Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"The Belly of the Beast" or "the Mouth of Madness"

June is now well past its prime, and the best course of action is to gather what remains and toss it to the shadows that those crawling, slithering things that dwell there can feed. That's right folks! Once again it is time for our Monster of the Month feature. As a heatwave holds Vermont in its burning grip, it seemed appropriate to explore the very depths of Hell itself! Today's Monster of the Month is the dreaded Acheron, plucked from medieval Christian mythology.

Originally, the name Acheron goes back to the days of the ancient Greeks. In the poetry of Homer, Acheron was the name of a river that flowed into the Tartarus, the Greek underworld. There are also legends that describe Acheron as a water-themed Titan, slain by Zeus in that celestial family feud. Aparently the name and it's underwordly associations endured over the subsequent centuries, travelling across Europe.

In mid-12th century Ireland, a monk named Brother Marcus wrote a supposed account of a knight named Tundale. This text, called "Visio Tnugdalus" as it was originally written in Latin, was wildly popular and may have influenced Dante's Devine Comedy. As the story goes, Tundale the knight was not an evil man, but arrogant and indulgent. For his comeuppance, he was stricken with a disease that rendered him bed-ridden and comatose. Tundale was expected to die, but awoke after three days and announced that angels had given him a tour of Hell, demanding that he tell the world what fate awaited the damned.

Hell, as described by Tundale, is not truly a place, but rather a living thing attended to by the Devil. Those who fall to Hell are lead to the monster Acheron, a giant with three gigantic throats and a mouth large enough to swallow nine thousand men. Acheron devours all who are thrown to him, and they fall into his enormous pit-like stomach. Sinners are left in torment, forever sealed in darkness as they are eternally digested amidst screeching monsters and wild animals, similarly trapped. Upon witnessesing such horror, Tundale returned to life a god-fearing, church-going man.

The name Acheron has since become a generic demonic name used in horror movies, fantasy role-playing games, and bargain-basement occultism. It has also been adopted by a truly awful Black Metal band from Florida. Who can say what crime humanity committed to deserve such a fate?

But don't take my word for it! You can read about it in a book!
-Jorge Luis Borges' superlative Book of Imaginary Beings
-A History of Hell

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hollywood Vampire

Maila Nurmi (born in 1922 in what is now Pechenga, Russia) was at various points in her life a model, an actress, a chorus-line dancer, a hat-check girl, an Emmy-nominated TV hostess, a linoleum installation worker, a carpenter, and Goth icon. She also dated Orson Welles for a few months, was friends with James Dean (who was disappointed to discover that she was not a satanist), and rubbed elbows with Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. She is best known, however, for her role in what is commonly referred to as the worst movie ever filmed: Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Nurmi grew up in Ohio, but split for LA in 1939. There, she supported herself through the odd modeling jobs and posing for pin-ups (working at one point with surrealist photographer Man Ray) trying to make her big break into Hollywood. Despite a few bit parts, fame eluded Nurmi. She did get acquainted with several notable celebrities, and met and married Oscar-winning director and screenwriter Dean Riesner.

In 1953, she attended a costume ball in a get-up inspired by Morticia from Charles Addams' famous New Yorker cartoon series. Clad in a black dress, and wearing pale make-up, Nurmi looked like a walking corpse. She was spotted by KABC-TV producer Hunt Stromberg Jr., who realized that she'd be perfect to host various horror and science-fiction films being aired on his station. Nurmi's husband concocted the name "Vampira" and the character was born. One year later The Vampira Show (originally titled "Dig Me Later, Vampira") debuted. On the show, Nurmi would introduce various films in a gothic set obscured by generous amounts of artificial fog. Accompanied by a puppet spider named Rollo, Vampira would typically unleash a series of deliriously bad graveyard-themed puns. The show was a smash hit, and Nurmi's fame grew. Life magazine published an article about the show and the Vampira character, while Nurmi ran for mayor of Hollywood as Vampira for a promotional stunt. The show's format proved so successful that various television studios across the nation began mimicking it, airing Universal Studios horror movies that had been leased in a package deal. All sorts of campy, ghoulish hosts were created and the era of Creature Feature television had begun.

After surviving a bizarre murder attempt in 1955, in which a lunatic invaded her home and held her hostage for four hours until she escaped, Nurmi again tried to segue into the film industry. She was contacted by infamous schlock director Ed Wood and was offered a role in his film Plan 9 from Outer Space. Hoping to use it as a stepping stone to better things, Nurmi accepted. The movie was legendarily awful and Nurmi's subsequent roles were in movies equally bad or worse, such as Sex Kittens go to College. Decades later, these films would be featured on late-night TV shows similar to one she had pioneered.

