Monday, March 30, 2015

Music Video Monday: The Devil Cried

Next up on the "surviving the worst book of the 1980's" playlist, a rather tragically underrated song from Black Sabbath's Dio years.

It's okay, Satan. If somebody wrote a book portraying me as a blustering child abuser who only spoke in rejected Dr. Seuss verses, I'd cry too.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapters 23 and 24

Chapter 23

When Dr. Pazder and Michelle start their next therapy session, interestingly, we see a little bit of tension between them. He still hasn't quite accepted her claim to have seen apparitions of Jesus and Mary, and she's convinced that what she's saying sounds utterly crazy and couldn't be real, even though it feels real to her. Unfortunately, their moment of self-awareness doesn't last and they plunge right back into the least beneficial therapeutic regimen since Little Albert.

But they get over their moment of self-awareness pretty quickly. In less than a page, we're back to the remembering.

Michelle is still standing before the fire with Satan's burning-hot tail wrapped around her neck. Jesus has buggered off, who knows why or where to, but...he's leaving his mom to look after Michelle, so that's okay, I guess?

     She reminded him that the figure in white had called his mother. "She was very far away," Michelle told Dr. Pazder. "Like a star way off in the distance somewhere. And then it got closer."
     "And he was telling me that he couldn't stay there. But his mother could. Does that make sense to you?" she asked. She had broken down in tears again.

Hmm, no, dereliction of duty and reckless endangerment on the Son of God's part doesn't make much sense. But hey, his leaving the Virgin Mary to watch over Michelle is still better than nothing, right? Maybe she can help somehow.

     "You have got to stay here." Michelle's voice had changed. Now there was a new tone. It was a woman's voice, warm and gentle, but very firm.
     "I don't understand," the little girl cried. "I didn't understand the lady. She said she could be my Ma Mere. She took my hand and said to hold on really tight. She couldn't be there always. Not like that, like standing there. Only for a little while. But she'd always know where I was..."

Wait, what? Michelle has to stay where she is, and Mary can only be with her sometimes? But...she can at least do something while she's there, right?

     "I wanted to hide behind her. No," the child said unhappily. '"No. I guess not." Dr. Pazder could feel the little girl's desire to hide and her sad realization that it was impossible.
     Michelle was quiet again. The next time she spoke, she sounded motherly. 
     "No," said Ma Mere. "Not hide. Not hide."

Well, WHY THE HELL NOT? Is there anything you can do for the poor abused little kid who desperately needs and wants your help?

Sort of. Michelle says that Mary holds her hand to comfort her, which is nice, but would be nicer if the personification of all evil weren't still essentially molesting Michelle right in front of her. The tail around the neck, remember? It's still there. Maybe smack his tail off her neck first? No? Oh well.

Mary then explains that she isn't doing more to help Michelle because the time hasn't come for her to break free (she does, I notice, at least have the decency to punctuate this with an "I'm sorry." Unlike her son.) and that Michelle mustn't fight back or speak about her experiences until the time comes. Okay, I'll bite. What mysterious divine plan are you following that's so delicate and important that you can't remove a child from a horrendously abusive situation that may kill her for fear of ruining it?

     "We have to be human," Ma Mere told her calmly. "You want to help your brothers and sisters."
     "I don't have any," the child cried.
     "No, you have many."
     "How can I help. I can't even help myself. I can't even get out of those circles."
     "You will," Ma Mere promised, "but only if you stay. Or else too many people will be left in circles."

So...Michelle has to stay and be the Satanists' chew toy for an unspecified period of time, so she can rescue other children being abused by the cult? We see no mention of children at this ritual, we saw the cult murder at least one kid in cold blood. Michelle now seems to be the only living child in the whole cult. Is there even any other kid left to save? And if there is...that's a big, big responsibility to put on the shoulders of a scared, beaten-down six-year-old. Hey, Mary, I have a better idea: How about you tell your son--who actually has a proven ability to prevail over demons--to do his job and protect those children instead? His pub crawl can wait. Little girls getting inappropriately touched by Satan can't.           

Chapter 24

This chapter is super short and its only purpose is to have Michelle show a rash that's developed on her neck to the bishop, who acts shocked and says that the mark looks exactly like Satan's tail tip. He makes this determination based on the fact that the Devil's tail looks like that in medieval pictures. Never mind that it wasn't like the Devil posed for medieval painters, and Michelle hints that he's a shapeshifter anyway so his stereotypical appearance shouldn't be the concrete piece of evidence they're treating it as. We're also told that Michelle's rashes are her body's way of "remembering" what her mind remembers. There's a close-up of her neck rash in the pictures section of the book, and it honestly looks more like what would happen if you had anxiety issues and scratched your neck too much as a nervous tic.

Hey, speaking of anxiety issues, one thing about Michelle's description of Mary really stood out to me:

"...You knew she was a mother. She had sad eyes. They hurt her baby. She'll always have sad eyes because of that."

So Mary was traumatized by watching her son's crucifixion (which is one of the most horrific forms of creative murder ever dreamed up by the human race, by the way. Zero stars. Would not recommend.) and now she has to watch more children being tortured.

I really, really hope she's doing this out of the boundless goodness of her heart, because she wants to help Michelle and other suffering children, and not because her son is making her. Because if she wasn't on board with this idea, then we'll have to add "doesn't understand or care about PTSD triggers" to Michelle Remembers Jesus' list of sins.

