Posts Tagged ‘demons’

If you’ve been on the Internet lately, you’ve probably heard of Momo and seen the photo associated with her/it. For those who haven’t, Momo is an Internet urban legend that, like Slender Man before her, has gained a sort of life on and off the Internet. Supposedly, she’s a woman or entity you contact or she contacts you online and threatens you and taunts you, predicting your death and encouraging you to do increasingly dangerous tasks and dares, including committing suicide (this latter part is known as the Momo Challenge). Most photos that pop up when you search her are of a woman with bug eyes, long stringy hair and a beaklike mouth. This is actually a 2016 statue from a Japanese artist named Keisuke Aisawa depicting an ubume, or the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth.

Over the past several months, normal people and YouTube personalities have said to have found Momo’s contact information for apps like WhatsApp and posted videos/screenshots of their conversations (not sure if those are faked, though they are creepy). Parents have also reported their children coming across videos of/about Momo on YouTube and YouTube Kids, traumatizing them and causing YouTube a lot of trouble (this is what happens when you have imperfect algorithms and AI that can’t actually examine video content for appropriateness or guideline violations). And rumors of deaths around the world supposedly caused by Momo (though no official police statements have definitively named Momo in any way to the case). This caused parent groups, celebrities, and Internet safety organizations to warn the public about Momo, saying she could pose a real threat to children and teens, and encouraging Internet safety.

Nowadays, any numbers/accounts associated with Momo are reported inactive and people are starting to realize this is just another Internet monster going around and getting a lot of attention. In other words, more hoax than horror (unless people are posing as Momo online, in which case I hope they can be traced and turned into the police). Still, parents and many others are concerned, and it’s not hard to see why.

So what made Momo so popular?

Well, a couple of factors. Like Slender Man before her, Momo is a modern, Internet incarnation of the boogeyman figures and demons that have haunted humanity’s dreams since the cave dwellings. She is an entity, a witch or demon who tempts or influences people, particularly vulnerable children, to harm. We’ve seen this before with Lilith and succubi, various demons across different cultures, and Krampus, among others. As time and technology have changed, so have our fears and the forms and ways our demons target us, the Internet being the newest way, both as a way to reach people and as a way to spread the word.

There’s also the photo of Momo, which as I said is a statue of Japanese artist Keisuke Aisawa’s conception of an ubume. However the photo itself got associated with the Momo character, it fulfills a lot of the same visual requirements to make it an effective creepypasta image. For one thing, it’s human-like, but distinctly inhuman. This matches up with the theory of the uncanny valley, which states that the further something moves away from being human, the less we are able to identify it as human. At a certain point between human and inhuman, images or objects will enter the “uncanny valley,” where we can’t identify it as human or inhuman and we react with anxiety. Momo’s exaggerated features put her squarely in that valley.

That, and she’s very meme-able. In the time she’s entered the public consciousness, Momo videos, images, artwork, and stories have popped up all over the Internet, ranging from the creepy to the funny. Hell, I even made some Momo imagery. Look.

Like it? It’s me using a filter on my phone. And it was easy to make. So imagine how easy it is for other people to take Momo’s iconic look and put their own spin on it. As I said, instantly meme-able.

But there’s one more reason why Momo’s become so popular, and in this way she’s out-paced Slender Man. You see, Slender Man is specified as an impersonal entity who mainly sticks to forests. Outside of the movie, he doesn’t really rely on the Internet to do what he does to people (though the Internet has been great for his career). Momo on the other hand, while her exact nature is up for debate, is much more human than Slender Man. Her picture has features, she uses the human tool of the Internet, and she attacks us in a personal, psychological way.

Even worse, she can be anyone, and we sense that on some level. We get that beyond the inhuman picture, there’s a human intelligence trying to traumatize and harm us. It could be the elementary school teacher, the kid delivering newspapers to the neighborhood, your local politician, your neighbor, the PTA mom, the college student looking for a thrill that doesn’t come from a needle. She’s the avatar of how you really can’t trust anyone on the Internet and can never really know what their intentions are with you. And isn’t being unable to trust your fellow humans the scariest thing of all?

