Wicked Art Wednesdays: Art History’s Scariest Paintings

Art History is filled with a number of terrifying paintings. Some are bibilical stories and greek or roman myths, others are disturbing images meant to represent abstract ideals, and some are pretty straight-forward. The things we fear, have always been feared, and all human beings share in those feelings. Here’s my picks for the top ten scariest art paintings in history.

10.

Odilon Redon, “The Smiling Spider,” 1887

Why is this spider smiling? It’s ultra creepy. Spiders are creepy enough on their own without a smile. Now, I’m just suspicious. What did this spider do?

9.

John Singleton Copley,”Watson and the Shark,” 1778 

It might just be me but this is hella scary. That person in the water is toast and that shark is about as big as the boat! We can easily imagine it overturning and all-you-can-eat buffet happening in the next scene. It’s almost comforting knowing our forefathers held similar fears of the great white sharks, like, our reasoning is kinda justified. We might have bigger boats and better guns, but sharks have always been incredible evolutionary killing machines, who haven’t really changed much over the years. Getting caught in shark infested waters is one of the scariest things on earth.

8.

Zdzislaw Beksinski, “Untitled,” 1984

This is one of those paintings that is both beautiful and scary. Til death to they part. We see the lovers embraced, dying together, decaying together. This is true love. It’s frightening to realize how intertwined death and love are. Most of Beksinski’s art seems to be bizzare tributes to love, death destruction or war. When you learn of Beksinski’s own tragic life, paintings like this become even more bittersweet.

7.

Hieronymus Bosch, “The Garden of Earthly Delights, Third Panel” c. 1500-1505 

Not as scary as his Hell paintings, but don’t we expect Hell to be scary? This is the Garden of Earthly Delights, and this is creepy AF! What’s up with all the Keebler elves sewing together human parts? Is that a witch, overseeing the work, casting a spell or a representative of the mind? Are they making a woman? I have so many questions, so many, and no one has answers.

6.

Titian, “Flaying of Marsyas,” c. 1570-1576

The satyr Marsyas supposedly lost a musical contest with the god Apollo and is now being skinned alive while a host of Greek figures help out or look on. Brings new meaning to the term ‘winner take all.’ There’s a whole lot of symbolism and deeper meaning going on here and you’re all gonna have to Google that for yourselves. At face value, this is one of the most savage paintings in the world.

5.

Theodore Gericault, Severed Heads, Preparatory Paintings for the “Raft of the Medusa” 1819

These next two paintings are a bit of twofer. See below.

4.

Theodore Gericault, Preparatory Paintings for the “Raft of the Medusa” 1819

Taken out of the context, these are two of a half dozen creepy and gory preparatory paintings. Basically, these bizarre and scary pieces were practice for an even bigger masterpiece, the “Raft of the Medusa,” which is a pretty brutal painting, filled with death and chaos, depicting the scandalous aftermath of the wreck of the Frigate Meduse in 1816. Survivors were set adrift for 13 days, and endured dehydration, starvation and cannibalism. Believe it or not, this fascinating true story of events totally eclipse this incredible eerie painting and all its the gory preparatory work.

3.

Peter Paul Rubens, “Saturn Devouring His Son,” 1636

According to Greek Myth, the Oracles foretold that a child of Titan Cronus (Romanized to Saturn) would some day overthrow the ruler, just as he had supplanted his own father. So, the Father of the Year ate his first two children, forcing wife Ops to hide the third Jupiter, where he was successfully whisked away and hidden on the isle of Crete, only to return years later to fulfill the prophecy. Man, hate to have Thanksgiving at their house.

2.

Francisco Goya, “Saturn Devouring His Son,” c. 1819-1823

This is is Goya’s version of the same story, with a gorier depiction, the child’s head and arm have already been devoured. Art critics have explained that the painting may have a deeper personal meaning to Goya, as only one of his six children survived. It could serve as a religious allegory to the wrath of God or represent the political situation of Spain at the time, a frequently visited subject by Goya.

