Archive for October, 2011

The Decade of Weirdness: The 1970s

Monday, October 31st, 2011

For a while now, I’ve been posting about various Halloween horrors, real or imagined. Now I’d like to take you back to a time when the world went crazy, when paranormal phenomena entered the mainstream and the most ludicrous crap was fervently believed by otherwise normal and intelligent people.

I’m speaking of…

Having lived through the 1970s, I can assure you that it was a very strange time indeed, and not just for Nixon, Carter, disco and mood rings. It was also a golden age for paranormal crackpottery breaking into the mainstream.

Below is a roundup of all the paranormal beliefs I could remember that achieved a larger measure of widespread acceptance in the 1970s than any time before or since.

And remember: No matter how strange or bizarre some of the beliefs below, there were otherwise perfectly logical, rational people in the 1970s that believed in each of them…

Alien Abductions

Alien Abductions have been part of UFO lore for a while, and John G. Fuller’s book Interrupted Journey, about Betty and Barney Hill’s purported abduction by a flying saucer, came out in the 1960s, but the alien abduction phenomena only really took off with a TV movie based on the Hill book called The UFO Incident in 1974. (This will not be the last time that TV crops up on this list.) It’s available on YouTube, cut into non-embeddable segments, if you’re interested in viewing it. The story is told mostly through the hypnotism sessions of the Hills remembering the abduction, and James Earl Jones is very good as Barney Hill.

I can also assure you that for a 9 year old, it was terrifyingly convincing. I remember reading somewhere that the people who made The Blair Witch Project said that it was inspired by “based on real life” movies like this, because they were much more terrifying than anything you knew was fiction. I should also point out that American society as a whole was not nearly so jaded at the words “based on a true story” for a TV movie in the 1970s. Why would one of the only three broadcast networks want to lie to you?

Ah, the innocent days of youth.

Interestingly, the pictures Betty Hill drew (or, in the case of the one below, I think had drawn based on her “recovered” memories) don’t look particularly close to your standard “alien Grays”.

The 1970s were also when painter and sculptor Budd Hopkins got interested in UFOs. Later he would start to hypnotize people complaining about “missing time,” only to discover that (surprise!) all of them were victims of alien abductions. What are the odds?

Thirteen years after The UFO Incident, Whitley Strieber would suddenly remember that someone shoved an eggbeater up his butt, and the whole new generation of alien abductions was born.

Philip Klass’ UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game would pretty definitively demolish the whole shebang, but not before the alien abduction phenomena would claim it’s most famous victim:

Ancient Astronauts

Erich von Daniken’s book Chariots of the Gods came out in 1968, but I remember its popularity really taking off in the 1970s, especially with an NBC documentary In Search of Ancient Astronauts in 1973.

Back in the 1970s, this all seemed eerily convincing.

Von Daniken’s shtick was pretty simple: “See these cool things ancient civilizations built? It must have been aliens!” Time has not been kind to Von Daniken’s theories, as the last 40 years has seen no shortage of demonstrations of exactly how ancient men might have built things such as the Pyramids and Stonehenge, and with a good deal less manpower than previously believed:

Von Daniken also scoured ancient art for figures that might be vaguely related to space travel. One-eyed guy with leaves on his head?

That’s a space helmet!

Did you know there’s a Erich von Daniken’s Center for Ancient Astronaut Research? This guy is the director:

I guess it’s easier to believe in aliens when you actually look like one…

Here’s a skeptic that traces the true lineage of von Daniken’s ideas to…H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos! Which seems only fair, given the huge amount Lovecraft borrowed from various 19th century psuedoscientific beliefs like Theosophy.

Today you mainly get Ancient Astronauts mixed in with every other alien conspiracy theory floating around: Reptoids, secret alien bases, Atlantis, etc.

Speaking of Atlantis…

Atlantis Rising

I don’t actually remember this one myself, but Howard Waldrop tells me there were people in the 1970s who actually expected Atlantis to rise above the waves and usher in a new golden era thanks to the wise ancient masters who lived there. This probably had something to do with it. Naturally ancient astronauts were involved.

