Celebration of Wickedness Day 30A: Ernst Stavro Blofeld #atozchallenge

I gotta stop this sleep deprivation thing. It’s really cramping my style. And it makes me FORGET TO POST ON ENTIRE DAYS.

Sorry about that. And welcome back to the final day of the Celebration of Wickedness, place where we celebrate the best of the worst. I am your host, the incredibly sleepy—but still spunky—Christopher Starr. Since my body decided rest was more important than posting yesterday, you get one more Two-Fer. First up is the most iconic of Bond villains—Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Blofeld is the head of SPECTRE, a global organization bent on world domination—wait, that sounds like Cobra. And Hydra. And MAD. And Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. And Al Qaeda. Know why? Blofeld was that awesome. This guy was the villain in six different Bond films—two of them he didn’t even appear in and was still the villain. He bothered three different Bonds: he screwed with Sean “The Original” Connery in three movies; George Lazenby (who? Oh, the dude that only played in one James Bond movie…yeah, that guy); and Roger “Smooth As Silk” Moore. In any series that ain’t about the villain (like Friday the 13th, Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street), no one appears six times. No one. Except Blofeld. And he’s raw enough to be rumored to appear in the upcoming Bond flick. You never know with this guy.

Ok, so let’s give him his due: Blofeld runs this global terrorist organization, right? He speaks about everybody in terms of numbers—he’s Number One (like Nelly), so on and so forth. He runs his shit like a business, making his folks do financial reports and shit. He kills his own people when they don’t act right—years before Darth Vader made it cool. His schemes are devilishly complex: he likes the “I got you hanging over a shark tank with bloody drawers and a rope that’s being burnt by a candle on the other side of the room, let’s see you get outta this shit” variety. He undergoes repeated plastic surgeries so you never get a good look at his face. He makes stunt doubles CONSTANTLY so, provided you can find him, you never know if you got the right guy. He won’t freaking die. EVER. Like a roach. And he made stroking a white cat cool.

Oh yeah, and he killed James Bond’s wife. Right after he married her. And drove the getaway car.

Ernst Blofeld is not just impressive because he’s persistent, smart, cold-hearted, calculating, diabolical, or because he has a beautiful shaved noggin. It’s because he’s an icon. You don’t hear that about villains often but it’s true. Villains from GI Joe to Inspector Gadget to Austin Powers to Ceelo Green on the Voice have taken bits and pieces of Blofeld to add to their own legend. They said imitation is the sincerely form of flattery. Blofeld must be truly flattered.

In every other instance of a villain we’ve looked at in the Celebration, there has been an emotional attachment to the work at hand. They care about it. They’re invested in the success of their diabolical schemes or their revenge or their power play or the destruction of their hero. But Blofeld is cold. He is surgical in his approach. Like Spock as a killer. No rage. No anger. The level of his evil is delivered by his icy monotone and it only makes him more sinister. That he does it all stroking that damn cat is what makes him iconic.

And now, for your finale of the Celebration of Wickedness Volume 1, and the Letter Z for the A to Z Blog Challenge: General Zod!

Celebration of Wickedness Day 27: MAGNETO #atozchallenge

Hey hey hey everybody! Welcome back to another installment of the Celebration of Wickedness, the place where you can finally admit your love for the darker side of life. It’s ok; you can be yourself. We’re all friends here. Gather round. Today, we’re looking at the arch-nemesis of the X-Men, the Master of Magnetism himself, Magneto!

Have you ever seen this guy? Magneto can manipulate one of the most fundamental forces known to mankind. Do you have an idea of what falls under the magnetism umbrella? The entire planet is a magnet. Compasses use magnets. We’re talking light and radio waves! Gamma radiation, x-rays, microwaves. This guy can control the shit you need to see and hear and find your direction. If you’ve seen X2: X-Men United, you saw Magneto orchestrate one of the coolest and foulest prison escapes on film: he’s trapped in a completely plastic jail cell so he has Mystique seduce a security guard and inject liquid metal into his ass (literally), pulls the liquid of the guy’s bloodstream the next day—killing him in the process—turns the metal in tiny balls that tear up the cell, then into discs that he can walk on. And just walks out the prison. I once read a comic where Magneto thought Spiderman was a mutant and to test it, he beat Spidey’s ass by throwing him around using the IRON IN HIS BLOOD.

