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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Monster Cereals: Eating What Scares Us

If ever there was anything dependable about the nature of humanity--other than the fact that we will always find reasons to divide ourselves--it's that we will do anything we can to mentally protect ourselves from that which we fear. And because the ultimate fear for the human race has always been death--the great unknown certainty from which none of us can escape--it's fascinating to see just what lengths we will go to bury that certainty deep down in our psyche. Horror in particular is not much more than a vast exercise of this very kind.

After all, how else to explain why the people most obsessed with all things mortal and macabre take the keenest interest in horror? Simply put, it's a catharsis; a way of coping in a fun and deflected way with something many of us have trouble dealing with, but are nonetheless fascinated by. So when my brethren in the League of Tana Tea Drinkers proposed a blog roundtable discussion on the phenomenon of "cute monsters" in horror, the whole thing was a no-brainer for me.

The question is, why do we infantilize creatures of horror the way we do in our modern culture? Why do we tend to make them "cute"? For my money, one of the most profound and telling examples of this is the beloved series of monster cereals from General Mills: Most famously Frankenberry and Count Chocula, but also their occasional friends Boo Berry, and yes, even Yummy Mummy. Here we have creatures that once inspired genuine terror in the hearts of men (and women)--turned into tasty, sugary treats for children (young and old) to eat while watching cartoons on a Saturday morning.

Think about it for a moment. Let's deconstruct, shall we? Once we peel back the layers of cuteness, what do we have? A cereal made in the likeness of a murderous, mindless being stitched together from corpses, and another in the likeness of a demonic vampire who drains the blood of the living. A cereal based on the immortal soul of a human being who has passed on, and another on the mummified and resurrected corpse of an ancient Egyptian pharoah. Granted, that's certainly reading a lot into it, but at the very base of it, isn't it true?

In the case of three of those monsters, the origins in popular culture can be traced to the classic Universal horror films of the early 1930s. Were it not for those films, there would certainly be no General Mills monster cereals. Yet those films were intended as straight-up horror, to chill the blood and inspire terror in the masses. And even before the days of motion pictures, the legends those films were based on stretch back even further into time--the novels of Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker; and further still, the dark folklore of ancient and medieval Europe, in which creatures such as vampires were wretched, repulsive enemies of humanity.

And yet fast forward a few centuries, and we're sitting on the couch munching on their little faces, soaked in multi-colored milky goodness. The ad campaigns surrounding the cereals have turned the monsters in cartoon characters, voiced in the likeness of famous horror actors of the past like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre (again, individuals whose job was to inspire abject fear, now transformed into juvenile comedy).

Clearly, the bite of the classic monsters (pardon the pun) is dulled by portrayals such as this. I'm not saying they still don't have the power to terrify us--personally, I find Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy to still be frightening and powerful horror films. Nevertheless, it can't be denied that creatures which were once taken far more seriously have now become safe, tame, and consumable by children.

Why has this happened? Familiarity is part of it, to be sure. After all these years of being seared into our consciousness, Drac, Frank and the gang are more like old friends than entities out to destroy us. There's also the type of thinking alluded to earlier: Specifically, our willingness to take something which frightens us and defang it (quite litereally) so we can more easily process it psychologically.

Since death is at the very heart of horror, it's no suprise that most monsters are linked very closely to it. When we break it down, every single one of the General Mills cereal monsters is technically a dead person. Quite jarring to analyze it that way, but also quite true. They are based on beings which do nothing if not remind us of our own mortality. This is the basic source of the horror they all inspire; whether ghost, mummy, vampire, or flesh golem.

And so we do what we always do--we protect ourselves from what we fear, in this case using one of the most tried-and-true methods. We take away its power by turning it into something which is a parody of itself, a harmless representation suitable for small children--so far removed from its origins that one really has to do some mental gymnastics to make the connection.

But the connection remains--twisted, warped and mangled far from its original meaning--yet still there. We've transformed the monstrous into something more manageable, but it's still present, if only we look hard enough. So the next time you're loafing on your recliner, a heaping bowl of Frankenberry and pink milk sitting on your belly as you take in ESPN Sportscenter, think long and hard about the gruesome, undead, homicidal atrocities that inspired your delicious, cavity-inducing breakfast.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

VAULTCAST! Conversations in the Dark: Miguel Rodriguez Returns!

Once you get two dyed-in-the-wool Godzillaphiles together, it seems you just can't keep them apart. And so, we come to the third installment of the crossover podcast series Monster Island Resort's Miguel Rodriguez and I have been recording--all about our mutual passion, Big G. This time out, we turn our attention away from the classic Showa series of the 1950s-1970s, and move on to the second series of Godzilla films.

Produced from the mid 1980s through the late 1990s, the Heisei series represented something of a rebirth for the giant lizard. There certainly was a lot of ground to cover, and many films to discuss; but Mr. Rodriguez and I were certainly up to the task. Listen in and join us, won't you?

As always, you have a couple of options. You can listen on the embedded player below, or proceed to the Vaultcast page and download it!

Part 1 of the series!
Part 2 of the series!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Announcing the Nominees for the 3rd Annual Cyber Horror Awards!

It's the award season again, and here in The Vault of Horror, that means it's time for the Cyber Horror Awards. Voted on exclusively by the online horror blogging/journalism community, the CHAs are now in their third installment, and have been gaining momentum each year thus far. I'm hoping this year's edition will have the strongest votership yet.