See? Even back in the 70s, various pseudoscientific and paranormal beliefs were already breeding with one another…

Auras

These were supposedly outline glows around people, which other people could supposedly “read” to deduce emotional states. Howard Waldrop tells me that there were even “aura fluffers” in the 1970s that would “balance” your auras using their presumably awesome psychic powers.

For a while, some people claimed that Kirlian photography (in which, if you place an image on a photographic plate and pump electricity through it, by golly, it produces a coronal image around the thing being zapped) “proved” that auras were real.

Here’s UT’s Dr. Corker’s page on auras, from which I’m stealing this completely gratuitous picture of a hot, nearly naked chick surrounded with auras:

In truth, “real” auras were much more subtle things, and you had to concentrate hard to imagine see them.

I was wondering how many people still believe in auras today. Given that most hits point to either About.com pages, or pages that look like they were designed in the era of Geocities, I would say not many.

While researching auras I came across this page on “Thiaoouba Prophecy.” It’s like someone dumped every current crackpot belief in a blender, along with generous doses of Scientology and Theosophy, and set it to puree. But you know it has to be TRUTH, because it has RANDOM words in ALL CAPS!

The Bermuda Triangle

There is a region of the Atlantic ocean where thousands of planes and ships have disappeared mysteriously in fair weather. And by “thousands” I mean “15″ (or possibly more, but you can’t know exactly how many unless you buy the book; how convenient). And by “fair weather” I mean “in storms and rough seas” and by “mysterious,” I mean “just about all have normal, prosaic explanations.” Namely, that anyplace on the deep ocean is a dangerous place if something goes wrong.

This is another one that got started in the late 1960s but didn’t peak until the 1970s. John Wallace Spencer’s Limbo of the Lost appeared in 1969, with Charlez Berlitz’s Bermuda Triangle and Richard Winer’s The Devil’s Triangle following a few years after.

Larry Kusche pretty much demolished the myth in The Bermuda Triangle Mystery-Solved. But since he was using stupid, boring old logic not involving aliens or Satan, his book didn’t sell nearly as well as the others.

This time there was not one, but two movies: the documentary The Devil’s Triangle in 1974 (with narration by Vincent Price and music by King Crimson!), and The Bermuda Triangle in 1978.

Biblical Millennialism

Certainly the last 2,000 years has seen no shortage of Christians predicting the end of the world. But the current round of American “The rapture’s right around the corner, better get ready” eschatology didn’t get started with Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind, but with Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. Lindsey explained in some detail how the founding of Israel in 1947 set the clock ticking, drawing parallels between current events and biblical prophecy. There was even a movie narrated by no less a luminary than Orson Welles (so no, the animated Transformers movie was not the worst piece of crap he was ever involved in). However, this is one case where the book was far more influential than the movie, since the movie bombed and the book sold a zillion copies. Lindsey was confident that the whole Rapture/Apocalypse enchilada would happen in our lifetimes.

Still waiting.

And now, with the thinnest of possible justifications, here’s Orson Welles bitching about the ad copy in a frozen peas commercial.

Bigfoot

While there have been a lot of sasquatch sightings throughout history (1958 and 1967 were particularly big bigfeet years), the 1970s are when Bigfoot Mania hit its peak. Bigfoot sightings were already on the rise when, on February 1, 1976, these guys kicked it into overdrive:

After the two part Secret of Bigfoot episode of The Six Million Dollar Man (never has one TV show owed so much to a single sound effect), Bigfoot sightings soared around the country.

(I had forgotten Sandy Duncan (a very 1970s name) was in that Six Million Dollar Man episode. That, and her role in Roots, were the last non-Wheat Thins contexts I can remember her in.)

Here’s another roundup of 1970s Bigfoot Mania from a kidvid and toy perspective. Somehow I missed Bigfoot and Wildboy, though lord knows I watched plenty of other crappy (and not entirely crappy) Sid & Marty Krofft TV shows in the 1970s…

There’s still no end to people who believe in bigfoot these days, despite the fact that two of the most famous pieces of evidence for modern bigfoot, the Wallace footprints and the Patterson film have been fairly conclusively debunked. And despite a nation filled with digital cameras and video phones, videos of bigfoot have only gotten less and less convincing…

Cults

While you would be hard-pressed to find any decade of American history that was completely free of strange cults, the 1970s were something of a “Onyx Age” for weird cults, beginning with the trial of the Manson Family and ending (just about) with the mass suicide of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple in Guyana.