Obviously, I condemn anyone using the Momo persona to cause harm to others. And I would remind everyone that Momo is a fictional character birthed on the Internet, and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Momo has given me an idea for a story. I look forward to getting it written.

But all that being said, it’s no wonder she went viral like she did. She embodies several types of fears in one persona and image, horrifying and fascinating us all at once. It’s fascinated me to the point that I’ve been inspired to write a story. Not about Momo, but a character like her, one born on the Internet that becomes so viral it takes on a life of its own. I think Slender Man and Momo are only the first of a long line of these sort of entities, and I would like to give my own thoughts on the character type through the best medium at my disposal. I hope it turns out well.

 

And while I still have your attention, I’m still looking for eARC readers for my novel Rose. For those unaware, this is the story of a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). If you would like to get an advanced electronic copy, send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com and I’ll put you on the list. All I ask is you consider posting a review on or after the release date. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Good night, my Followers of Fear. Pleasant (possibly Momo-filled) nightmares.

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The real Annabelle doll next to the movie version.

The other day I was driving home from grocery shopping, and this silly insurance commercial came on the radio about a creepy doll. According to the commercial’s announcer, the scary doll, which can’t help being creepy and claims horror movies as its natural habitat, knows paying less for car insurance is good sense. The announcer then says, “The only question is, how did the creepy doll get down the hallway? I would get out of the house if I were you.”

I responded to said commercial, “Well, you’re not me. And after I finished going ‘Oh holy shit, the doll moved!’ I’d take the opportunity to find out as much as I can about the doll and the spirit possessing it.”

Yeah. That’s me in a nutshell.

My relationship with dolls have gone through a transformation over the years. At first I was freaked out by them, but over time I’ve become enamored of them, and even have a small collection of dolls and figurines. And the idea that some dolls and figurines might be inhabited by spirits fascinates me. I enjoy the Annabelle films and would love to own the collectible version of it (I hear the actual Annabelle doll is a little hard to come by, especially since it’s under lock and key. So that’s out). I enjoy watching videos about haunted dolls on YouTube, including this one from Buzzfeed.

I seriously thought this doll was haunted at one point. For better or worse, it’s not.

And it probably won’t shock you that I once suspected one or two from my own collection were haunted (I swear I thought I saw the arm of a figurine move, though that particular arm has no joints). I even checked one of my dolls, the one I thought most likely to be haunted, to see if it had any spirits. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on your opinion), my dowsing rods experiment didn’t yield any meaningful results, so I’m going to have to say that’s a no.

But a part of me would like to own a haunted doll. Why? Well, I guess for the same reason people collect salt and pepper shakers or go out of their way to get comic books. Something about the item in question appeals to them. Dolls already appeal to me, and I’ve been to haunted locations before.  Seems like just a great meeting of two loves, like scaring people and writing.

And as the Buzzfeed video above says, you can find those pretty easily on sites like eBay. I was actually on Etsy the other day and saw this one haunted doll that I felt almost drawn to. And it was reasonably priced. You know, for a doll that might actually have a self-aware spirit or intelligent entity attached to it.

Of course, the problem there is that, yes, the doll has someone or something attached to it. Some dolls, like the actual Annabelle doll, supposedly have one or more demons attached to it. Imagine taking something like that into your home and being negatively affected by it. The doll or its spirit could destroy property, threaten lives, etc. Robert the Doll supposedly curses anyone who takes pictures with him without permission, which can lead to financial ruin and physical harm.

And if it does have something nasty attached to it, what would I do to contain it? I’m acquainted with one of the former owners of the Dybbuk Box,* and he had to go to all sorts of lengths to keep that box from affecting him and his family. Imagine what I might have to go through to keep that doll from messing with my life.

But I guess that’s the risk bringing anything into your home that’s alive. Yeah, a haunted doll would be a lot more complicated than a pet, but it’s still something I would like to try.

Perhaps in the future I’ll be given the chance to bring a haunted doll into my house. And who knows? It might not lead to anything, but I’ll hopefully have fun and get a few story ideas from it.

But tell me, do you think haunted dolls exist? Do you have any stories you’d like to share? Would you own one if you could? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading another post by me about just how strange I am. As always, appreciate the support. I’ll hopefully have another post out later this week. Until then, my Followers of Fear, good night and pleasant nightmares!