I hate this book. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 22

In this chapter of the worst book of the 1980's, we get to meet Satan! Aren't you excited?

Don't be. Michelle Remembers Satan is really, really annoying, for reasons that will become obvious as soon as we see him in-text.

Michelle comes in for her next therapy session and starts "remembering" very reluctantly, convinced that something big and unusual is going to happen in her next memory. She finds herself in the round room in time for some sort of major ceremony:

Everything was black. And the black was moving. Surging like a stormy sea. The people were all wearing black monklike robes, girdled with black rope. There were many, many more people--a huge crowd--and it seemed that they had gathered from all the corners of the earth. Their voices carried foreign inflections, and as alike as they were in their attire, their varied postures and movements gave the sense of a great mixture of humanity.

Gee, that round room must be pretty darn big if it has room for a tacky 70's bed, candelabras, a stage with a life-sized Satan statue on it, and every Satanist in the whole world (a population, remember, which probably includes literally every human being who lives in Africa if Dr. Pazder is to be believed). Now I really want to know where this building is, and how in the flying fuck Pazder and Michelle think it can exist without anyone but the cult knowing about it. Towering, ominous, windowless stone domes aren't generally the kind of structure people just forget about seeing, you know?

The fire is still burning in the middle of the room, and Michelle is sitting near it. Meanwhile, the cultists split into three groups and form three circles around the fire--enclosing Michelle as well, and begin an intricate dance around the fire. Michelle mentions that one group is composed entirely of women, one entirely of men, and then the third has both men and women in its ranks. She also says that each group has a different function: One is primarily concerned with casting curses on enemies, for instance. This sounds like interesting information, so of course it isn't explored any further. Instead the cultists abruptly pick Michelle up and begin passing her around their circles, doing that weird cardinal-directions-pointing ritual whose purpose won't be explained in this chapter either. Michelle's wording suggests that every single cultist does this to her separately, which must take a long goddamn time considering how many people are in the room. Like, five full Catholic Masses long.

Seriously, don't these people have jobs and family obligations to attend to in the real world? How does nobody who knows them ever notice that they routinely disappear on five-day-long child-flinging binges?

Michelle then interrupts the narrative to have some sort of spiritual experience for three and a half pages.

Look, I have nothing against spiritual experiences. But they are very much not a one-size-fits-all deal, and one person's transformative, healing event may very well be bizarre, or even nightmarish, to someone else. That's why they're so difficult to do well in books. You've got to be a very, very good writer to pull one off in such a way that it won't bore or freak out your audience, and as I've stated before, our authors just aren't up to the task.

Dr. Pazder engages Michelle in a long, halting recitation of what sounds like an abridged version of the Nicene Creed, and Dr. Pazder is amazed that Michelle was able to repeat a bit from a popular Catholic and Anglican prayer in French after having grown up in a country where 22% of the population are native French speakers. True, Michelle and Dr. Pazder live on the other side of the country from Quebec, the province where most of the Francophone population is concentrated, and Michelle claims she's so bad at languages that she couldn't pass her required French classes in college. Still, my husband is terrible at languages too--he's convinced that his professor gave him a passing grade at the end of his fourth attempt at Spanish class because she felt sorry for him--and even he was able to (mostly) memorize a short poem and recite it in front of the class for extra credit. I'm sure Michelle was capable of getting a simple phrase like "Au nom du Pere et du Saint Esprit" down pat enough to repeat it, even if she can't figure out the grammar of it or tell you which word means "Father."

Then we finally get back to the ritual, where Satan himself has just manifested in the form of a dark, constantly shifting, vaguely humanoid figure within the fire. I like that image; it's appropriately creepy and unsettling. So of course Michelle has to have him open his amorphous mouth and ruin everything.

He talks in rhyme.

Here are some examples of how Michelle thinks Satan--a fallen angel, a being with greater intelligence, wisdom and wit than any mere human could hope to have--might talk:

Out of the fire.
A man is born.
And he walks. 
Behind, the path is born.

It burns out the way.
It burns out the way.
Of destruction and decay.

And this:

You come from fire,
And to fire you return.
You come from fire,
The only way out is to burn.

I CANNOT TAKE YOU SERIOUSLY, MICHELLE REMEMBERS SATAN. You rhyme words with themselves, you use too many periods, you repeat yourself unnecessarily, your metaphors are confusing, and your sense of meter sucks. Now go sit on your skull throne in the bowels of Hell and think about what you've done.

Oh, but it gets worse. Michelle is forced to stand before the fire, and Satan wraps his long, sinuous tail around her neck, caressing her with its bifurcated point. Mmm. Kinky. Where do I sign up? I mean, uh...things sure look bad for our hero! Who will save her?

Jesus Christ will!

No, that's not a joke. Despite the terrifying predicament she's in, Michelle's mood suddenly shifts for the better:

"All of a's like morning, and it's not scary anymore. It's not bright light, but it takes the scary away. And there's a man and he's got white on. He's really far away. Then he starts coming closer. When he gets close, then I can't see the bad man that scares me anymore...I don't seem to need to say anything to this man in white...I started to cry. It seems like every time a tear came out, he understood. He patted my head and put his arm around my shoulder. He's being my friend. He didn't talk to me, but I knew he had a mother. He said that she could be my mother too."

