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Monday, January 21, 2019

Exploring Japan Vol. 13 - The Parasite Museum

First of all, I apologize for the three month hiatus.  As I've mentioned before, life took a weird, hard left turn on me in the final months of last year and I'm just now climbing back out of it.

Many of you who followed the blog wanted me to continue the Exploring Japan series.  When things came to a halt last year, I was probably about halfway through all of the interesting topics I had lined up.  So with that, I'm picking up where I left off, however after you read this post, you may want to be careful what you wish for next time.  

Tokyo has many amazing museums, most of which either offer English translations at each exhibit or some form of translation service.  There's even one we'll talk about in a later post that offers free translators who will walk with you and answer all of your questions.  While many of the museums are focused on art or history, there are a handful of strange ones here and there.  One of the strangest is 100% free to visit.


It's the Meguro Parasitological Museum in the Meguro neighborhood of Tokyo.  It's tucked away among a number of nondescript buildings on the street pictured below and you'd likely walk right by it if you weren't looking.  However, inside are some of the most interesting and (frankly) disgusting sights you will ever see.  





The museum is part of a private research facility that was founded in 1953.  Currently, they exhibit about 300 parasite specimens over two floors.  It's not a large museum, but there is A LOT crammed in here. 

Now you may ask yourself why would a parasite museum exist in Tokyo at all?  Well, the study of parasites and their effects on animals and humans had a direct effect on the quality of life for many people in Japan in the early 1900's.  A doctor named Akira Fujinami made it his life goal to study a parasite that affected major portions of rural Japan.  In those areas, as many as 30% of the people carried the bug.  It's latin name is Schistosoma Japonicum, and it's something called a "blood fluke".  

If you've ever seen a picture like the one below, you've likely seen a victim of this nasty little creature.




What drew Dr. Fujinami to focus on parasites was when he found one of the flukes while conducting an autopsy on an infected victim.  He started to question how it got into its host and in an experiment designed to determine the parasite's life cycle, he arranged for 17 uninfected calves to range in the paddy fields and rivers in an area of Katayama where they knew the parasite existed.  He divided the calves into groups.  On 6 of them, he covered their mouths.  He covered the legs of 7 others.  He allowed 2 to roam free with no cover and the final 2 he kept in the barn all the time.  




What he found was that all of the calves without the leg covers became infected. Through further study, he found that snails in the area were the intermediate hosts and that part of the key to wiping out the parasite was to eradicate the snails.  


Between the time of this discovery in 1918 and 1950, the number of infected patients and deaths dropped from 2,500 to almost 0.

The museum serves as a place to both honor the man's research and also open people's eyes to the vast number of crazy, creepy, crawly things you may not even realize are out there.




Now, I'm not going to lie to you.  There are some seriously gross things here.  For instance:



A sea turtle head with a parasite growing right out of its mouth.




The largest tapeworm ever pulled out of a human being.




There's even a tape measure you can extend to get a better understanding of just how long that thing is.  I'm holding the other end and am standing across the room and still can't pull it tight.





There seems to be no end to all the horrific specimens on display and trust me when I tell you that there are some pretty awful pictures of what these things can do.  As we were looking at one particularly gruesome photo while trying to decipher a bit of kanji, we used our translation app and the following came up.





Let's just say the translation was correct.

So why come visit?  Well, it's definitely weird.  It's relatively easy to get to and it's extremely educational.  Sometimes, knowledge is uncomfortable.

Would I recommend visiting?  Absolutely!  If you read every single exhibit card, you could cover the entire thing in a little over an hour.  Do it in the morning and you'll have the rest of the day to forget all the horrible stuff you'll see.  At the very least, you'll never exit a bathroom without washing your hands again, and hey... the world can always use a bit of extra hygiene.

Next week, we'll shift gears and talk about tea plantations, sake brewers and sacred Buddhist statues that were once illegal.  You can find all of them in one town at the base of Mt. Fuji!

