Top 10 Haunted Holiday Movies

There is a time-honored tradition in Britain of gathering around the fireplace at Christmas to tell ghost stories. In fact, one of the most famous ghost stories of all time is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. A few years ago, BBC Radio 4 featured a series of 20th century vampire stories read by David Tennant. In my opinion, there’s no better Christmas treat than listening to Doctor Who read vampire stories.

peter

Vampire hunters: sexier than vampires? Discuss.

As a long-time fan of ghost stories and horror fiction in general, and a writer of dark speculative fiction, December is one of my favorite times of year (aside from Halloween) to watch scary movies. Let’s face it, any time of year is a good time to watch horror movies, but there’s something about this time of year that brings out the desire to contemplate the supernatural. Maybe it’s because winter is the metaphorical death of the year, or maybe it has something to do with the veil between worlds being thinnest on the Solstice, or maybe the long dark nights cause our imaginations to run wild with inherited fears of hungry wolves lurking at the edge of the woods.

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Whatever the reason, it has become a tradition in my house to watch horror-themed (or at the very least black comedy) movies this time of year. I mean, sure, we watch the classics too – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, and The Year Without a Santa Claus – which, if I’m not mistaken all have some form of monster or element of dark magic. That’s right, dark magic. No one is going to convince me that the black top hat that brings Frosty to life doesn’t contain black magic.

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So, rather than trotting out a tired old list of holiday classics, I thought I’d share my top 10 picks for holiday films that make you laugh uncomfortably, raise the spirits, and possibly the hairs at the back of your neck. Whether you prefer suicide humor, serial killers, demonic possession, mental illness, or just a good old-fashioned ghost story, my list has something for everyone.

  1. Black Christmas (1974): If you hate sorority girls and love serial killers, then this is the holiday film for you.

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  1. Gremlins (1984): A traveling salesman buys his son the worst Christmas present EVER.

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  1. Scrooged (1988): A modern retelling of A Christmas Carol starring Bill Murray. What more do you need to know?

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  1. Better Off Dead (1985): One of the funniest movies about teen suicide you’ll ever see. Happy holidays!

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  1. The Conjuring 2 (2016): Just in case you weren’t sure, The Conjuring 2 is totally a Christmas movie.

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  1. Krampus (2015): Want the kids to stop acting like sugar-fueled psychos before the holidays? Skip “Elf on the Shelf,” and show them this movie.

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  1. 12 Monkeys (1995): A time traveler is sent to the past to prevent the release of a deadly virus and gets a stay at a mental institution for his troubles. Holly jolly!

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  1. Edward Scissorhands (1990): A Frankenstein-like man with scissors for hands has his heart broken after leaving the safety of his home to mingle with monstrous suburbanites.

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  1. The Polar Express (2004): Children are stolen from their homes and taken on a terrifying train ride to the North Pole.

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  1. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993): A heart-warming tale about cultural appropriation gone wrong.

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Fictional Characters I Would Totally Fuck: Lucifer

I have a confession to make. I love Lucifer. To some, this will come as no surprise, since many of my friends already know that I have a fondness for darkness. But I’m only drawn to it if there is a spark of light shining in that darkness. The promise of redemption. Evil, while intriguing, usually leaves a bad taste in my mouth — actually, it makes my guts churn and fills me with dread. True Evil (notice the capital E) is something I hope to never have to confront face-to-face. Just because someone has a reputation for being monstrous, doesn’t automatically make them Evil. Especially if they’ve been misrepresented since the beginning of time. Lucifer is only mentioned a few times in the Bible, but talk about a reputation. People have been blaming him for all the e(E)vil in the world since he made his fabled fall from Grace. Well, him and that bitch Eve.

Critical-Thinking

I recently finished watching the first season of Lucifer. Twice. Initially I was skeptical. I mean Lucifer is one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented fictional characters of all time. Yes, that’s right, I said fictional character. In fact, this particular character made his first appearance in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics in the late 1980’s. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there (cough, cough, Christians) who will read this and be angry that I’m referring to Lucifer (Satan, the Devil, the Prince of Darkness, Lord of Lies, or whatever you’re most comfortable calling him) as a fictional character. But here’s the thing, I’m not a Christian. I’m not an atheist either. I believe in something, but I’m not exactly down with the concept of one all-powerful creator, especially not one as temperamental as the Judaeo-Christian god. If we’re to believe all the promises of damnation and hellfire, there’s no pleasing that guy. If Hell does exist, I’ll probably end up there. Not because I’m an inherently bad or cruel person, but I tend to question everything. Including the word of God. I’m an educated uppity Negro who believes in self-determinism and indulging in hedonistic pleasures. And, since the first overly judgmental Christian pointed a finger in my direction and deemed me a heathen, I’ve had a special place for Lucifer in my heart.

Tom Ellis as Lucifer with Wings

Is it just me, or did it get hot as Hell in here?

Sympathy for the Devil: Lucifer Morningstar

Before I start talking about my new TV boyfriend, Lucifer Morningstar, I’d like to talk a little bit about the mythical origins of Lucifer and why I – as well as many other people – find him so fascinating, and yes, deserving of our sympathy.

“But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?” – Mark Twain

Talk about a tragic character. He’s the original scapegoat. In his fascinating book, The Devil: A Biography, Peter Stanford looks at the role the Devil has played in shaping how people view evil and how our perception of evil has evolved over time.

In the modern mind it [evil] is located within each individual — what Jung called our “shadow.” Historically, the tendency was to place it [evil] outside — on the Devil, who exploited a weakness in the human makeup. Of the two placements, the contemporary option is harder to deal with since it imposes a responsibility on each and every individual. The traditional route, while emphasizing that God gave each man and woman free will — the capacity to choose right or wrong — did have the bonus of off-loading some of the burden onto an external force. That is why the Devil still attracts a following. He represents the easy option when we are confronted with evil. (6-7)

All of the world’s sins are blamed on him, and he must forever carry the burden of punishing the wicked – or anyone who doesn’t follow God’s commandments. Once one of God’s favorite angels, Lucifer was cast into Hell after refusing to follow God’s word to the last letter. Pride was his downfall. He exercised his free will and challenged his father’s authority. He rebelled.

12How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
13For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
Isaiah 14:12-14 (King James Version)

Free-Will

As a teenager, I developed an interest in Lucifer’s story even though I didn’t attend church. Maybe because I didn’t attend church. I drew parallels between his banishment to Hell and the punishment my friends received for expressing themselves honestly. I had friends who were kicked out of their houses because they could no longer conform to the expectations their families had established for them. I don’t know about you, but when I was a teen I rebelled. Most of us do. I dressed all in black (wait, I still do that), wore makeup that made me look dead, experimented with drugs, climbed into cars with strangers, flirted with married men, rode on the backs of motorcycles under the stars past midnight, made out with boys in leather jackets, read vintage smut and other banned books, watched lots of inappropriate foreign films, listened to loud rock and roll (1950’s – present), wrote poetry about killing people I hated, daydreamed of becoming a vampire or succubus, partied with drag queens, played with Ouija boards, read Tarot cards, and hung out with juvenile delinquents. Sounds fun, right? There were plenty of people willing to lead me down the primrose path. Oddly enough, none of them were Satan. No matter how badly they wanted to be.

Cheerleaders

Just to piss people off, or fuck with their heads, my friends and I declared an alliance with Satan and all things considered evil by mainstream culture. We’d shout, “Hail Satan!” and then giggle like schoolgirls. Because we were schoolgirls. Schoolgirls with a very dark sense of humor who were bored with mainstream ideals of good and evil. Let me tell you, we had a great time. If we had done any of those things prior to the latter part of the 20th century, we would have been labeled as witches (in some cases we were) and punished severely. None of us really made a pact with Satan, despite what some of our classmates and teachers thought. Being accused of practicing witchcraft and worshipping Satan only made us laugh, and oddly enough gave us a certain amount of power, independence, and individual voices. Wearing black lipstick to high school doesn’t make you a witch or Satan worshipper. It makes you a scapegoat. But if you stand up for yourself, speak up for your rights to wear whatever you want, and the rights of others to be different, that makes you a strong teen girl. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was becoming a black lipstick wearing feminist. An uppity Satan-loving Goth Negro.

Eartha Kitt as Cat-Woman

Role model.

It wasn’t always easy to wake up in the morning and be myself. Some days it was fucking horrible. Knowing that about myself, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for Lucifer’s plight. I knew what it meant to be misunderstood, and feared or hated for being different. People shouted at my mother from a passing car when we walked down the street, “Nigger lover!”, because she was holding my hand. I was five. If there is a Hell, I hope every evil racist asshole who ever made me and my mom and dad feel afraid or feel bad about ourselves goes straight there and suffers the punishments of the damned for all eternity.

Aside from the fact that people treated my family like shit because we were ethnically mixed, I was always too heavy (fat), didn’t wear the right clothes (poor), liked to read for fun (nerd), talked too much (behavioral problems), and collected Star Wars figurines (um, those are for boys). I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but at some point I decided, maybe not even consciously at first, that if people were going to see and treat me differently anyway, I might as well give them something interesting to look at.

New-Black

I wish I knew the exact moment when the light bulb in my brain switched to black light and I decided to give conformity the finger. I like to imagine I was born that way, but a very specific chain of events occurred to make me think it was perfectly acceptable for a seventeen-year-old girl to smoke pot in her bedroom and listen to the Velvet Underground while lying in bed with her older punk rock boyfriend.

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Before I fell under Tom Ellis’s spell as Lucifer, there were a few other devils who captured my heart (and mind) in film and television. He’s in good company. Although technically I’m talking about the same character, the way that different people portray and/or write about him makes this character fresh each time we encounter him in fiction. A purely evil Satan wouldn’t interest me, but a complex character who finds humor in our misery, can make fun of himself, and shed light onto the human condition in a way most of us can relate to, can provide hours of entertainment for me. He’s the ultimate antagonist who can inspire fear or sympathy, and more often than not, lust.

Hot-Lucifer

Sweet Baby Jesus!

In 1987 I went to the movie theater to see a film starring Lisa Bonet (Epiphany Proudfoot), Mickey Rourke (Harry Angel), and Robert De Niro (Louis Cypher). I wanted to see Angel Heart for two reasons: 1) it was set in New Orleans, and thanks to Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, I had developed an infatuation with the city, which would eventually become a life-long love affair, and 2) I wanted to see an interracial couple having sex on screen. I may never be as tall and thin as Lisa Bonet, but at age 15 I viewed her as the closest physical representation I could see of myself on TV and in movies. And, she was starring in a movie about voodoo set in New Orleans having completely inappropriate blood-drenched sex with an older white man who is running from the devil. Seriously? The only thing that could have made this movie any better for me as a teen would be for her to somehow turn into a vampire. But hey, she’s a mambo, so I can’t complain. I would LOVE to talk about the intersectionality of racial, gender, and sexual politics in Angel Heart. And, someday I will. Today is not that day.