Having made this promise, Jesus--and the text does make it pretty clear that this is Jesus--poofs off somewhere and leaves Michelle exactly where she was before, facing down the Prince of Darkness with a gang of murderous Satanists at her back.


Yeah, thanks for that, Jesus. I mean, it's very kind of you to send your mother to comfort a poor abused little girl and all, but...YOU WERE RIGHT THERE. And I'm pretty sure you outrank Satan. What were you late for that was so important* that you couldn't take two seconds to teleport the kid to a safe place?      

The chapter ends with Dr. Pazder sitting at home, being completely freaked out that Michelle is apparently having visions of Jesus and Mary and the Devil, but not quite for the reasons you'd think:

He believed that some people had seen the mother of God. He believed that some people had seen the Devil. But in Victoria? The Devil?

I think he's trying to convey that he's just startled that all this could be happening so close to home. But the way it's written, you could also infer that he thinks Victoria is such a boring little backwater town that not even Satan wants to visit. I'm sure the Victoria tourism board appreciates your glowing recommendation, sir.

*My guess? He's off to have a pint with those cops who couldn't be arsed to investigate a highly suspicious car crash in chapter 6.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Music Video Monday: Mr. Krinkle

For today's installment of the "powering through the worst book of the 1980's" playlist, I have officially given up making sense of any of the cult's weird rituals as Michelle describes them. So please enjoy this infinitely more coherent Primus video instead:

Friday, March 20, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapters 20 and 21

Chapter 20

On June 30 Michelle called Dr. Pazder. For the past days, she said, she had been afflicted by strange distressing urges. She had felt a repeated impulse to get in the car and drive--somewhere, she didn't know where.

Hey, I think I've felt that impulse too! It passed as soon as I stopped reading this book.

Michelle shows up at Dr. Pazder's office without an appointment, agitated because "remembering" is taking an emotional toll on her and she doesn't want to continue. I imagine a good, caring therapist would encourage her to take a break and spend some time processing what she's just discovered, but not Dr. Pazder. Dr. Pazder persuades her to soldier on because obviously the Satanists who we haven't seen trying to stop Michelle from speaking out before they kinda-sorta-maybe left her a scary bench in the last chapter are trying to stop Michelle from speaking out:

Dr. Pazder knew that the Satanists had used sophisticated techniques of psychological manipulation to try to inhibit Michelle--not merely to make her forget but, if she should remember, to make her not tell.

HAHAHAHAHA NO. I seriously doubt any of the bad guys we've seen so far would know a "sophisticated technique of psychological manipulation" if it mugged them at the bus stop. Their methods never came off to me as subtle or clever or well-thought-out, just randomly, pointlessly cruel.

Such mind control techniques had unbelievable power, he knew. In Africa he had seen the influence of the juju dolls; if a person believed in juju, the dolls could be used to make that person roll over and die, on the spot, without any other intervention.

Again with the darkest primitive Africa talk. Dr. Pazder, your cultural superiority complex is showing.

Now Pazder told Michelle that it was desperately important that she not yield to the Satanist suggestions, that she resist them, that she allow herself to ventilate the fearful memories. The Satanists had tried to fill her with guilt--it was one of their techniques.

Oh, what a lowdown move on those filthy, filthy Satanists' part. I'm sure good Catholics like Dr. Pazder would never resort to a dirty fighting technique like filling people with guilt over bad stuff that isn't actually their fault.

And then he did something he very rarely did with a patient: He commanded her to continue.

And then Michelle walked out of his office and found a psychiatrist who actually put her mental well-being before getting as much of her lurid backstory down on paper as quickly as possible and wasn't a braying racist.

Sadly, no. We get a long-ass section of Michelle's memories, mostly taken verbatim from the transcripts of the therapy sessions because there is no justice in the world. Interestingly, though, we start to see hints that one of the Satanists may actually be halfway competent.

In her memory, Michelle is taken to the room where the doctor performed the pointless operation of pointlessness on her. The book explains that they get her there by way of a tunnel, which answers the question of how people were getting into and out of the doorless, windowless round room, but raises a ton of others. The room is full of dead bodies on stretchers. Michelle is strapped to an empty stretcher, and the doctor forces her to watch as he dismembers the bodies, sews parts from all the bodies together into one Frankenstein body, and makes it jerk around by running an electric current through it. Then he shocks Michelle with electricity as well. actually properly terrifying. Then he pulls all her teeth, which is also terrifying (though given Michelle's age, I would assume all or most of those teeth were her baby teeth and her regular teeth will still grow in, but the violation and the terrorizing factor would still be there). He also regularly drugs Michelle with what appears to be some sort of sedative to coax information out of her and implant ideas into her, and presumably to get her addicted to the drug so she'll have to be docile and good, because the cultists could withhold her fix at any time (that's my conjecture, anyway. The book Satanists seem entirely fixated on the information-getting and idea-implanting aspects, though I'd like to think at least one of the members of The Most Powerful Evil Organization In The World has the mental capacity to plan more than fifteen minutes into the future).

Unlike anything the nurse or Malachi has done so far, these actually seem like they could be effective breaking techniques.

Anyway, Michelle's "pretend friend" shows up during these breaking sessions to comfort Michelle. Remember her? I sure didn't. The pretend friend is a sort of idealized version of Michelle who occasionally pops up to help Michelle through a difficult moment. She made a handful of appearances in the first few chapters, and then she was MIA for many chapters after that. I didn't mention her in any of the earlier decons because she didn't seem important enough. Keep that in mind for the next chapter when...