By the time the sixties had rolled around, Nurmi could scarcely find work in Hollywood and her relationship with Riesner had dissolved. They were divorced, and Nurmi later re-married to actor Fabrizio Mioni. To earn money, she fell back on oddjobs, and later opened an antiques store called Vampira's Attic that sold items to (among other people) the Zappa family. She operated the store until 1981, in which an aborted attempt was made to resurrect the Vampira Show. Nurmi was unhappy with her lack of control over the show and departed, taking with her the Vampira name and likeness. The result was the Vampira-clone Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, portrayed by Cassandra Peterson. Nurmi sued, claiming that Elvira was infringed upon the Vampira likeness, but lost the case. Elvira went on to become an iconic-figure in 1980's pop-culture. Vampira, meanwhile, was immortalized in a song of the same name by punk group The Misfits.

Nurmi did get some recognition after the arrival of home video introduced Vampira to new audiences. Plan 9 From Outer Space had suddenly become a mega-hit thanks to its unparalleled ineptitude, and Nurmi was receiving interview offers by horror magazines and documentary filmmakers. In 1994, Tim Burton famously directed a heavily-exaggerated biography of Ed Wood, and Nurmi was portrayed by model Lisa Marie. It was that same year that a Vampira model kit was unveiled, along with other merchandise. Images of Vampira, particularly those taken from Plan 9 from Outer Space, were appropriated by the Goth sub-culture and Nurmi gained further fame amongst this group. She eventually began operating a website through which she sold autographed Vampira memorabilia. Nurmi died in Hollywood in 2008 at the age of 85. She was given a brief tribute at the 2009 Academy Awards.

Would you like to know more?
-The Official Vampira website
-Maila Nurmi's filmography

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Let's Go Cosmic

Doctor Edgar Mitchell (D.Sc. in Aeronautics and Astronautics) piloted the lunar module for the Apollo 14 flight to the moon. It was during that mission that he became the sixth man to walk on the moon's dusty gray surface. Born in Hereford, Texas, in 1930, Dr. Mitchell is an all-American. When he was young, he was a decorated member of the Boy Scouts. He belonged to the Demolay International fraternity while earning his degree at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. He later joined the U.S. Navy and became a pilot, eventually attaining the rank of captain. After taking part in the historic Apollo space program, he became an author and lecturer.

This background does not suggest a man who would be involved with the paranormal, but during his time in the Apollo program, Mitchell was conducting secret experiments in Extra-Sensory Perception with his friends. On his return voyage to Earth, Mitchell experienced a transcendental epiphany. Catching sight of the Earth in the window of the capsule, Dr. Mitchell described suddenly attaining deep emotional connection to the planet and all matter originating there. As a result of this experience he co-founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973; an organization devoted to exploring ESP, out-of-body experiences, and telepathy.

In interviews and at lectures, Mitchell outlines his beliefs in an earnest, matter-of-fact manner. He says that his conviction in the metaphysical was only further strengthened in 2004, after his non-confirmed case of kidney cancer was sent into remission by a telekinetic "remote healer" living in Canada.

Dr. Mitchell has also been very public in his views on UFOs and claims that intelligent extraterrestrial life has been visiting Earth for a matter of decades. He has said that a "cabal" within the government has been actively trying to dismiss or conceal the evidence of these alien visitations, starting with the 1947 incident in Roswell, New Mexico. Initially he implicated NASA in this conspiracy, but has since said that NASA is not involved. NASA, meanwhile, has had the awkward task of refuting his claims while remaining respectful to this hero of space exploration.

Would you like to know more?
-Dr. Mitchell's personal website
-The Institute of Noetic Sciences homepage
-NASA's biography of Dr. Mitchell
-Buy Dr. Mitchell's book "Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science."
-Watch an "An Epiphany in Space" with Edgar Mitchell, produced by the INS.

"The Man with Three Ears" or "Man or Mouse?"

In 1995, two Massachusetts-based scientists performed an innovative experiment in tissue fabrication. They covered a microscopic strip of polyester with cartilage cells taken from a cow, and implanted this structure beneath the skin of a lab-mouse. The mouse had been specially bred for the project, being both hairless and having a disabled immune system to avoid transplant rejection. The cells grew around the polyester and the result was a non-functional approximation of a human ear.

The idea was that the same procedure could be applied to people, allowing those who had lost their outer ears in accidents, or those were born without outer ears, to simply grow replacements. New noses could conceivably be grown as well.

The pictures of the "Earmouse" caused a sensation, and (predictably) various fundamentalist Christian groups condemned the historic rodent as a violation of nature. To this day, the pictures continue to circulate the internet with various misleading captions. Meanwhile, the ear-like structure was removed from the back of the mouse, and the tiny creature spent the remainder of its days scurrying about with the rest of its hairless kin.