See you then!



Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Gef - The Mysterious Ghost Mongoose... Seriously

I'm not sure how many of you read the AVClub.com site.  It's pretty essential to me as it covers a wide variety of pop culture news.  One of my favorite series is Wiki Wormhole.  Writer Mike Vago literally jumps from entry to entry on Wikipedia and reports on it.  The only real rule seems to be that the next topic is always triggered by something read in the current topic he's exploring.  Thus you can have such disparate subjects as a ghost mongoose one week and dead currencies the next.

Wait... did I just write the words "ghost mongoose"?

Yes.  Yes, I did.

You see, this week's entry was so fun, I figured I had to share it with those of you who don't know about Gef.



In 1931, a family living in a small farmhouse on the Isle of Man, reported that they had a ghost living with them.  It wasn't an ordinary ghost though.  It was a ghost in the form of a "mongoose" from New Delhi, India.  What's even better than that?  

It talked.

That's right, the mongoose (or monghost if you really want to get weird with it) spoke to the family regularly.  It referred to itself as "a ghost in the form of a mongoose" and an "earthbound spirit" among other things.  It was also helpful.  It would wake up family members who overslept, warn them when visitors or strange animals approached and was even responsible for turning off the stove when someone forgot.  In return, the family left it food in a saucer suspended from the ceiling.




The ghost became popular in the tabloids and various investigators came out over the years to report on it and try to see it for themselves.  Ultimately, no photos were ever taken and though some visitors reported hearing the ghost talk, this was later reported to be ventriloquism on the part of Voirrey, the couple's daughter. 




Ultimately, prints and hair from the ghost mongoose were proven to be that of the family's dogs.  Still, according to Wikipedia, Voirrey (who died in 2005) always insisted that Gef was quite real and was not a product of her imagination.  

One thing I find very interesting about this is Gef's assertion that he is an "earthbound spirit" and a "ghost in the shape of a mongoose".  In the Shinto religion in Japan, there is the belief in "kami" that I've discussed when posting about the festival in Asakusa.  Kami is basically an object's spirit and Shinto teachings tell us they are found everywhere.  The idea of a mongoose's kami finding its way to England from New Delhi and helping a family seems like it would make a hell of a great story.

Perhaps someone should write it.  Hmmmm...

Anyway, check out the links above to the AVClub article and the Wikipedia entry.  Very soon, I'll pick up the Exploring Japan series again but when I do, be warned.  There's at least one entry coming up that deals with parasites... lots of them...


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

A Quick Update


I know, I know.  It’s been freakin’ forever since I updated this blog.  Well truth be told, the last few months of 2018 were a little on the crazy side.  Between big family losses, disappearing bosses (yes… there’s a story here but I ain’t tellin’ it) and the holidays in general it was a bit nuts.  Every moment I had to write was spent on other projects, which is a good thing.  After all, I’ve got books to put out and I’m so close to being done with the next one I can taste it.

So while this isn’t an official “check out this cool thing I saw” post.  It is a post telling you that in 2019, you can look forward to a continuation on the Exploring Japan series as well as some other stuff.  Also, sometime between now and October, I hope to release the first volume in a series of books about a character that Will Mason and I created during a bad day at work many, many years ago.

His name is Resurrection Phil and I’m really excited to finally bring one of his adventures to you all.  He’s a hell of a guy, would give you the shirt off his back, but you may want to be careful about what you’re eating when you’re around him. 

Does that sound intriguing?  Well, then stay tuned. 

The one thing I can promise you is that in 2019, I’ll be releasing some really weird stuff.  I hope you’ll join me!

See you soon!

Cary

Monday, October 15, 2018

Quality Family Time - October 2018 Edition - Week 2

So last week, I subjected the girls to Battle Royale and while one was not impressed (Karen), the other (Lil) just hated it.  I really only had three films that I really insisted that Lil watch with me and that was one of them.  I figured this week, I'd ask her to watch one that I actually thought she'd like.  That's why we sat down on Saturday night and fired up Dario Argento's 1977 classic, Suspiria!