I smell an enduring metaphor coming on.

Jones was an ardent Communist and member of CPUSA right up until they started to dis one of his heroes: Joseph Stalin. Looking for a way to put his Marxism into action, he hit upon the bright idea of founding a religion to bring in money, and founded the People’s Temple Christian Church Full Gospel. His strong commitment to integration made him a favorite of liberals like Indianapolis’ Democratic Mayor Charles Boswell, who appointed him director of the city’s Human Rights Commission. Then he moved to California, where he discovered (to quote Wikipedia) “he was the reincarnation of Jesus of Nazareth, Mahatma Gandhi, Buddha, Vladimir Lenin, and Father Divine.” Which is a neat trick, given that Lenin, Gandhi and Father Divine were all alive at the same time, and that the lifespans of the latter two overlapped with Jones’. Strangely enough, this (and his increasing tendency to bang both male and female members of his congregation) did not seem to slow down Jones’ acceptance among the liberal establishment, since Jones moved to San Francisco, helped out the Mayoral campaign of George Moscone (who then put him in charge of the San Francisco Housing Authority), and hobnobbed with the likes of Harvey Milk (who spoke at the Temple), Angela Davis, Walter Mondale and Rosalynn Carter.

In 1970, Jones had formed a People’s Temple in Jonestown, Guyana, where he would spend increasing amounts of time. On November 18, 1978, Jones’ personal Red Brigade bodyguards ambushed and killed California Democratic congressman Leo Ryan (who was visiting to investigate reports of human rights abuses and take defectors from the People’s Temple home), along with one defector and three journalists. Jones then announced to the Temple that the Soviet Union would not be granting them asylum, and they should all commit suicide instead. Which 909 of them did. There’s an audio tape of the suicide, in which Jones’ is heard proclaiming “Stop this…hysterics. This is not the way for people who are Socialists or Communists to die. No way for us to die. We must die with some dignity…We didn’t commit suicide; we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.”

Certainly there were other cults active in the 1970s; Scientology, the Nation of Islam (tangentially involved in the Zebra murders), The Process Church of the Final Judgment, and possibly the shadowy Four Pi movement, were all active in the 1970s, experiencing either rapid growth or violent upheaval. But none racked up the sheer body count of the People’s Temple.

Telekinesis

In the 1970s, there were people that could bend spoons with their minds! And by people, I mean “Uri Geller,” and by “minds” I mean “fingers.”

Geller is still around, hawking stuff from his website, despite the fact that James Randi not only comprehensively debunked Geller’s fakery, but had all of Geller’s lawsuits dismissed and Geller was forced to pay the court costs.

The Annual Fark Scary Story Thread

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Once of the great things about Halloween is the annual Fark Scary Story thread, which is now up for this year. Here are links to the last seven years of Scary Story threads:

  • 2010
  • 2009
  • 2008
  • 2007
  • 2006
  • 2005
  • 2004
  • And now some gratuitous cheesecake pictures of Sybil Danning:

    Let’s face it: Sybil Danning looks really good holding a gun…

    Halloween Scares: Black Eyed Kids

    Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

    So, vampires are so last year, and scary bunnies and goatmen don’t do it for you? Are you looking for a new urban legend to unnecessarily scare yourself silly with for the Halloween season?

    How about Black Eyed Kids?

    No, it’s not The Black Eyed Peas: The Next Generation (which would, let’s face it, be scary enough on its own). It’s kids/teenagers with all black eyes, with no iris or whites, asking to be let into your car or house, and whose mere presence instantly fills you with terror and dread.

    However, unlike most creepy pasta and/or urban legends, this one actually has an identifiable origin, namely Abilene reporter Brian Bethel, who related his encounter thusly with two of them asking for a ride:

    “C’mon, mister. Let us in. We can’t get in your car until you do, you know,” the spokesman said soothingly. “Just let us in, and we’ll be gone before you know it. We’ll go to our mother’s house.”