1.

Henry Fuseli, “The Nightmare,” 1781

Both scary and erotic, the painting depicts a woman in a dreamlike state with demonic entity, possibly an incubus, sitting on her chest and a horse looking on in the background. This frightful painting has been a huge success since its exhibition and copied and parodied numerous times throughout the years, including Thomas Burke’s equally famous engraving The Nightmare. In fact, it was so popular at the time, Fuseli even repainted different versions of it. Oddly enough, he never really explained what it was about! Naturally, interpretations vary, but some critics have offered suggestions that the painting represents repressed sexuality, general lust and women’s desire, political allegories, religious allegories, devil worship and witchcraft, real nighmares, sleep deprivation and sleep paralysis. I mean, the list goes on as testament to its versatility.

This is the image I think of when someone mentions sleep disorders, particularly sleep paralysis. I, myself, have had a few instances of waking up before the rest of my body does and having the feeling of a being sitting on my chest. It’s the most terrifying memory I have. There’s zero comfort in knowing how common an occurrence this is between people either.

Like I’ve said before, our fears are the same and have been the same throughout the ages. What famous paintings scare you?

Five Sleeper Hits on Streaming

Summer is always a rough season. Summer combined with the Corona virus lockdown is almost unbearable, but being stuck inside doesn’t have to be torture. I found these five low budget gems, definitely better than expected, that should satisfy your horror movie cravings.

We Summon the Darkness (2019)
Service: Netflix

“There’s a lotta evil out there.”

For anyone’s who has ever worn a leather vest over a jean jacket, sported big feathered hair, or been bullied for listening to Ozzy or Slayer, all over the misguided belief that heavy metal is Satan’s music for devil worshippers, this one’s for you. Set in the 80s, this low-key thriller about three victims falling prey to a murderous cult with diabolical intentions isn’t particularly scary or gory, but it definitely harkens back to those old glossy B slashers that the studios used to churn out. The movie stars a gaggle of Hollywood’s brightest teen stars, led by Alexandra Daddario, and Johnny Knoxville, surprisingly right at home, playing a smarmy televangelist. The energy is high and acting is decent, honestly though, absolutely nothing else stands out here. Both the plot and the twists are totally predictable, it’s a little hard to tell if that’s by design or not. If I was one of the filmmakers, I’d get all meta and say, ‘oh yeah, it was supposed to be that way.’ People really enjoy homages, and stickin two giant middle fingers up to the real evil in the world, those big greedy corporate churches, for lying to the world about great music, using the lord’s name in vain, and besmirching religion. That, plus a bitchin’ soundtrack, and heavy metal couture, so 80s, you can almost smell the AquaNet, there are worse ways to spend a Saturday night.

Spring (2014)
Service: Shudder

“I gotta make sure you’re the kinda crazy I can deal with.”

There aren’t too many well-made horror romances out there in the world, but this movie is in top ten. Spring, the story of grieving young man who finds love with a mysterious woman, while on a vacation in Italy, is just as refreshing as its name sounds. It’s simply a beautiful movie, everything from the strange Lovecraftian story to the incredible cinematography, and the dark, creepy suspense to the blossoming love between two strangers. What makes the film work, besides getting lost in charming scenery of Southern Italy, is the chemistry between the leads Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker, it’s sweet, like saccharine, yet, definitely filled with a touch of danger and mystique. Their romance moves a little fast and even seems unrealistic, but if you factor in love at first sight (hey, it can happen), and remember the vulnerability of a lonely, grieving, inexperienced young man, it becomes real easy to understand why he would be attracted to an alluring, beautiful, mystical 2000 year old creature. It’s almost sad to watch her toy with him so effortlessly, then again, the boy is as impulsive as he is lost. A violent episode in the film’s beginning shows he’s far from a perfect hero and they might just be morally matched. As for the girl and her “condition”, well, you’ll just have to go watch the movie to see if her intentions are pure or not.

Ghost Stories (2017)
Service: Hulu

“Things are not always as they seem.”

