was getting especially intense, and that I didn't think it best to continuing sitting for them. She bought the story, and now I'm free...free from the darkness that enveloped the home in the mountains, where I once met a woman who wouldn't stop smiling.

 Story source.

Jan 14, 2014


Operation Wandering Soul was a propaganda campaign exercised by U.S. Forces during the Vietnam War. The operation played off the belief of many Vietnamese in the "wandering soul":
It is the Vietnamese belief that the dead must be buried in their homeland, or their soul will wander aimlessly in pain and suffering. Vietnamese feel that if a person is improperly buried, then their soul wanders constantly. They can sometimes be contacted on the anniversary of their death and near where they died. Vietnamese honor these dead souls on a holiday when they return to the site where they died.

U.S. engineers spent weeks recording eerie sounds and altered voices - which pretended to be killed Vietcong - for use in the operation, with the intended purpose of instilling a sense of turmoil within the enemy, the desired result being for the soldier to flee his or her position. Helicopters were sometimes employed to broadcast recordings; the voices called on their "descendants" in the Vietcong to defect and cease fighting.

This is fucked up. Wiki.

Jan 11, 2014


A Texas family has fled their home after finding some unnerving things in their daily family videos. The videos were being uploaded to YouTube and subscribers were pointing out a being or creature in almost every single family video. These are just two screenshots of the creepiest sightings, out of the many videos. The family has been blurred to protect their privacy.

Now Available:
The world’s oldest celebration comes to life in The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween, an anthology that honors the darkest and strangest night of the year. Each story is designed to be intrinsically and intimately about Halloween—its traditions, its myths, and its effects—and they run the gamut from horrifying to heartbreaking. Halloween night is the tapestry through which a haunted house, a monstrous child, a late-night drive to a mysterious destination, and other tales are weaved. Demons are faced, death is defied, and love is tested. And not everyone makes it out alive. The End of Summer has arrived.

Jan 9, 2014


Every once in a while, a genuinely great horror movie—one that would rightfully be considered a classic, had it gotten more exposure and love at the box office—makes an appearance. It comes, no one notices, and it goes. But movies like this are important. They need to be treasured and remembered. If intelligent, original horror is supported, then that's what we'll begin to receive, in droves. We need to make these movies a part of the legendary genre we hold so dear. Because these are the unsung horrors. These are the movies that should have been successful, but were instead ignored. They should be rightfully praised for the freshness and intelligence and craft that they have contributed to our genre. 

So, better late than never, we’re going to celebrate them now… one at a time. 

Dir. Patrick Stettner
Miramax / IFC Films
United States

“You're the kind of guy who needs proof. The hell of it is, we're only as loved as we think we are.”

We so often see “based on a true story” splashed across marketing efforts for genre films being released even today that it’s almost become a cliché. Not helping is that films using this claim have become increasingly absurd to the point that when we see that “true story” disclaimer, we’ve begun to accept it as the complete opposite. Even The Conjuring – a film I admittedly loved – exploited that pledge of authenticity. After all, since Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson were playing real people who really existed and who really investigate(d) paranormal phenomenon, I suppose they were right to cover every inch of their trailers and posters with the words “true story.” But when does that become a fair marketing ploy? What makes “it” a true story? That it actually happened, or that someone merely claimed it did?

What if it’s both?

That’s The Night Listener.

Robin Williams plays Gabriel Noone, a celebrated author and host of a late-night radio show called Noone at Night. Things aren’t going so well for him, as he’s currently separated from his longtime partner Jess (the always wonderful Bobby Canavale) and this separation is severely affecting his ability to continue on with his show. Instead, he dives headfirst into his work, trying to find something to distract him. Ashe (Joe Morton), a literary publisher and friend of Gabriel's, gives him a raw, unpublished manuscript; written by a teenage boy named Pete (Rory Culkin), it is a recounting of the disgusting abuse he suffered at the hands of his biological parents – his being forced to “star” in dozens of videos in which he was raped by friends of his parents. Riddled with disease following his abuse, Pete only has a couple months left to live, and in the meantime has been adopted by his social worker, Donna Logand (Toni Collete). Gabriel and Pete share an unlikely but sweet bond. Gabriel offers fatherly advice when he can, and Pete describes his day-to-day trials and tribulations of his hospital life. The two trade letters and phone calls,  (ahem...Playboys), and talk smack on each other – just how friends would. Gabriel even receives a photo of Pete in a red sweater and simple bluejeans, finally giving a face to the name.