Today I’m talking about Lucifer, and in this particular case, Louis Cypher (say it aloud in a French accent). If you ever have a chance to pick up the novel this film is adapted from, Falling Angel (1978), by William Hjortsberg, you will be amused by how many parodies of Lucifer’s name one author can think up. And, it’s a great story.

Cover Art for Falling Angel

1996 Mass Market Cover

Robert De Niro’s Lucifer is handsome, charming, well-groomed, wears expensive suits, has a taste for unusual jewelry, manicures his nails into pristine points, and has the air of a mysterious European aristocrat. He’s also spooky and sexy, which is always a great combination of personality traits in my book. Louis Cypher hires a law firm, Macintosh and Winesap (get it?), to hire a private investigator, Harry Angel, to find a missing person. If you’ve never seen Angel Heart, shame on you. But just in case, I’ll be nice and won’t spoil it for you.

Louis-Cypher

‘Mephistopheles’ is such a mouthful in Manhattan, Johnny.

Needless to say, I love this film. I’ve owned various copies between 1987 and the present, and I come back to it from time to time when I need a pick me up. That’s right, devil-themed suspense films about voodoo cheer me up. What’s it to ya’?

De Niro’s Lucifer is a tough act to follow. He has so many quotable lines, and you can see he is clearly having fun in this role. I always liked Robert De Niro’s work, but this role gave him a whole new depth that made me fall a little bit in love with him. It was a long time before I saw another Devil quite so appealing.

One of the most lust-inspiring, yet unsettling portrayals of Lucifer is Viggo Mortensen’s in The Prophecy (1995). When I discovered this gem of a film I watched it over and over. I made my friends watch it with me over and over. It’s dark, it’s funny, it delves into the age old debate over good and evil, we see glimpses of the war in Heaven, Christopher Walken plays the archangel Gabriel and Viggo Mortensen is Lucifer. What’s not to like?

Viggo

Humans…and how I love you talking monkeys for this…know more about war and treachery of the spirit than any angel.

Mortensen, dressed in a black cassock like a priest and wearing black nail polish, is somehow simultaneously aloof, bored, insightful, petulant, mean, creepy and sensual. He’s attractive, yet repulsive, like a big piece of decadent dark chocolate cake dusted with arsenic. You’ll probably take a bite even though you know you’ll regret it later. He’s beautifully monstrous.

He inspires fear in the people who cross his path in the film, until his mantle of power and control slips and we are shown his desperation, a peek at his loneliness, cravenness, as he threatens to take the two main characters back to Hell with him. As we see the motivation behind his threats to drag them to Hell, his threats seem more like the pathetic attempts of a lonely drunk at last call looking for someone to go home with him. Physically appealing, but loathsome. Pitiful. But not exactly Evil.

Viggo was my favorite Lucifer until I met Peter Stormare’s Lucifer in Constantine (2005).

Constantine – Lucifer

Seriously, Stormare’s Lucifer is super fucking cool and spooky. When he shows up dressed in all white to collect John Constantine’s soul — in person — it’s like the Godfather showing up to collect an unpaid debt. Rather than ascending from Hell as we might expect, he enters this realm descending from an unseen portal above. His bare feet and the cuffs of his white suit are stained with something that looks a lot like tar. His eyes are red-rimmed, like he hasn’t slept in a very long time. Managing Hell is a full-time job after all. It’s open 24/7.

Stormare

Sonny, I’ve got a whole theme park full of red delights for you.

Aside from Tilda Swinton as Gabriel, Peter Stormare’s Lucifer is one of the best things Constantine has to offer. Actually, his portrayal of the Devil is one of the best I’ve seen and it invariably makes it onto top ten lists of all time best Devils in films. Ironically, the only bad casting choice in this film was Keanu Reeves as John Constantine.

After Stormare’s, my favorite Lucifer became Mark Pellegrino’s on Supernatural. Pellegrino first appeared as Nick/Lucifer in the 2009 episode, “Sympathy for the Devil,” in which a man with a tormented past, consumed by grief, with apparently nothing left to lose or live for, accepts a demon’s offer to become the vessel of Lucifer. That’s not an easy gig. Especially if you aren’t genetically predisposed to contain the soul of a deity. Nick is only a temporary skin suit, and we soon learn that Lucifer really has his sights set on Sam Winchester.

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Michael turned on me. Called me a freak. A monster. And then he beat me down. All because I was different. Because I had a mind of my own.

Pellegrino’s Lucifer is a bit more complex than the previous ones I’ve mentioned. He’s an emotionally disturbed fallen angel who will never get over being banished to Hell by his father. The way he sees it, his family abandoned him and the psychological aftermath has made him into a sarcastic, spiteful, jealous asshole seeking vengeance in the form of world annihilation. He believes the only thing that will make him feel better is to start the Apocalypse. He hates humanity and wishes to destroy it to spite his father. Some angels support his efforts, while others think he’s acting like a spoiled jerk.

Gabriel

Don’t hold back, Gabriel, tell us how you really feel.

Like I said, Lucifer’s soul is slowly eroding his vessel (Nick) and is looking to take up permanent residence inside Sam’s skin. So, he tortures Sam psychologically by making himself invisible except to Sam in the hopes of driving him insane. Hilarity ensues.

Sam-Lucifer

Resting Bitch Face Championship Finale

I like Pellegrino’s Lucifer because he is hilarious, but also because when he explains why he does the things he does, no matter how atrocious, he’s very convincing. Does this Lucifer have any hope of redemption? Possibly, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Just because I agree with some of his arguments doesn’t mean I would blindly follow him to Hell. When it comes to charismatic figures, I reserve a certain amount disbelief. I’ve been lead down the primrose path by attractive men with compelling stories more often than I’d like to admit. It’s alluring and exciting for a while, but eventually the emotional roller coaster stops being fun. Especially if your sweetheart has apocalyptic aspirations.

Like I said, pulling off this character isn’t easy. If he’s portrayed as being nothing more than mindless evil, I’m not only bored, but insulted. If he’s portrayed as a simpering, child-like man who throws temper tantrums because he doesn’t get his way, then I’m probably only going to keep watching for the spectacle. Most people fail at portraying Lucifer, because they don’t fully grasp or appreciate his complexity. Tom Ellis is not one of those people.

Admittedly, even if he wasn’t hilarious, tall, dark and handsome, seductive, sensitive, sexy, well-dressed, sarcastic, and  yes, at times scary, the fact that he’s a bit geeky in an overly-educated way and has a British accent would have been enough to capture my attention. I mean, for Christ’s sake, look at him! I know what I’m about to say may offend some Whovians, but I don’t care. I think this man would make a fine Doctor. There. I said it. I’m not taking it back. I’d love to see him traveling through time and space in a blue Police Box…with a young woman of color as his companion…and at least one episode with  Captain Jack Harkness. Look, you have your fantasies about the Doctor, and I have mine.

Holy-Lucifer

Jesus, Mary, and Lucifer.

When we first meet this Lucifer, he seems pretty shallow. A rich handsome playboy driving an expensive car who buys his way out of bad situations. He owns a club in LA and has a reputation of being a ladies man. Initially, I wasn’t impressed.

Lucifer-Car

Yeah. Not feeling it.

Not until he began interacting with people and we had a chance to explore how he manages his relationships with them. Through certain relationships he begins to grow emotionally and each episode we see a little deeper into his soul. His personality is what makes him so fucking attractive. He’s taking a vacation from Hell, but the longer he stays on Earth and builds more friendships, he has even less of a desire to return to his job of torturing the damned. His allure is in his vulnerability, which he tries to hide and deny. Not only because he needs to maintain his reputation, but because he is afraid of this transformation and doesn’t understand it.

Lucifer-Hurt

Totally feeling it.

Over the course of the first season, Lucifer develops feelings for a police detective, Chloe Decker, and she develops feelings for him. Feelings he doesn’t understand, because he’s never felt that way about a woman. Aside from his confusion about his emotional state, their relationship is complicated by a long list of reasons why they can’t and probably shouldn’t become more than friends. They have some really heavy emotional scenes together, and each time they get a little closer, one of them pulls back out of fear.

In fact, he’s so freaked out about these new and confusing feelings, that he starts…seeing a therapist. I’ll give you three guesses to figure out how he pays for her services.

Although Lucifer is enjoying his time on Earth, there are a few people who really wish he’d go back to Hell.

Lucifer-Mazikeen

Even the Devil needs a BFF.

Mazikeen, or Maze, is a demon who has faithfully followed Lucifer since his fall from Grace. She’s his friend, sometime lover, bodyguard, and assassin. She’s having a good time on Earth, too. Well, most of the time. But as she sees him changing, becoming more sensitive to the plight of humanity, she advocates for returning to Hell so he can become his old devilish self again. His emotional attachments to humans terrify her, and yeah, makes her jealous.

But, the one character who pushes him to return to his duties of punishing the damned more than any other is his brother, Amenadiel, the archangel.

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That is one good-looking family.

Despite Lucifer’s openness about being the Devil, the detective, Chloe, refuses to accept that he isn’t just an eccentric and overly-dramatic, but well-meaning nutcase. However, there are a few things she witnesses that make her question who he really is. But, like most sane and practical people, she keeps denying the proof that he’s telling the truth.

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Ironically, her daughter has no trouble believing he is who he says who he is.

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While this Lucifer is fun-loving, cynical, charming, likes to help people he cares about, and…I said sexy, didn’t I?…you still shouldn’t piss him off. Especially when it comes to people or things he’s emotionally attached to.

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Yeah, I’m absolutely smitten with Tom Ellis’s Lucifer. He’s everything I’m looking for in a convincing Devil. Smart, funny, emotionally damaged, but open to growth, and I said tall, dark and handsome, right? His body was made for suits (or nakedness), and his accent sends shivers through me.

Naked

Let’s make a deal.

If you haven’t watched the first season, treat yourself. Honestly, I’m probably going to watch it again. I’ll be fantasizing about Tom Ellis with a sonic screwdriver in his hand, and contemplating the fate of my immortal soul.

Soul

See you in Hell!