Magneto is a bad man.

Long before he was Magneto, Master of Magnetism (you have to say his whole name every time), before he was an arch-villain with a bucket on his head, Erik Lensherr (that’s Max Eisenhardt to you diehards) was just a young Jewish boy. During the Holocaust. In Auschwitz. Nothing like seeing your mother killed in front of you to bring out some latent mutant powers, huh? He escapes from the Nazis—kinda—runs away with his pregnant wife, who in turn leaves him after he kills an angry mob while trying to protect her. But things take a positive turn and get good for a little bit—he makes a friend in Charles Xavier (Professor X), they decide to work together to find mutants, train them, protect them and promote mutant causes. Good stuff, right? Yeah, until Erik kills a guy. Well, a former Nazi.

Erik calls it justified. Charles calls it murder. This is awkward. See, good guy Charles wants humans and mutants to live in harmony; bad guy Erik thinks anti-mutant sentiment is a slippery slope into another holocaust. They have a falling out and become enemies.

But here’s the thing: Magneto is right.

You have to understand, the X-Men were created during the rise of the nuclear age and the Civil Rights Movement. They represent the complex social question of how you treat people who are different—but still people—and, in this case, pose a potential threat. This is a question the United States has been trying to address since its inception. Instead of races or sexual preference, there are people who can walk through walls, can shoot lasers out their eyes, can control the weather, can read minds and freeze entire populations. Their capabilities are tremendous and deadly but they’re people. Human beings. And in many cases, they’re kids.

When faced with choosing the path of nonviolence, living in secret, trying to get along with humans and potentially facing another Holocaust; or standing proud, different, fighting back and ensuring it never happens again, Magneto is on the right side on this one. You don’t have to agree with his methodology (he’s actually okay with murder, theft, conspiracy, terrorism, mass destruction) but you have to appreciate his point: humanity has a history of horrible acts in the name of homogeneity. He knows. Lost his parents because of it. Was a victim of it.

Magneto is right. And this makes him not only one of the most incredible villains ever, he’s one of the most complex and compelling characters in literature. Why? Because he’s mad as hell and he’s not gonna take it anymore. And with power like his, he doesn’t have to.

And tomorrow, at long last, you get to find out why I hate that little bastard Teddy Ruxpin.

Celebration of Wickedness Day 24: KEYSER SOZE #atozchallenge

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” And the greatest villain no one ever knew is today’s Letter U: Keyser Soze from The Usual Suspects.

If you haven’t seen the masterful film or aren’t sure if you want to, or if you’re a little Soze-curious, you should stop reading. Seriously. Just stop reading now: I’m gonna ruin it. Keyser Soze is the unseen antagonist in The Usual Suspects—a film that pulls together Bryan Singer, Kevin Spacey and a tier-two Baldwin brother in a pretty good piece of cinema. The film revolves around a group of criminals—everything from crooked cops to killers to con men—who are blackmailed into attacking a drug ship for a legendary figure called Keyser Soze. We never see Soze: he acts through his lawyer instead. The movie opens with all of our protagonists dying except one, Verbal Kint (Spacey) who weaves an incredible tale of intrigue to a police detective.

We learn all kinds of stuff about how awesome Keyser Soze is; about how he’s gonna replace Scarface as the new Level of Rawness in hip hop circles; about how, when men invade his home, rape his wife and kill one child, he kills the rest of his family rather than give in to their demands. We learn that Keyser Soze doesn’t like to be trifled with, doesn’t like to lose, and, despite his reach and influence in global crime, is happy letting the world believe he’s a myth. Through Verbal Kint, we learn that Soze manipulated these guys, blackmailed them, had them killed. And just when the story is over and Verbal is free to go, we learn that Verbal Kint is Keyser Soze. And we learn that the whole story is a lie.

The whole story is a lie.

In four minutes of mind-blowing realization, we are shown that everything that Kint has told us about the people, the plot, motivations, rationale—all of it—is an off-the-cuff story driven to throw off law enforcement, made up of details from an over-populated corkboard that sits behind the police officer. He made it all up. Right there, in the cop’s office, dead to his face. Made it all up.