2010 was an interesting year for horror, and I think the nominees this time around reflect that. To check out the full list of nominees in the full 13 categories, proceed to the official website of the Cyber Horror Awards. Meanwhile, for you short attention-span types, here are the nominees for the the main prize, the Val Lewton Award for Best Film of 2010:

Black Swan, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
, Agnes b. Productions

Let Me In
, Hammer Films

Survival of the Dead
, Blank of the Dead Productions

Piranha 3-D
, Dimension Films

I'd like to thank Paul Bibeau (author of the best-selling Sundays with Vlad) and Max Cheney of the Rondo Award-winning blog The Drunken Severed Head for helping me put together the list of nominees, and also the highly talented B-Movie Becky of The Horror Effect for once again coming through with an updated award banner.

As in previous years, the ballots have been sent out to a veritable cornucopia of the horror blogosphere's best and brightest. Votes will continue to be tabulated until the middle of March, at which point the official winners of the 2010 Cyber Horror Awards will be announced. So stay tuned, keep your eye on the Cyber Horror Awards website, and right here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

TRAILER TRASH! Hammer Horror Edition!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Zombie Love Songs: You're the One That I Chomp

You're the One That I Chomp

Him: In the Hills,
We’re multiplyin’.
And we’re losin ‘control.
‘Cause the virus
We’re supplyin’,
It’s undeadafyin!

Her: I better eat up,
‘Cause I need a brain
And my heart is set to chew.
You better wake up;
You better reanimate
For my heart it must be chewed.

Him: Nothin’left, nothin ‘left for me to chew.

Both: You’re the one that I chomp.
(You are the one I chomp), oo ,oo, oo, Zombie.

(Taken from the pages of Michael P. Spradlin's Every Zombie Eats Somebody Sometime: A Book of Zombie Love Songs.)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Poe's "LIGEIA" - My Reading, Courtesy of Monster Island Resort

One thing I discovered about myself in the past year (among many) is that I really enjoy live readings. Perhaps it can be chalked up to the whole "being in love with the sound of my own voice" thing, or the fact that I was trained in rhetoric in high school (which, with the addition of $2.25, will currently get me on the subway), but I do get a kick out of public reading, particularly of great works of literature.

Another individual who enjoys this, and is also exceptionally good at it, is my West Coast brother Miguel Rodriguez. Not long ago, Miguel started a series on his acclaimed Monster Island Resort podcast, entitled "MIR Storytime". Using his impressive powers of enunciation, Miguel had been recording himself reading some legendary pieces of horror literature. Needless to say, I became intrigued. And once Miguel gave me permission to contribute to the series, I set about recording my version of "Ligeia"--a prototypical vampire/zombie tale which is one of, if not my very favorite, Edgar Allan Poe short story.

I'm honored that Mr. Rodriguez gave me an opportunity to do this, and was so thrilled to see it posted on his Monster Island Resort podcast homepage, that I asked his permission to repost it right here in The Vault of Horror. And so, dear Vault dwellers, I invite you to proceed directly to the following link, where you may tune in or download it for your macabre listening pleasure:

* The Vault would also like to wish a hearty congrats and attagirl to our very own sister blogger, BJ-C of Day of the Woman, who will be contributing to Yahoo! Movies in the very near future. Nice job, kid. That's how we do it on Team Vault.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Zombie Love Songs: You Are Tender

You Are Tender

You are tender,
You taste sweet,
I'll never let you go.
You have made my death complete,
And I'll eat you so.

You are tender,
You I bite,
All your screams stifled.
For my darling, I eat you
Until I get my fill.

You are tender
You taste strong,
I nibble on your heart.
For it's what I must consume,
And your other parts.

You are tender,
Death is near,
Let me eat your spine.
You'll be mine, so dry your tears,
Now it's undead time.

When at last your screams are through,
Darling don't be slow.
Zombie hordes will follow you
Everywhere you go.

(Taken from the pages of Michael P. Spradlin's Every Zombie Eats Somebody Sometime: A Book of Zombie Love Songs.)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Many Faces of Tura Satana

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Zombie Love Songs: I Want to Eat Your Hand

Ah, Valentine's Day is nearly upon us again! And unlike those woeful souls who choose to bemoan this holiday each and every year, here in the Vault, we celebrate it. Of course, we celebrate in a very unique way, because that's just how we roll.

In this case, we'll be cherishing the V-Day time of year by posting some fine selections from Michael P. Spradlin's latest poetry collection,
Every Zombie Eats Somebody Sometime: A Book of Zombie Love Songs. This little tome was bestowed to me by a certain Captain of the undead not too long ago, and it's been a constant source of amusement since--so now I'm sharing it with you.

You may recall Spradlin's work from the
zombie carols we ran here in the Vault during the 2009 Christmas season, and I assure you, these are just as entertaining. So cuddle close to the one you love and enjoy some brain-munching ballads...

I Want to Eat Your Hand

Oh yeah, I've turned into something,
You just won't understand.
When I say you're delicious
I want to eat your hand,
I want to eat your hand,
I want to eat your hand.

Oh please, say I'm a zombie,
I'm eating your brain pan,
And please, don't slay me
You'll let me eat your hand.
Now let me eat your hand,
I want to eat your hand.

And when I eat brains I feel happy inside.
It's such a feeling that my gore
You can't hide, you can't hide, you can't hide.

Yeah, you've got that large brain,
I think you won't understand.
When I'll say I'm so hungry
I want to eat your hand,
I want to eat your hand,
I want to eat your hand...
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