For those who don't know, Suspiria is about a young American woman who is invited to attend a very exclusive dance academy in Europe.  Once there though, she begins to realize something is not quite right about the place and as her fellow dancers begin to wind up missing and/or dead, she digs in further to see just what is going on.

My daughter is a dancer.  Actually, that's not correct.  My daughter is a dance fiend and she and her mother will pick apart every tiny movement in any dance that's done on film.  When it comes to ballet, she's a dance snob.  So last year when we watched Black Swan, I was pretty amazed that overall, she didn't have much of a problem with the dancing in the film.  I mean, there were times when she commented on something but it never pulled her out of the narrative.  In fact, she actually really liked the film.

With Suspiria though, this was not the case.  Things started out promising with Karen declaring after the first fifteen minutes that she didn't know how it could get any weirder.  Then, things devolved from there.  I thought they'd like the color, pacing, crazy plot, etc. but I underestimated something that reared its head almost immediately.  My wife has a thing about hair.





I know this is confusing, so let's go back in time about twelve years and let me tell you the story.  At the time, I was a staff writer for a site called DVDinmypants.  It was a pretty fantastic place with great people and a very open editing staff who was up for almost anything.  At one point, I pitched the idea of rewatching some of the old exploitation films of the 1970's and 80's with my wife.  We'd pick them apart and she could bag on my horrible taste in films as a teenager. Somewhere around film number three, I started noticing that Karen's first impression of any character in any film was based entirely on their hairstyle.  It just pulled her right out of the story, no matter what.

So, in Suspiria, when the dancers first show up in especially low-cut leotards and everyone has 70's hair, Karen was the first one to say something about it.  Then she noticed none of them had their hair in buns.  That became a pain point for Lil and I got to witness the transition as a mother passes her weird obsession to her daughter. 
  


As for the dancing, neither was really enamored with it, but Lil was the most harsh.  For those of you without teenagers, it's hard for me to communicate just how insanely sarcastic one can be.  Below are a few comments I overheard.  Please read the following in a tone that sounds like an audible eye-roll.

"This seems to be complete chaos. Nobody's in sync. Everyone just do whatever you want." 

"Oh wow.  Another dead ballerina."

"Does anyone in this film know how to correctly hold their arms when doing a pirouette?"   

And then... there was Karen.

Her:  I thought you said this was about ballet.

Me:  No, I said it was set in a ballet school.  It's a horror film.

Her:  It's pretty horrible ballet.






And when it was all over, I asked what they thought of it overall. 

Karen:  I thought it sucked.

Me:  What?

Karen:  It's so slow and the dancing is terrible.  

Lil:  I thought it was okay.  I didn't think it was horrible.  The dancing was horrible but the movie itself was okay.

Heathens!  I tell you I live with heathens!

If you've never seen Argento's Suspiria, you should.  As you can tell by the handful of stills here, it's beautifully shot and is a great story.  The soundtrack by Goblin is one of the few things that Karen and Lil liked about it.  They recognized how effective it was at ratcheting up tension throughout the entire run time.  

Check it out and then get ready for the remake which hits theaters later this month.  It's getting great reviews and I'm super excited about it.

Winners and Losers for Week 2!

Winners (Everyone Agrees)

The Giant Behemoth (a giant radioactive dinosaur invades London!)

The Black Scorpion  (a bunch of giant scorpions invade Mexico City!)



Winners (Cary Only)

Suspiria  (an American dancer invades a European dance school!)

Terrifier  (one of the creepiest killer clowns in ages invades your nighmares!)


Losers 

None this week!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Quality Family Time - October 2018 Edition - Week 1


Well, another October is upon us.  For those of you who've followed the blog for a while, you know that in our house that can only mean one thing.  It's time for two months of horror movies!