Fictional Characters I Would Totally Fuck: Lawrence Talbot

Human behavior is often weird and scary. And, unless real monsters actually walked the Earth in days of old, all monster myths are most likely inspired by some truly terrifying things people did to their fellow humans. Rape, torture, murder, cannibalism and trophy collecting are not just products of the imaginations of horror writers. People have been brutally killing each other since the dawn of time. Violence is part of the natural world, no matter what the new age hippies try to tell you. Humans are animals, and no matter how many civilizations we erect, how many Starbucks we build, or how many PTA meetings we attend, the truth is humans are the scariest things on the planet. Humans like to kill things and each other, and whenever possible, they like to blame these icky feelings on someone else. Scapegoating is a national pastime in many cultures around the globe and it has been that way since before the Romans started nailing Christians to crosses.

On October 31, 1589, Peter Stumpp, the Werewolf of Bedburg, was executed for killing and cannibalizing 18 people. Stumpp’s trial and execution is one the most famous cases of reported lycanthropy in European history, and it has fed the imaginations of writers ever since. Werewolf trials occurred simultaneously with witch trials, but the sheer volume of executed witches places these atrocities at the forefront of our dark past, and often overshadows the werewolf hunts that also took place in Europe and colonial America. Peter Stumpp was caught, sentenced to death, brutally tortured and executed after he confessed to killing 14 children, two pregnant women and their fetuses, which he later described as “dainty morsels.”

Werewolf

He admitted to killing and eating parts of his victims, but claimed that he only did these terrible things while wearing a magical belt given to him by the Devil. When he wore the cursed object he transformed into a wolf-like creature with sharp teeth and super-human strength. When he removed the belt he would revert to his normal human form. This type of werewolf, one changed through the use of a magical belt, is called a Boxenwolf, and doesn’t require the bite of another werewolf to achieve transformation, but it does require a pact with the Devil.

Stumpp was a cannibal and claiming to be a werewolf may have made it easier for him to deal with his own insanity. Blaming the Devil makes it easier to sleep at night I suppose. Stumpp also had sex with his daughter and a female cousin, and claimed that he had sexual relations with a succubus, which was another gift from the Devil. Is it just me, or was Peter Stumpp batshit crazy?

Clinical lycanthropy is a rare form of mental illness in which the patient believes himself to be transforming into something animal-like, and is classified as a form of schizophrenia due to how it manifests, with the first criteria being delusions.

I have a special place in my heart for the mentally ill. My father was a therapist, but before he earned his master’s degree in counseling, he started at the bottom of the crazy ladder by “driving the van of retards” (his words…and my mother’s), then he lived in a group home, then he worked nights at the hospital doing crisis intervention, and then he worked on the psych ward, and then he became a licensed therapist with a specialty in hypnotherapy. No shit. My dad was a hypnotherapist. Guess who was one of his early test subjects. Yep, me. In grade school. I was a great test subject, because I suffered from night terrors, and he used hypnosis and basic relaxation techniques/meditation to help me fall asleep at night. My nightmares were so bad that I was afraid to go to sleep, and had panic attacks when confronted with bedtime.

Because I was taught to respect as opposed to fear mental illness, and view it as a medical condition that can be treated with medication and/or therapies, I gained an appreciation and a simultaneous fascination with madness. I grew up in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business. And, the town crazies, at least the ones with a diagnosis, were very familiar to me because of what my dad did for a living. They liked my dad, so they would talk to him when they saw him in public. They liked me too. Sometimes a little too much.

When I was about 13 or 14, a man who I knew to be a schizophrenic, and who preferred to medicate himself with booze as opposed to taking his prescribed medication, followed me home from school one day. I’m not sure what his plans were, but he would always try to engage me in conversation when we would see him around town. I liked him. And, I had done some reading about schizophrenia in the school library and knew it was something he couldn’t control. Like I said, I have a special place in my heart for the mentally ill. Anyway, once I was safely inside the house with all the doors locked, I called my dad. He called the police, but made sure to get there before they did. While I watched from inside, my dad tried to talk to the man and explained the situation to the police. He never followed me home again.

Although I was genuinely afraid that afternoon while that man stood outside the house pacing back and forth, as if arguing with himself about what to do next, there was a part of me that still felt compassion for him. His illness had taken control. An illness without a cure. Would he have hurt me? I don’t know. I’m also glad I had the sense not to find out.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, theorized the existence of libido, “an energy with which mental processes and structures are invested and which generates erotic attachments, and a death drive, the source of repetition, hate, aggression and neurotic guilt.” Lawrence Talbot is Freud’s wet dream. A truly tragic character, he is a textbook example of how repressed memories and emotional abandonment in childhood can lead to mental instability that manifests itself in inappropriate behaviors in adulthood.

What could be more inappropriate than allowing your rage to transform your id into a monster that rampages through the countryside (and London) ripping, tearing, murdering, and eating everyone unfortunate enough to find themselves in your path? If you had the ability to control this transformation and continued to kill people, that would make you a true monster. But, if like Lawrence Talbot, you were cursed with this terrible illness and not only despised your own actions, but sought to put an end to the curse, would you still be considered a monster? Not in my opinion, but I’ve been called crazy a few times, too.

Crazy is the New Black: The Wolfman

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There are several versions of Lawrence Talbot’s story. The first time I encountered Lawrence (Larry) was in the 1941 Universal film, The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney Jr. I loved this movie when I was a kid. A Gypsy curse, fortune telling, lycanthropy, Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi, pentagrams, and a werewolf transformation involving nothing but makeup and lap-dissolves. What’s not to love? I mean, seriously this film set the standard for 20th century werewolf tales and inspired writers, filmmakers, and TV producers to take the legends of old and turn them into the iconic monsters we love so much.

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Modern audiences would most likely find this version kind of cheesy and not very scary. To be honest, I enjoy watching The Wolf Man now because of its canonical importance, nostalgic value, and the fact that it makes me laugh hysterically. Besides, CLAUDE RAINS and BELA LUGOSI. We’re talking Universal monster movie gold here.

Here’s the basic premise (I stole from IMDb):

When his brother dies, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) returns to Wales and reconciles with his father (Claude Rains). While there, he visits an antique shop and, hoping to impress Gwen (Evelyn Ankers), the attractive shopkeeper, buys a silver walking cane. That same night he kills a wolf with it, only to later learn that he actually killed a man (Bela Lugosi). A gypsy (Maria Ouspenskaya) explains that it was her son, a werewolf, that he killed, and that Larry is now one himself.

While we feel sorry for Larry for finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time…although the fortune teller might say otherwise, Lon Chaney Jr.’s Talbot doesn’t inspire a whole lot of empathy. I mean, sure I feel bad for the guy, but the level of tragedy he experiences pales in comparison to the 2010 Universal film, The Wolfman, starring Benicio Del Toro.

Here’s another basic premise (I stole from IMDb):

Though absent from his ancestral home of Blackmoor for many years, aristocrat Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns to find his missing brother at the request of the latter’s fiancee, Gwen (Emily Blunt). He learns that a creature has links to an ancient curse turning people into werewolves when the moon is full. To save the village and protect Gwen, he must slay the bloodthirsty beast, but he contends with a horrifying family legacy.

Sounds a bit more compelling, doesn’t it?

In this version, which takes place near the tail end of the Victorian Era (post Jack the Ripper), Lawrence Talbot is a celebrated actor who has lived in America since childhood. When we first meet Lawrence he is performing Hamlet on the stage, which we later find is part of a London tour, conveniently placing him near his ancestral home, Talbot Hall in Blackmoor, Northumberland.

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Why do I never see men who look like this when I ride the train?

After receiving an unexpected visit from his brother Ben’s fiancée, Gwen Conliffe, he returns home. Lawrence learns of Ben’s disappearance soon after he goes missing, but by the time he makes the train ride from London to Blackmoor, his brother’s corpse has been found in a ditch near Talbot Hall. He arrives too late to save his brother, and memories of his dark past are stirred up when he must face his father for the first time since childhood.

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Victorian werewolves are un-fucking-believably cool.

Like most people confronted with the mysterious and violent death of a loved one, Lawrence wants answers. But that’s not all he seeks. He is also desperate for the love and acceptance of his father, an emotionally crippled man full of dark secrets and brimming with alpha male testosterone. Lawrence never fully recovered from his mother’s death. When he meets Gwen, who not only looks remarkably like his mother, but also seems to embody many of her rare feminine qualities, he finds himself almost immediately attracted to her. Ben and Lawrence are emotionally and sexually attracted to a woman who reminds them of their mother. While Lawrence has repressed the exact details of his mother’s death, he still blames his father and hates him for sending him away at the age of nine.

Poor young Lawrence witnessed something so terrible that he had a mental collapse. He was sent to an asylum, presumably after he recounted what he saw the night his mother died. Due to the fantastic nature of his story, he was believed to be insane and treated as such until he accepted the story that was fed to him over and over: His mother committed suicide. She did not die at the hands of his father, who killed her because he is a monster. Once Lawrence was “healed,” he was shipped off to live with his aunt in America. Much like our dear friend Oedipus, Lawrence desires to be back in the arms of his loving mother and wishes his father were dead in her place.

Soon after Lawrence arrives in Blackmoor, he begins his investigation into his brother’s death. Against his father’s wishes, he examines the body, which is so terribly ravaged that…well, it’s worth watching the film just to see the look on Benicio Del Toro’s face. It’s one of those moments in horror where you know something really awful has happened, but instead of reacting the same way the character does, your brain interprets the horror as something inappropriately comical and despite how gruesome the situation might be, you laugh out loud.

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Get ready to laugh in 3…2…1.

After the shock of seeing his brother’s mangled corpse, Lawrence seeks refreshment in the local pub, which immediately made me think of The Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf in London (1981).

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That’s Rik Mayall in the turtleneck if you never noticed before.

Apparently, pubs in the UK are a great place to learn about werewolf lore. And the locals will most likely interpret your lack of knowledge as a sign that you’re going to be the werewolf’s next victim.

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Maybe it’s just my hormonal pre-teen self talking, but David Naughton was a totally fuckable werewolf, and he was the first werewolf I ever lusted after.

Despite the intentional humor of American Werewolf, there are still some pretty chilling scenes that bore deep into my subconscious mind, where fear and sexuality meet up in some very weird ways.

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I had a lot of dreams about this monster. Not all of them were scary.

ANYWAY. Lawrence hears the local bumpkins talking about werewolves, their hatred of Gypsies, distrust of Sir John Talbot, and their belief that Lawrence’s mother was not only a Gypsy, but a whore to boot. You know, pointing fingers and making wild accusations. Scapegoating. But, in this case, they aren’t too far off the mark. Except for their beliefs about Gypsies. Oh and, the rumor about the late Mrs. Talbot having questionable morals. Because, as everyone knows all of Victorian (and our current) societal problems can be directly linked back to foreigners (and anyone who isn’t White) and overt female sexuality.

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Nothing upsets these dudes more than Blacks and vaginas.

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And, apparently the same things upset these dudes.