Chapter 21

...the Satanists gather in the round room and bring in a little girl who very closely resembles Michelle's pretend friend, so closely that Michelle believes they're one and the same. Michelle is forced to watch in horror as the cultists pull her teeth like they pulled Michelle's, chop off her hair, and dismember her. We learn later that the doctor wormed information about her inner life out of her while she was drugged, and that was how the Satanists managed to find out about her imaginary friend and got enough details on her appearance to find a child who looked like her. At the time, though, Michelle thinks that her "friend's" death is entirely her fault. She is left horrified and guilt-stricken, wondering if her captors have the ability to reach into her very thoughts.    

This scene has a great deal of emotional potential. It could be a real kick in the gut to see Michelle agonize over supposedly having betrayed her only comfort to her tormentors. It could show how powerful, evil, and utterly ruthless the cult is. We could see some humanity on adult Michelle and Dr. Pazder's part as they comb through whatever missing persons databases Canada had back then and search old newspapers for articles about missing little girls, trying to put a name to the victim and, if possible, give her family closure by helping them find her remains.

Unfortunately a lot of that potential is lost, largely due to the fact that we don't see much of the pretend friend. She gets less page time than the unnamed, dead-for-all-her-scenes "lump woman" from the earlier chapters. I honestly forgot she was even in this book for fifteen or so chapters, so watching Michelle "lose" her just isn't the gut-wrenching experience it should be, no matter how hard the book tries to handwave the lack of connection with this:

And now Michelle realized that her pretend friend had never left her. She'd always been there, on one level or the other, always on hand to fan the little spark of courage, to say the funny, sassy thing that would amuse Michelle and take her mind away from the horrors, or give her a fragment of understanding that made the ghastliness comprehensible...

Well, then, maybe you should have put more effort and time into SHOWING her doing that, book. Sorry, doctor. Your master-act of villainy has been undermined by the incompetence of the writers.

And this is all Our Heroes have to say about the little girl who was brutally murdered for resembling Michelle's imaginary friend:

     "...Who was the little girl they cut up?"
     "I know that it was a real person. It wasn't all my imagination. There was a little girl there who looked just like my friend, but they messed her up. She wasn't an imaginary person."

Then they go back to talking about how this was just another one of the Satanists' brainwashing techniques and how Michelle still has the inner goodness her imaginary friend represented despite it, and they never mention the murdered girl again. It's passages like these that make me hope that Michelle and Dr. Pazder both secretly knew that none of these horrors actually happened and their therapy sessions were all just a big, long-running roleplaying game, because they come off as fucking monstrous people at these moments. Yup, you witnessed a little girl being torn limb from limb and her body is probably rotting in a shallow grave in the woods somewhere, but we've got your inner goodness to talk about! S'cool, s'cool, it's not like that dead girl could possibly have a family who've been lying awake at night wondering what happened to her for the last twenty years or anything.

The chapter ends with the beginning of another ritual, which the Satanists kick off by ceremonially burning the effigy of Satan (once white, but now completely reddened with blood) in a big bonfire. Ah, so that explains why it was white and made of papier mache. Still doesn't explain why it never fell apart under the repeated blood soakings, though. Or why it's red. Hate to break it to you, Satanists, but blood doesn't stay red when it dries. Unless you wanted your chintzy effigy to be that rusty brown scab color, any middle schooler could tell you you'd have been better off just shelling out for some red acrylic paint. You know, if you hadn't sacrificed them to Satan first.    

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 19

Don't get me wrong. The worst book of the 1980's is a bad, bad, bad book, and it is painful to read. But it is also mind-numbingly boring in a way that a book featuring an ancient super-secret death cult really shouldn't be, and for a long time I had trouble putting my finger on exactly why that should be. At first I thought that the problem arose from the way they chose to present the material. Page after page of two people talking in a room doesn't tend to make for a gripping thrill ride of a novel, no matter how interesting the things they're talking about should be.

This chapter, however, made me realize that the problem goes deeper than that.

The book has no compelling conflict to keep the story afloat. Or even to keep it believable.

Think of what we're told Michelle is up against. We're given no indication in the text that the evil secret cult isn't still around while Michelle is undergoing therapy. And an organization like that shouldn't want to be exposed. It should also be powerful and resourceful enough to keep itself from exposure. Think about it. We're told that this cult can somehow persuade the police to look the other way even when their crimes are painfully obvious, they include respected and educated professionals in their ranks, and they seem to have no qualms whatsoever about killing people.

Michelle should be living in fear now that she's started revealing their secrets. Dr. Pazder should be living in fear now that he knows their secrets. They should both be getting harassed by the police (who are on the cult's payroll, naturally), finding dead animal/people parts and blood smeared on their respective properties, and receiving anonymous threats in the mail. We'll soon see that it's probably within the cult's power level to summon demons to torment their enemies too. There should be a lot more suspense and tension, a lot more demonstrably at stake, than the book ever leads us to believe there is. 

We never see any indication that the cult is actively working to keep Michelle from revealing their secrets. Michelle and Dr. Pazder--who both seem old and wise enough in the ways of the world to know better, by the way--don't seem particularly concerned about the prospect. Not even enough to shell out two bucks for a lousy magazine. They only times they worry about the Satanists' continued influence over Michelle are the chapters (like this one) in which they seek religious intervention as part of Michelle's therapy, and then they only worry about her soul being compromised.