    We locked eyes.

    To my horror, I realized my hand had strayed toward the door lock (which was engaged) and was in the process of opening it. I pulled it away, probably a bit too violently. But it did force me to look away from the children.

    I turned back. “Er … Um …,” I offered weakly and then my mind snapped into sharp focus.

    For the first time, I noticed their eyes.

    They were coal black. No pupil. No iris. Just two staring orbs reflecting the red and white light of the marquee.

    Creepy enough for you? The fact that Mr. Bethel posted this to a “ghost-discuss” list, and that he had previously described a childhood encounter with evil muppets, might make you take his story with a grain of salt.

    However, since that original sighting (which predates the black-eyed kid shown in the Japanese horror film Ju-on (The Grudge)) there

    have

    been

    a lot

    of

    different sightings.

    For extra grins, here’s the black eyed kids/alien abduction cross-over theory.

    Now you’ll have to excuse me. There’s someone knocking on my door…

    Scary Halloween Videos: Abandoned Insane Asylums

    Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

    I’ve been looking for some scary videos on YouTube, and honestly, the most popular “paranormal” videos there are pretty embarrassingly lame. “Ah! A guy in eyeshadow steps out of the dark! It’s a ghost!”

    Much creepier, to my mind, are the video of abandoned mental hospitals and insane asylums filmed by various urban spelunkers over the years. Most were pretty depressing places in the first place, so they’re doubly creepy and depressing at night compared to regular abandoned buildings. Here’s a sampler of a few videos I found.

    A short video of an abandoned insane asylum in Maryland:

    A longer video from the same asylum, with some paranormal creepiness near the end:

    From Albuquerque’s abandoned insane asylum, seen in daylight:

    The videos I’ve seen from San Antonio’s abandoned asylum have all been either crappy or still images, but this one from the abandoned Boys Home isn’t bad, though too long and also in daylight:

    This appears to be the segment of a TV show called Scariest Places on Earth on Dixmont Insane Asylum in Pennsylvania. Full of both horrific history and cheestastic reality TV edited to hype the paranormal angle. Evidently being on a paranormal reality TV show requires subnormal intelligence. And voiceovers from the psychic in Poltergeist? Really, ABC Family?

    Warning: Teenagers. Fortunately this bunch exploring the Downey Insane Asylum in California are merely teenage stupid and not reality show stupid (though sadly, this does extend to their editing choices). And the night vision lens does make their eyes look nicely creepy.

    A different approach, for this mini-documentary on the Northville Regional Psychiatric Hospital in Michigan:

    Here’s another longer video:

    Seems like there’s a lot of videos on the place.

    I wonder how many places there are like this abandoned in Michigan. Probably lots.

    Finally, this abandoned church and school In Gary, Indiana is more sad than scary:

    I may have to do a separate post on abandoned theme parks…

    A Detailed and Possibly Tedious Account of Adding a New Bookcase To My Library

    Monday, October 24th, 2011

    One problem with having a large library that you’re always adding books to is keeping up with shelving them in the proper place.

    I have all my fiction shelved in alphabetical order by author within three form-factors (hardbacks, trade paperbacks, and mass market paperbacks). I leave “expansion joint,” i.e., empty slots in which to insert new acquisitions, on every shelf, but eventually they fill up and it’s time to add a new bookcase. Since they are shelved alphabetically by author, I can’t just stick the books randomly onto the new bookcase if I want to find them.

    When I started out collecting books, I got the regular crappy 5-high, assemble-them-yourself particle board bookcases they sold at Target, just like every other college student. (Back then, anyway. I wonder if today’s college students use bookshelves at all.) Later, when I was a little less broke, I had some real 5-high wooden bookcases made for me (one fixed shelf in the middle, three adjustable shelves plus the base) to match the existing particle board shelves. later, when I started running out of room, I started getting 8-high bookcases (one fixed shelf, six adjustable shelves plus the base) to maximize the amount of storage space. in fact, when I moved into my new house, I immediately had three more 8-high built for me (along with a custom paperback shelf) to store books I hadn’t had room to put out in my apartment.