So what makes him awesome? It is not that Keyser Soze took on another identity, adopted a frenetic speaking style and fake cerebral palsy. It is not that he concocted a plot, recruited an eclectic group of criminals to do his dirty work, actually joined said gang in said fake identity, only to have them all killed and be the sole survivor so he can get arrested and talk his way out of it (did you catch all that?). It’s even that, once arrested—which was intentional—he tricked the police into letting him go free only to disappear for good. That’s not what makes him awesome. It’s that he lied to us.

In every movie, even if the main characters don’t know what happened, we generally do. We’re usually privy to the machinations of heroes and villains, able to watch the story unfold from all angles and points of view. In The Usual Suspects, we don’t ever get to know what actually happened. We’re hanging onto the same story to police are listening to. Verbal Kint’s tale is the movie and Verbal Kint’s tale is a lie. The entire movie is a lie and Keyser Soze pulled the wool over our eyes. He pulled a fast one on all of us, let us figure it out the same time the cops do, got up, walked out, dropped the limp, got in the car and disappeared. Then credits. End of movie.

I don’t know about you; I’ve never had a villain mess with me personally. Not while the movie is actually running. This was a fantastic example of drawing the audience in and we fell for it. Hook, line and sinker. And if that wasn’t an amazing trick, I don’t know what is.

If you only knew the power of the dark side—that’s right, bring your lightsabers and inhalers: Darth Vader will be casting his shadow on the Celebration.

Celebration of Wickedness Day 18: POLTERGEIST

There are a number of things no parent ever wants to hear about their children’s friends but I have to say, this is probably pretty high on the list:

“It lies to her. It tells her things only a child would understand. It’s using her to restrain the others. To her, it simply is another child. To us, it is the beast.”

Yes, my little readers, Poltergeist, the scariest movie made for children, is your serving of wickedness for the day. You know I’m right. I don’t think I know a single adult who saw this movie as an adult; everyone saw this as a kid and has been sleeping with their closet doors shut ever since. This movie did more damage to the clown industry than the Simpsons and Pennywise combined. On the upside, we all learned a new German word to be terrified of.

Poltergeist hit theatres in 1982 and that was a pretty pivotal year for me. I was 9, my parents got divorced that year and my siblings and I were staying with my grandmother that summer (yes, the same one who took us to see Jaws 2 and then turned around and took us the beach). In that summer, in that season of uncertainty, I got to the experience both the wonder and the terror of my childhood: literally in one seven-day period, I saw both E.T. and Poltergeist. I remember my brother and I sleeping head to foot in the same bed because my room had a closet and the door to the attic. I think I peed myself that night. I have not been the same since.

Before I go any further, since this film falls into the “Hey, dummy, your house is haunted, can’t you tell?” category, I have to deliver a short Public Service Announcement. Imagine me speaking as the authoritative black guy from the Allstate commercials: If you turn your back to wash dishes, turn around and your chairs are stacked on the kitchen table like a jenga tower and the only folks in the house are you, your 4-year-old daughter and the dog, LEAVE. If you can put a football helmet on your child and have them scoot inexplicably across the floor, pulled some unseen force, LEAVE. If the tree in the backyard tries to eat your son—and he is not DMFRH—LEAVE. That’s Christopher Starr’s stand.

That said, Poltergeist was an amazing movie. It taught us not to eat that uncovered chicken in the fridge, don’t pick at that thing on your face, and do not ignore the fact that your child is having a conversation with a staticy TV. And we learned that you should never buy a house on land that was once a cemetery—there’s a good chance you’ll end up having this conversation: “You sonofabitch! You moved the cemetery but you left the bodies, didn’t you?! You only moved the headstones!”

Pound for pound, Poltergeist ranks as one of the scariest movies and the ghost itself as one of the greatest villains because it touched on everything we were frightened of in the 80s: clowns, ghosts, child abduction, too much TV (remember, MTV was out at that point), thunderstorms, the monster under our beds. The suburbs were supposed to the safe place, the haven for white flight, the realization of the American dream. We were supposed to be safe out there. Poltergeist shows us that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, how much you make, there are things that can reach out and touch you anywhere. That can get you anywhere. That can take what is important to you. That shit is scary.

Hi Ho! Hi Ho! It’s time for me to go! Tomorrow we’re gonna look at the coldest broad to ever grace a fairytale: my letter Q is the Evil Queen from Snow White.

