Monday, January 25, 2010

Superstitions: The Number 7


I am going to be exploring the myths behind many of our most commonly accepted Superstitions as a prelude to this year's haunted house, Nightmare: Superstitions. The lore behind the number 7 is perhaps the most vast, so it is a good place for me to start. I will, however, in the next few weeks look into black cats, ladders, umbrellas, etc. as well as a few more esoteric ones from here and abroad.

For this column I asked the psychologist Dr. Judith Crews to explore the subject. She is our resident Scaredy Cat columnist for Haunternet.com:

Seven is a quantity, a numeral, an idea, a superstition, and apparently a universal spiritual element: in the Japanese Shinto belief system, there are seven gods of good luck, the Muslims believe there are seven heavens, Kaballists belief in seven elements of creation, Christianity, seven heavenly virtues as well as seven deadly sins, Buddhists seven chakras, ancient Egyptians, seven gods, ancient Romans believed that the human spirit is renewed every seven years, and so on and so on.

But why seven? Perhaps the best explanation of the significance of this particular number in such a wide variety of cultures does, in fact, lie in the heavens. For millennia, the sun and the stars were among the very few constants that existed in the awareness of human beings, even though their positions in the sky were highly dynamic. Until the invention of telescopes, only seven planets and the sun and moon were visible to the naked eye. Thus, these seven planets became deities, omens, time-keepers, and oracles for the humans who were so at the mercy of the ever changing natural world.

Another aspect to the number seven has to do with gender. Numerous cultures consider odd numbers as masculine and even numbers as feminine. The number seven is a prime number that is comprised of an odd number (1, 3, or 5) and an even number (2, 4, or 6) odd number. The joining triangle and the square were considered a symbol of perfection and among various ancient civilizations just as the joining of the male and female are the source of procreation.

So where did the nasty aspects of seven enter the scene? The broken mirror superstition likely came from ancient Rome. Romans invented glass mirrors and believed, along with a lot of other cultures, that the mirror’s reflection was actually a confiscation of one’s soul. If the mirror broke, the soul of the breaker was thus captured in the looking-glass world, which was, of course a backward, distorted place. Because the Romans believed the soul was rejuvenated each seven years, the poor wretch who broke the mirror would have to wait those seven years before his or her soul could be set right and good fortune could again occur.

The Seven Deadly Sins were the brainchild of the 6th Century Pope Gregory who put them together to juxtapose the Seven Celestial Virtues and as a way to keep the “flock” in line. Seven also has significance in Christianity as enumerating all things: the Holy Trinity (the sacred) and the four elements (the profane).

But what’s the story with the number 7 being lucky as well? Well, that’s not as scary is it.

Dr. Judith Crews is a resident faculty member for the Department of Counseling at the Idaho State University Boise Center. Her areas of specialty include couple and family counseling and mental health counseling. She has also worked in both private practice and in a community counseling agency setting as a mental health and couple and family counselor. Her scholarly and research interests include counselor education, developmental models of supervision, family systems theory and practice, grief counseling, and certain aspects of human motivation and goal attainment.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti

What's going on in Haiti is beyond tragic. The body count keeps changing in the worst ways. This is what people should be talking about and caring about right now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Film Review: Daybreakers


So i finally saw Daybreakers late last night. I was hoping to have seen it this past weekend as promised, but I didn't get a chance. I hope all of you that were anxiously awaiting my response didn't go crazy with impatience and kill yourself. That is my hope.

But, now I do have thoughts on it. I don't know if this movie was so profound that it made me think the following, or if it was merely the straw..., but I can't review Daybreakers without first addressing whether scary movies are even scary. What? excuse me? well, let me elaborate. I was going to review this movie as one is wont to do as to whether it is scary or not. After all, it is a "scary movie" about monsters and doomsday with blood and guts. But as I was considering this I started thinking "are any scary movies actually scary"? And I am sure there are many scaredy-cats out there that would give an unequivocal "YES!" And i don't begrudge them that. I am in the scaring people business with my haunted house, where if you don't scare people you might as well not exist. And I can see people being scared. And I also know that there are certain people that will be scared of everything. Even though it is nice to hear their screams, I know it wasn't too hard to do. So I don't determine how scary my haunted house is based on them.

And that's even more true with movies, that in so many ways over the years have become more like haunted houses. Now scary movies confuse startling with scary. Something pops out of nowhere accompanied by a loud noise, all the girls in the crowd squeal and voila, scary movie. This is a haunted house attraction formula. One of the reasons haunted houses do it is because it is very difficult to create a truly unnerving environment with ambiance alone. With the constant movement, with the crowds, with the noise and light bleeds, with the necessary brevity with the scenarios, etc. Creepy can only last a few seconds and that is hard to make something truly creepy. Movies don't have this problem, yet they treat themselves as if they do.