    Because of the way the room is laid out, I’ve been replacing the five-high bookcases in my living room/library with the eight-high bookcases, and moving the five-highs back into a sort of den (with a fireplace, a futon, a coffee table, an old sofa for my of, and the rest of the fiction bookshelves). But to do everything the “proper” way is a fairly labor intensive process:

    1. Order the bookshelf

    2. Take delivery
    3. Stain the bookshelf (and this step and the next one might take several months, depending on whether I think it’s too hot to mess with, since I do it out in my garage)
    4. Varnish the bookshelf (actually, polyurethane)
    5. Remove all the books off the 5-high shelf (in this case, it was in the middles of the S section)
    6. Dust the 5-high shelf with a dust mop
    7. Dust/polish the 5-high with lemon Pledge
    8. Move the shelf back into the den, where it now falls in the middle of the V section
    9. Move about two and a half shelves of books over from the V-W section. This is how much I need to move to incorporate all the proofs I’ve added to the library after clearing out the Nova Express review pile.
    10. Stock the remaining shelves from the V section in the living room.
    11. Now move books over from the next shelf.
    12. Repeat until you reach the books removed from the 5-high and stacked on the table, at which point you incorporate those.
    13. Keep in mind that every time I clear a shelf of books, I:
      1. Take a dust mop to the shelf

      2. Dust the shelf with lemon Pledge
      3. Flip the adjustable shelf over to prevent bowing
      4. Let the shelf dry at least an hour or two; and
      5. Add expansion joints (i.e., empty spots) when you move books back onto the shelves. There are also a few odd cases, where I leave additional spots if I think I’ll be adding be adding more than a book or two to that shelf, such as books I’ve already ordered, very prolific writers I pick up everything by (Joe R. Lansdale and Charles Stross both come to mind), or series gaps I know I want to fill (I’m missing some of the Datlow/Windling Year’s Best volumes).
    14. Continue the book-moving process over a course of weeks until all the shelves have been cleaned and stocked.

    This is not a difficult process, but it is time-consuming (and by now I’m mostly done). But it prevents heartache in the long-run, because my collection remains alphabetized, the shelves clean and in good shape. And I can always lay my hands on a book when I need to. (There was another bookseller/collector who packed up his library willy-nilly, depending on what fitted in the box, and it was very frustrating experience trying to pull things from those myriad boxes when he wanted to sell something to me…)

    Cartoons for the Halloween Season: Betty Boop in Minnie the Moocher

    Monday, October 24th, 2011

    Cab Calloway, Betty Boop and dancing skeletons. What more could you ask for?

    “No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame.”

    Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

    Ten year’s ago today, Apple released the iPod. Few could see where this little device would end up taking Apple. (Certainly not this guy.)

    The headline is Commander Taco’s famous dismissive evaluation of the device on Slashdot, for those of you too young or too old to get the reference…

    (Hat tip: Bill Crider.)

    For Halloween: Creepiest Music Ever?

    Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

    According to this list, Nurse With Wound’s “I’ve Plummed This Whole Neighborhood” is the Creepiest Song Ever. Having listened to it, I do think it’s contender, though a bit repetitive and trying too hard.

    (The video is a bit NSFW.)

    Friends of Ed Bryant eBay Auction

    Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

    Ends TODAY! (October 23) To help out with Ed’s medical bills (as mentioned here).

    A Nice, Spooky Haunted Building Story

    Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

    Humper Monkey’s Ghost Story has just about everything you could ask for in a haunted building story. Inexplicable occurrences, dead bodies, a Nazi past, and lots of general creepiness. Oh, and it’s theoretically true. It seems to have originally been posted on Something Awful.

    Be forewarned that it’s really long; plan to set aside an hour or two if you want to read the whole thing, as it’s easily novella length.

    And, if that weren’t enough, there seems to be more to the story here. It gets a bit less subtle.

    I also hope Humper-Monkey gets a cut of this, and it’s not just somebody ripping him off.