Recently, in 2001, an Australian performance artist named Stelios Arcadiou (better known by his stage name of "Stelarc"), became interested in the Earmouse experiment. Stelarc was basically a transhumanist. Convinced that the human body had been made obsolete through advances in technology and that
it "[could] only be considered relevant now as a component of extended operational systems," his performances made use of remote-controlled robotic prosthetics. Fascinated by the pictures of the Earmouse, Stelarc courageously decided that he wanted a non-functional additional ear of his own. He spent the following six years trying to find surgeons willing to help him with his expensive bio-stunt. The "Tissue Culture and Art" group of Australia answered the call.

After determining that Stelarc's initial idea of having the second ear on the side of his face could be dangerous, the TCA constructed a quarter-scale ear "seed" to implant in his arm. After the cartilage and skin had fully grown, the lobe was later added surgically. Stelarc was quite pleased with his new ear and plans on implanting a wireless internet antenna, sound chip, and proximity detector beneath it so that it can interface with his computer.

Now isn't that meaningful?

Would you like to know more?

-Read the BBC article
-Peruse Stelarc's website

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Eagle Once Landed

The Hyper Kitchen salutes Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and "Buzz" Aldrin for their historic flight to the moon. We hope that this ensuing decade sees a return to our most famous satellite.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"Joe Corey died...and a psychotic killer was born!"

Al Adamson had a problem.

He had recently gotten a taste for the movie business after helping his father (Victor Adamson, veteran of more than a hundred zero-budget westerns) with his 1961 film Half Way to Hell. Adamson decided to become a film-maker himself and directed a crime movie called Echo to Terror. The film took itself seriously, and featured a gang of jewel thieves lead by a brutal killer. Made quickly on a shoe-string budget, Adamson couldn't find any distributor interested in his movie. He significantly re-edited the film and changed the title to the alliterative Two Tickets to Terror, but he still had no luck. How could he make money off of this thing?

Determined to get his movie shown on the silver screen, Adamson decided that it was the crime theme that was prevented Two Tickets to Terror from being picked up. He made further edits to emphasize the killings (as well as new footage of go-go dancers) and pitched it as a horror movie called Psycho a Go-Go. In 1965, the film was released by Hemisphere Pictures (which had previously introduced America to a Filipino vampire movie called The Blood Drinkers). It received little recognition.

Adamson went on to forge a successful partnership/friendship with Sam Sherman, owner of the Independent-International Pictures. With Sherman usually acting as his co-writer and associate producer, Adamson directed several exploitation movies for drive-ins and grindhouse theaters. The movies were made cheaply and each one reaped a good profit. In 1972, after releasing Hell's Bloody Devils, Five Bloody Graves, Blood of Frankenstein, and the brain-transplant odyssey Brain of Blood, Adamson and Sherman began work on their next picture. Independent-International had secured a deal to have their movies shown on television. Adamson remembered the neglected Psycho a Go-Go and decided that it was time to let this movie shine. Both men agreed, however, that more re-working was in order to make it a solid hit.

Psycho a Go-Go underwent further mutation. New footage was filmed involving a mad scientist implanting electronic devices into people's brains. To portray the deranged brain surgeon, low-budget horror icon John Carradine was brought aboard and he made the most of severely limited material. After inserting this footage into the movie, Adamson and Sherman evidently felt that it was still missing something. The solution was to film even more scenes. Adamson's wife, dancer Regina Carrol, had a the dubious honor of playing a woman transformed into a zombie. The freakish, triple-headed film that resulted was unleashed upon the nation as Blood of Ghastly Horror. What began as an attempt at a serious crime-thriller ended up as something strange beyond belief.

The...ahem...plot of Blood of Ghastly Horror goes as follows.

Soldier Joe Correy, just back from the Vietnam War, is abducted by scientist Dr. Vanard and has an electronic implant inserted into his brain. The implant turns him into a deranged killer, so naturally he gathers a gang of thieves and goes on a few jewel heists. He is ultimately gunned down by police, which serves to enrage his father, Dr. Elton Correy, who is also a scientist. Correy creates a few zombies to murder those responsible for Joe Correy's death. Hijinks ensue.

Schizophrenic and supremely cheesy, Blood of Ghastly Horror flickered across drive-in screens in the summer of '72. It was also broadcast on TV under the winning title of The Man with the Synthetic Brain. Adamson wasted no time in following it up with Mean Mother, a blaxploitation film with the memorable tagline of "Super Cool & Wild! Smashing the Man and the Mob for his Women!" He went on to direct 13 more trash films, retiring in 1983 to pursue a career in real estate. A few years later, Blood of Ghastly Horror was released on VHS and Adamson unexpectedly found himself one of several schlock directors championed by the cult movie crowd. He was even interviewed for a few documentaries focusing on exploitation films. Adamson was reportedly considering a return to moviemaking in the early nineties. Tragically, he never had the chance to direct again as he was murdered in 1995 by a man he had hired to re-tile his bathroom floor at his California home.