This movie about a skeptical professor and paranormal debunker is a cleverly disguised anthology from IFC Midnight, turns out to be one of the scariest movies that I’ve seen in a long time. Triple threat writer-director Andy Nyman stars as the wry skeptic investigating the disappearance of his hero mentor. Once he finds him, he is then tasked with looking into the old man’s three most disturbing cases, which brings the professor on a terrifying journey of self-discovery. Nyman, along with co-creator Jeremy Dyson based their script off their hit theater show of the same name. The writing, cinematography and performances here are all phenomenal, in particular, Martin Freeman as a haunted banker, and in a mystery role, that I won’t give away. Ghost Stories makes good work of jump scares and sports some deep Hammer vibes, paying homage to numerous horror films, so it’s not inventing the wheel or anything, just making really good use of the tools from the tool box. Sometimes, that’s all a proper horror film needs.

One Cut of the Dead (2017)
Service: Shudder (Japanese subtitles)

“One take, no cuts. With one camera from start to finish.”

Shin’ichiro Ueda’s brilliant feature debut is a bit of movie inception. The movie starts off as a seriously cheesy low-budget zombie movie about an indie film crew filming a zombie movie in an abandoned warehouse, when suddenly, they’re attacked by real zombies, much to the director’s delight. If you’re still watching by the time the credits roll about 37 minutes in, yes, you read that right, boy, are you in for a treat! As you’re sitting there wondering ‘what the hell was that?’ a new movie starts. Well, sort of, it’s a flashback, and all good things to those who wait. One Cut of the Dead isn’t really a cheesy low-budget zombie film, it’s a hilarious meta-satirical comedy about filmmaking, including the backstage antics of producing live television. There are a ton of references to zombie movies and lots of gore and screaming, of course, but, the real prize here is the storytelling. One Cut features a strong message about the collaborative filmmaking process, and the resourcefulness, courage and heart it takes to be in the entertainment business. I guarantee, by the third act, you’ll forget all about those 37 minutes wasted in the beginning and cheer on the film crew’s spirited efforts to make their zombie movie.

Blood Quantum (2019)
Service: Shudder

“Every one of those motherf****** is a time bomb.”

Blood Quantum is essentially zombies on a modern-day reservation. You get all the blood-thirsty ravaging undead and pensive natives struggling to survive day-to-day, while reconciling their anger, resentment, and fears. Writer-director Jeff Barnaby channels his inner Romero and delivers biting social commentary on real life native troubles by drawing parallels to surviving in the zombie apocalypse, thus, immediately making it a better than average zombie story. Life on the reservation hasn’t improved, but it hasn’t necessarily deteriorated either. The white man is still trying to kill us. Same shit, different millennia. A little closer to the heart, there’s nice family drama subplot involving a wayward son named Lysol, wonderfully played by Kiowa Gordon. Lysol is one complex dude. He’s angry and alluring, righteous, and terrifying, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he represents a lot of young native men across the North America. Sadly, in a film filled with quirky interesting characters, Lysol is one of the few fleshed out characters. Dropped plot points involving back stories is just one of tiny problems that all add up over time, keeping the film from being truly great. I read director Barnaby wore several post production hats to ensure he told the story he wanted to tell, but I can’t help but wonder what the film could have been, if only it had a bigger budget and better editing. Despite its obvious flaws, this is a solid horror movie with nice cinematography, comical one-liners, ranging from cheesy to endearing, and plenty of zombie action and bloody carnage.

June Gloom Picture Challenge

“Some said the thunder called the lurking fear out of its habitation, while others said the thunder was its voice.” – H.P. Lovecraft

In this volatile world filled with ominous creatures and unknown dangers, the fine line between madness and reason evaporates with the arrival of the lurking fear.
Curious humans stumble upon Mother Nature’s guardians, as they watch over the gates of the abyss, only to become prey to Summer’s haunting season.

Head on over to Instagram and post your favorite pics/photos representing June Gloom. Both art pics and photos are allowed this time around. Don’t forget to credit the artists when you can.