So I was a bit surprised when, nineteen chapters into this garbage pile, we finally, FINALLY saw some indication that the cult may be working against Michelle's therapy physically as well as spiritually.

Their timing is pretty good. Well, if you don't count their faffing around for eighteen chapters while Michelle and Dr. Pazder bored us all to death, that is. Michelle is about to be baptized and confirmed into the Catholic Church. Now is the time to send her a strong message, to show her that they know she's fleeing into the arms of the enemy and have marked her as a traitor. That there are terrible repercussions in the works for her and for everyone she cares about. You'd think that such a scene would be thrilling to read, right? These people chop up corpses and kill kittens; surely they'll be able to put together a spectacular threat display.

Let's see what they came up with:

On June 24 Dr. Pazder and Michelle went together to Sacred Heart Church. As they sat in the pew, listening to Father Guy celebrate Mass, Dr. Pazder noticed that the sacristy light, a little candle burning in a glass cup suspended by a chain from the ceiling, had suddenly grown dim.

Okay, okay, we're off to a decent start. A bit of an overused horror technique, but an effective one. So...what happens once the lights go ominously dim and the real show begins? A shower of blood? Human skull with curse-runes painted on it smashing through stained glass window? Church suddenly filled with shrieking demons?   

Nope, nope, and nope. Michelle notices something odd in the shadows:

     A few feet away was a small wooden bench. Neither of them had ever noticed it in the church before--and they would have; it was very out of place in the simple modern decor.
     "Those symbols!" Michelle said, and Dr. Pazder, looking closer, saw that the bench was covered with ornate designs. His heart skipped a beat. They were precisely the symbols Michelle had described as being sewn on the cloaks of the inhabitants of the round room.

A wooden bench.


That's it. The "Satanists" supposedly left a wooden bench with funny symbols on it in the church for Michelle to find. Not an evil possessed bench; just an ordinary bench. They didn't even leave a note with it or anything. Come on, Michelle Remembers Satanists, breaking into a church and leaving behind a piece of furniture that clashes with the decor slightly isn't scary. It's just mildly irritating. At least spray paint some pentagrams and the words YOU'VE BEEN A VERY BAD GIRL in red on a nearby wall along with your pointless menace-bench.

Not to mention, once again, the fact that this is the first time we've seen any sign of cult opposition to Michelle's therapy in nineteen freaking chapters. If these people exist and are so powerful, what were they doing for the entire first half of the book? And why is their first grand gesture of intimidation a weird, random non-threat?

From the writers' standpoint, I know why. They couldn't tell us about all the terrifying shit the vengeful Satanists subjected them and their families to during the therapeutic process because the Satanists only existed in Michelle's mind (or if they had actually existed, they would all have died of rabies by now) so there's no way they could have intruded into the real world to derail Pazder and Michelle's grown-up legend tripping sessions, no matter how much our intrepid spiritual warriors (probably) secretly wanted them to.

From the standpoint of a reader, though, it's a mistake to have no active antagonist. I suppose an excellent writer may have been able to make a compelling work of fiction out of Michelle's inner conflict, in a psychological thriller, did-this-really-happen-or-is-it-just-in-her-head sort of way, but our authors are not particularly good writers. And they are trying to pass Michelle's delusions off as non-fiction, which only serves to make the unrealistic bits more unbelievable.

The chapter ends with Dr. Pazder, Michelle, and the priest chopping the bench into pieces and burning it, while Dr. Pazder talks about African juju ceremonies (I said SHUT UP about Africans and their "primitive" beliefs already, Pazder, African indigenous religions are not devil worship) and takes pictures. Some of the pictures have what looks to be a low-light version of a lens flare in them. Dr. Pazder shows them to his mother, who identifies the glowing figure as "Mary with the child."

I thought it looked more like a huge waffle cone full of drippy French Silk ice cream. But that's the beauty of pareidolia. It lets everyone perceive images of the things that are most sacred to them personally.   

Monday, March 16, 2015

Music Video Monday: Bloody Angel

Yep. Still reading the worst book of the 1980's. Yep. It still sucks.

So it's time for some stuff that doesn't suck.

Avatar doesn't suck. This music video is one of the more artsy bits of film I've seen in a long time, and I find myself NOT laughing or rolling my eyes in disgust in parts where I ought to be creeped out. See, Michelle Remembers? It can be done.

Also, just for fun:

Psychedelic paint swirls! I should like to try this sometime.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Michelle Remembers: Intermission

Now that we've reached the halfway point of Michelle Remembers, I'm pausing to look back at what I've read so far and collect my thoughts about the (crappy, horrible) material.

One thought that's been pinging around in my head for a long time now is that Michelle and Dr. Pazder are both puzzlingly incurious about the nightmarish horrors of Michelle's past.

They are given plenty of opportunities to satisfy any curiosity that they might have. Michelle mentions a recent magazine article that supposedly confirms the existence of a witchcraft cult in the Victoria area. She has a first name for one of the cultists (Malachi), remembers that one of them apparently worked as a nurse at a local hospital, and that yet another came from Vancouver. She's been to their temple, which has some rather unique and memorable architecture. That's more than enough information to get some quality sleuthing done. But neither she nor Dr. Pazder goes to any public records building to look up people with the (relatively unusual, I would think) first name of Malachi, or describes the nurse to employees at the local hospital in case there are any old timers there who might remember having her as a co-worker. They don't drive around looking for the cemetery where Michelle was supposedly abused, or for the huge, hard-to-miss round stone temple where she was held.