Celebration of Wickedness Day 16: KHAN NOONIEN SINGH

Ricardo Montalban was a sexy man. He was hand-crafted from fine Corinthian leather. He could put on a white suit, grab a little person and make all your fantasies come true. I once saw him, as Mr. Rourke, go toe to toe with the Devil. And win. So who else could sport feathered bangs and a vest with no shirt and still be the most memorable villain in the 23rd century?

But this ain’t about Ricardo Montalban, it’s about Khan Noonien Singh (truth be told, I didn’t even know he had a middle or last name until I got ready for this post). Khan is the antagonist from Star Trek II, as in The Wrath Of, and easily the most recognizable villain from Star Trek (like I would choose the tribbles).

We meet Khan Noonien Singh in an episode of the original Star Trek series. Khan is a genetically engineered human being with the “superior intellect.” He used his powers to conquer about a quarter of the earth during the 1990s (don’t you remember that?) When the unwashed masses rose against him, he and about 80 folks fled earth, got stuck in suspended animation until they were found 400 years later by the Enterprise. Kirk does Khan a solid and thaws him out; Khan thanks him by taking over his ship. Khan and his folks are exiled to a planet in the middle of nothing to serve out their sentence.

The end, right? Nope.

When we see Khan again, the planet he was exiled too is knocked off course and becomes a barren wasteland with only the 80 humans and these desert rock lobsters whose babies can make you “weak-minded” if you stick them in your ears. I have no idea how you figure that out…Anyway, a routine mission becomes a hijacking and suddenly Khan is back on the scene with a Federation starship and an eagerness to beat the shit out of James T Kirk. Khan’s return brings us numerous bad haircuts, William Shatner’s obvious toupee, introduces Kirstie Alley, and Spock’s death.

Khan has 23rd century street cred. This is what makes him so cool. For all the superior intellect, genetic enhancement bullshit, Khan is simply a thug from the future. And he’s good at it! This is why he’s Star Trek’s most memorable villain—he’s actually something and someone we can understand. He’s a criminal in fine clothing, surrounded by advanced technology, but a criminal nonetheless.

And this is why Khan Noonien Singh makes the cut as a fantastic villain: Khan is gangster. Put your phasers on stun; hear me out. Khan carjacked the both Enterprise and the Reliant, does a drive-by on the Enterprise first chance he gets, steals the Genesis device, and kills Kirk’s boy. Every time he walks on the screen, I swear I can hear 50 Cent’s P.I.M.P.: “I don’t know what you heard about me…”

Tomorrow, we continue with the A to Z Challenge with O for the Overlook Hotel—the setting for Stephen King’s The Shining. “All work and no play…”

Celebration of Wickedness Day 15: LEX LUTHOR

It’s Lex, baby! That’s right, our sample of sinister savagery is Superman’s nemesis premier, the chrome dome himself.

Now, I’m admittedly not a DC comics fan; I’ve read two Superman comics in my lifetime—the one where they changed Supes’ costume and the one where Doomsday beat the bulletproof shit outta Superman. I don’t know Lex from the pages of comics: I know him from the Christopher Reeve masterpieces, the sub-standard Superman Returns, and all 687 episodes of Smallville (I cannot be only one who thought it took forever for Superman to learn HOW TO FREAKING FLY!).

Most of us have seen the 1978 Richard Donner pic with Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando and if you haven’t, stop, go out and watch it. Come back when you’re better prepared for class. And while you’re at it, watch Superman II—it was just cool. In that movie, we are introduced to a villain who wants to start an earthquake to make the entire western seaboard of the United States fall into the ocean just so he can make money on a brand new coastline. And he launches a domestic nuclear attack to give Superman something to do while his other plan is in motion.

Impressive, right? But wait, there’s more.

There are 2 human beings who know about Superman’s “aversion” to kryptonite. Both of them know who Superman is. Both of them are billionaires. One of them is Superman’s friend. The other one wants to kill him. In the movies, Lex discovers what kryptonite does, obtains it, then gives Superman a pendant made of it and tries to drown him. But that’s not all: he finds the Fortress of Solitude, turns it on, uses its information against Superman and makes Superman destroy his own home. We’ve even seen Lex shank Supe and stomp him like they were on D-block. And Superman is BULLETPROOF.