Why two months?  

Because we found we couldn't get our favorites in, plus new films, without starting in September!

This year we've already been through quite a few.  There was one though, one special one that I've been saving, that I was looking forward to more than all the others.  A movie that I've had on my short list for two years, knowing that my wife and daughter would get sucked in and simultaneously hate it.  

That movie is Battle Royale (2000).




Battle Royale tells the story of a ninth grade class who are beyond saving.  It seems kids just don't respect their elders the way they used to, so society passed the BR Act.  As kids make their way through the school levels, the worst and most disrespectful get sorted to a very special class.  At the end of their ninth grade year, this class is drugged and sent to an uninhabited island in the Sea of Japan.  There, they are each given food, water, a map, and one weapon.  They're also fitted with fashionable shock collars that will explode if they break any of the rules.  Over the next three days, they must hunt each other or die themselves.  The only remaining survivor will be allowed off the island.




Now, why would I be looking forward to showing this as opposed to any other horror film?  It's simple actually.  As you've probably guessed from reading the blog, they're pretty obsessed with Japanese pop culture.  Anyone whose seen Battle Royale knows that rule number one is not to get attached to any of the characters.  By definition of the rules, you only have a 1 in 42 chance of picking the winner.  Remember how they hated Train to Busan because so many people die?  This is like that one on steroids!




So two nights ago, we fired up a double feature of Cabin in the Woods (Lil and Karen's pick) and Battle Royale.  First I was surprised how well these two movies go together.  On the surface, they definitely have the same "bones" as far as their respective stories.  Without spoiling Cabin in the Woods for the handful of people reading this that haven't seen it, let's just say that the circumstances surrounding the protagonists have eerily similar set ups.

That said, all of my anticipation did not have the payoff I'd hoped for.  Mostly, there was mild complaining.

Karen:  This movie has absolutely no plot whatsoever!

Karen:  I do like the guy who shouts everything.  I'm going to start doing that.  Just yelling out what I want everyone to do.






For the most part, Lil stayed quiet.  When it was all said and done, I asked what they thought.  Karen's complaint stayed the same.  No plot until the last 20 minutes or so and then you understand just who you should be rooting for.  

I looked to Lil for something, anything that would tell me that deep down, she really did like it but didn't want to admit it.  Instead, she just stared back and then said everything I needed to know.

Lil:  I REALLY did hate that.

Yes!  And she'll be asking to see it again in few years.

Of the ones we've seen so far, here are the winners and losers.

Winners (as voted on by everyone)
Monster on the Campus
The Thing From Another World
It Came From Beneath The Sea
Momsy, Nonny, Sonny and Girly (Thanks to Mike and Lynn and The Annual 24-Hour Film Fest for introducing me to this one.)
The Grudge  (American version)
The Cabin in the Woods
Dracula (1931)
Slither
Rosemary's Baby  (Based on the conversation alone, I'd say this has been Karen's favorite so far this year.)
Dr. Terror's House of Horrors
Piranha 3-D
Cat People
Attack of the Crab Monsters


Winners (Cary only)
The Masque of the Red Death
Battle Royale


Losers
The Woman Eater  (Too much talking.  Not enough woman eating.)

Gigantis: The Fire Monster  (This is a repackaging of Godzilla Raids Again that was marketed to American audiences.  The narration is laughable at first, then really annoying.  Stay away from this one and watch the subtitled Toho version)










Thursday, October 4, 2018

Horror Histories Vol. 17 - The (failed) Remake from the Black Lagoon!


For this edition of Horror Histories, I’d like to talk about a remake that has yet to be made but is very close to my heart.  If you’ve read this blog with any regularity, you know that my favorite horror movie of all time is The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).  It’s an amazing film and if you don’t know much about it, go watch it now.  You’re really missing out otherwise.  If you don’t have the time though, you can go here and check out my post from last October. 