Hell, they can't even be arsed to purchase the damn magazine.

True, Dr. Pazder does sort of make a half-hearted attempt at getting Michelle's hospital records, but he decides they've given him enough info rather prematurely.

From a logical perspective, this makes no sense whatsoever. Why on earth wouldn't they try to find more evidence than Michelle's word to back up that these horrific crimes actually happened? Those Satanists could still be out there committing atrocities. If you were in Pazder's or Michelle's place, wouldn't you want to stop them? Wouldn't you hit the streets and do as much research as possible, building up a detailed tome of names and places and the cult's structure, calendar, hierarchy, mythology and practices, so you'd have as much information as humanly possible to turn over to the police and help them put these monsters behind bars?

But Michelle and Dr. Pazder apparently don't want to do any of this, which is utterly baffling.

Until you realize that stopping the Satanists is not the point at all.

I recently came across this article about a bizarre unsolved murder from the 1970's. A young woman, Jeanette DePalma, vanished from Springfield, New Jersey, only to be found dead six weeks later. Her body had been dumped in a quarry, with branches strewn around it in what some observers thought were odd patterns. While police investigated her case over the next two weeks, rumors spread. The pattern of the fallen branches morphed into branches laid out in the shape of "occult symbols." Some people claimed that animal corpses, strung up from trees or stuffed into jars, had also been found around the vicinity of the girl's body. Some said that nearby trees had had arrows pointing to her resting place carved into their bark.

Talk of witches and Satanism wasn't far behind. Jeanette had been a sacrifice, people whispered. There was a secret witchcraft cult haunting the area, known as "The Witches" (Note to evil Jersey witches: please grow some goddamned originality.) and they had abducted Jeanette, either at random or deliberately because her devout Christianity made her a more desirable target, and slaughtered her in a secret ritual.

Is it any surprise that soon, almost all local residents were too afraid to talk to police about Jeanette's murder? They were so afraid, in fact, that the case went completely, irretrievably cold. Jeanette's killer was never identified.

This case is interesting, I think, because it represents the first rumblings of the Satanic Panic set off by Michelle Remembers. The book may have amped it up to the national frenzy level it eventually reached, but the basis for it was already there, churning, among other places, in the minds of people in small towns rocked by terrible crimes.

I don't claim to be a criminology expert, or even much of a psychology expert. I can't say for sure what exactly made the good people of Springfield so reluctant to discuss Jeanette DePalma's case. There are just too many rumors, and too little solid information. My guess would be that many people believed the witchcraft rumors and were genuinely afraid, and the rest didn't want to get involved for whatever reason.

Either way, it seemed many of these people feared they had something to lose by helping the police find Jeanette's killer.

I wouldn't be surprised if, for at least some of them, the thing they stood to lose was their belief in the witch cult.

Let's face it: We all secretly want monsters to be real. Even comedy websites know this. Rumors of murderous cults spring from this desire. Surely no one in Springfield wanted to admit that one of their own--a respected town elder, a clean-cut boy from the local high school, a kindly church lady--could have been the one to commit such a repulsive crime. And really, who could blame them? A heinous act committed by a member of a community is an injury to the soul of the community itself. It forces other members to face the fact that human cruelty isn't something that only exists in the monstrous non-people who infest that dark hinterland outside the bounds of "polite society," It's something that even the people they love and respect are fully capable of. Some people do realize this. Some will resort to all manner of complex mental gymnastics to ascribe their peers' bad behavior to some hated other.

I honestly think Michelle and Dr. Pazder didn't try to dig up any useful info on their "cult" for a similar reason. They were too invested in the excitement it brought to their lives, and in the thrill of being the stalwart heroes standing up for truth. Why take the risk of finding evidence to the contrary, and losing that wonderful high?

That's why I think Michelle Remembers is in need of a detailed deconstruction and beatdown. True, the book didn't create these beliefs and attitudes. But it enabled them, and (however briefly) gave them legitimacy in the world at large. The line of bullshit it was selling led, directly or indirectly, to more murderers and rapists going uncaught. All so its authors could hold on to their foolish angels vs. demons roleplay fantasy. We should hold them accountable for that. And we need to recognize the methods used, to make it harder for the next flimflam artist to suck us into an idiotic moral panic.

Rest in peace, Jeanette DePalma. You deserved a better community response, and a much more thorough investigation.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 18

A few chapters earlier, I jokingly posited that the members of the devil-worshiping cult in the worst book of the 1980's behave so erratically because their method of making blood offerings infects them with toxoplasmosis and possibly also rabies.

You know what? I'm gonna stick with that theory. Because really, there's no way anyone who was in even a tenuously rational state of mind would think it was a good idea to do the crap that happens in this chapter.

So after disrupting yet another ritual, Michelle has been put in solitary confinement again--this time inside the hollow idol of Satan itself. (Um...Michelle? That statue is made of papier mache. Just thrash around in there until it falls over and splits open.) She's been tied to the stool she's sitting on, (Not a problem. You should still be able to make the statue fall over if you rock back and forth violently enough.) there are "little red spiders" all over her, (Seriously, just knock the statue over.), and she can't shut out the voices of the incessantly chanting cultists. (YOU. STATUE. KNOCK DOWN. This is not hard.)