Here’s what it comes down to: Lex has balls.

That’s what makes him such a fantastic villain. Lex Luthor has balls. I know it sounds crass but think about it. Push aside his routine disdain for all manners of law enforcement. Ignore his idle willingness to sacrifice billions of human lives to achieve his aims. Brush away the fact that he teamed up with General Zod to take over the world. Consider this: Lex Luthor fought a god. On purpose. And figured out how to beat him.

When we think of heroes and villains, especially the super-powered variety, we often imagine a match in power and capability. Batman and the Joker, Spiderman and the Green Goblin, Harry Potter and Voldemort. Usually two sides of the same coin. But think about Superman. He can fly, shoot lasers out his eyes, live in space, lift full continents with his bare hands, turn the world backwards—you’d have a better chance listing the things he can’t do, right? But Lex is just a dude. A regular guy. Flesh and blood and addicted to gravity. And yet he is still willing, wholeheartedly, to tumble with the Man of Steel. And sometimes gains the upper hand. Who does that? A man with balls.

And that is why Lex Luthor deserves entry into the pantheon of great villains.

Tomorrow, tomorrow, we get the only Star Trek villain I know: KHAN! KHANNN! KHANNN!!! (that’s my version of the echo from Star Trek II)

Celebration of Wickedness Day 11: JAWS #atozchallenge

Beaches are supposed to be fun. Beaches are supposed to be Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon-esque scenes of sandy fun and bikini-clad hormone-o-ramas. Old people, little kids, taut teenagers, sun, surf, smiles. That’s the beach. They are supposed to be fun.

Not cauldrons of frothing blood, 25-foot-long leviathans and an endless body count.

That’s not the beach. That’s Jaws.

I was 2 when the original movie came out. I didn’t see it until I was like 14 or so. I did, however, see Jaws 2 when it came out. My grandmother took us. She even bought me a t-shirt from the movie. That movie’s tagline was “Just when you thought it was safe to back in the water again…” Again? I thought. Well, what happened the first time? What could have happ—oh my god! For the next two hours, I watched a great white shark tear after teenagers and color the ocean red. And, after the movie, my grandmother TOOK US TO THE BEACH!

I’m ok now: my psychologist prescribes sunscreen and Xanax every summer.

Jaws did a bunch of things in terms of storytelling and changing the way we look at the stories that resonate with us. It was the first $100M movie and was the highest grossing film of all time until Star Wars. It made the E and F sharp the most frightening notes in music. Though I’m sure the Great White Shark Defense League didn’t appreciate all the negative publicity.

To date we’ve looked at cockroaches from outer space, a radioactive Jekyll and Hyde, a sadistic puppy killer, a vampire, a rejected parasite, a child molester turned boogeyman, a giant fire-breathing dinosaur, a truly haunted house, a killer clown from outer space, and a bumbling international criminal who can’t shake a 4th grader and her dog. And, short of the House, we haven’t looked at anything that’s remotely plausible let alone possible. Until now. This is what makes the shark an incredible villain: possibility. While implausible, a great white shark attacking a seaside community is possible. It can happen. That’s what makes it terrifying.

Jaws worked because it redefined the way we look at danger—and how close we’d allow it to be. It’s easy to say this is a classic man vs. nature type of story—the same thing that Alien did for space, Jaws does for the beach. That’s surface stuff. What Jaws did is bring danger home. Made it personal. Who doesn’t like the beach? Everyone wants to see their children have a good time on a hot summer day, watch them play in the surf. Just like Alex Kitner’s mother.

Tune in tomorrow, same Bat-time, different Bat-channel: tomorrow I’m posting over at Morgen Bailey’s blog (www.morgenbailey.com). We’ll be taking a good hard look at the Clown Prince of Crime—the Joker!

Celebration of Wickedness Day 10: DR. CLAW #atozchallenge

I’ve seen a lot of cartoons in my day. They generally fall into two camps: the cat-and-mouse, coyote-and-roadrunner variety that tend to devolve into one large pseudo-murder fest that’s good fun for the whole family; and the Duck Tales-Rescue Rangers-Scooby Doo version that tend offer the extended remix plot. In either case, at the end everyone went home or back to their respective caves or Mystery Machines or whatever. But everybody lived to see another day.

This is where Inspector Gadget is different. Or tried to be.