After Gabriel corresponds regularly with Pete and Donna on the phone for over a year – a year! – Jess hears Donna and Pete talk over speakerphone and plants a seed in Gabriel’s head that sets The Night Listener’s events in motion: Jess is pretty confident that Pete and Donna are the same person – that Donna is fucking with Gabriel’s mind, going at great lengths to convince him that Pete is real. Gabriel becomes obsessed with discovering the truth: if Pete Logand actually exists, or if Gabriel is one of the many victims of a psychologically unstable charlatan desperate for attention and trying to escape a history of abuse that perhaps did happen after all.

There are dozens of people who know them.


Doctors. There's a nurse who comes and stays at the house.

You've only been told that.

What about the photo?

It could be anybody.

There's ways to prove this...

Echoing what I said in my Unsung Horrors write-up for Insomnia, I love it when Robin Williams goes serious. With that, this, and One Hour Photo, Williams has consistently proven he can do dark drama just as easily as comedy (and far better). I wish I knew what it was about him as a performer that allows him to carefully shed the manic screwball persona he's had since the days of "Mork & Mindy" so I could more ably analyze what it is about him I love, but I've got nothing. The guy just is – he's just as at-home bouncing off the walls and doing his army of weird (kinda stupid) voices as he is using just his eyes and his sad smile to convey a hundred different emotions at once. He's so good, and perhaps underrated, though thankfully filmmakers keep giving him the chance to defy convention and go for the throat. It's resulted in one much deserved Oscar for the actor already (for Good Will Hunting).

It's difficult to applaud young Rory for his role as Pete, as he hardly ever appears on screen. Because of the whole "is he/isn't he real?" approach, it was wise to limit his physical appearance, except in scenes in which he is corresponding with Gabriel over the phone, and Gabriel is using his imagination to fill in the gaps and paint this picture of Pete he's attempting to assemble using random bits of information gleamed from their conversations. Most of his "presence" is his voice on the phone, and the filmmakers do a great job of switching back and forth between Culkin and Toni Collete, making us unsure as to who is who, and when.

The Night Listener, however, is Toni Collete's film. She really is a powerhouse here – one minute she has our every sympathy, and the next we can't stand seeing how far she's willing to perpetuate her lie; at times we're nearly demanding the truth because we just can't take it anymore. "You've got a fucking lie for everything," Gabriel even tells Donna in an ugly confrontation. If it is a very unglamorous role. Her clothes are too big and her hair is greasy. Her "blind look," consisting of thick sunglasses, foggy blue contact lenses, and unkempt appearance create the look of a shut-in – one who never ventures out except to visit her normal stops and collect the sympathies of the folks in town who know her. She spends most of her role asking for and inviting this sympathy, but when she wants to be scary, she can be scary. I'll point to the scene towards the end in which Donna teases Gabriel with the "ending" his story requires and lures him to a motel – this after after she's emptied her Wisconsin house and moved, unable to be found. As he cowers in a dark corner and watches her leave, she slowly turns to look – look – at him out of the corner of her eye, as planes at the nearby airport scream in the background.

Chills every time.