Fortunately for Michelle, she is soon allowed out of the effigy. Unfortunately for her, however, she is only allowed out for a brief visit to a person known as the doctor.

Nope, nope, nope, not that doctor. Don't worry, this book has no intention whatsoever of getting all good and shit on us.

No, this "doctor" is a member of the cult. He's also ugly:

He had terrible skin, all pitted, and the sharpest nose Michelle had ever seen. She thought that if he ever fell over, his nose would stick right into the ground.

Got it. The doctor is actually a less hirsute version of Ice King from Adventure Time:

I don't quite know what to think about the sharp nose observation, by the way. I could praise it for being something a child would actually notice and think. On the other hand, it is a super-cartoonish and silly image that seems really, really out of place in a book that's mostly an endless barrage of noxious, heinous child abuse, so I'm not inclined to be charitable.

Anyway, the doctor performs some sort of operation on Michelle (without anesthetic, naturally), cutting into her forehead and the base of her spine. Then the cultists bundle her, bleeding and half-conscious, back into the effigy and leave her there, unattended, for days.

Then, after a long, lovingly detailed scene of fetal mutilation that I won't describe because who wants to read about that shit, Michelle is finally unbound and taken out of the idol, into the light where she can see what the doctor did to her:

At first she was puzzled. There were little knobs sewn to her head, and a long tail coming out of her spine.

The doctor gave her horns and a tail.


I don't even.

They gave her freaking transplant surgery--an extremely dangerous medical procedure that carries several severe and horrifying risks even when the transplanted tissue is the patient's own--and kept her cooped up in a filthy, spider-infested little cell for an unspecified number of days afterward. No antibiotics after the surgery, no anti-rejection drugs (which may not even have been available back then, considering the first human kidney transplant was only performed in 1954) no nothing. Now if Michelle having horns and a tail were somehow so important to the ritual that the surgery was worth the risk, fine, but she rips both horns and tail off her body in a fit of panic just two sentences later (Really. This is a thing that happens in this book.) and the adults don't react. At all.

See what I mean? These are not the actions of people in full possession of their higher reasoning powers. Even though the Satanists have amply demonstrated that they don't care about hurting Michelle--in fact, that they want to hurt Michelle as much as possible--they should really have a lot more control than this. They should be able to weigh rewards (amount of pain and fear inflicted on Michelle) against risks (accidentally killing Michelle before she's done serving her purpose). Considering the amount of work they put into breaking Michelle, it makes me wonder why they were willing to chance losing their "investment" to complications from a back alley surgical procedure that was apparently neither medically nor religiously necessary.

This is not the sophisticated battery of subtle psychological brainwashing techniques Dr. Pazder wants us to think it is. It's too nonsensical even to be properly scary. This is Dadaist child abuse.

There is simply no way these people's brains are not ravaged by parasites.     

Monday, March 9, 2015

Music Video Monday: Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer

Sigh. Yes, I'm still reading the worst book of the 1980's. Damn thing just goes on and on and on; I've read seventeen chapters in, and I'm only just now getting to the halfway point. If it weren't for the stunningly screwy moments of WTFery this pile of literary diarrhea occasionally delivers, I'd have given up in disgust long ago. (One of those moments is the reason I only put up one deconstruction post last week. While reading chapter 18, I ran into a WTF nugget so bizarre, so nonsensical, so completely and utterly pointless that I needed some extra time to work out what exactly I wanted to say about it. It's that bad.)

At this point, I need something really, really heavy-duty to cut through the glurge. "Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer" by Behemoth ought to do the trick. 

My goodness, but that video is a breath of fresh air. Creepy, atmospheric, and not a single tacky papier-mache statue of Satan in sight. Also, I'm pretty sure Adam "Nergal" Darski could snap Malachi and the nurse in half and eat them for breakfast, and then squeeze that weird possessed lady from the last chapter like an orange until all the demons dripped out of her, all without breaking a sweat. I want him to be the cult leader. Maybe he'd make the hillbilly cultists stop fecklessly kicking six-year-olds and kittens around and do something actually scary for once.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapters 16 and 17

The next two chapters of the worst book of the 1980's cover Michelle's recollections of being part of a lengthy and important Satanic ritual. It also opens with yet another uncomfortably romantic interlude in which Dr. Pazder gives Michelle a recording of himself reading a passage from Michel de Montaigne's essay "Of Friendship" (Nope. Still not fooling anyone, buddy) to let her know how much she means to him. But I've already spent plenty of time detailing how creepy and inappropriate the--ahem--"doctor-patient" relationship between these two comes across and I'm kind of tired of talking about it, so let's talk about another of this book's (many) failings.

The ritual Michelle describes in these chapters gets the most thorough and detailed treatment of all the rituals we've seen. Together they are fifteen pages long, and the flashback scenes comprise a good 85-90% of the text. Michelle describes the clothes the cultists are wearing, the color of the candles, even how she dealt with bodily functions while she was locked in a cage for a prolonged period as part of the ritual.