Truly, nothing warms the heart or makes you feel more at home than when you overhear some local jackass talking shit about your dead mother as you mentally prepare for your brother’s funeral.

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Remember that moment when you first realized that Victorian funerary garb is totally a fetish? No? Me neither.

After the funeral, and again, against his father’s explicit instructions to stay in the house, Lawrence continues his investigation into Ben’s death by visiting the nearby Gypsy camp. Shortly after he arrives at the camp, so do some of the local bullies. They threaten the Gypsies and blame Ben’s horrific death on an elderly trained bear. Lawrence isn’t an idiot. He doesn’t think the bear hurt anyone, but he’s sure that something is up and the Gypsies might have some insight. As he begins questioning people in the camp, some major carnage happens. Did I mention there’s a full moon?

Unlike the men from the village, Lawrence grabs a weapon, protects women and children, and chases whatever has been slashing its way through the camp with a shotgun. He’s a pretty good shot, but the creature is too fast. He stalks the beast to a misty stone circle where he quickly loses his bearings due a complete lack of visibility. This is a really intense scene that keeps you on the edge of your seat. You feel Lawrence’s fear and adrenaline mounting as he tries to find the creature he’s been chasing. When the beast attacks Lawrence, you anticipate it with your nerve endings, but you don’t see it coming until it’s too late. Just like Lawrence.

Almost mortally wounded, Lawrence receives battlefield surgery Gypsy style in a scene that always sends chills through me. Watching someone getting stitches is one thing, but watching them get stitches in a bacteria-ridden Gypsy vardo with a hooked needle to essentially reattach their head to their neck and shoulder takes you to completely new levels of body horror, Mysophobia, and trypanophobia. Realistically, even if he survived the injury, the ensuing infection would have probably killed him. But that wouldn’t be a very satisfying end to this story, would it?

Lawrence not only survives the attack, but over the course of a month he has a complete recovery that raises some questions for his doctor and an Inspector from Scotland Yard, Aberline, who comes to Blackmoor from London to follow up on Ben’s murder. Aberline is aware that Lawrence spent time in an asylum as a child and insinuates that his ability to portray so many characters on the stage may stem from a deep-seated mental illness like schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder. Without coming right out and saying it, he suggests that Lawrence may have had a hand in the carnage at the Gypsy encampment. Again, Lawrence is no dummy. He knows what Aberline is getting at and asks him to leave.

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Hugo Weaving in a psychological pissing contest with Benicio Del Toro? Is it getting hot in here?

After Lawrence’s miraculous recovery, he and Gwen get to know each other a little better.

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Fig. 1 – Victorian Flirting 101: Devise clever excuses to press your body against a lady’s.

So, I mentioned that the doctor is a little more than concerned about the fact that Lawrence not only healed quicker than medical science could explain, but also, he doesn’t seem to have any scarring, disfigurement, or signs of an injury that should have permanently crippled if not killed him. Those darn Supernatural Forces laugh in the face of Science. Which apparently, the villagers don’t find funny. They show up to a) prove that he is a werewolf, and b) kill him once they have their proof.

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Fucking nosy neighbors.

When the lynch mob shows up outside Talbot Hall demanding blood, Sir John Talbot comes to his son’s rescue and threatens to kill anyone who trespasses on their land again. Before Sir John comes outside, the villagers grab Lawrence (it takes three to subdue him), and in the struggle he sustains a minor injury. A cut on the lip that sends Gwen into nurture mode.

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Fig. 2 – Victorian Flirting 101: When seeking a man’s affection, dab blood from his sensually open mouth with a pristine, white handkerchief to metaphorically suggest that you’d like him to violently shove the candles off that table and deflower you in the most face-flushing, bodice-ripping way he knows how.

Clearly, there is mounting sexual tension between these two characters. But, since there is a lot of taboo wrapped up in their feelings, and this story is set in Victorian England, they dance around each other as if they are made of glass. Psychologically, that may not be far from the truth. Especially for Lawrence. His brother’s death has forced him to return to his childhood home that he has avoided his entire adult life. His chosen profession is as an actor, a career in which he literally pretends to be someone he is not. The ghosts of his past still haunt Talbot Hall. He’s attracted to Gwen, but he must be experiencing some level of guilt for having lustful thoughts about his brother’s fiancee. And, he is aware of the physical changes in his body. He is freaked out about the fact that all signs of his injury are gone. When Gwen administers first aid and they are only inches away from each other, he recognizes that his appetites have become heightened. His yearning to touch her is palpable, but he’s afraid he might do something to hurt her.

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Does she really want me to tear off her clothes and fuck her on this table, or are the voices just messing with me?

Lawrence’s fears continue to mount. He knows something terrible is going to happen. He’s experiencing an increase in what Freud referred to as libido. He’s had sexual relationships with other women, so he isn’t afraid of touching Gwen. What has him concerned is the weird connection his brain is making between fucking, fighting, killing and eating. As the full moon rapidly approaches, Lawrence’s sense of propriety is quickly eroding away. The werewolf is about to emerge, and it terrifies him. Fortunately for Gwen, Lawrence truly cares for her well-being and sends her away before he or anyone else has the chance to harm her.

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I’m sorry, but I can’t stop thinking about tearing open your throat to gulp down hot, coppery mouthfuls of your blood, and it’s making me insanely horny. Seriously, pack your shit and go.

Soon after, Lawrence goes through his first transformation. He basks in the light of the full moon in all his skin-flaying, tendon-ripping, face-biting werewolf glory. I mean, he tears the shit out of all those nosy neighbors and leaves a trail of carnage through the forest and onto the property of Talbot Hall. When he awakens with a murderous rage hangover, he has no memory of the atrocities he’s committed, but fortunately his father is there to get him up to speed and let him know that he’s done “terrible things.”

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Maybe some coffee and a long hot shower will help…

Next stop, the asylum.

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Hydrotherapy: the waterboarding of the 19th century.

If this film were a history of mental illness in European cultures, it would fit perfectly with Freud’s theories of mental illness. However, it’s a horror film and we’re talking about literal monsters. In the world of The Wolfman, werewolves are real and when left to their own devices, they kill anyone who happens to be in their path of destruction. It doesn’t matter if you believe in them or not. They are a fact and a very real threat to modern living in 19th century England.

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This is not a manifestation of a disturbed mind. This is a fucking werewolf.

Several characters refuse to accept the truth that werewolves exist, even when they are witnessing their manifestation. Unlike Peter Stumpp’s neighbors who wanted to believe that the Devil was at work, and supernatural forces made him kill and eat 14 children, science and logic are at the core of the accepted belief system in Victorian England. The doctors and staff at the asylum and Inspector Aberline refuse to believe that werewolves can exist in their world. That’s pure nonsense, crazy talk, tales of superstition shared among backward cultures. These men only believe in what they can see and quantify.

One of my favorite scenes in the film takes place in the asylum, when Lawrence is able to exact revenge on the people who tortured him. After Sir John Talbot visits Lawrence and finally tells him the truth about the night his mother died. The repressed memories are unleashed, and Lawrence relives that night in his mind. Everything he believed was true. Sometimes, having your beliefs confirmed isn’t a good thing. Lawrence’s father is much worse than he ever imagined. Not only is he the monster that killed Lawrence’s mother and brother, he’s also responsible for turning Lawrence into a werewolf.

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Men of Science.

Lawrence is so overwhelmed by this information that his mind shuts down and he falls into a deep sleep. When he awakes, he finds himself strapped in a wheelchair by the orderlies of the asylum and prepped for a demonstration prepared for his doctor’s colleagues, the police, members of the press, and other community leaders to prove that werewolves don’t exist. He insists that Lawrence suffers from a mental illness, delusions that are related to the trauma he experienced as a child.

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Caring more about the plight of his fellow humans than the asylum staff, Lawrence attempts to warn them that they are in danger. The moon is full and he will transform at any moment. When the doctor and Inspector Aberline finally see Lawrence’s transformation they are unable to completely process the facts before them, and they are momentarily crippled by their mind’s desire to shut down. The doctor meets a well-deserved violent end at the hands of the creature he refused to believe in.

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Told you so.

Aberline is made of stronger mettle, because he forces himself into action to deal with the reality of a werewolf running amok on the streets of London. And I suppose you could consider him a hero of sorts in this tale, but I was too busy rooting for Lawrence to care.

After Lawrence kills most of the asylum staff and escapes from the mental institution, he whoops it up and kills a whole lot of people in London. Aberline is committed to stopping him, but soon realizes traditional methods won’t work.

The next morning when Lawrence wakes up hungover again, he has a better sense of his Fate. He knows he has to put an end to the curse. He has to return to Talbot Hall to avenge the deaths of his mother, his brother, and ultimately himself. But, before he resigns himself to an untimely death, he goes to the one place he knows he can hide, regroup, and find a little human compassion.

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Holy shit, finally!

Yes, it’s true. I am a monster sympathizer. Judge me if you must, but Lawrence Talbot is an excellent example of a monster we feel sorry for and wish we could help. Fate has dealt him a terrible hand, and no matter what he does, his story will have a tragic end. Traumatized as a child, he witnessed the murder of his mother at the hands of his father, the true villain of this tale.

As an adult he seeks the love stolen from him when his mother died, but doesn’t find it until he meets Gwen. Even if Benicio Del Toro didn’t play Lawrence Talbot, I would still feel sorry for this character. However, I’m a sucker for a handsome man in Victorian garb, especially if he transforms into a tragic monster of myth and legends.

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Seriously, werewolves are hot.

If by the end of this tale you don’t feel sorry for Lawrence Talbot, there is seriously something wrong with you. Yes, he’s a monster, but he did not choose his fate. And, all he ever wanted was to be loved and accepted. Who can’t relate to that? A life of hurt, betrayal, and tragedy is bound to end badly. Lawrence never had any hope of a happy ending.

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Hot and tragic.

I waffled over talking about yet another version of Lawrence Talbot. I’m not going to talk about him extensively, but I think I should at least mention him in this post. For those of you who haven’t seen a single episode of the Showtime masterpiece, Penny Dreadful, SPOILER ALERT.

One of the main characters has a secret that we don’t find out about until the final episode of the first season. In hindsight, there were plenty of clues, but when all the pieces fell into place, it was a glorious revelation. Prior to this wonderful surprise, this character has a lot of other personality quirks that make him incredibly interesting, mysterious, but totally likable. If he chooses to befriend you, you have a reliable friend and ally. Unless you betray him.

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Victorian clothing should totally make a come back.