Besides for “based on a true story,” another oft-overused and sometimes completely inappropriate phrase that inundates genre film marketing, once a critic utters the magic words, are “a Hitchcockian thriller.” If said phrase were reserved for actual students of Hitchcock, like Brian De Palma, or Richard Franklin, it could be forgiven. I think critics sometime forget that Hitchcock wasn’t just a storyteller, but a pretty renowned and stylistic director, too, which means it’s nonsense to describe any film that has a mystery as “Hitchcockian.” Cases involving mistaken identity, femme fatales, or quirky and potentially dangerous leads are hallmarks of Hitchcock filmography, let’s not shit ourselves, but that still doesn’t give you the right to label any old thing with the master’s name. Just because you can locate the most tenuous connection between a modern film’s gimmick and tie it back to that same trope once utilized by Hitchcock himself – sorry – that doesn’t suddenly mean the new Liam Neeson film in which he tears across Berlin kicking ass and trying to remember his name is a Hitchcockian thriller.

Even when filmmakers subject audiences to a story not as compelling as it should be, I am always struck much more by said filmmakers’ abilities to successfully channel the look and feel of a Hitchcock film. De Palma, no matter how outlandish his films have become, has this down in spades. He likely created the ultimate homage to Hitchcock with his 1992 film Raising Cain, turning John Lithgow into a psycho long before "Dexter" ever did. The Night Listener director Patrick Stettner seems a student of Hitchcock, but perhaps in less an obvious way. I love that a film with so much character interaction is still experienced solely through Gabriel's eyes and brought to life through his imagination. When Gabriel pictures Pete during a phone call, the boy is wearing the red sweater and bluejeans he's also wearing in his photo. And the first time Gabriel speaks to Donna, she doesn't have a face until Pete jokes that he's "got a thing for redheads" – and that's when we first see Donna, red hair and all. It's subtle, but effective if you realize the trick.

Every inch of The Night Listener is drenched in cold and pale tones. Effortlessly, it ups the bleak quotient and decreases any feelings of hope or joy. Pretty appropriate for a film in which not just Gabriel, and not just Gabriel's friends, but even a small Wisconsin town all fall victim to the lies of a deeply troubled woman. And every single one of them were in a small way guilty of helping to spread the lies and bring them legitimacy. It's interesting in that it forces us to take a step back and consider just how many things we hear on a day-to-day basis are actually falsities – either big or small – and how often we repeat them without actually knowing the truth.

The Night Listener is about escapism, and what we're willing to do and say – to ourselves and to each other – to perpetuate a lie and try to make things less unbearable. Jess confronts Gabriel in the film and demands he tell him where the couple were when Jess told Gabriel he was HIV-positive. Gabriel responds, "in the park in front of the guys playing drums." The real place was a crummy diner somewhere in the city. But Gabriel's version was more romantic, and it reads better on paper. A white lie, perhaps, but a lie all the same. Perhaps more telling, there's a scene on the plane while Gabriel is flying out to give Pete and Donna a surprise visit – fed up with the excuses being lobbed his way about why his previous invitation to visit them is being constantly rain-checked. Gabriel's seat mate on the plane asks him the purpose of his visit. Gabriel responds he's flying out to visit family: his son. Because he needs this. Now that Jess needs Gabriel a little less, Gabriel needs this idea of a new family more. It's no longer fact-checking the events of a pretty horrifying book – it's yearning for family, and not wanting to believe that's the last thing waiting for him at the airline's departure gate.

We tell lies because they're preferable to the truth, but sometimes we tell lies because the truth is just too painful to endure. We all wish we could live in the fantasy world we create for ourselves perhaps for only minute at a time  – where the person for whom we pine wants us just as much, or the struggles we daily face are no longer existent. While nearly none of us are willing to hold onto lies and bring them to artificial life like Donna Logand, the only thing stopping us is a lack of conviction and the imagination to do so. And that's kind of scary.

Jan 4, 2014


I didn't need a movie to tell me that people obsessed with social networking websites are actually slobbering brainless psychopaths, but, thanks anyway. (Just kidding!)

(Not really.)

A spiritual sequel (of sorts) to films like The Signal, Pontypool, and even George Romero's The Crazies, Antisocial is the next step in realizing a wide-scale outbreak of mass hysteria and madness, this time seemingly perpetuated by the world's dependence on social networking sites. 