Now, if you look at every other big name Universal monster from that period, you’ll notice that each has had a remake (or two, or three) in the last four decades.  The only one who has not been through the reboot machine is the Gill-Man. 

Why?  Well, that’s an interesting story.  It’s been connected to some of the biggest names in Hollywood but it’s never come to fruition.  The stories of those failed attempts make for a fascinating look at the studio machine, so let’s talk about a few of them, shall we?


In 1982, John Landis approached Universal about producing a remake.  The studio was excited and a script was written by legendary screenwriter Nigel Kneale (the Quatermass series).   Landis was pushing for it to be directed by none other than Jack Arnold, the man who wrote and directed the original.  That alone would be enough to make me happy but it gets better.  Rick Baker, the genius behind the effects in An American Werewolf in London as well as many others, had been signed to create the practical effects.  His designs for the costume stayed true to the original Gill-Man suit and this looked like a film to get excited about.  

So what happened?

Landis is a huge fan of the original and he insisted that if Universal was going to let him produce it, then it would have to be in 3-D.  However, the studio  already had all their eggs in another 3-D basket in 1982.  It was Jaws 3-D and Universal didn’t want any competition on the schedule the following summer.  The project fell through and Landis moved on.


The next person to be attached to it was Joe Dante.  Dante was fine with not producing it in 3-D, and he was content to work of Kneale’s script but eventually he decided to pass on it and move on to other projects.  The idea of a remake bounced around for about a decade until it landed in the lap of John Carpenter. 



Of all the names attached to this movie, Carpenter’s is the one I was most excited about.  Anyone who has ever seen what he did with The Thing knows that he would have made this his own and still paid a loving tribute to the original.  He was given the script that Kneale had written but it hadn’t aged particularly well.  That script featured two Gill-Men, one aggressive and the other more humane.   Of course they were fighting over a woman and the rest kind of writes itself in a way. 

Carpenter is quoted as saying that the script was interesting but needed some work to get it where he wanted it to be.  Instead of hiring someone else, he approached Kneale about updating it.  He quickly found that Kneale didn’t want to change a word and according to Carpenter felt he was "above this horror thing".  So  Carpenter drafted screenwriter Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III: Season of the Witch) to help him.  


This version started gaining traction and by 1992, Carpenter was giving interviews about different ideas they’d been playing with, even incorporating some Lovecraftian bits about how the Gill-Man came to be.  Universal seemed more interested than ever, tossing around the idea that it would be a summer event movie.  Even more importantly, Carpenter brought back Rick Baker and both swore that the original design from 1954 was almost perfect.  Carpenter is literally quoted as saying, “Why fix it?”

His only caveat was that it needed to look less rubbery.

So what happened here?  There’s not a 100% solid answer on this.  There’s some indication that due to the demise of Carpenter’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man, the studio lost faith.  Whatever the reason, the movie fell by the wayside again and Ivan Reitman picked it up.



Again, he called on Rick Baker for the effects work.  This time around though, Baker didn’t like what he was seeing.  Reitman wanted to totally rework the design of the creature and also play up the evolutionary angle in the script.  The Gill-Man wouldn’t be the only monster in the lagoon and from what Baker’s gone on record as saying, it wasn’t something he was excited to be attached to.

Thankfully, that also fell through.



Gary Ross took a stab at remaking the film and his script was given to Guillermo Del Toro who agreed to direct for a brief time.  I’ve read a synopsis of this script and it’s pretty lame, doing away with what made the original great and replacing it with a battle between good “student” scientists and evil “corporate” scientists in a part of the jungle where evolution has gone insane.  Once again, the Gill-Man is just one of many antagonists and it comes across as something you’d see go direct to video.  Del Toro decided to move on to a different film.

I’ve also seen another variation on that script that had Tom Cruise attached to it at one point.  It involved the Creature being the protector of the Tree of Life.  It was disjointed and read more like a videogame script than a movie.  Think lots of obstacles, jump scares and very little heart.