Like I said, I’m not going to talk about him too extensively because I will probably write about him in another post. I’ve considered dedicating an entire post to the cast of Penny Dreadful. What I will say is this, when we’re first introduced to this character he’s working as a sharp shooter in traveling wild west show like Buffalo Bill Cody’s. I thought that was pretty cool considering that Penny Dreadful is like porn for people obsessed with Victorian literature and culture. And monsters. First and foremost, Victorian monsters.

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Fuck yeah, werewolves!

Anyway, we are led to believe his name is Ethan Chandler all through season one and two. It’s not until near the end of the second season that we learn his true name. When I heard it spoken, I literally raised my hands over my mouth in a gesture of mock surprise with my mouth forming a perfect O. I felt pure delight. Actual giddiness. The revelation that the mysterious Victorian werewolf character, who I already adored, is actually one of my favorite werewolves was like an extra special treat. Think what you will, but stories about werewolves in Victorian England make me happy. And Lawrence Talbot’s story is one of my favorites. Penny Dreadful‘s take on the story is fascinating and fresh. And I love the fact that when Ethan/Lawrence is in his human form, there is no doubt that he is one of the good guys. His relationship with Vanessa is a complicated one, and their sexual tension is maddening.

Outwardly, they seem like a great couple. They trust each other, care deeply for one another, accept each other’s flaws, and let me tell you, their flaws aren’t things you could easily ignore. But hey, he’s a werewolf, and he’s trying to deal with the guilt of killing a whole bunch of people and yeah, eating them. And she is a witch coming into her true powers and, oh yeah, Lucifer wants to make her his bride. A relationship would be difficult at best, and sometimes when Vanessa has sex it brings out the demon in her. Literally. Like I said, the sexual tension between them is pretty intense. So much so that sometimes Ethan has to channel his energies elsewhere.

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Chopping down trees keeps your mind off having sex with witches possessed by the Devil.

Afterward

For those of you who have been following along with my series, “Fictional Characters I Would Totally Fuck,” this is the first installment of my now monthly blog series. If you haven’t been following along, back in February I challenged myself to write a blog post a day about some of my favorite fictional characters and why I think they are totally fuckable. That was no small task. Out of 29 days in February, I managed to write 21 posts. Still not too shabby if you ask me. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this post and have a chance to read others. I’m having a great time writing them and look forward to your feedback.

Fictional Characters I Would Totally Fuck- Part 20: Francis Dolarhyde

Last weekend I had an interesting conversation with one of my really good friends (don’t worry, Stephanie, those posts we talked about are coming, so stay tuned). We talked about a personality quirk (disorder?) that we share in common. The desire and attraction we feel toward all things that dwell in darkness. No one should have to make apologies for what they find attractive or erotic. We all fall somewhere on the spectrum of sexuality and desire, Honey. I’ll try not to judge you if you don’t judge me, unless you’re hurting people (physically, mentally, or emotionally) without their consent.

Darkness promises mystery, adventure, and fear, an unburdening of the perception that we must always remain on the straight and narrow, and yes, even pain. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, some folks just aren’t happy unless they’re unhappy. I know I’m not alone in this troubling and confusing state of being. I don’t like the fact that I continually seek out inappropriate relationships. At least I don’t climb into cars with strangers anymore. I’m trying to break myself of these self-defeating and potentially life-threatening habits. It’s a work in progress.

I like monsters. A lot. But I don’t want to date them in real life. That still won’t stop me from getting all hot and bothered for them. Vampires? Love ‘em. Werewolves? I’d hit that. Fallen angels? Do you have a few hours to talk over coffee or Bourbon? I’ll admit that my taste in fictional characters might be a little unsettling to some people, but once again, I’m not going to apologize for what turns me on.

February 25: Francis Dolarhyde

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Francis Dolarhyde is a glorious monster. When you talk about Thomas Harris’s work—his novels, the films and TV show they have spawned—most people automatically think of Hannibal Lecter. Actually, most days I find it hard NOT to think about Hannibal Lecter. In the novel Red Dragon, Harris masterfully created a character who, in my opinion, is just as scary as Dr. Lecter. Without a doubt, the monster at the end of this book is the Red Dragon, Francis’ alter ego and the driving force behind his well planned, cleverly executed serial murders.

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At first glance, I didn’t like him very much. Every slight, every dirty look, every unkind word gets tallied up by Francis, as if he’s some maladjusted, compulsive, vengeful bean counter and the rest of humanity are the beans. I hated when he spit on the woman in the convertible simply because his gaze made her uncomfortable, self-conscious. I hoped he wouldn’t end up being just another emotionally crippled misogynistic jerk.

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Do you want WWIII? Because this is how we get WWIII.

Thankfully, as the story unfolded and I learned about Dolarhyde’s unbelievably traumatic childhood I became more interested. And, with every new horrible discovery about his past, I grew to love him more and more. I mean, come on, this serial killer has it all. He is physically deformed at birth, abused and abandoned by his mother and grandmother, sexually repressed, and a voice inside his head tells him to kill families that remind him of the family his mother formed without him. The family he was allowed to visit, but never welcomed to join. He is an outsider that many readers can relate to, and if not empathize with, at least feel some sympathy toward.

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He seemed like such a nice, quiet man.

Dolarhyde’s childhood was wonderfully atrocious, and Harris’s descriptions of his life in Grandma’s house reminded me of several dark Victorian classics. Dolarhyde’s two personalities made me think of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, especially toward the end of the novel when Francis tries to stop the Dragon and form a relationship with his love interest, Reba. His two sides struggle for dominance as Francis tries to protect the woman he believes he loves. At other times I thought of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, with his physical deformities and inability to join “polite” society. Francis is filled with rage and envious of the “normal” people around him. He kills them to ease his pain and take revenge on the people who abused him. The Dragon is essentially the end result of Grandma’s psychological experiments on Francis that further transformed his already damaged psyche.

And then, we have Grandma’s dentures. Quite possibly one of the most disturbing images I have encountered in a novel, the dentures almost have a life of their own, which ramps up the body horror aspects of this tale. Grandma’s choppers allow us to venture down several literary paths. We could go Big Bad Wolf here, “oh Grandma, what big teeth you have.” Or we could take the Gothic Horror path since Dolarhyde makes a pretty convincing Dracula with false teeth filed into sharp points. He literally bites his female victims to death.

As I said, Francis Dolarhyde has a lot going for him as a character designed to make us check under the seats before turning the key in the ignition and double deadbolt the doors at night. Thomas Harris created an amazing killing machine that commits unspeakable acts and yet somehow convinced me to cheer for him when he fights against his murderous urges. I hoped he would escape capture at the hands of the FBI and Will Graham.

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This is my design.

There are elements of romance in the novel. Apparently Thomas Harris believes that even serial killers deserve love. Or maybe he’s suggesting that if they received love in the first place they may not have chosen to murder people. Harris elicits even more sympathy for Francis when he meets a woman who is attracted to him. He reciprocates and they begin dating.

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Lucifer offering Eve an apple.

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This is how a grown man reacts to being shown love for the first time.

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He’s never seen anything more beautiful.

They are the perfect fairy tale couple, a blind princess (literally, not just too dumb or unwilling to see the truth) and her prince who is magically transformed into a dragon by an evil wicked witch. Bryan Fuller made all of my dreams come true with the intense  emotional and physical connection between Francis and Reba in season 3 of Hannibal. Their sex scenes were gloriously erotic. I must have rewatched the sex scene at least six times after I watched episode 10. So effing hot. Seriously, when he grabs her, picks her up, and carries her to his bedroom, I was like SPLOOSH!

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I hoped Reba’s affection would be strong enough to rescue and redeem him in the end. His own delusions and lack of impulse control ultimately lead to his demise. Rather than trusting that Reba cares for him, he listens to the Dragon. His immaturity, lack of experience with live women, and delusions prevent him from achieving a normal and healthy life with Reba. Like most of us, our faults and bad habits tend to undo our efforts to improve ourselves no matter how hard we try to overcome them.

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You should probably let someone get to know you a little better before you show them your dark side.

I don’t just like this monster. I am sexually attracted to him and find him totally fuckable. He’s fuckable in the novel and as portrayed by Ralph Finnes (Red Dragon, 2002) and Richard Armitage (Hannibal, 2015) (especially Richard Armitage), but the thoughts I have about him make me a bit uneasy. Why? As I said, I love monsters. I have no problem with the idea of liking Dracula or the Big Bad Wolf. Maybe my feelings of unease come from the fact that I know those monsters are fictional, make-believe, fairy tales, but serial killers are very real. While I’m fascinated by their crimes and their motivations to commit them, I do not idolize real serial killers. I want the police to catch them and punish them to the full extent of the law. Serial killers cause me to waffle about my stance on the death penalty.

Francis Dolarhyde is a fictional character, but Harris breathed so much life into him that he seemed disturbingly real. Serial killers are real. Dracula is not. Monsters that are created to represent the darker aspects of the human psyche or to examine and comment upon questionable societal norms are safe. The aging Goth teen queen inside me craves stories about monsters who prevail despite their physical deformities and emotional immaturity. Weird and horrifying is acceptable as long as it has a message or a purpose. But here is the Red Dragon standing before me, engrossed in his own gloriously terrifying acts of violence against women and their families, and somehow I find beauty there. My adoration of this character gives me pause.

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Even his death is beautiful.

Typically, I would use the excuse of Hollywood’s knack for putting attractive actors in horrifying roles. The Devil is tempting not only because he encourages you to do the sinful things you crave, but also because he shows up as the thing you want most, and probably wearing a nice suit. Even before Bryan Fuller provided us with a visual buffet of horrific beauty on Hannibal, I desired Francis Dolarhyde.

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Sometimes you can’t ignore the voices.

But Bryan Fuller cranked up the voyeurism, spectacle, and the eroticism of evil by making Francis exceptionally desirable and giving him an object of desire that I could relate to. I could imagine myself in her place. Eroticism is subjective, but when erotic images and art mirror your own fantasies, that’s not only psychologically satisfying, it’s magical.

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They make a beautiful couple.

Fictional Characters I Would Totally Fuck – Part 17: John Constantine

Yesterday in my post about Mr. Darcy I talked a little bit about how he wrong actor can make an excellent fictional character a disappointment to fans on screen. I mentioned the poor casting choices of two of my favorite fictional characters, Lestat and Louis in Interview with the Vampire. Anne Rice’s vampires are some of the most interesting characters on the page and they deserved to be played by actors who could capture their essence on screen. I’m sure most of us can think of at least one example of how our favorite characters from books have been destroyed by the wrong actors.

One of my favorite comic book characters comes to us from the DC Universe. To be more specific, from their Vertigo imprint. Typically I fall for heroes and villains from the Marvel Universe, but sometimes DC does certain things a little better. And, when you’ve got Alan Moore involved it’s kind of hard to go wrong. My love of this character gives further credence to the fact that I am a hopeless anglophile. An anglophile who loves stories about magic, demons and Hell. If you haven’t checked out the Hellblazer comics you probably should. I need to thank my good friend David Magaro for turning me on to these comics. Don’t you love having friends who clue you in to things that make life a little bit more interesting?

February 20: John Constantine

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John Constantine is an antihero who battles demons and you know, tries to save the world from time to time. Sounds like a nice guy, right? Well nothing is every truly black and white, so don’t get your hopes up too high. Constantine’s heart is usually in the right place, but his decision making often has dire consequences and his methods for achieving his goals are a bit shady and usually dangerous. Like using black magic to combat darker magic and supernatural beings.

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Constantine is called Hellblazer because he’s been to Hell and back. More than once. I mean he doesn’t consider it a vacation spot, but his job sometimes requires him to visit. That alone gives him serious street credit when it comes to hunting and exorcising demons. But he’s got other mad magical skills. Aside from his grasp of magic, he can summons demons and angels. He wears a snazzy trench coat full of demonic power, and he’s an accomplished con artist and lock picker.

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Constantine’s an interesting guy. He’s been described as a “working class occult detective,” and while he comes from Liverpool, he’s usually stationed in London. Like an well-crafted character he’s got major backstory. His mother died giving birth to him, and while in utero he strangled his twin brother with his umbilical cord. His mother’s womb was weaken by a previous abortion his father forced her to have, which caused the birth complications. Rather than taking responsibility for his wife’s death, he blames John and they spend his childhood hating each other. His dad was an alcoholic, abusive, and arrested for stealing a neighbor’s underwear. So, you know, excellent role model.

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Constantine’s bloodline connects him to some very powerful magicians, and as he discovers his ancestry he develops a keen interest in magic, and he began practicing magic at a young age. Some pretty complicated and impressive spellwork for someone his age, like hiding his childhood vulnerability and innocence in a box so he no longer has to deal with it. Growing up in London in the 1960’s and ‘70’s he formed a punk band, Mucous Membrane, and later become a stage magician in the 1980’s where he earned a name for himself by predicting Reagan’s assassination. Seriously, how cool is this guy.

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One of his first attempts at becoming a hero in the occult realm went terrible wrong. In order to banish a demon that was conjured by an abused child to take revenge on the adults hurting her, Constantine and his friends summon their own demon. As you might imagine, it doesn’t go well. They didn’t have control of the demon, and when it destroys the child’s monster, it torments John’s friends and drags the child to Hell. Soon after, he commits himself to a mental hospital because he can’t deal with the guilt.

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Are you hooked? You should be. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for Constantine’s adventures. When I began this post I mentioned that problem of casting the wrong actor to play a great character. Well, the first attempt at putting Constantine on screen was the live-action 2005 film starring Keanu Reeves in an Americanized version of the story.

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Well, he is smoking. That’s a start.

The film itself isn’t terrible, but Reeves just isn’t believable as Constantine. The rest of the cast is impressive—Tilda Swinton as Gabriel, Peter Stormare as Lucifer, Djimon Hounsou as Papa Midnite, and Pruitt Taylor Vince as an alcoholic priest who communicates with the dead. Oh, and Gavin Rossdale plays a half-breed demon, Balthazar. Great cast, right? Sure, but the most important character missed the mark almost completely.

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Cats have something to do with magic, right?

In 2014 NBC brought Constantine to television with Welsh actor Matt Ryan. Finally, a believable Constantine. He looked like Constantine. Sounded like Constantine. Had his bad attitude and a big heart. And they did their best to stay within cannon.

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Yep. That’s John Constantine.

I was glued to the TV each week. But apparently I was one of the few people watching, because the show got canceled after one season. I was disappointed. It was off to a great start and I had so many high hopes for the show. In the short time it was on TV, I fell hard for Matt Ryan’s Constantine.

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Wow, it’s like someone bothered to read the comic book.

Matt Ryan has reprised Constantine in a 2015 episode of Arrow on the CW. I would hope that this might inspire another network to pick up the series or at the very least think about bringing a more believable film adaptation to the big screen. A fangirl can dream, right?

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Smoking is sexy. You should start tomorrow.

Am I the only one who enjoyed this show? I can’t possibly be the only one who sees how Matt Ryan is perfectly cast as this super fucking cool fictional character.

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John Constantine is hot. Seriously, he’s on fire.

I mean he’s even in the mental hospital in the first episode.

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Don’t people usually check themselves into a psychiatric facility to avoid crazy shit like this?

Seriously, give this show another chance.

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I need more magic in my life.

Fictional Characters I Would Totally Fuck – Part 16: Mr. Darcy

Yesterday a friend read my post about The Goblin King and accused me of choosing that character because even if there were no Goblin King, I’d still be hot for David Bowie. True, but he also argued that since the Goblin King never appeared anywhere else before the film was made, that he didn’t really count as a fictional character. He said I just wanted to fuck “David Bowie with Tina Turner hair.” While David Bowie does in fact have Tina Turner hair in Labyrinth and I still think he’s totally fucakble in that role, Jareth the Goblin King is a fictional character. A character with David Bowie’s face, voice, moves, crotch and charisma, but last I checked, David Bowie was never reported to steal babies and turn them into goblins, nor was he a wizard, nor did he own a labyrinth. I can’t speak to his desires to hang out with Muppets or date teen-aged girls, but Labyrinth has a screenplay and Jareth is fictional.

But, this questioning of where Jareth begins and David Bowie ends sparked an interesting discussion. It has occurred to me several times while choosing fictional characters for these posts that the reason I love a particular character so much is because of the actor who is portraying him or her. In many cases, the characters we’ve grown to love in fiction, either from books, comic books, cartoons, etc., become almost impossible to separate from the actors who have brought those characters to life on screen. For many die-hard fiction readers it is often disappointing when the wrong actor is cast in the role of one of our favorite characters. The first two who spring to my mind are Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt as Lestat and Louis in Interview with the Vampire. I love Anne Rice, but I’ll never forgive her for allowing that to happen. Stuart Townsend was a better choice in Queen of the Damned, but still not right. In fact most of the casting choices for both of those films left me confused and irate.

So today I thought I’d tackle a character created by Jane Austen and published in her novel, Pride and Prejudice, in 1813. This particular character has become an archetype for romantic heroes, especially those who are either difficult to attain, or at first glance appear to be complete pricks, and he is widely accepted as a literary hottie. I’m choosing him not only because he first appeared in print, but because he is studied in classrooms, appears in many film and television adaptations of Austen’s novel, and most importantly, he has been portrayed by several different actors. Each actor lends an aspect of his own personality to the character. Unlike David Bowie as Jareth, we can think of him as completely fictional without attaching him to one particular actor.

February 19: Mr. Darcy

Fitzwilliam Darcy (there’s an old joke somewhere in that name) is most often referred to in the novel and elsewhere as Mr. Darcy, or Darcy. He is the primary love interest of the main character, Elizabeth Bennet. However, when they first encounter each other at a ball he is incredibly rude and refuses to dance with her. Elizabeth overhears him telling his friend, Mr. Bingley, “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” For most readers and viewers the automatic reaction to his behavior is to think “what a prick.” And, depending on which actor is portraying him, you might be inclined to think “what a handsome prick he is.”

For the purposes of this post I have chosen three of the hottest Darcy’s to date: Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, and Sam Riley. All three are completely fuckable versions of Mr. Darcy, and each for their own separate reasons. Colin Firth is an interesting Mr. Darcy, because not only did he portray Jane Austen’s character for the BBC in 1995, but also his portrayal inspired Helen Fielding to write Bridget Jones’s Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Colin Firth was cast as Mark Darcy in both films. So, apparently to some viewers, he’s the Über Darcy. If you want to see Colin Firth at his sexiest (in my opinion), watch Kingsman: The Secret Service. He gives James Bond a run for his money.

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Colin Firth: Über Darcy

Colin Firth is a very sexy man, but he isn’t my favorite Darcy. Until last weekend, my favorite Darcy was Matthew Macfayden. The first time I encountered him was in the BBC television show Spooks, in which he played MI5 Intelligence Officer Tom Quinn. When I found out he’d be playing Darcy I nearly had a heart attack. And now, I love him as Detective Inspector Edmund Reid on Ripper Street. He’s so effing dreamy, and he has a knack for eliciting not only an emotional response from me, but his on-screen kisses are to die for. But, this past weekend, I encountered the Darcy of my darkest dreams.

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Matthew Macfayden: Dreamy Darcy

Sam Riley is by far the hottest Darcy I’ve ever seen. Young, fit, handsome, and don’t get me started about his voice. But here’s the thing. I think the main reason I love him so much is because of how he had to adapt Darcy to meet the satirical background of Seth Grahame-Smith’s parody novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Make no mistake, he is a genuine Darcy, but he’s also a kick-ass zombie hunter. In a long, black leather coat. In fact, he is dressed all in black, and I couldn’t help thinking he would make a wonderful vampire some day. Fingers crossed.

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Sam Riley: Darkest Darcy

He takes Darcy’s prickishness to a level I’ve never witnessed and it is glorious. One of the best scenes in the film (and book) is when he first proposes to Elizabeth. She not only turns him down, but they have a knockdown, drag-out martial arts-inspired fight that is one of the sexiest scenes ever. It reminded me of Buffy and Spike kicking each other’s asses right before they started boinking each other. H. O. T.

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Get naked already!

Since the story is primarily told through Elizabeth’s narration, she doesn’t always have all the details she needs (nor do we) to make a fair judgment of Mr. Darcy or the other characters connected to him. Elizabeth and Darcy remain in contact with each other throughout the novel due to circumstances and people who connect them. Elizabeth’s sister Jane has a romantic relationship with Mr. Bingley, but Darcy believes she is only interested in his money, and persuades Bingley not to pursue an engagement. While he unfairly judges Jane, he is looking out for his friend’s best interests, and proves himself to be a loyal friend.

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I love period costumes. They give you more time to imagine what’s going on under all that fabric. So many buttons!

Around the same time Elizabeth becomes aware of Mr. Darcy, she becomes acquainted with Mr. Wickham, a man who has known Darcy most of his life. He tells her a story filled with half-truths about how Darcy has mistreated him. Later, we discover that Wickham is a liar and he runs off with one of Elizabeth’s younger sisters, Lydia.

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Lie to me, Wickham!

Through her initial impression, knowledge of his influence in Bingley calling off his engagement to Jane, and the misinformation given by Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth develops a strong dislike of Mr. Darcy. Like us, she thinks he’s a prick.

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What a handsome prick.