Join in any day and don’t forget to tag your pics using #junegloompicchallenge

June Gloom Pic Challenge

The Witch’s Tale, American Radio’s First Horror Show

The Witch’s Tale was the first horror-fantasy radio series, which aired from May 28, 1931, to June 13, 1938, on WOR, the Mutual Radio Network, and later in syndication. Creator Alonzo Deen Cole, a 34-year old Minnesota native, convinced the station to air the supernatural series that he wrote and directed himself. His goal was to draw audiences away from more conventional musical shows airing on rival stations.

Witchs_Tale_1The creepy 30-minute weekly anthology featured a cackling host named Old Nancy, a witch from Salem, who, along with her wise black cat named Satan, spun a new wicked “bedtime yarn” each week. The show terrified younger listeners and was a huge success with New York children, who adored Old Nancy, often imitating her cackles and quips, in efforts to scare younger siblings.

The shows were broadcast live, recorded for syndication, and then distributed to various national markets. It’s reported, that in 1961, Cole didn’t think the recordings held any value, so he destroyed nearly all of them (only about 30-50 recordings exist today).

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Most scripts were original stories but there were a few literary adaptions as well. Cole played the cat Satan and enlisted the aid of his wife Marie O’Flynn to play lead female characters. Old Nancy, liked telling tales was created by stage actress Adelaide Fitz-Allen, who portrayed the spooky witch until her death in 1935.Auditions were held soon after to find a new Old Nancy and 13-year old Miriam Wolfe, a radio prodigy from Brooklyn, New York was chosen for the role after Cole heard the girl mimicking the character’s trademark cackling laugh. Wolfe would play the character for several years, in addition to other characters, before leaving to pursue other interests. Veteran radio and film actress Martha Wentworth (the famed Disney voice artist) then stepped in to lend her voice talents as Old Nancy. Top New York radio actors were often cast to fill roles of secondary characters respectively.

 

 

 

 

In 1936, a companion magazine called The Witch’s Tales was published by the small firm, Carwood Publishing Co., which reportedly failed to promote the radio show properly and completely mismanaged finances and distribution of the magazine. Only two issues (November and December) ever made it into print. Although Alonzo Deen Cole was named editor, real editorial work was believed to be done by Tom Chadburn. Cole did, however, write the lead story for the first issue and contributed the plot for the main story in the second issue. The magazine’s other stories were all reprints from the American version of Pearson’s Magazine. 

The spell cast by The Witch’s Tale came to an end in 1958, with talk of bringing the series to television. Cole was eyed as a consultant and story supervisor for the pilot, but the idea never came to fruition.

You can find many episodes over at Archive.org: https://archive.org/details/TheWitchsTale

The video shown below is titled Graveyard Mansion, originally aired in 1934, about two brothers who may have stumbled upon a New Orleans vampire. Take a listen.

Tuesday Terror – The Black Cat

The Black Cat (1932)
“Did you ever hear of Satanism, the worship of the devil, of evil?”

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Today’s black and white classic is the horror-thriller The Black Cat from Universal Pictures. Horror icons Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff square off for the first time in a movie about a traumatized doctor with a cat phobia named Werdegast and an American newlywed couple, who seek medical aid at the home of the doctor’s nemesis, Hjalmar Poelzig, the dark high priest of a devil-worshipping cult. The doctor’s original plans of revenge on Poelzig are changed when it is revealed the priest plans to sacrifice the young bride at the dark of the moon.

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Produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr., the young studio head believed in director Edgar G. Ulmer’s vision enough so the man had free rein over the pic. Although presumed to be loosely based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe, there are not too many similarities here. It’s a bit strange really because the movie is good enough to stand on its own merits. This perhaps one of my favorite classic films. The story is excellent, with strong performances from the entire cast. David Manners and Julie Bishop pile on the melodrama with their romance, which is now part of the charm in some of these old films, but let’s be honest, they weren’t who we’re here to see anyway.  Lugosi playing the tortured Werdegast against Karloff’s evil Poelzig in a battle for screen supremacy is one of the best horror face-offs ever found in horror. I’d say Lugosi is the clear winner, due to a more fully fleshed-out character and more dialogue to offer, but Karloff does manage to say quite a lot with just a creepy stare. Madness and secret motivations are the whole reason why this film is so scary. Clearly, something evil has hold of these men.

