Happy Hallowe’en from Lady Lazarus!

death_the_bride

Myself dressed as “Death the Bride”. Halloween 2013.

My Hallowe’en costume this year is channelling the melancholic romanticism of a tragic, Edgar Allan Poe heroine*. On October 31st, I shall fall into a despair that leads to madness, succumbing to a death-like trance. This will prompt my bereaved loved ones to prematurely bury me in the family crypt. Afterwards, my restless ghost shall arise for revenge, and chocolate.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

*my costume is also channelling the morbid romanticism of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Thomas Cooper Gotch — a morbidity best captured by his 1895 painting entitled (as you may have guessed)  Death the Bride.

"Death the Bride" by Thomas Cooper Gotch. 1895. Oil on canvas

“Death the Bride” by Thomas Cooper Gotch. 1895. Oil on canvas

The Life and Untimely Death of Ann Hibbins.

“Execution of Ann Hibbins on Boston Common” Sketch by F. T. Merril, 1886.

During times of conservatism and religious fundamentalism it can prove difficult, if not downright lethal, to be an independent and outspoken woman. The recent case of Malala Yousafzai — the teenage Afghan activist who was shot by the Taliban for her vocal condemnation of their refusal to allow Afghan girls to attend school — reminds us that this danger still looms in many parts of the contemporary world.

The modern-day plight of Afghan girls like Yousafzai, and their systematic oppression by the ultra-conversative Taliban, recalls an earlier time in history when fervent religiosity ran rampant: the Salem Witch Trials.

The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693. They later became a notorious example of mass hysteria in American history, and highlighted the very real danger of religious extremism. The overwhelming majority of the people prosecuted for witchcraft were women. These women tended to belong to the poor and working class, and thus were disadvantaged in terms of economics and social status. The one exception was the wealthy widow, Ann Hibbins.

Ann Hibbins was executed for witchcraft in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 19, 1656. Her execution was the third for witchcraft in Boston and actually predated the Salem Witch Trials by thirty-six years. Twice-widowed, Hibbins was an outspoken and financially-independent woman, all of which tended to antagonize the local religious authority:

In 1640, Ann Hibbins sued a group of carpenters, whom she had hired to work on her house, accusing them of overcharging her. She won the lawsuit, but her actions were viewed as “abrasive”, and so she became subjected to an ecclesiastical inquest. Refusing to apologize to the carpenters for her actions, Hibbins was admonished and excommunicated. The church also cited her for usurping her husband’s authority. Within months of her husband’s death, proceeding against her for witchcraft began. — from Wikipedia.

It’s interesting to note that none of the evidence used to convict Hibbins of witchcraft remains. One of her supporters, a minister named John Norton, commented privately to another clergy that, “…[Hibbins] was hanged for a witch only for having more wit than her neighbors.”

So, here’s what I’m suggesting, my fellow XX-chromosome owners. Rather than wait for the religious extremists to ’round us up, let’s go git ’em first. They’d never see us coming till it’s too late. Lemme go grab my broomstick and pointy black hat [cackle].

Domestikia, Chapter 3: La Petite Mort

A tale of love, betrayal and one vengeful butterfly. This project was inspired by the surreal animations of Lenica, Borowyck and Svankmajer, Japanese tentacle erotica, and those strange, middle-of-the-night dreams one has after spicy food.

Story, artwork and articulated paper puppets created by Jennifer Linton.
Stop-motion animation by Carla Veldman.
Original musical score by Zev Farber.
Directed & edited by Jennifer Linton.

This animation was made possible by the financial support of the Toronto Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Council. Copyright ©2013 Papercut Pictures (Jennifer Linton). All rights reserved.

The Haunted Dollhouse, revisited.

Back in July of 2010, I wrote a blog post entitled The Haunted Dollhouse in which I briefly discussed this interesting and unconventional approach to the miniature house. Created by artists and hobbyists alike, the haunted dollhouse can range greatly from the kitschy, Halloween-themed miniature festooned with cotton-batting cobwebs and tiny jack o’ lanterns, to epic, post-apocalyptic landscapes created in miniature scale by a team of artists. Now, before I venture further in my discussion, I should define my use of the word dollhouse and explain that I’m employing it in the broadest possible sense. While the spooky Halloween-themed dollhouse can be more readily defined as a house, the post-apocalyptic landscape — while still miniature in scale — is less traditionally identifiable as such. Both, however, are miniatures that share a common link to the uncanny (see below).

So, with semantics out of the way, let’s continue with a quote taken from my earlier post on the dollhouse that links our enjoyment of the miniature with the experience of the uncanny:

There’s something inherently unnerving about a dollhouse. While we can easily admire and delight in its minuscule detail, this admiration is frequently accompanied by a sense of unease. This simultaneous intermingling of delight-with-unease is a manifestation of the uncanny — a sensation of anxiety experienced when one encounters “something familiar, yet foreign.” The dollhouse, with its miniaturized approximation of reality, recalls the familiar domestic setting of the home. At the same time, it falls short of appearing truly real. It’s the tension that exists within this disconnect — the miniature’s approximation of scaled-down reality with its inevitable failure — that contributes to our experience of the uncanny.