Several of Adamson's movies are out on DVD, and Blood of Ghastly Horror has been recently released by Troma. The DVD features an introduction by Sam Sherman and commentary by the same. Sherman has expressed interest in restoring Echo of Terror, but whether Al Adamson's first film will ever be available in its unaltered state remains to be seen. For now, we must content ourselves with one of the strangest horror movies ever made.

Would you like to know more?

Lease Holder Addendum: If one takes a look at Al Adamson's filmography, every title of every movie he directed could easily be the name of a band. The Female Bunch, the Dynamite Brothers, Black Samurai, and the Blazing Stewardesses are among the best.

How Things Work Part V: A New Beginning

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Phantom Broadcast

KLEE-TV was the first television station in Houston, Texas, and the 12th in the nation. Constructed in 1949, it was purchased one year later by the publishers of the Houston Post to compliment their radio station. In light of this change in management, the station's call letters were later changed KPRC-TV.

Nothing worthy of the Hyper-Kitchen's notice happened at station KPRC until 1953, when they received a letter from Britain addressed to the "president of KLEE." Enclosed was a photograph of a television set displaying the KLEE station identification card. The accompanying letter explained that the picture was taken on September 14th, 1953 and requested an explanation. The station was baffled. Disregarding that the signal could not have possibly travelled all the way to the UK, and that American and British television receivers were incompatible, the KLEE identification card had not been used since the Post had bought the station.

The photographs were examined and deemed genuine. As various engineers and television experts tried to determine how the incident had happened, word got out. An article was written about the KLEE photo in a 1958 issue of Reader's Digest, and C.B. Colby devoted a chapter to KLEE in his 1959 book "Strangely Enough!". From there the story spread via word of mouth, and as per usual, was distorted with each retelling. Certain facts were ignored and fallacies were inserted. The details of the case were exaggerated; now the KLEE ID card had been seen by "viewers in many parts of England" and KLEE had been "off the air for years." It had developed a feel similar to a ghost story, with a phantom broadcast in the place of any undead specter. Perhaps this is why the story has endured for so long.

The staff at KPRC responded to the letter they received, asking for more information. The response was bizarre; little more than an advertisement for a mythical "super-heterodyne" television set that could receive signals over vast distances. Comparing notes with other television stations across the country, KPRC found that the others had received similar letters and photographs, and concluded that an unknown party in Britain had concocted the stunt to scam people into purchasing their non-existent "super-heterodyne" television sets. Whoever they were, they were relying upon out-of-date information, which explained why the picture showed the KLEE ID card and not KPRC.

It is deeply unfortunate that such a strange little mystery must be revealed as a mere hoax. The old phrase "the truth is stranger than fiction," is not so often the case.

Would you like to know more?
-The ever-intrepid Snopes.Com examines KLEE
-For whatever its worth, the official site of KPRC-TV, formerly KLEE-TV
-Buy C.B Colby's "Strangely Enough!" for a single cent (a steal)

Where Your Eyes Don't Go

Yesterday, while placing the finishing touches on our latest installment of the legendary Monster of the Month series, the chefs of the Hyper Kitchen were interrupted by a legion of corrupt attorneys and law-enforcement officers (possibly sent by the Bilderberg Group). They not only shut down our internet access but proceeded to interrogate us about the whereabouts of one Ned Swanberg, well-known author and ne'er-do-well. No strangers to grilling, the chefs kept mum throughout the ordeal and their captors had no choice but to leave in anger. We have since changed the locks on the door.

While the status quo has been resumed, we were critically delayed in posting of our Monster of the Month post. It looks like we'll wind up doing two monster-related posts in July. So, in a way, everyone wins.

For this belated entry, we delve into the colorful realm of lumberjack folklore. The lumberjacks were known for their tall-tales and claimed to have encountered a plethora of strange beasts while working in the remote forests. Most of these creatures were described in lavish detail except for one, as no one had witnessed the thing and lived to talk about it. This is, of course, the dreaded Hidebehind.

pictured: one Hidebehind.

Like all the great monsters, the Hidebehind lurks deep in the archetypal forest. Nothing is known about the Hidebehind save for its great height and slender body. As its name implies, the Hidebehind would stalk the unwary lumberjack by silently creeping from tree-to-tree and concealing itself. If the lumberjack happened to look over his shoulder as the monster was approaching, it would hurl itself behind the nearest tree at lightning speed. Consequently, it was impossible to determine if one was being followed by a Hidebehind or whether one was safe and alone. This probably lead to numerous lumberjacks becoming hopelessly paranoid, perhaps carrying their axes with them at all times.

Would you like to know more?
-Read this online edition of Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods