Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 26: Crowd-Funded and Bit Torrented Horror

The Tunnel (2011) poster. Image Source: Tribute.

Today for the countdown, see a very Millennial scary Australian film The Tunnel, which took Urbex to a dramatic level. The film begins with urban legends and conspiracy theories about unused train tunnels underneath Sydney. The plot hinges on the typical Millennial confusion between fiction and non-fiction in this faux found footage 'declassified' horror-mentary, complete with "candid interviews with the survivors." The story is very much Blair Witch meets Creep.

Plot aside, this film is also interesting because of its funding and distribution model: the film was partly crowd-funded and the film-makers altered its copyright to release the movie directly to DVD and the Internet. The film "garnered much attention for its unconventional release through BitTorrent. The Tunnel is the first Australian film to be distributed and promoted legally through the BitTorrent internet downloading platform, a release strategy which could potentially expose the film to tens of millions of people, for free."

The film-makers ask viewers to buy one frame of the film for one dollar, in exchange for a possible share in the profits: "On a date yet to be determined by the Producers, one of these frames will be selected at the sole discretion of the Producers to receive a 1% profit share in the movie. The 1% profit share will only produce revenue once the project is deemed to be in profit. Profit occurs after the US$135,000 to complete production has been recouped and all costs associated with further exploitation of the movie and other elements of the project have been reimbursed. The recipient of the 1% share will be contacted via email or telephone."

Friday, October 5, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 27: Marking Time With CBC's Nightfall

Image Source: The Nightfall Project.

Time Management. Procrastination. Internet Use Disorder. Today's Countdown to Hallowe'en blogathon continues by looking at this blog's topics through a horror lens, in this case, how to slow down distracted Millennial sensibilities. Listening to radio drama is a step back to an earlier time, when people had longer attention spans; radio plays demand imagination and attention. They are an antidote for today's limitless multi-tasking.

From 1980 to 1983, Canada's CBC Radio produced a show called Nightfall, described as "one of the most disturbing radio series ever produced." The show's introduction, from the dedicated site, The Nightfall Project ran:
Welcome…to the Edge!

You stand at the rim of the abyss, gazing out over … nothing. Your fear mounts as you are compelled to move closer, to look deeper into the darkness. Your mind races as the many possible outcomes of your next step are considered. Your foot wavers above the abyss, and then — — you are falling, lost in the misty realm of your dreams. You see nothing clearly, yet it is frighteningly familiar. You feel terror swell in your throat, but force it back down. It's only a dream, you say to yourself. Dreams aren't real. They can't hurt me. There's no reason for me to panic. And then, dark locks in: it's NIGHTFALL.
Part of Nightfall's critically-acclaimed impact came from the fact that the show's creators adapted original Canadian horror plays as well as frightening British and European dramas. The latter were sometimes relocated in isolated Canadian towns, with electric effects. The Porch Light episode from 1982 is an example of a scary story set in a Canadian white-out blizzard, so that the characters have nowhere to run.

Another example is the episode, Wildcats, based on the Geman short story by Christian Noak. Wildkatzen oder Wenn die Dämmerung kommt was performed as a 1961 radio play in Germany by Westdeutschen Rundfunk and then adapted in Canada in 1981 by the much-loved Czech Canadian radio personality, the late Otto Lowy (when Lowy died in 2002, Canada's Senate delivered a tribute statement in his honour). The tale was originally about a passenger getting off at the wrong train stop in rural Germany, but it became much more threatening when the scene was eerily shifted to the Canadian wilderness by a broadcaster who was as acquainted with Europe as he was with Canada; the Nightfall Project comments:
For 22 years, up until his death in 2002, Lowy hosted The Transcontinental, CBC Radio's "musical train ride through Europe". During that time he also wrote and acted in several radio and television programs (including acting in two NIGHTFALL episodes, in addition to writing this one). 
In this episode, a man traveling by train (series regular Neil Dainard) disembarks at the wrong station and ends up having to spend the night at the old Blue Trout Inn, a run-down hotel from the days when the area was a major tourist attraction. The Inn is run by two elderly sisters (Jane Mallet and series regular Ruth Springford) who live in fear of the local wildcats. Having lived alone at the Inn alone for years, the two women realize they have a chance for company and plot to keep the man there by administering morphine and claiming he is ill. They also take advantage of the man's state to ask him detailed personal questions. Unfortunately for them, the man's truthful confessions inspire the women to make their own… 
This is one of the more unusual plays in the NIGHTFALL series and it merits more than one listen to really get the full effect of the story. A lot of key story points can be lost if you're not paying attention. I have tried for years to find the original short story this is based on, but I have so far drawn a blank. Perhaps a lead might be found if Otto Lowy's files have been archived somewhere.
The show adapted classics such as The Monkey's Paw (listen to this searing warning against bending fate and cheating death here), The Telltale Heart, The Body Snatchers, Young Goodman Brown, and The Signalman. The show also covered science fiction, such as the post-apocalyptic mutant tale, The Chrysalids. Many episodes depended upon arcane glimpses into the future, evil predictions and frightening time loops. A good example is the episode, Mkara: "Ethiopia, 1938. After killing a sacred elephant for ivory, Charles Woodley is told he is cursed, that he will die five years later, on the same date he killed the animal. Ethiopia, 1943. Woodley, believing in the curse ... has deteriorated, is waiting to die. A friend, a doctor, comes to visit."

Sometimes, the listening environment brings out the depth of radio dramas: the most harrowing episode of Nightfall I heard in 1982 was The Debt: "A fraternity initiation ritual goes too far, and the young man being initiated is killed. And that's the end of that. Or is it..."  I listened to it over a scratchy car radio, while driving on an endless rural stretch in Quebec (where an old seigneurial east-west road is called a rang and a north-south highway is called a montée) in the middle of the night.