To reiterate, the uncanny is a sense of discomfort within the familiar setting of the home. I would argue that since the dollhouse is already imbued with an element of the uncanny, it’s not a far stretch to imagine and reconfigure the miniature as a nightmarish, dystopic space. This may have been the thought-process behind the Apocalyptic Manhattan (in an Apartment) project created by Swedish artist Magnus Johannson and his team when they designed and constructed the fifty miniature buildings of their mangled landscape. This extraordinarily-detailed, post-apocalyptic Manhattan was later featured in a Swedish music video in which the band members stomp through the model in Godzilla-like fashion.

A post-apocalyptic Manhattan, as envisioned by two artists from Sweden.

A post-apocalyptic Manhattan, as envisioned by two artists from Sweden.

My favourite artist working in miniature, however, remains American photographer and diorama-artist Lori Nix. Blending a canny mixture of black humour with dread, she creates such varied post-apocalyptic miniature scenes as a burnt-out, long-abandoned beauty parlor, a subway car that has been gradually reclaimed by the surrounding sandy beach, and the interior of an empty mall which has been invaded by flora. Through her constructed dioramas, Nix “…imagines a human-less world where Mother Nature has reclaimed our cities.” (source).

"Beauty Shop" by Lori Nix.

“Beauty Shop” by Lori Nix. 18″x12″x33″

"Mall" by Lori Dix, 92"x42"x100".

“Mall” by Lori Dix, 92″x42″x100″.

Horror Films 101: Favourite Ghost Stories.

Can I let you in on a secret? This hardcore horror fan is scared of ghosts — OK, more specifically, films that feature ghosts. I’ve watched zombie hordes feast on flesh, and vampires drink human blood. I’ve seen the minions of Satan perform gory midnight rituals, and serial killers dispatch their victims in creatively sadistic ways. None of these have frightened or unnerved me to the degree that a good, old-fashioned ghost story can. If anything can cause me to cower beneath the bed covers at night, it’s the suggestive power of a ghost story that relies on psychology rather than gore or cheap scare tactics to frighten the bejeezus outta you. Therein lies its true potency.

Film still from "Ugetsu Monogatari" (1958).

The Lady Wakasa from “Ugetsu Monogatari” (1953).

1. The Japanese have always had a knack for constructing effective tales of the supernatural. Ugetsu monogatari (dir. Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953) is a beautifully-shot, black-and-white masterwork from Japan’s “Golden Age” of cinema. This film is a  jidaigeki (period drama) set during the Edo period, and is ostensibly a morality play on the theme of personal responsibility. As is customary in many Asian ghost stories, the supernatural co-exists with the world of the living in a straightforward, matter-of-fact way. Ghosts can be the benevolent souls of the dearly departed who dwell on the earth to protect family members, or they are malevolent spirits bent on revenge. The ghosts in Ugetsu are more the former than the latter, although the Lady Wakasa has a definite sinister side to her. I would characterize this film as a tale of misfortune and poor-choices-with-tragic-consequences than as a ghost story whose raison d’être is to merely frighten.

The malevolent ghost-child Samara climbs out of the TV in the now-iconic conclusion to "The Ring" (2002).

The malevolent ghost-child Samara climbs out of the TV in the now-iconic conclusion to “The Ring” (2002).

2. While we’re on the topic of Japanese ghost stories, my next pick The Ring (2002) is the English-language remake of the Japanese film Ringu (1998). When a foreign-language film is remade into an English version, I almost invariably prefer the original film — in fact, I very seldom watch remakes of foreign-language films as I feel that much of the original context is lost in translation (ie. the [REC] films are enriched by their location in Spain, with everyone speaking Spanish, etc). Gore Verbinski’s The Ring is that rare exception where the remake is an improvement over the original. Verbinski maintains the visual aesthetics of the original, but torques up the fright factor. The remake also removes some of the problematic (for a Western audience) gender issues that are present in the original film.

3. Ti West is one of my favourite new directors working in the horror genre. He is the master of the slow-boil, and while the snail’s pace of his 2011 film The Innkeepers is definitely not for the thrill-a-minute horror fan, I truly believe that the slow pace works to amplify the creepy-as-hell finale. West gives us ample time to get to know his two main characters Claire and Luke, two employees — and amateur paranormal investigators — who work at a supposedly haunted New England hotel. I actually switched this movie off twice whilst viewing it. The first time, it was out of sheer boredom. It was 45-minutes into the film, and virtually nothing had happened other than some banal, somewhat-flirty banter between our two protagonists, and the occasional hotel guest complaining that they had no towels in their rooms. I decided to try again. The second time I switched it off, it was because things were finally happening, and the suspense had me too much on edge.  My advice: stick with it, because the ending is worth it.