Yet I still came out of these chapters utterly confused about who these people are, what their core beliefs are (besides "be evil for the hell of it"), why they do what they do, and what exactly they hope to accomplish. Here are but a few of the reasons I'm confused:

1. How much stuff do these Satanists keep in their temple?

The first time we saw Michelle's "round room," I noted that the Satanists had a stage with a large white effigy of Satan on it, a lot of candles, and a chintzy round bed in their temple. Now they suddenly have a cage* to keep Michelle confined in as well. That may not seem like much, clutter-wise, but keep in mind that their rituals involve a lot of wild dancing around and you need space to do that. A cage big enough to confine a human child would take up a non-negligible amount of space, even if it's only "the size of a small table, and not quite big enough to allow Michelle to stand up."

2. If these people are so powerful and untouchable, how come they don't know children have to breathe?

Michelle tells us her cage had removable wooden panels on the sides, and that when these panels were closed--which they were frequently--"it was like being shut up in a box." She also doesn't mention any air holes in said panels. After all the time and hard work the nurse put into brainwashing Michelle, you'd think they would put a little effort into not accidentally suffocating her.

3. Snakes don't work that way.

Michelle has to share her cage with a large colony of live black snakes. This works when the panels are closed and the snakes have nowhere to escape to, but once the panels are down they just kind of stay there. Instead of slithering out through the bars like actual snakes would have done. Where are the Satanists finding these amazing trained snakes?

I suppose you could argue that the floor of the cage could be heated so the snakes stick around for the warmth. Thing is, though, snakes are kind of dumb. My husband's brother had a pet python "run away" from its nice cozy heated cage. In the middle of January. In Minnesota. There's simply no way I'll believe not one of those black snakes boogied off before Michelle started literally flinging them out of her prison in an attempt to scare other children out of the temple later in the scene.    

4. Fukkin' possession, how does it work?

In chapter 16, we meet an unnamed "lady from Vancouver" who seems to be very high-ranking in the cult. Michelle notices that the other cultists feed her and kowtow to her every whim. She is also very beautiful and Michelle is drawn to her until she notices that the lady's face changes at random intervals, becoming ugly and bestial for a few seconds before just as quickly returning to normal. She later finds out that the lady is possessed, and this is the reason for both her exalted place in the cult and for her periodic attacks of uglyface. does possession happen? How are the possessees chosen? Are they marked from birth, elected, chosen by the possessing demon, or what? And why is it necessary/important for high-ranking cult members to be possessed? It's not like Catholics demand that every Pope must be a literal angel in disguise, so why do Satanist head honchos have to be clogged with demons? One-upmanship? This info is important, damn it. If you're gonna make demonic possession a requirement for admission into the cult's top circle of leadership, we need to have some idea of why that's so, or it fails to be interesting and is just random and confusing.

5. Why doesn't this powerful cult have a bigger materials budget?

You know that effigy of Satan that was made such a big deal of? When it was first mentioned, I assumed it was made of painted wood, or maybe even stone of some kind. In chapter 17, Michelle and Dr. Pazder work out that it was probably made of papier-mâché. Yes, yes, I know that some artists can do incredible stuff with that particular medium, but I mostly associate it with middle-school-aged kids who unintentionally mangle poor Pikachu in art class:

Pictured: Probably not Satan. But who can tell?
Even if they managed to construct an excellent and tasteful likeness of the Evil One from paper and glue, though, they regularly smear blood on this effigy as part of their thirteen-day rituals. In case you haven't noticed, paper isn't built to withstand having lots of fluids repeatedly splashed on it. Damn thing would be a soggy, shapeless mess before the first night was up.      

6. Michelle just rendered herself superfluous.

One night, the Satanists bring in lots of kids to participate in their rituals. Kids who seem to know exactly what to do, kids who seem to be having fun. Dare I hope that the Satanists actually took my advice and did something halfway sensible, raising their own children in the faith since birth to ensure wholehearted participation in the rituals?

Except...that should eliminate the need for Michelle. Why don't they just pick out one of their own kids to be the sacrifice? They seem to have plenty of them. Plus, in real-life cultures that practiced child sacrifice, being chosen for such a sacrifice was usually considered a high honor. Why should this cult view it any differently? Especially since the alternative is wasting several months' worth of labor-and-time-intensive and not terribly effective brainwashing techniques on some stranger's intractable kid who wants no part of what you're doing.

7. How has Michelle not starved to death?

At one point the cultists lock Michelle in her cage with remains from a sacrificed victim and tell her to eat said remains (she refuses) but that's the only time she ever mentions them feeding her during the whole multi-day ritual.You saved a bundle of money on your paper-and-string "idol," Michelle Remembers Satanists. You can afford to toss the kid a granola bar every now and then.  

*The passage about the cage includes a footnote about "the dreaded Ekpe Society of West Africa," who Dr. Pazder believes raise kidnapped children in cages, turning them into half-feral assassins. Well. The Ekpe society is actually a thing, though they don't seem so much "dreaded" as "highly respected" and their alleged practice of raising "leopard children" ought to have a big fat [citation needed] hanging off it. Please just stop talking about Africa, Dr. Pazder. Every time you open your mouth, you only look more like an old-timey imperial-era racist.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Music Video Monday: Psycho Therapy

Come on, what other song could I possibly put next on my playlist for torturing oneself with reading a horrible book featuring a very psycho therapist?

By the way, Skid Row did a cover of this song:

As cover songs go, it's pretty solid, but the video may just give you seizures.