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The film escaped the Pre-code guidelines but Ulmer’s first cut of the film, which included several scenes of satanic worship and skinning alive of Herr Poelzig, was deemed too dark and violent for the Laemmles (father and son). Between that and Bela Lugosi’s complaints that he appeared to be too villainous, Ulmer reshot several scenes,  downplaying the gruesome last scene, and added some sprinkling of humanity in the tragic Dr. Werdegast. In a touch of irony, while cleaning up the film’s ending, Ulmer snuck in some extra shots of Poelzig’s necrophilic menagerie. Already heavy with a dark look and satanic theme, studio execs managed to miss The Black’s Cat’s seriously taboo subject matter, or perhaps they ignored it.

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The eerie movie score runs 80 minutes contains many classical selections, including the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, only the second time a horror film featured the now cliched song.  The set of Poelzig’s mansion is considered somewhat of a masterpiece in the industry, part art deco, part haunted house. In contrast to The Old Dark House, this film is well-lit, casting defined shadows in a way that you’re unsure if you’re watching a horror film at all.

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The Black Cat is considered to be the first movie to use psychological horror, capitalizing on public interest in psychiatry at that time. Despite the audience’s distaste for the dark subject matter, it was the biggest box office hit for Universal that year, due in part to the popularity of its stars.  What didn’t work then is exactly why it works now. The Black Cat is creepy, scary, and a masterclass in great classic horror.

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Ten Freaky Vintage Costume Photos

Whenever someone mentions vintage Halloween, the first thought that jumps into everybody’s head are those creepy costume photos we see online. It took an awful lot of courage to be a Kodak developer back in the day.

10. The Real Mickey and Minnie

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9. Ann looking raggedy without her Andy.

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8. Has anyone seen my dearest Lamb Chop?

sheep man circa 1915

7. Take us to your former leader.

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6. You’re next!

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5. But, I like cornbread.

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4. These are the Wild Things you’re looking for.

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3. Bette and Joan, the early years.

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2. Coming this Christmas, It’s a very very Texas Chainsaw Reunion!

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  1. Is it a man?  A beast? A pig?  The Hulk? Skeletor’s dad?  Whatever it is, it’s terrifying!

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Horror’s Worst Vacations Ever

Happy September! School is back in session, summer is winding down, and that recent holiday in the sun is now a distant memory. Everyone knows vacations can sometimes be more stressful than relaxing. Between the airlines losing luggage and hotel rooms not looking anything like the brochure, to pricey tourist traps or flat out being robbed, the reality of exotic trips not living up to their expectations is a top reason why people just stay home. Let’s be honest, a lot of the disappointment could’ve been solved with better research and a Lonely Planet travel guide.

No matter how awful your trip was, just be glad you weren’t a character in an Eli Roth movie.

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Camp Crystal Lake, Friday the 13th (1980) dir. by Sean S. Cunningham

Years after a child’s accidental drowning, a group of young camp counselors prepare for the summer camp’s reopening, only to be stalked and murdered by an unseen force.

This one almost didn’t make the list because for all its posturing and preparation for summer visitors, Camp Crystal Lake never actually opened to the public. That’s right, no vacations were had, which is a good thing because after all those brutal murders, they never would have survived the Yelp reviews. The locals called it ‘Camp Blood’ for short. I mean, can you imagine the BBB rating on this place? “One star for the blood-stained bunk beds!” Never before has the mere uttering of a vacation destination sparked so much fear, because no one steps foot in a forest these days without hearing Jason’s theme ‘ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma‘ in their head.

Continue reading “Horror’s Worst Vacations Ever”