*For those of you who don’t know, a dybbuk is a ghost in Jewish folklore that’s turned away from Heaven and Hell and possesses living people to interact with the real world. The dybbuk box is a wine cabinet that supposedly has a malevolent dybbuk attached to it, and has been blamed for a number of misfortunes that befell past owners. Currently it’s housed in Zak Bagans’s Haunted Museum, where you have to be 18 or over and sign a waiver to see the box, as it curses anyone near it, including rapper Post Malone.

If you think you’ve heard of this before, that’s because the Dybbuk Box was the inspiration for the horror movie The Possession (which I highly recommend), and dybbuks in general have inspired countless pieces of literature and theater, including a famous play and ballet, and even a certain short story from my college days.

This film was recommended to me by Netflix after I finished watching Apostle the other day, a Spanish fantasy-horror flick based on folklore from the Basque region of Spain. And since Halloween isn’t complete without a horror film, I thought I’d watch and review this one. After all, it’s a film about demons. What could go wrong?

Errementari: The Devil and the Blacksmith takes place in a small town in 19th-century Spain. The local blacksmith lives alone in the woods and is said to be anything from a madman to a devil-worshiping murderer and is avoided by the general populace. A young orphan goes into his land to retrieve her doll, and discovers a terrible secret within the smithy. At the same time, a government official appears into town to investigate the possible location of a cache of missing gold, and believes the blacksmith might be connected to it. All these factors come to collide in one horrific night that will go into history and lore for years to come.

I cant say this film is boring. It’s very visually appealing, with plenty of attention paid to the dress and architecture of the time, as well as to the make-up and practical effects. Yeah, those demons look grotesquely real, and I love it. I also find two of the main characters, the blacksmith Patxi and the orphan Usue, very sympathetic. The former, who has gone through quite a bit in his life, finds himself forging the unlikeliest bond with the latter, who I have to say is the highlight of the film. She’s a normal but spunky girl who at the same time is questioning a lot of what she’s been taught because of what that means for those she’s connected to.

The plot is pretty decent as well. There’s more of an emphasis on character-building than on actual scares and an unnerving atmosphere and the storytelling doesn’t entirely conform to standard movie storytelling arcs, but given this film is more of a fantasy with heavy horror elements than an outright horror film, that’s understandable. And hey, there were even a few interesting twists along the way.

All that being said, the film does have some issues. The main demon Sartael is a little too comedic at times, especially for this particular movie. Pardon me, but if a demon is in a movie this dark, then please don’t have it be at times silly and groveling. I should be terrified of it at all times. Also, the way the story’s told makes it a bit of a drag at times. How bad were those moments? I pulled out my phone to check my notifications. That bad.

Still, it’s overall an engaging film and I can’t say I regret watching it. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Errementari: The Devil and the Blacksmith a 3.5 out of 5. If you enjoyed Pan’s Labyrinth, this should be right up your alley. Just make sure to watch it in the original Spanish with subtitles. Trust me, the English dub is jarringly bad.

That’s all for this Halloween, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be back sometime this weekend, at the latest. Until next time, pleasant nightmares and HAPPY HALLOWEEN! MWA HA HA HA!

There’s been a battle raging among horror fans and horror writers for years. A fierce battle with all the monsters, deaths, and mysterious disappearances that one can expect from such a group. This battle is played out in bookstores and on bestseller lists, in interviews with magazines and television hosts, and even on message boards (because this is the age of the Internet, so why not?). The debate is: which is better, horror stories where the supernatural is the cause, or where humans are the cause?

Surprise to say, this is an actual debate among fans of horror. What makes for a scarier story, one where the horror is caused by something supernatural, or when it is caused by a human like you or me?* Or perhaps some combination of the two? Each side has their own pros and cons, and depending on which you prefer, can have a huge influence on what you tend to read and, if you’re a creator, what you put out in the world. Authors themselves tend to deal in both kinds, but if you observe an author long enough, you start to notice their preferences. HP Lovecraft and Anne Rice seem to go more for horror, while Jack Ketchum likes human horror. His Royal Scariness Stephen King has a lot of supernatural forces in his work, but there’s definitely a partiality towards human-based horror. One needs only read Misery to see that. Even in his more supernatural stories, there are usually human characters who are only to happy to cause pain and death, whether of their own volition (Carrie’s mother and Chris Hargensen in Carrie) or under the influence of a much more powerful force (Henry Bowers and Tom Rogan in It).

