Hidden Gems: The Twilight Zone

Unfortunately it’s already the last week of October, which means that this is the last post of the horror-themed Hidden Gems series. I can’t believe how fast it flew by, especially being busy with midterms and existential dread about the state of the world. I’ve really enjoyed sharing some of my favorite works of horror art, I just can’t believe how much I didn’t get to cover; there’s pretty much an endless amount of art that I could talk about when it comes to horror. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t see a spooky post now and again, especially if the inspiration strikes or I watch a particularly good movie. For my last post of spooky season, I found it fitting to talk about a work of art that is extremely close to my heart, a show that inspired my lifelong interest in the supernatural, science fiction, and horror: The Twilight Zone.

Depending on your generation, you might already be extremely familiar with the show; it was groundbreaking when it aired it 1959, and has inspired countless knock-offs and remakes due to its incredible popularity. However, I’ve noticed that has been brushed under the rug recently; I find less and less people who have ever seen it, let alone enjoy it. Unfortunately, the show’s age has been a large deterrent to modern viewers. It is filmed in black and white, as expected for the time, and not all of the acting has aged well. Although it is certainly an old show, I would argue that it has an unmatched amount of charm, and that the intellectual ideas presented in each episode are incredibly fascinating and still relevant today.

The original Twilight Zone of 1959 lasted for 5 seasons and spanned over 150 episodes, making it an incredible catalog of science fiction. Each episode is a self-contained short story and usually features some sort of social commentary or moral. The range of the show is incredibly broad: examples of topics include aliens, time travel, beauty, living inanimate objects, and other unexplainable phenomena. The one thing shared between all episodes is the haunting and iconic introduction by Rod Serling, the show’s creator. Each introduction is unique, but they all convey the same thing: anything can happen in the Twilight Zone, a place where not everything is as it seems, but a place where any of us could end up without knowing. It’s an incredibly powerful introduction, and one of my favorite examples of how art and media can create such strong emotions in the viewer, which in this case happen to be fear and uncertainty. The black and white filming of the show is also extremely conducive to the aesthetic being portrayed in each episode. One might expect it to be a barrier from realism, but I find it to be incredibly immersive, since so much attention is drawn to the characters and the story, not so much the visuals and special effects. More often than not, the immersion is actually broken when they attempt to use ambitious special effects; on the flip side, they use clever practical effects to achieve surprisingly convincing results. Episodes like Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? are a perfect example of this duality: some unfortunate prosthetics are especially jarring, while some of the practical effects are clever and so well done that it almost beats anything that could be accomplished today. In general, all of these aspects of the show make it extremely charming and memorable. Even if not every episode is perfect, they all come from a place of creativity and attention to detail is evident in every one.

With that being said, I can’t recommend the show enough; some seasons are currently on Netflix, and it’s the perfect show to watch during the month of October. Although the show has a notable reputation, it certainly doesn’t receive the amount of appreciation it deserves, especially considering how groundbreaking it was and how much it influences horror and science fiction writers today. If you do decide to watch it, these are some of my favorite episodes, and ones that I would recommend watching first: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, Time Enough at Last, The Monsters are Due On Maple Street, Eye of the Beholder, and To Serve Man.

The Lighthouse: A Master-Class in Immersion

 Immersion – A state of being deeply engaged or involved mentally

Last Friday I decided on a whim to go see The Lighthouse at the Michigan Theater; I’m a devoted fan of horror and thriller movies, and the trailer had peaked my interest a few months prior. I figured why not treat myself and go see a movie alone and get into the Halloween spirit. Based off of the trailer, I went into the movie expecting something terrifying and entirely unique; leaving the theater, I definitely felt like I had watched something unique, but I certainly wasn’t terrified. In fact, it’s hard for me to say whether or not The Lighthouse truly falls into the genre of horror; more likely it’s a psychological thriller. Hardly any scenes made me jump or frightened me, and in general there were more scenes where the entire audience was laughing, purely at the absurdity of certain situations. Needless to say, my feelings about the film were mixed, but after mulling it over for a while, I’ve started to understand that it had a much more profound impact than I first thought. Something was nagging at the back of my brain, something that made the film hard to forget, and the more I thought about it, the more I started to see why it’s so much greater than I first realized: because it creates this complete feeling of immersion that has you on the edge of your seat, holding your breath, and it achieves that incredible effect with so little flair.

The Lighthouse is entirely black and white and is presented in a square aspect ratio, much like classic movies or shows like The Twilight Zone (a personal favorite of mine). This gives it an aesthetic that stands out from other horror movies today, and was largely what peaked my interest when I saw the trailer. It feels so gritty and stylized, like an old documentary that was never released, which pairs perfectly with the story of two grizzly men keeping watch over a lighthouse on a rock in the middle of the ocean, completely stranded and abandoned. That grit creeps into the characters, especially the older lighthouse keeper Tom, played by Willem Dafoe, who completely embodies the idea of a sea-worn sailor. This pairing of visual style and complementary characters makes the story feel so authentic: even though it seems so far removed from reality, it felt like I was sitting at the table with them, eating dinner and being dragged into their arguments. I didn’t realize the effect while I was watching it, which I think is further proof of just how convincing it truly was.

In the end, it was the power of the movie to draw me in that made it horrifying: it felt like I was a part of this eerie, stormy world, and every small element of horror was amplified by the immersion. The music and sound design throughout was incredible, being constantly oppressive and bearing down on the audience like a great storm. The few moments of shock and surprise hit much harder than in a typical thriller; they completely threw me off balance, either in disgust or confusion, and then kept me off guard, never knowing what to expect next. I can appreciate those qualities more now, having discovered how subtle they were in the moment, but how long lasting the effects were because I was so enthralled at the time. I think that makes The Lighthouse special in a way that most movies aren’t: it presents the audience with something subtle, uncanny, and disturbing, and immerses them completely until only afterwards they realize the crazy roller coaster they just went on. Not only does this style set the film apart, it makes me want to go back and watch it again.