On Inspector Gadget, the villain tried to kill the hero. Repeatedly.

What’s that? You didn’t watch Inspector Gadget? Seriously? First, Gadget had the best theme song in cartoon history, until Duck Tales and Rescue Rangers (and you guys know I’m right). Second, Dr. Claw, Gadget’s only villain, was some combination of Ernst Blofeld and Boris Badinoff—part international spy with nearly limitless resources and a BAD-ASS CAR, part bumbling idiot who is upset by an robotic Inspector Clouseau. And third, he had the cat.

I loved Dr. Claw because he was thoroughly pissed off day in and day out. He HATED Gadget with a passion. And he sincerely TRIED to kill him every single episode. Now, I can’t comment on the efficacy of a criminal mastermind who helms an international crime syndicate but whose schemes are consistently thwarted by a 10-year-old girl and her dog, but his disgust was palpable. He’d watch with chagrin from his chair, only one arm visible, stroking Madcat, cursing at the screen as everything went awry. “I’ll get you next time, Gadget. GADGETTTTT!!” And then zoom off underwater, in the air, whatever in his Awesome-Mobile (it was actually called the MADmobile but it was awesome to me).

I know it’s stupid but Dr. Claw was the first villain that I really dug. I actually rooted for him. He kept getting these awesome schemes kicked to the curb by a Six Million Dollar Man knockoff. It was maddening to me (and to him—he pounded his console week after week with that big-ass metal hand). That’s what worked for me, I guess, I sympathized. I didn’t like Gadget: he was too stupid for me. Penny was a know-it-all; the only one I really dug was the dog, Brain, but he spent his days frustrated that he couldn’t talk and had save this electronic idiot again and again. I was privately hoping he’d win.

As a writer, Dr. Claw made me understand the seductive quality of a good villain: for all the heinous things they do, all the pain they inflict, they have to be likeable somewhere, somehow. They have to have something—a great voice, heavy breathing, a pesky kid with a lightning bolt scar who just gets under your skin—that makes them attractive to the reader. Something more than a maniacal laugh and lofty goals of world domination.

So…tomorrow is J day, J for JAWS. You’ll never go in the water again…

Celebration of Wickedness Day 9: AMITYVILLE HORROR HOUSE #atozchallenge

I have only witnessed a few things in this life that have actually caused me to change how I live. Jaws 2 really made me second guess the wisdom of going back in the water again but I live on the coast. I even watched another episode of the Kardashians after Kris Humphries did Kim so wrong. I’ve even had someone get shot next to me and still will go back to the Riverside Perkins for pancakes. But the Amityville Horror changed my life.

Who doesn’t know this story? The Lutz’s are a young, blended family who move into a house in Long Island that has some “history.” See, 13 months before the Lutz’s move in, the family before them was brutally murdered by a family member while they slept. Adults, kids, everybody shot. In spite of the obvious RED ASS FLAGS, the Lutz’s move in and experience a series of phenomena that let them know there are some issues with the crib. I don’t know about you, but shit like blood coming out the faucets, my kids having imaginary friends who are really dead kids who used to live in the house, a constant sickness, an infestation of flies in the winter—these things would make me question the quality of my real estate investment.

For three months, these people endured all kinds of supernatural events. Their kids were buggin, the dog was trippin, somebody called the house a “Gateway to Hell.” And these people dealt with it. They laughed off blood coming out the plumbing—would you ignore BLOOD coming out the faucet? They ignored that something woke up George Lutz everyday at 3:15am. And when they tried to perform a blessing on the house, the House said “Will you stop?” The HOUSE said it. And they still stayed.

Until one day they finally decided enough was enough and then the House said, “Too bad, dummy, now you have to stay.” So they finally break down walls and bust out windows and get every human being out the house and as they are pulling out of the driveway, a child says, “Wait! What about Scruffy or Rex or Tuffy or whatever the hell the dog’s name is?” So they stop and GO BACK FOR THE DOG.

Now if you have read this much of the post, it is obvious it affected me, right? This flick terrified me. Honestly. And that terror was only intensified by the fact that it’s true! That shit is true! You can get in a car and drive by the House (that is a trip that I will never, ever take). You can watch interviews with the real family, the real priest, neighbors, whatever. Once I found that out, I resolved to not only never see the house, I don’t care if I ever see Long Island. Fuck that. I’m good.