To be fair, he does seem to think an awful lot of himself. He is very wealthy, with an income around £10,000 a year, and a large estate in Derbyshire. So, that alone makes him a good catch. But he’s also intelligent, likes to read, and even by Jane Austen’s accounts, he’s easy on the eyes. Aside from his rudeness when he first encounters Elizabeth, he’s actually a gentleman and adheres to the practices of polite society. We already know that he finds friendship important and we learn that he is very protective of his younger sister, Georgiana.

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He really hates sharing his feelings.

Throughout the novel, Darcy has many opportunities to witness Elizabeth’s accomplishments and gets insight into her character. The more he sees, the more he likes, and eventually falls in love with her. He struggles with this fact since he intellectually cannot ignore the difference in their backgrounds. Eventually he declares his love for Elizabeth, but his delivery, combined with Elizabeth’s perception of him doesn’t end well. Like an idiot, while proposing marriage to the woman he loves, he reminds her of the gap in their social status. Basically, he says she’s beneath him. And it comes as no surprise to the reader/viewer that she tells him off and declines his proposal. In fact, this surprises no one but Darcy. He is embarrassed and hurt, and goes away angry.

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You almost feel sorry for this Darcy. And, you desperately want to rip those wet clothes off.

Darcy is angered by Elizabeth’s animated refusal and harsh criticism of his character, but he is also shocked to discover how others perceive him, and he sets out to correct these misconceptions about himself.

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I have a few thoughts on how to make him less uptight.

First he writes a letter to Elizabeth explaining why he interfered with Bingley and Jane’s relationship, and defends his wounded honor, as well as setting her straight about Wickham. We learn that Wickham tried to elope with Darcy’s sister the previous summer, and when Darcy discovers Wickham has run off with Lydia, he insists on their marriage to save the Bennet family any further embarrassment.

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Leather-clad Darcy.

He turns out to be a pretty decent guy once the truth comes out, and he gives his blessing to Bingley to continue his courtship of Jane. When Elizabeth has the whole picture she realizes that she is also in love with Darcy. So, when he returns to Longbourn with Bingley and asks Elizabeth once again to marry him, she finally says yes.

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Marry this guy, already!

So, in general, Austen’s Mr. Darcy is a well-written character that has provided us with more than 200 years of entertainment. And each actor’s portrayal keeps him fresh and alive. I think that would make Jane happy to know that her creation has remained part of the literary and entertainment discussions for this long. I wonder who her favorite Darcy would be. There is some speculation that there was a real person she knew who inspired the character, and literary nerds have been trying to figure out who that person was for years. I don’t really care who inspired the character, but I do appreciate how the character has inspired actors to bring their A-Game to the screen.

Fictional Characters I Would Totally Fuck – Part 6: Hannibal Lecter

A few days ago I mentioned that several serial killers made my list of fuckable fictional characters. Don’t judge me. Monsters can be beautiful. Especially if those monsters hold up a mirror to society and show us how monstrous we can all really be.

Serial killers are terrifying. Fictional serial killers, when well crafted, can become an endless source of fascination. Thomas Harris, a master of characterization, created one of the most famous fictional serial killers of all time – Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

February 6: Dr. Hannibal Lecter

My first encounter with Dr. Lecter was in Jonathan Demme’s 1991 film, Silence of the Lambs, which according to IMDb had a release date of February 14. Happy birthday to me! I watched the film with my mom and Aunt Vanessa when it became available on cable. They had both read the novel and Harris’ first novel featuring Lecter, Red Dragon. They talked about the character like high school girls discussing the hottest boy at school. Look, at least I come by my weirdness honestly.

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I’ll be your date for the evening.

At the time, I was excited about the film because they were so excited, but after watching Anthony Hopkins’ performance as the cannibalistic psychiatrist, I fell in love too. Think what you will about that statement, but I don’t have to justify what turns me on. Would I date an actual serial killer? Not intentionally. Will I continue to find certain fictional ones sexy and totally fuckable? Hell yeah!

Hannibal Lecter is an incredibly interesting character with an epic backstory. He’s an accomplished musician and artist, as well as a psychiatrist and behavioral analysis expert. He speaks several languages and has an appreciation for art and culture. He likes the finer things in life, including clothes, antiques, and opulent interior design. And, he is above all else a lover of fine food. His culinary skills are sought after by his acquaintances, and his dishes would please the pickiest gourmand. But here’s the catch. One of the primary ingredients in his culinary creations is the flesh of his victims. He not only enjoys eating people, but also takes pleasure in feeding human flesh to his guests.

I’ll admit that initially my feelings about Dr. Lecter confused me. Lecter’s actions are undoubtedly horrific, but his personality and demeanor (when he isn’t brutally murdering someone and eating them) makes him one of the most attractive characters in fiction. Yes, I’m fully aware that he is a psychopath. In fact, that is probably one of the reasons why he is so charming. He has had to master the spectrum of human emotions in order to blend in with the rest of us mere mortals. His intellect and skills place him in a position of authority, and his wealth gives him access to the upper echelons of society. Smart, rich men of European decent can literally get away with murder. Before you get all offended by that statement, pick up a history book. Hell, pick up the newspaper.

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What’s that? You’re here to eat my children? Do you prefer them baked, broiled, or fried?

Many of Hannibal’s victims are his patients. Fellow psychopaths and sociopaths who haven’t found their true calling, and seek his services as a psychiatrist. As an expert on human behavior, Lecter has a knack for targeting a person’s strengths. Through manipulation and often guidance, he encourages his prey to act upon their strengths, no matter how dangerous or morally corrupt. Then he makes a game out of turning these strengths against his prey, making them weaknesses. Once that person is completely vulnerable and trusts him, he strikes. And he doesn’t waste his time on the dregs of society. He typically targets people who are intellectual peers and experts in their own fields. However, one of his own weaknesses is his need to be the smartest person in the room, which causes him to underestimate other people’s intellect at times. Despite this evil game he plays with people, some of his victims probably could benefit from being murdered.

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Yeah, that guy is totally on the menu.

In the first novel in the series, Red Dragon, Lecter is in prison. We learn that prior to the opening of the book, he helped an FBI profiler, Will Graham, track a serial killer who actually turns out to be Lecter. Lecter and Graham developed a respect for each other as colleagues and we are given the sense that they were friends, but Will begins to to see that there is something dark and suspicious about the doctor. Will knows a serial killer when he meets one, but he almost loses his life at the hands of Lecter.

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It is possible to be too committed to your work.

Will Graham, the protagonist of Red Dragon, is also an amazing character. His relationship with Lecter, although nearly fatal, continues after Graham puts Lecter behind bars. Graham and the FBI make use of Lecter’s skills to catch other serial killers. In the novel, the two characters have a relatively normal working relationship. On many levels they respect each other’s abilities, but they do not become close friends. I suppose it’s difficult to remain friends with someone who tries to eviscerate you.

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It’s hard to build lasting relationships when you try to kill everyone you know.

Like many fans of the cannibalistic psychiatrist, I equated Lecter to Anthony Hopkins. His portrayal of Lecter in Silence of the Lambs earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor, and he reprised the role in two other films, Hannibal (2001) and Red Dragon (2002). I couldn’t imagine anyone else filling Lecter’s gorgeous Italian leather loafers.

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This is how you win awards.

Well, not until the Danish actor, Mads Mikkelsen, put on a well-tailored suit and treated the American public to an award-worthy performance as the infamous doctor in Bryan Fuller’s TV adaptation that depicts a re-imagining of the events leading up to Lecter’s capture. Fuller’s artistic vision of Harris’ work provides a smorgasbord of opulent sets, a wardrobe to kill for, and scenes that reference some of Fuller’s cinematic influences, like David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick.

After I finished watching the second season, I re-watched Twin Peaks to satisfy my suspicions that I wasn’t just imagining the fact that certain scenes and images reminded me of David Lynch’s work. Fuller’s references to Lynch’s use of lighting, textures, patterns, and unique objects were unmistakable. And, when Will Graham woke up choking and spit up a whole human ear, I thought I had died and gone to cultural reference heaven. I literally squealed, bounced up and down, and shouted, “No fucking way!” It was my reward for being such a geek about cinematic imagery.

While Fuller’s cinematic vision took me to new levels of giddiness each week, Mads Mikkelsen took an intellectually stimulating character and turned him into a sex symbol. Of course, Mads does that in nearly every role because…well…just look at him.

No seriously, gaze upon him.

Stunning, right? Well, he isn’t just a perfect specimen of complete and total fuckability. He’s also an accomplished, award-winning actor with an incredible range of emotion that made Lecter not only charming and frightening, but also someone we almost feel sympathy for and secretly hope that he escapes capture.

Fuller’s vision of what happens before Red Dragon brings Hannibal and Will closer together. They become more than just colleagues. They become friends, and eventually accomplices. Lecture pushes Graham over the edge to embrace his madness. Literally.

ATTENTION: SPOILER ALERT

As Will gets to know Hannibal more intimately, he suspects what his friend is up to. Hannibal considers Will his closest and only friend, and wishes to awaken Will’s potential to become a murderer. In order to capture Lecter, Will becomes like him. A choice that becomes dangerous for both men as well as everyone else in their lives. Lies, deception and manipulation become the tools that Will turns against Lecter. In the process, they forge a bond where mutual respect and genuine affection exist. Lecter is attracted to Will. He finds the FBI profiler fascinating and desperately wants him to be a peer. Hannibal develops a bit of a crush on Will, and Will’s obsession with Hannibal mimics the emotional state of someone who is falling in love.

Fuller uses this dynamic to create some extremely hot homoerotic scenes that inspired fans of the show to loving refer to their relationship as Hannigram. You may or may not be shocked by some of the fan art that pops up on Pinterest, Tumblr, and DeviantArt.com.

But how can you blame them when there are unexpectedly erotic scenes like this?

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Excuse me, I need a moment alone.

 

 

 

 

 

Now It’s Dark: Lynchian Images in The Babadook

babadookPOPUPBOOOK This weekend I watched Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent’s amazingly beautiful and haunting film, The Babadook (2014). It was my second viewing of the film in about a month. My intent was to kick start my brain into generating a blog post; or rather a series of blog posts about horror films that focus on the darker side of motherhood— “The Horror of Motherhood”. And, I was going to begin posting the series in time for Mother’s Day. I’m still going to write the series of posts, and I will do my absolute damnedest to get the first one posted in time for Mother’s Day, even though I will be attending World Horror 2015 in Atlanta next weekend. According to most successful writers, and several of my well-meaning friends, I simply cannot allow life to get in the way of writing the stories I need to tell. Even if they are just musings about the art and literature I wrap myself up in to hide away from the realities of life. I keep tripping over those realities each time I think I’m going to sit down to finish that poem, story, or book. MUST. KEEP. WRITING.