Around that time, director Peter Jackson was offered a shot at it.  Initially he expressed interest but ultimately asked to direct his own personal passion project, the remake of King Kong.  

Most recently, when Universal announced their half-baked plan to create a shared universe featuring their monsters, Scarlett Johansson was offered a lead role.  With the tanking of Tom Cruise’s The Mummy, that whole plan seems to have been scrapped now which is probably for the best.



While there’s still some talk of remaking the original, at this point I’d be happy with that never happening.  My favorite thing about Guillermo Del Toro moving on when Universal couldn’t get their shit together is that he’s not the type to let that stop him.  While The Shape of Water (2017) isn’t a remake of The Creature from the Black Lagoon and isn’t really a horror film at all, it is very much a continuation of the original 1954 story.  It disregards the two sequels and imagines what could have happened if the Gill-Man had been captured and brought back to a lab for study.  



It’s a brilliant film that’s a love letter to Jack Arnold’s film as well as to cinema itself.  If you’re a Creature fan, you really couldn’t ask for much more.



Tuesday, October 2, 2018

October Music and The Ocean


Those of you who read the blog know that I’m a huge music hound.  I love most types from pop to jazz to blues, heavy metal, classical and even classic country.  As long as I can remember, music has been my one refuge when things seem bad and I’ve even noticed (and commented to some of you reading) that my listening tastes tend to change with the seasons themselves.

Fall is upon us and with it comes my favorite time of year, Halloween.  My birthday is in October.  My daughter’s birthday is also in October and we just make the whole month one long party.  It’s around this time of year that my listening tastes become slanted more toward rockabilly, punk and metal.  Bands like The Cramps, Nekromantix, The Horrorpops, The Birthday Massacre and soundtracks from Suspiria (Goblin’s best work), John Carpenter’s The Thing and pseudo-soundtracks by The Midnight Syndicate will go into heavy rotation over the next few weeks.

That said, this week I found myself listening to a song that’s definitely not in that vein and realizing that I’d almost unconsciously mimicked the lyrics in my own life.  As most of you read, I lost my Dad about a month ago.  I spent a couple of weeks in Texas helping my mother get things sorted and then when I came back here, I realized that I hadn’t really dealt with it myself.  I spent the next couple of weeks kind of going through the motions of work and home.  Then something clicked and I asked Karen and Lil if they wouldn’t mind going down to Laguna Beach after work one night. 

We hit up Husky Burger on PCH and then crossed the street and headed down to Shaw’s Cove.  We wandered along the rocks and watched the waves crash.  There were some cool blow-hole effects happening in one spot and the high tide was just starting to subside.  We waited there and watched set after set roll in until the sun finally started creeping down enough that the air got a little too cold for us.  Once we got back to the car and started driving home, I realized I felt better.  A lot better.

The ocean has that effect on me.  I’m not sure why. 

A week later, I found myself throwing a Counting Crows disc into my car stereo.  “A Long December” (a song that I’ve liked for a long time despite it being overplayed) came on and the last verse struck me.  For the one or two people out there who may not know it, the lyrics are about a guy who's reflecting on the past year, realized it's kind of sucked and is looking forward to the new year in hopes that it'll be better.  The last verse goes like this:

And it’s one more day up in the Canyon
And it’s one more night in Hollywood
It’s been so long since I’ve seen the ocean
I guess I should

I’m not the biggest Counting Crows fan, but I don’t think I’ll be able to hear that song again without automatically thinking about the last few weeks and how good it felt to just sit and listen to the waves for a while.

Starting next week, we'll start posting about the Halloween movies being viewed this year (including a couple that Karen and Lil may or may not particularly like).  On Thursday, I'll post up the last Horror Histories for the time being.  It was supposed to go live a month ago but life got in the way.

Happy October, everyone!