It's New Year's Eve, and college student Sam (Michelle Mylett) joins a group of friends to do what college kids do best: drink too much and act like buffoons. But random news reports of murder-suicides occurring on college campuses across the country threaten to put a damper on the New Year...that is until it begins occurring at their own. One by one their friends begin to exhibit the signs of being infected: bleeding from the nose and ears, incoherence, and finally, bouts of brutal violence thrust upon the self or others. 

With the windows and doors boarded, and doing their best to remain calm, the friends do whatever they must to survive.

We've seen Antisocial so many times before I have to wonder why filmmaker Cody Calahan bothered. Is it to let us know we've become so overdependent on Youtube and Twitter and the slowly dying Facebook that we're turning into mindless monsters? If so, we know. Still, Calahan has delivered a competent film that manages to pack a few layers of freshness into an overused dish. The aforementioned Romero himself tried this a few years back with Diary of the Dead, only this time using social networking as a positive - a means to get the real truth surrounding the zombie outbreak as opposed to relying on the highly censored and manipulated media - but Antisocial remains the superior film. 

While Antisocial is obviously a low budget affair, thankfully that's only prevalent when it comes to the nature of the story and location, not the look or feel. And our young cast are all up to the task, which is another miraculous feat, because so many in films of this ilk are not. The pretty Michelle Mylett makes for a sympathetic lead, though she shares her most of her screen time with the ensemble cast.

Great musical score, too.

Antisocial asks the question: If we were slowly going insane, would we turn to social networking sites to share this insanity? Would we broadcast our newfound madness to our hundreds of fake friends and strange followers just as we do when uploading our dinners to Instagram or offering status updates saying "had the worst day and i DON'T want to talk about it!!!"?


And that's when Antisocial is at its most horrifying. Heavy-handed and at times completely unsubtle, it still manages to be energetic and effective. Though it offers up many things you've already seen, it gives you a few you haven't. (Don't miss the bit with the Christmas lights.)

Jan 2, 2014


We had just moved into a little ranch house in the suburbs. Storybook neighborhood – quiet, friendly neighbors, picket fences, the whole nine yards. Suffice it to say that this was supposed to be a new start for me, a recently single dad, and my three-year-old son. A time to move on from the previous year’s drama and stress.

I viewed the thunderstorm as a metaphor for this fresh start: one last show of theatrics before the dirt and grime of the past would be washed away. My son loved it anyway, even with the power out. It was the first big storm he’d ever seen. Flashes of lightning flooded the bare rooms of our house, imparting unpacked boxes with long creeping shadows, and he jumped and squealed as the thunder boomed. It was well past his bedtime before he’d finally settled down enough to go to sleep.

The next morning I found him awake in bed and smiling. “I watched the lightning at my window!” he proudly announced.

A few mornings later, he told me the same thing. “You’re silly,” I said. “It didn’t storm last night, you were only dreaming!”

“Oh…” He seemed somewhat disheartened. I ruffled his hair and told him not to worry, there should be another storm soon.

Then it became a pattern. He would tell me how he watched the lightning outside his window at least twice a week, despite there being no storms. Recurring dreams of that first memorable thunderstorm, I figured.

It’s easy to hate myself in hindsight. Everybody assures me there’s nothing I could have done, no way I could have known. But I’m supposed to be the guardian of my child, and these are useless words of comfort. I constantly relive that morning: making my coffee, pouring milk over my cereal, and picking up the newspaper to read about the pedophile local authorities had just arrested. It was front-page stuff. Apparently this guy would select a young target (usually a boy), stake out their house for a while, and take flash photos of them through their window while they slept. Sometimes he did more. My stomach sank as the connection was made.

At the time, it was merely something from a child’s imagination. In retrospect, it is the scariest thing I’ve ever heard. About a week before the predator was caught, my son came up to me in his pajamas. “Guess what?” he asked.


“No more lightning at my window!”

I played along. “Oh, that’s nice; it finally died down huh?”

“No! Now it’s in my closet!”

I’ve yet to see the photos police have collected.