 

Some Thoughts on Tarot Cards

One of my favorite parts about art is how it can be shared through so many mediums; art is in everything, and being able to see that makes life a lot more interesting. A great example of art being conveyed through a unique medium are Tarot cards: a deck of 78 unique cards, often used for fortune telling and games. It was relatively recently that I gained an interest in the obscure world of tarot cards, having been inspired by an old HBO show that my parents used to watch called Carnivale (a great show and I highly recommend it, but the end leaves a lot to be desired). The show uses tarot readings to further the plot and create dramatic tension, but more interesting is how the show uses subtle tarot symbolism that makes the story feel like a great epic is unfolding and the characters are all pawns of fate. This technique is similar to that employed in classical epics, such as The Iliad and The Aeneid: the use of portents and prophecies that connect the story together using a common thread, often calling back on themselves and revealing the role of divine fate in an extraordinary way.

Artist: Matt Bailey Instagram: @baileyillustration

I absolutely love the feeling when a prophecy is fulfilled, or when I can draw the subtle connections between events and and characters and be able to see how the prophecy influences the events of the story. This is one of my favorite things about tarot card art as well: the use of symbolism and subtle meaning conveyed through the illustrations is fascinating and endless. Each card has lore and tradition behind it, with multiple interpretations that all come together to form a single story. Personally, I don’t believe in actual fortune telling, but I appreciate how the cards are designed to create the effect of prophecy. Each card has identifying symbology that can be found in any version or reinterpretation, and have been tradition ever since they were first created, making each card immediately recognizable and therefore more iconic. This quality of the tarot can be found throughout popular culture as well, from literal uses such as Led Zeppelin and The Hermit figure, and more subtly in the archetypes of The Fool, The Magician, and The Lovers often found in storytelling today.

The other thing I love about tarot cards is the physical aspect of the art itself; there are so many versions and styles of illustrations, and I think the cards are such a great medium of artistic expression. An artist can follow the strict format of the cards and symbology while still illustrating them in their own way, giving them the perfect amount of creative freedom. There’s a lot to be said for the proportions of tarot cards themselves and the powerful effect of the format, which makes them the perfect template for creating something unique. It’s a great endeavor to undertake, illustrating all 78 cards, but it’s a great way to develop and refine your style and to put your creativity on display.

Artist: Micah Ulrich – Instagram: @micah_ulrich

Halloween Screams

FORGET pumpkin spice. Tomorrow is the first day of October, which means it’s time to accept what all you non-spooky people of the world have been denying for the entire month of September. IT’S HALLOWEEN. Yes, the official date of Halloween is at the end of the month, but really there is enough to go around for all 31 days and then some, so don’t be a spoil-sport and deny yourself of some of the greatest binge-watching and jump scares (if that’s your cup of tea) that the world wide web has to offer.

Now, I may be a little biased, seeing as my birthday is basically Halloween plus/minus 24 hours, but this holiday is not just for the Scorpios of the world. Halloween is all about nostalgia – connecting to old pagan and folk roots and traditions, celebrating the supernatural creatures that we’ve come to know as myth, and recognizing our connection to the past through talk of the unknown. Sure it’s become an increasingly commercialized holiday that is no longer associated with its religious origins, but the increased awareness of the things that lurk in the shadows is something that is not lost upon us. If the upcoming sixth installment of Paranormal Activity tells us anything, it’s that we still do have an interest in the unexplained, even if we try to come up with any excuse to tell each other otherwise (see: “yeah, man, Paranormal Activity wasn’t scary at all, I totally didn’t have trouble sleeping for a week after”).

So what’s my point? If you spend the entire year living with your face pointed at the sun and avoid the shadows, now is the time to step over to the creepy side. I’m giving you an excuse to watch those ghost shows that you don’t believe at all but that are just so interesting to watch. Give Ghost Hunters a try if you want to watch something that could trick you into believing in the spirit world, or Ghost Adventures if you just want to watch a guy with extreme shark fin hair talk dramatically at the camera. If you want to be creeped out and listen to some famous people, check out Celebrity Ghost Stories – but maybe not at night. There is a new show called Amish Haunting that is incredibly fake and disturbing (i.e. goat baby), but it’s the kind of train wreck from which you can’t look away.

Don’t forget the horror movies – the State Theater will be screening A Nightmare on Elm Street, Goodnight Mommy, and Rocky Horror Picture Show in October. Rocky Horror is a must, but make sure you look up the show’s traditions first. Don’t forget the family movies either. You may not be eight years old anymore, but Hocus Pocus and Halloweentown will still hit the spot. Who doesn’t want Bette Midler to put a spell on them? And lest you forget, Halloween is just another excuse for you to watch Harry Potter. ABC family will of course be showing the boy wizard during their 13 Nights of Halloween, along with gems like Caspar and the Addams Family.

I’ll leave you to it, then, while I go watch something just a tad bit scary. I’ll just put these here to pique your interest:

 

(Say hi to Kevin McCallister’s mom – yeah I went there, Christmas is around the bend)

 

As an aside, I would like to thank the unusually large number of trick-or-treaters that breezed through my parent’s neighborhood almost 22 years ago, and my brothers for making my dad take them trick-or-treating so that my 9-months-pregnant mother had to keep getting up to answer the door.