This has become so true that by and large scary movies don't even really set out to be all that scary. The scariest movies to me are more unnerving, unsettling and creepy. Not terrifying. I'm a grown man, I am not going to be terrified by things that I know aren't real. but I can be unsettled. The only movies that have done that to me recently are not even necessarily "horror movies" like "Funny Games", "The Strangers", "Anti-Christ", "Audition", and "Lost Highway." These movies made me feel uneasy and gave me the chills a few times. But they never made me want to sleep with the lights on. And then comes Daybreakers. A pretty entertaining, attractive, smart, original dark movie about Vampires, which when talking about what is supposed to be a scary movie should have been super scary. But it wasn't. It isn't even remotely scary, nor did there appear to be much effort put in on behalf of that.

What it is, is clever. A world where the vampires are the population and their lives look a lot like ours except they have pointy teeth and are seriously allergic to sunlight. but it merely tells this story. A story about a world where the vampires have eaten and/or turned so many humans that only 5% of the human population remains. How do they survive? What do they do?! They could be us now. The parable here is much more important than the scary. Vampires, like the western world, will suck the life out of all their resources until we have destroyed ourselves. Who knew two of the most environmentally conscious movies of the year would be Avatar and Day Breakers. I can see the genesis of the idea now. One of the two Australian filmmakers who made this film, The Spierig Brothers, heard someone say something in a pub about how we are sucking the earth dry like a bunch of bloody vampires, and they thought "what if that were true? But not allegorically. Like we were a bunch of vampires and the resource that they need is Human blood?" and then they made the movie.

So that's all i got. I did enjoy it, the vampires were vicious, but the M/O of the film was something other than to scare you. But it is a good story, wholly original, and I enjoyed watching most of it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Daybreakers


For some crazy reason I was not invited to the premiere of Daybreakers, the new vampire flick starring Ethan Hawke and Willem Defoe. But I am going to see it today and post a review over the weekend. I care because it is a real vampire film. Not just real in that it is not a tweener vampire film or tv show or what have you, but also in that word has it that it is pretty good. The NY Times gave it an excellent review today and Time Out NY both of which describes vampires closer to the ones I was trying to replicate in my haunted house this year with Nightmare: Vampires. So I am anxious to see it. And perhaps instead of seeing Avatar for the third time (a brilliant film mind you. I am going to see it twice at least), or taking a flyer on Sherlock Holmes (don't. It's entertaining enough but thoroughly dismissible), go and give this indy some numbers. We need to send a message that we actually like our monsters monstrous or else they are going to keep giving us the ones that sparkle instead.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Donny No Skins

My friend Ariella Goldstein is developing this macabre animated series called "Donny No Skins" with a good friend of hers. I think this definitely has a place on television; it is very funny and original. check out these shorts:



Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Happy New Year's Freaks


I think wishing people "Happy New Year" is as empty of a sentiment as there can be. Considering people say it until like March, it truly is just a substitute for "how are you" for those who have gotten bored with saying that and need a three month reprieve from the same empty pat salutations. I mean, if you truly think about it, what really happens when the clock strikes midnight on January 1st? Nothing. There is a symbolic "out with the old in with the new" but nothing truly, physically ushers that in. Other than the banks are closed and there are some college bowl games (as well as the collective lamentation that you have to go back to work the next day), nothing really facilitates the "newness" of the year. Its not like we all swap houses or jobs. Or that we look different, or we are someone else. Its just a reminder that you just spent an additional 365 days on top of the previous 365 days and that if you so choose, you can call this go around "a new beginning." And I am not even railing against resolutions. I know we make them and never follow them. That's fine, that's normal and human. But it isn't even a milestone like an anniversary. Unless you have a terminal disease, making it to the next year was inevitable. You can sit in bed all year and develop a nice case of rickets and butt pimples and you will make it to the next year. Anniversaries, on the other hand, can be accomplishments. Particularly wedding anniversaries. Making it another year without murdering or leaving each other actually takes work.

No, this is a special kind of hallmark moment where there is virtually no accomplishment or drama. And no one means "Happy New Year" any more than they mean "How are you?" At least with "How Are You?" you can reply, equally as emptily, "fine." But with "HNY" you have to either stay silent or say it back. And I hate saying it back. But I will because silence is just plane rude. So I am going to make them the rude ones for making me say it back to them.

And what does any of this have to do with the horror industry, or haunted houses, or my artistic endeavors? Absolutely nothing, but I have a platform and I am using it. Happy New Year!