A great example of supernatural horror.

So is there a better source for horror? Let’s take a look, starting with supernatural-based horror. Honestly, this one’s easy to explain the appeal: whether it’s been called Satan, Lilith, dark faeries, demons, yokai, or a hundred other names, humanity has been scared of some possible other out in the universe. Something greater than human beings, possibly very malevolent, and ultimately difficult to understand. The only way to survive is to run, placate the monster, or find some way to fight back, and the last one often comes at a high death toll. There’s also greater room for imagination with supernatural stories. You can take forces right out of mythology, use them as they’re typically portrayed, or change up their mythologies. Sometimes you even come up with original creatures, like Stephen King’s Langoliers or the entity formerly known as It. There’s a lot of freedom and potential in supernatural based horror.

On the other hand, there’s a chance that you can fall into a trap of relying too much on a mythical creature’s established mythology. And if you try to create something original, you find it’s extremely difficult to do so. Not only that, but with something non-human, there’s the risk that, unlike a human villain, the reader will have difficulty connecting with them. Some readers really enjoy connecting with villains, which in this instance makes Cthulhu a bad villain choice.

My own human-based horror.

Human-based horror, on the other hand, is a lot more personal, and very true to life. Despite our lofty ideals of goodness and perfection, one needs only look at the news to know that humanity is capable of dark thoughts and acts.  Human-based horror taps into that, delving deep into what humanity is capable of without a supernatural cause or encouragement, as well as how characters and we the audience react to it. It’s a powerful, visceral way to tell a story, and is often quite effective at scaring us with not only the acts of the characters, but at what we ourselves are capable of.

And that unfortunately is also the con of human-based horror. No one likes to be exposed to their darkness or flaws, and this form of horror gets deep into those. Which for some readers can be more disturbing than they would like. Hell, for some writers it’s more disturbing than they would like, sending them to parts of their imaginations they would rather leave alone. And exposure to this sort of horror can not only leave readers scared, but depressed. I’ve written before about how the escape into imaginary horrors can be therapeutic, and sometimes people prefer an escape that doesn’t remind them of the reality they’re escaping. Or as someone from one of my writer’s groups put it, “If I wanted human horror, I’d put on CNN.”

So which is better? Well, I say neither. Like I’ve just shown, both have their pros and cons, as well as their supporters and detractors. Personally, I (and most of the members of one of my writers’ groups) prefer supernatural horror, but we all agree that the occasional jaunt into human-based horror and vice versa are great. Hell, one of my novels, Snake, is human-based horror, and it’s one of my favorite stories.  So in the end, whichever you prefer to read or write, make sure to every now and then dip into the other so as to better appreciate both once you dip out again. And if you write, whatever you write, remember to keep practicing both types, so that someday you can write it well.

What’s your take on this debate? Which is your favorite?

*Still debatable if I count as human, though.

I’ve been wanting to see this movie for months, and this evening I got the chance. Let me tell you, it was everything I’d hoped it would be.

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with the Krampus story, let me do some background: Krampus is a being whose origin dates back to ancient pagan beliefs, and he’s particularly well-known in central and northern Europe. While St. Nicholas is supposed to reward good children, Krampus would punish the bad children. Normally portrayed as a big, hairy demon with horns, he would leave coal, hit the bad kids with birch twigs, and/or drag the kids to wherever Krampus hangs out the rest of the year, depending on who you ask. On December 6th each year, plenty of cities and towns have Krampus Night, where people dress up as Krampus and have a parade chasing people around the town (sounds like fun).