Montée Rockburn sideroad, Quebec. Image Source: Cycle Fun Montreal.

Turn the lights down low and listen to stories from the gathering dark...

You can listen to many of the total 100 episodes, here or directly above (scroll up and down the right hand menu to see all the episode selections), with summaries and reviews here and here. Recommended episodes include The Devil's Backbone and Wind Chill. For a horror take on American presidential elections, listen to The Monkey's Raincoat, "A satirical vision of the future of American politics, as a freshly inaugurated President must prove his caliber (pun intended) by eliminating several assassins on his way to the White House." Nightfall gained an audience in the United States when it was rebroadcast by National Public Radio.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 28: Circadian Rhythms and the Witching Hour

The Witching Hour © by Miriam Escofet.

Legend has it that the witching hour is midnight. But in modern horror films and online lore, the so-called hour of the devil is variously pegged at 2 a.m., 3 a.m. or 3:15 a.m. The Onion lampooned this superstition, proclaiming these hours to be unholy, but it is a common myth. Genesis 3:15 refers to the enmity between the serpent and woman; the phallic symbolism of the devil as serpent, combined with the temporal translation of the biblical reference, implies that this is the point when the estrangement between man and woman is greatest. 3 a.m. is supposedly the time when black masses are held, to invert the purported time of Christ's death at 3 p.m. Of course, a trinity is implied, in unholy and holy cases. A 2009 Eminem song, 3 a.m., related all these ideas to Millennial conspiracy theories about Freemasons and the Illuminati (see the video here).

In the lingo of modern investing, the witching hour flips the clock and refers to the hour between 3 p.m. EST when the bond market closes, and 4 p.m. EST when the stock market closes.

Is there anything to this superstition that is based in substantial physical fact, and not religious fears or the occult? Yes, in fact, there is.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 29: Anti-ageing at CBS Radio Mystery Theater

The Ageing Face. Image Source: Top News.

Generations and changing social values, ageing and anti-ageing are all themes on this blog. For centuries, anti-ageing gone wrong has been a constant horror theme, because it concerns a reversal of the natural order of things. As Millennial genetics and advanced medical research make that reversal the new normal, fears of unnatural immortality seem increasingly outdated.

Anti-ageing taps into other social values and trends, such as relations between the sexes, physical enhancement through medical technologies, the increasingly complex human relationship with machines and the dawn of transhumanism.

Two examples of scary story-telling show how fears around this family of issues are cryptically related and how they changed over time: the 367th episode of CBS Radio Mystery Theater, broadcast on 24 October 1975 - and the 1,345th episode, broadcast on 30 June 1982.

CBSRMT's main site, where you can hear all 1,399 episodes, is here. Broadcast each weeknight, this American radio series ran ghostly and horror dramas from 1974 to 1982. This show was part of what could be called the last blossoming of the golden era of radio drama.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 30: The Hands of Orlac

Scene from The Hands of Orlac (1924). Image Source: Old Hollywood.

For today, see one of the world's earliest horror films: The Hands of Orlac (1924). With its costumes and eerie acting, the late Expressionist Austrian silent Orlacs Hände is as fascinating as a window onto bygone culture as it is surprisingly modern. Directed by Robert Wiene, the plot is an account of fractured identity and overlapping realities, with some posthuman themes now familiar to us: "A concert pianist, Paul Orlac (Conrad Veidt), loses his hands in a railway accident. Replacement hands are transplanted onto him in an experimental procedure, but the hands are those of a recently-executed murderer." The film has some genuinely creepy moments. The movie was remade in 1935 and 1960, although the theme of an alien body part transplant having a life of its own has been repeated in many other films. See the film below the jump.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 31: The Blair Witch Generation

Blair Witch Project Still. Image Source: BluRay Definition.

This year, Histories of Things to Come is one of the cryptkeepers in the Countdown to Hallowe'en blogathon. Every day this month, I will highlight different themes on this blog when skewed through a horror lens, from transhumanism to anniversaries; from generations to comics; from time-keeping to anti-ageing.

First up, The Blair Witch Project (1999), which together with its accompanying faux-documentary, Curse of the Blair Witch, proved that before the Internet hit full force, people still believed that something fake was real if its producers said it was real. The film has been extensively parodied and diminished by a poor sequel that turned the tropes of the original into clichés. But for a tiny pre-Millennial niche in time, this film owed its astronomical success to a perfect balance between 90s' grunge and a high-tech future. Although it had clear precedents, this was the beginning of Reality Horror.

Made for an initial (later expanded) budget of $20,000, Blair Witch made almost $250 million. It was the first film to be mainly marketed on the Internet. The film-makers exploited the public's pre- and early Web credulity. Wiki: "The film's official website featured fake police reports and 'newsreel-style' interviews. Due to this, audiences and critics initially thought it was an actual documentary about the 'missing' teenagers. These augmented the film's convincing found footage style to spark heated debates across the internet over whether the film was a real-life documentary or a work of fiction." You can see some of that fake supporting information at the film's official site here.

Thus, the bulk of the film's profits came from the technological innocence of a departing century. Because it walked the line between past and future so exactly, it is also a quintessential Generation X film. With that precedent set, this generation has continued to push the envelope in the grey area between reality and virtual reality.

The film also depended on a pared-down, classic horror plot. Its believability depended on a real historical resonance still lingering from Hawthorne-esque memories of Colonial America. Ironically, as the Web-savvy public have become much more cynical about found footage and other fake-reality new media gimmicks (Postmodern and post-Postmodern), it is Blair Witch's purely modern take on colonial witchery - its grounding in the past - that makes it hold up over time.