"I know, Luke. We should totally hang out in the dark, creepy basement of this haunted hotel."

“I know, Luke. We should totally hang out in the dark, creepy basement of this haunted hotel.” Claire and Luke try to record the ghost of Madeline O’Malley in “The Innkeepers”.

Majorly creepy dead guy from "Carnival of Souls" (1962).

Majorly creepy dead guy from “Carnival of Souls” (1962).

4. An overlooked gem from the early 1960’s, Carnival of Souls (1962) has received some well-deserved recognition from genre fans these past few years. An impressionistic, almost surreal black-and-white film that follows the lone survivor of a car accident who’s haunted by visions of a ghoulish man who stares silently at her, grinning. Did she survive the car accident, or is she truly dead and a ghost? That’s the question that torments poor Mary throughout Carnival of Souls, and while the story is somewhat threadbare, the visuals and atmosphere are superb.

5. I’ve already written about Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963) in a previous post, but I felt it definitely needed to be on this list. Let’s all pretend that the abominable 1999 remake didn’t happen, shall we? This is such a beloved Gothic ghost story. Watch the clip below to see why:

Lady Lazarus: 2012 in review.

Wow! This blog Lady Lazarus: dying is an art received exactly 47,512 visits in 2012. That’s pretty impressive for a personal blog fuelled by the writing powers of just one individual. Many thanks to those amongst you who “follow” me and add your comments to my posts. It takes at least two to make a conversation, so keep those comments coming in 2013. This blog is a pure labour of love, and I plan to keep it that way. The drive that keeps me researching and writing about all things dark and macabre is a genuine, unslakable curiosity. I’m just a big nerd that way.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 47,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 11 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Goth version of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”.

Viva la Google. Discovered this little gem via the search engine. No author’s name is attached to it, but here is the originating web site. Silly fun, so I thought I’d share it with you. Assuming the world doesn’t come to an abrupt end on December 21st as per the Mayan predictions, have a good holiday everyone! — Lady Lazarus.

Have a dreary Gothic Christmas and a wretched New Year.

Have a dreary Gothic Christmas and a wretched New Year.

With somber and tormented apologies to Clement C. Moore:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through our house
was blasting the “St. Vitus Dance” by Bauhaus;
Torn fishnets were draped on my forearms with care,
And two cans of Aquanet applied to my hair;
My thoughts were of graveyards, and horror and dread,
Black visions of pain and despair in my head;
And Bianca, whose face was as pale as the moon,
Had thrown up her arm for this evening’s swoon,
When out by the gravestones there came such a clatter,
I sprang from the coffin to find out the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a ghost,
Expecting to find a dark devilish host.
The moon on the breast of the uncaring snow
Threw ominous shadows on objects below,
When, before my tormented eyes did traverse,
But a gorgeous black Crane & Breed carved-panel hearse,
With a gaunt, shrouded driver, who filled me with fear,
And eight skeletal creatures that might have been deer.
More rapid than vultures his coursers they came,
And his deep Andrew Eldritch voice called them by name;

Now, Murphy! Now, Morgoth! Now, Torment and Woe!
On, Dreadful! On, Lovecraft! Mephisto and Poe!
To the top of the gravestones where fog wisps its breath!
With a weight on my soul I consign you to death!

As dead leaves that before hellish hurricanes fly,
When they flutter like giant bats’ wings to the sky,
So up to the crypt-top the coursers they leapt,
While dearest Bianca, like death, still but slept.
And then, to my horror, I heard on the roof
The clicking and scratching of each bone-white hoof.
As I drew in my arm, and was whirling around,
Down the ebony chimney he came without sound.

He was clad all in black, and he looked oh-so-goth,
A billowy ensemble of crushed velvet cloth;
His boots were knee-high, quite buckled and zipped,
And the Spandex and fishnets ’round his legs were ripped.
His eyes glowed with bluish fire, deathly and cold,
A black eye-liner’d face neither youthful nor old.
A broad lipless mouth drawn with torment and hurt,
And his sorrowful face was as white as my shirt.

A smoldering cigarette tight in his grasp,
Its smoke curling eerily ’round his cloak clasp;
His gaunt frame was topped with long ebon hair,
And a sharp scent of brimstone and cloves choked the air.
His arms were outspread in the shape of a cross,
And I quailed when I saw him, feeling sorrow and loss;
He narrowed his eyes with a twist of his head,
And I felt the full weight of his angst and dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his task,
Left some Dead Can Dance CD’s; before I could ask,
A single tear fell across his aquiline nose,
And then, like an angel, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his hearse, to his team he then hissed,
And away they all drifted like early dawn’s mist.
But I heard him intone, ere he vanished from sight,
“Gothic Christmas to all, and to all a good fright!”