My intent, while settling in for another viewing of what I consider to be one of the scariest films I’ve seen in a long time, was to inspire myself to write about a series of horror films I feel deeply connected to. Horror films about mothers and their children. This connection stems not only from my awareness as a mother who appreciates how rewarding it can be to raise a child, but also how dark and terrifying it can be to realize that your life is no longer your own. Motherhood is fraught with a host of responsibilities, expectations, and societal pressures that go beyond the basics of keeping the children you bare alive. You must adhere to a very strict level of high standards that seem to fall under constant scrutiny, or you will be deemed a monster. As much as I love monsters, I don’t wish to be accused of being one. Notice that I didn’t say I don’t wish to become a monster. If becoming a monster means protecting the safety of my child, then there will most certainly be a gnashing of sharp teeth.

This concept of the horror of motherhood first occurred to me when I was pregnant with my son. I took a film class to fill the void of boredom, or stave off the fear that I would never have a life again after my son was born. True story. Each week we sat in a dark classroom on the University of Pittsburgh campus for several hours watching films and then discussing them. I was a non-traditional student. By non-traditional I mean an unwed thirtysomething pregnant woman of color with a full-time job at the University, and a master’s degree in English literature in a classroom full of mostly white twentysomething undergraduate students oddly misinformed about cinema. If my alma mater had offered a film minor I would have earned one while pursuing my undergraduate degree…but, I digress (and I will keep doing that, because I am in stream-of-consciousness mode lately and there’s not much I can do about it right now if I want to keep writing. Like it or lump it).

motherdaughterSo, horror of motherhood…film class…right…what was the point I was trying to make…? Oh yeah! One week we watched The Exorcist in class. I saw the movie for the first time when I was maybe ten-years-old. It scared the living shit out of me. I had nightmares for weeks, and I refused to sleep with the lights off for a long time afterwards. To me, that’s a sign of a good horror flick. But, is that enough? When I was kid? Absolutely. I still watch horror movies just for the thrill of being scared, but now I tend to evaluate them with a different set of standards in mind. And, I honestly think I began to think about horror films in this way during my viewing of The Exorcist as a pregnant woman. As a kid, the film was terrifying because, let’s be honest, some really unsettling things happen to Regan and her mother once the demon manifests and takes control of the young girl’s body. We’re talking body horror at it’s finest, demon possession, a parasitic invasion of the mind and body in which the host is totally helpless to defend herself from the invading entity. The connection between demon possession and pregnancy was not lost on me as I sat in the darkened classroom. The film suddenly took on a very personal tone, and my original fears quickly evaporated as I began to perceive a new set of fears the film stirred up in me. I was about to become a mom, so the fears were two-fold. Like Regan, I had a being growing inside me that I had little or no control over. My body had been invaded, and unlike many women who look forward to the miracle of birth, I was terrified, because I didn’t completely have faith in my own body to do what it needed to do to bring forth life. And, I also saw the film from the perspective of Regan’s mother, who has a very sick child that no one in the medical field can seem to correctly diagnose, and as her behavior becomes more bizarre and she is subjected to test after test, it became very clear to me that the horror in this film is very real. The horror(s) of motherhood – fear that you won’t be able to help your child if she becomes sick, fear that people will accuse you of being a bad parent, that somehow your child is ill because of something you’ve failed to do right. Yeah, that’s scary stuff. And, because I had to think about those very real fears while rewatching The Exorcist as a mother-to-be, the film gained a new depth of meaning for me, placing it higher on my horror film hierarchy list.

I’ve studied film unofficially for many years, and have a love of the art form that goes beyond catching the latest blockbusters Hollywood has to offer. In fact, I would consider myself a bit of a film snob. I enjoy certain large production films, like the whole Marvel superhero franchise that has enlisted the talent of some of my favorite actors, screenwriters, and directors, but I prefer indie, foreign, and classic films – silent, noir, Murnau, Welles, Hitchcock, Bergman, Polanski, Herzog, Universal, Hammer, American International – and my taste runs toward the dark, the uncanny, and the bizarre. However, a film has to be more than just weird or unsettling for me to really engage with it. There needs to be some sort of artistic or intellectual exploration happening to maintain my attention for an hour or two. My senses need to be tingled, my emotions need to be swayed (unhinged if possible), and what I’m watching on screen should be jangling loose memories and connections between other films and narrative forms I have encountered before. My enjoyment as a reader, writer, and lover of film comes from the connections I am able to make between these different mediums.

I love films, especially horror films that delve into our dark psychological past in the form of reimagined fairy tales and myths. I am particularly thrilled when I see a newer filmmaker paying homage to another filmmaker whose work I enjoy. The Babadook accomplishes both. Kent’s dark fairytale that features a fictional children’s pop-up book, Mister Babadook, introduces us to a new retelling of a particular type of fairytale that delves into the madness that can result from unresolved emotional trauma and the isolation that often comes along with it. I have a lot to say about this deeply disturbing, and yet somehow familiar tale of motherhood, in which a woman fights against a malevolent spirit to halt her transformation into a monster. She refuses to heed the entities demands to harm her own child. She fights madness and ignores what the voices are telling her to do. But, I’m not going to talk about that here. Not now. Think of this as merely a teaser if you will. I have more thinking to do on the subject, but I will share my thoughts soon.

As the title of this post suggests, while I watched The Babadook this weekend, it became very clear to me that Kent has a very serious love of David Lynch. So do I. I became even more excited about this film, which I didn’t think was possible. I love surprises.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to give you a very brief synopsis of the film, but I don’t wish to reveal too much, because I really hope that if you haven’t seen the film yet, you will. So, I’m going to steal the two sentence synopsis from Kent’s website (parentheses are mine): “The film tells of a single mother (Amelia), plagued by the violent death of her husband, who battles with her son’s (Samuel) night time fear of a shadowy monster (The Babadook). But soon, she discovers a sinister presence is lurking in the house.”

repulsion-2Kent’s film has been compared to Roman Polanski’s films, and there were many instances when I was reminded of Repulsion (1965). Especially while watching the scenes in which Amelia is wandering around the house alone at night through shadowy hallways in her nightgown. I couldn’t help but think of Catherine Deneuve sleepwalking through her nightmarish descent into madness.

Jennifer Kent admits that David Lynch is her favorite film director, so it is no wonder that his influence can be seen in this terrifying masterpiece about the darkness that lives inside all of us. After noticing the second reference to his imagery, I picked up a notebook and started jotting down notes in an ecstatic rush of joy. Not only is this film well written, carefully crafted, and very scary, but also the filmmaker is asking me to engage in the narrative she has created on a very intellectual level through images that evoke memories of other narratives. Specifically, Lynch’s films and his television series, Twin Peaks.

If you have seen more than one Lynch film, you’ve probably noticed several recurring images and themes. He communicates his narratives through a very surrealistic system of dream-like images, causing the viewer to experience the story in a state of disorientation they share with many of the characters on-screen. Dreams and hallucinations play a major role in his narratives, and so do darkness and the dangers that hide there. Kent employs several of Lynch’s lighting techniques to create a similar feeling for her viewers. She uses light and shadow to define space within a scene, and creates a sense of isolation, claustrophobia, and even makes her viewer squint to get a closer look at what is hiding in the darkness. We begin to suspect that things are lurking in the dark corners of Amelia’s house long before the monster is ever introduced. She goes so far as to use one of Lynch’s trademark images, flickering electricity and burned out light bulbs, which I initially read as a common trope of horror films indicating a supernatural presence. I think Lynch uses this recurring image similarly to convey an element of the supernatural set against the backdrop of ordinary life.

The-Black-Lodge-twin-peaksFilms often provide us with an escape from this ordinary life, and while we wish to become immersed in the narrative unfolding before us, both filmmakers have a desire to remind us that we are in fact watching a film they have created, and delve into the realm of metafiction. Lynch does this by creating a proscenium arch in nearly every one of his films, and he even goes so far as to include curtains. Usually very heavy red curtains, which most people will remember from Agent Cooper’s black lodge dream sequences in Twin Peaks. He not only suggests that there is a stage where his characters are performing, but he creates one within a scene. Behind that arch, which sometimes has curtains, and sometimes is just a wall of darkness, there usually lurks something his characters don’t wish to face. The truth. Danger. The darkness within us. Kent uses a wall of darkness to create one of Lynch’s proscenium arches during a very emotionally charged and terrifying scene, in which the Babadook is threatening Amelia’s safety and the safety of her son. She screams at the monster hidden behind the arch and refuses to back down. Refuses to show weakness. She protects her son from the darkness and what it hides. And, much like one of Lynch’s films, eventually something emerges from the darkness. In this case, the true cause of Amelia’s grief and depression is revealed. And then, we are rewarded with yet another Lynchian image, a gaping head wound. I’m pretty sure I squealed with delight during that scene. One reason Lost Highway is one of my favorite Lynch films is because it has two head wounds.

Lost-HighwayAnother example of Lynchian themes Kent uses in The Babadook that really confirmed her love of his work is the concept of split consciousness. In several of his films, Lynch features female leads with dual roles: Patricia Arquette in Lost Highway, Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive, and Laura Dern in Inland Empire, as well as Sheryl Lee in Twin Peaks. These split identities often highlight the darker side of human behavior and puts the two characters at odds with each other. While Essie Davis plays only one character in Kent’s film, Amelia goes through a psychological transformation rather than a physical one, teetering on the edge of madness. She doesn’t become two people like in Lynch’s work, but her grief over the loss of her husband and her unwillingness to fully accept her role as Samuel’s mother creates a similar fractured female identity. She struggles with depression and feels guilty for wishing she could still have her husband even if it meant giving up her son. She is in danger of not only being a bad mother, but of becoming a monster herself.

GarmonboziaFinally, the icing on the cake for me came near the end of the film when Amelia goes through a terrible night in which the Babadook enters her body. There is a kind of possession that takes place, further supporting this idea of fractured identity. She is becoming a monster. She poses a threat to her own son. But, Amelia is strong, and she is able to force the darkness out. She exorcises her own demons. In the process of casting out the monster, she expels what I like to call emotional ectoplasm. She literally throws up an inky black substance that made me shout: GARMONBOZIA! She expels her pain and sorrow, which is what the demons in the black lodge eat. Bob expels a similar black substance from his hands in Fire Walk With Me when The Man from Another Place demands, “Bob, I want all my Garmonbozia.” Oddly enough, that inky substance, which I equate with a literal emotional discharge, a physical manifestation of pain, isn’t actually garmonbozia. Lynch depicts garmonbozia as something completely ordinary and mundane. Creamed corn. In my opinion, that’s the true stuff of nightmares.