See, I don’t just remember the movie, I remember where I was sitting when I saw that life-sized ass doll open her eyes and start rocking on her own. I remember the brown velour shirt with the blue stripe I had on my back (shut up—I was fly in 1979) when the House told the priest to “Get Out!” And I remember the yellow flannel Battlestar Galactica pajamas I had on when the Lutz’s finally gained the common sense to LEAVE THE FUCKING HOUSE!

But more than that, I remember how I felt. I was and remain terrified of that house. Not scared. Not frightened. Terrified. Because it’s based on a true story, because it’s real, I can’t separate what I saw on screen from that real live edifice. And I don’t want to. It is the only thing I have ever brought from the screen or a book (with the exception of the of the superflu from The Stand—man, this cat coughed next to me while I was reading it…)

As inspiration for this post, my wife offered to put the movie on for me. After I spit up my drink, I politely demurred: “That’s a big NFW, good buddy.” Just thinking about it might have me sleeping with the lights on this week.

So, I’m gonna try and shake it off. Tomorrow is Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget. GADGET!!!

Celebration of Wickedness Day 8: PENNYWISE THE CLOWN #30daysofmadness

While the rest of the Christian world is celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Happy Easter, everybody!), we’re still celebrating the darker side of life. Today’s villain du jour is Pennywise, the child-killing clown from It.

I don’t know a single soul that has read the book—it’s longer than the Bible. But I know a whole bunch of people who saw the miniseries. If you weren’t one of them, it’s the story of a giant inter-dimensional spider-thing that terrorizes a small town in Massachusetts or Rhode Island or any one of the other 78 states in New England. The spider-thing takes the form of a clown, Pennywise, to lure kids into the sewers to dine on them.

I have a couple confessions to make: first, I didn’t see It until I was an adult in my 30s so the terror was lost on me—the dated hairstyles and poor special effects made me think it was just an extra long episode of Cheers; second, I actually didn’t think It was that good, I just remember what my friends kept saying:

“Dude, the clown…the clown really freaked me out.”

The problem with this is it was college students talking. I’d graduated from high school the summer before and was working on my first attempt at a college degree at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. For whatever reason, I didn’t see it. I don’t know, I didn’t have a TV, the ratio of women to men was 14 to 1 and there were better things to watch, or I was sleep. I missed it.

But the thing is, all those other people didn’t.

These were grown men sleeping with the lights on, lamenting about this damn clown and, even though I hadn’t seen it, I was genuinely interested in this character. Or rather, in his impact. In light of what we’ve learned so far, what makes Pennywise so effective, so frightening is that he is something so malevolent in such innocuous trappings. Pennywise is a clown, with fanged teeth, but a clown nonetheless. And until It graced our television screens, the creepiest things about clowns was that they hung out with nondescript purple guys named Grimace, known Hamburglars, and traveled in those itty-bitty cars.

We used to look forward to clowns. How many of us grew up watching Bozo the Clown before school? We’ve all had Happy Meals. And I know hundreds of my peers watched the clowns at the Shrine Circus. They were good, clean fun. And that’s the thing, that’s the rub. Clowns are supposed to be harmless (John Wayne Gacy aside) and Pennywise uses that inherent trust to kill children. Remember when I said Cruella DeVille was just mean? You gotta admit, posing as a clown to catch a snack is pretty f’d up.

I added Pennywise to the list as a fantastic villain because of his MO: he takes something that generally engenders happy feelings and uses it as bait for something sinister. And, in the process, changes the way we look at clowns.

I could talk about that this is a common trait among Stephen King’s villains, about how he finds something to fear in those things we hold dear: our faithful companions become ravenous hellhounds in Cujo; our pretty little girls become telekinetic she-devils in Carrie or walking flamethrowers in Firestarter; a car literally becomes a deathtrap in Christine and Maximum Overdrive. Pennywise is simply another example of a villain made incredible in the hands of a master.

UPDATE: I do know a soul who has read It–My Wife! She publicly informed me of this little tidbit. She actually read it 3 times. 3! I can’t decide how concerned I should be…

The A to Z Blog Challenge starts up again tomorrow with letter H. We’ll be talking about something truly terrifying: the House from the Amityville Horror.