“Look at you, don’t you look like Siouxsie Sioux.”

Oh, baby, look at you
Don’t you look like Siouxsie Sioux
How long’d it take to get that way
What a terrible waste of energy
You wear black clothes say you’re poetic
The sad truth is you’re just pathetic
[…] Don’t try to tell me that you’re an intellectual
Cause you’re just another boring bisexual
[…] 80 pounds of make up on your art school skin
80 points of I.Q. located within

–Selected lyrics from the song “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything)” (1987) by the American satirical punk rock band, the Dead Milkmen.

Funny guys, those Dead Milkmen. That song made me laugh back in the day, even as it did thoroughly insult my tribe. Mind you, Siouxsie Sioux became a Goth fashion icon with an indisputable legacy of music and style…the Dead Milkmen, not so much. At the end of the day, the art school kids came out on top.

That classic look of Siouxsie Sioux.

It’s early September so — of course — I’m already thinking about Halloween and my possible costume options. That’s just how I roll, gentle readers. As you’ve no doubt already guessed, I’m considering a transformation into Siouxsie — by which I mean ‘Classic Goth’ Siouxsie, back in her early days with The Banshees. So, what does an outfit like that entail?

Without a doubt, one of the essential elements to the successful deployment of the ‘Siouxsie-look’ is heavy, dramatic make-up. Her signature style, which paired a pale complexion with dark, exaggerated eyes, derived from a few different sources: the actresses of the silent film era — most notably, the Cleopatra as portrayed by exotic screen siren Theda Bara — and the mask-like appearance of Japanese kabuki theatre. To begin, whitened your skin tone with a powder one or two shades lighter than your usual. Once you’ve attained that perfectly pallid, cadaver-like complexion, you can reach for your black kohl eye pencil. Now the fun really starts. OK…I’ve decided not to bore you with detailed, step-by-step instructions on makeup application, as there’s many video tutorials out there showing precisely how to achieve this ‘Siouxsie-look’ with cosmetics. Here’s one if you’re interested. Suffice to say, the process involves a shitload of eyeliner and eyeshadow, dark-red lipstick and some precision work with lip liner. If you closely resemble Cleopatra when all this is done, you’re on the right track.

Ok, the hair. A big bird’s nest of black, backcombed hair. I’m not entirely confident that I’ll be able to achieve this hairstyle with my naturally curly hair, but I’ll give it a try. Perhaps with enough backcombing and hard-as-shellac hairspray, this’ll work. Either that, or I’ll borrow a black wig.

Fishnets, studded wristbands, leather and a lot of hairspray.

The clothes should be — what else? — black. The Classic Goth look borrowed heavily from late-1970’s British Punk, so lots of fishnet, combat boots, studded wristbands and collars, leather, PVC and/or vinyl. The London-based punk fashion shop SEX, co-owned by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, was fundamental to the development of the Classic Goth look. According to Wikipedia, SEX sold fetish and bondage wear supplied by existing specialist labels such as Atomage, She-And-Me and London Leatherman, as well as designs by McLaren and Westwood. Siouxsie Sioux, incidentally, was a shop regular.

Here’s a trick I learned the other day: take an old pair of fishnet pantyhose and cut off both feet. Then, cut out the crotch and pull over your head. Place arms in the (former) stocking legs and — viola! — instant fishnet shirt.

So, that’s it. I’m either going to dress-up as Siouxsie for Halloween, or a zombie. Or….Zombie Siouxsie.

Domestikia: An Account of Some Strange Disturbances. The Incident in the Nursery.

Domestikia: The Incident in the Nursery. from Jennifer Linton on Vimeo.

At last, I’ve completed my second stop-motion animated short film. Domestikia uses paper cutouts and articulated paper puppets in a stop-motion animation to explore the strange, dreamlike and uncanny realm of the Domestic Gothic.  With a healthy dose of black humour, it tackles the anxieties and challenges experienced by parents of young children. The ‘Domestic Gothic’ as a motif developed through the writing of 19th-century women Gothic novelists, such as the Brontë Sisters, and dealt specifically with the horror of confinement felt by women who were ‘imprisoned’ within the home and unable to move freely in Victorian society. With contemporary women still predominantly acting as primary caregivers to their children — and thus financially penalized by either remaining at home or opting for employment that allows for ‘family friendly’ work hours — this sense of confinement is still present. The realm of the domestic has become infiltrated by strange creatures — a giant butterfly, an octopus, and bird-headed children — whose presence suggest a level of discomfort within the home. These creatures are the physical manifestation of Freud’s das Unheimlich (translates to English as ‘the uncanny’), a term which literally means ‘unhomely.’

All images and animation were done by me, in my basement.