In this movie, Krampus is summoned when a family loses the Christmas spirit, and proceeds to abduct each one of them to take them to the underworld. And let me tell you, from the very beginning, when you see an entire superstore torn apart by shoppers desperate for Christmas gifts, to the twist ending, Krampus is just excellent. It’s so well-written, with the writers (one of whom is the director and also directed the Halloween cult classic Trick ‘r Treat) taking us through a comedy film that manages to do all the horror tropes but remain funny throughout without being too obvious or self-referential. There’s never a dull moment, keeping your attention glued to the screen no matter what’s happening. The actors are also great, with most of them seeming like they’re either being themselves or playing around rather than doing any real acting, and just adds to the fun of the movie.

My favorite part of the film is the visuals, Krampus goes all out to make this the most visually interesting film ever. Except for the CGI gingerbread monsters (yes, there’s that in this movie), the monsters are all done with make-up and animatronics and actors. To say the least, they are terrifying, but what’s really interesting is that so many of them look like they’re pretending to be people in costumes instead of actual monsters. I’m not sure if that’s part of the humor or if that’s some sort of commentary on the Christmas season, but I like it. And I still would probably hide from these monsters if they showed up at my door on Christmas (thank God I’m Jewish).

Another thing I loved about Krampus is how it finds so many ways to make fun of the Christmas season. From the opening sequence’s critique of the commercialization of the holiday to the family’s interaction’s with each other to showcase how little time we actually devote to being nice and generous around these holidays, this movie finds all sorts of way to point out what’s wrong with the Christmas season. And maybe it’s because as a Jew I find the Christmas hype a little annoying at times, but I just love every second of it. And if you’ve ever been annoyed with how people treat Christmas or act around this time of year, you will love it too.

The one critique I would give this film is that when we finally get a good look at Krampus, he’s actually not that intimidating. He looks like someone took a Father Christmas costume, stuck on horns, lots of fur and chains, and added really bad teeth to the mask, looking more like that old rat Nicodemus from The Secret of NIMH than an actual demon. And maybe that’s because the other monsters are just so scary that the filmmakers decided to make Krampus look a little comical, but I would’ve preferred it they actually made him a bit more terrifying.

Overall though, this is a very fun movie. Is it something that’ll become a staple at Christmastime? Maybe not, but I think that the film has enough going for it that we’ll find good reason to revisit it every December. Especially if we want to remind ourselves how not to act around Christmas, or if we want to imagine certain politicians we dislike getting a visit from Krampus (I can think of about three or four right now).

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Krampus a 4.6. It’s funny, memorable, and reminds you what this season is really all about. Go check it out and have a good laugh.

I’ve just finished a new story, “Stuck in the Horror House” (not to be confused with a previous short story of mine, “Hunt in the Slaughterhouse”). I’ve been working on this story for weeks, and at one point I had to go back and start rewriting it because I was dissatisfied with the way the story was progressing. But now I’m glad that the first draft is finished. And it’s a long first draft too, 12,607 words, making it a novelette. Boy, when I have a story to tell I just don’t care about word count these days, do I?

“Stuck in the Horror House” is a story inspired by an episode of Ghost Adventures. In one episode, the GA Crew investigates a factory that has been converted into a haunted attraction, and one of the hauntings there was purported to be an actual demon, summoned by an actor there dressing up as Satan and reading verses out of an actual Satanic Bible and attacking said actor whenever he had the chance. That story stuck around with me, and so I ended up adapting it into a story. In this case though, I made the story about a bunch of teenagers who sneak into a haunted attraction during the off-season and one of them does a summoning ritual on a lark, which leads to all sorts of trouble. The protagonist of the story is telling his story to a psychiatrist, leading to questions about whether or not he’s imagined everything or if there’s truly a demon afoot.

Now, as far as first drafts go…I’ve had better ones. Even in the writing I could see places where this story can be improved in future drafts. But, like Ernest Hemingway said, most first drafts are shit. A lot of writing is revision, and that’s when the story really starts to shine and entrance. The first draft is laying down the bare bones so that they can form something extraordinary later on.

In the meantime though, I’m excited for where this story could go in future drafts. I definitely feel like with subsequent drafts it could make for a very terrifying story. Maybe it’ll even go into Teenage Wasteland, seeing as most of the main characters are 18 or 19 years old. We’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, I’m taking a break to watch a scary movie I recently found online. I might even write a review of it later. I also would like to write a blog post or two for my other blog, From the Voice of Common Sense, and I think I’ll take the time to write an article for Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors before starting another story and then working on editing Laura Horn.

Yeah, I’m busy. And that’s not even including work or searching for whatever comes after my internship is over. And the way I work, I doubt I’ll ever slow down. Until next time, my Followers of Fear. Have a great rest of your weekend!

I have never lived in a haunted house, as much fun as that would be. I have experienced paranormal activity (the hand!) and I stayed in a bed and breakfast at one point that I’m pretty sure had a few spirits in it (that door didn’t close on its own, I’m pretty sure of that!). But I would really love to live in a haunted house, provided the spirits sharing space with me were friendly.

However, I know that most people would prefer that their homes were spirit-free and if they move into a genuinely haunted house, they may not know what to do when such things occur. And since there’s only so many articles on the Internet about what to do if you move into a haunted house, I thought I’d add my two cents. So here’s what I say:

First, are you sure it’s haunted? Creaky sounds, cold drafts of air, a feeling of being watched. These could be signs of a haunting…or it could be an old house settling down and your own paranoia. Lots of times people think their house is haunted, but it’s actually just reasonable explanations. For example, a lot of times when people wake up, unable to move and see a figure standing over them, it’s more likely a condition called sleep paralysis, in which the body is interrupted by REM sleep and wakes up still dreaming, which is why you can’t move (lest you try to fly in real life while dreaming you can fly) and why you think someone is in your room.

So if you think your house is haunted, make sure that it’s not just problems with your old house or something normal causing problems before you call the Ghostbusters. Other common signs of hauntings include shadow figures or apparitions, voices that seem to come from nowhere, balls of light with no discernible source, mysterious footsteps or bangs, objects moving on their own, etc. This leads to our next topic:

Confirming you have a haunting. The wonderful thing about the modern age we live is that with the right tools, you can do just about anything. If you’re sure your house is haunted or you can’t find anything normal to pin the strange happenings on, there are numerous ways to get a better lay of the land, so to speak. One would be to consult paranormal research groups in your area. Reputable ones won’t charge you to investigate the house (I wouldn’t use psychics or mediums though, because there are a lot of frauds out there and they’ll tell you what you want to hear for a fee). Another thing to do would be to research the house’s history, see if any deaths (including violent ones) or any other odd happenings in its time. Ghosts have to come from somewhere, right?

All the better to catch crazy stuff like this.

And if you have the means to do so, you can go full Paranormal Activity, putting cameras around the residence so you can catch anything odd whenever it happens. Of course that means someone has to review all the footage, but them’s the breaks.

And if you do confirm you have a spirit in the house, there are several things you can do.

But first, don’t be afraid! God forbid it’s a malevolent spirit, it will latch onto that fear and use it to make your life hell. So remain strong and don’t let what’s going on get you down. If that’s happen, you can choose from several options on what to do next.

For example, you can live with it. Most spirits don’t realize they’re dead, or they do and they’re just looking for a connection with the living. Normally they’re also harmless, so all you have to do is say you acknowledge that there’s a spirit living in the house and that should be the basis for a good relationship. If you have any idea of its identity, I’m sure the spirit would appreciate it if you played music from its era or had objects around that it would find familiar. Like I said, all it wants is a connection.

Or you can ask it to go away. Strange as it seems, one article I read before writing this one claimed that if you ask a spirit with a firm voice to leave, it will. Or at the very least the ghostly hauntings will calm down a bit. No guarantee it’ll work, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

Of course if it does continue to happen no matter what you do and you can’t exactly move, you might as well live with it. Unless of course…

One of these in your house? Get an exorcist or get the f@&k out!

It’s malevolent or demonic. In which case I think you should call an exorcist or look into some purification rituals. Yes, there are exorcists and purification rituals do exist. Call your local religious organization and see what they can do. And if that doesn’t work out, you might want to get the heck out of Dodge, because no one wants to be near a dangerous spirit.

What’s your take on living with spirits? Do you have any tips?

Do you believe in spirits? Do you think I’m crazy?

If yes, I’m not sure I want to hear your opinions.