Nov 182021
 

The new horror film Antlers is set in a decaying Oregon town, where a single father, Frank, is seen with his young son Aiden outside a mine. What at first seems like an innocent father-son bonding moment turns dark, literally and figuratively, as we see that Frank is involved in a meth lab, and promptly attacked by, well, something terrifying with the titular antlers.

This situation comes to the attention of a teacher, Julia (Keri Russell), who lives with her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), the local sheriff. Julia becomes concerned when she sees disturbing (horror film cliché) drawings of scary monsters from withdrawn outcast Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas), presumably depicting his troubled family life. Julia eventually realizes that Frank is/was Lucas’s father, and Aiden his brother, and that something sinister and supernatural is going on.

The film, adapted from Nick Antosca’s short story “The Quiet Boy,” was completed in 2019 and its opening delayed several times due to covid. The plot is based on legends of the wendigo (spelled various ways), and the filmmakers hired a professor of Indigenous Nations Studies to serve as its advisor on Native American folklore. It’s an intriguing premise, but one area where the plot falters is in explaining the origin of the menace. We’re told, in an Ojibwe opening verse, of an evil spirit with a ravenous appetite that possesses humans and causes them to kill and eat others. The wendigo is typically associated with winter, famine, need, and scarcity. This is Screenwriting 101: a hero (or heroine in this case) saves the day using important knowledge gleaned from a wise, often reluctant, source in the second act. In this case the wisdom is imparted from Native American actor Graham Greene, best known for his turns in Dances With Wolves and Wind River. Armed with a Cliff’s Notes-inspired, Wikipedia-summarized understanding of the wendigo, plucky Julia goes above and beyond her contractual teacher obligations to face the fearsome foe as mangled bodies pile up.

Wendigo Lore

Writing in The Journal of Religion and Popular CultureBrady DeSanti (2015) notes “Many contemporary Ojibwe communities accept the windigo as a real entity that exists alongside countless manitous (spiritual beings) of varying degrees of power and disposition that permeate their experience of the world. Understood to be a giant monster with an insatiable appetite for human flesh, the windigo possesses hideous features and immense physical and spiritual power. The windigo can also be understood as a representation of the freezing temperatures of the northeastern and Great Lakes regions and the resource scarcity that occasionally ensues during harsh winters. And while the Ojibwe never practised cannibalism, the windigo’s appearance can in part be seen as a symbolic projection of the absolute horror at the prospect of, and, at times, instances of, famine cannibalism that took place as a result of food shortages… In most accounts, the windigo possesses a heart of ice and appears emaciated regardless of how much it consumes. The creature’s appetite increases in proportion to how much flesh it eats, ensuring it is never satiated,” even as it seeks more victims to possess and consume.

DeSanti notes that despite its native origins the wendigo “continues to appear in a variety of horror films, television series, novels, comic books, and cartoons. As an example of how expansive the windigo’s reach is throughout the entertainment industry, the cannibalistic entity made a brief appearance in a cartoon episode of My Little Pony in 2011… The windigo is a relatively new and popular option for the entertainment industry, but despite this popularity, it is mostly used by entertainment outlets as just another stock monster comparable to many other notable fiendish creatures, such as werewolves, vampires, zombies, and demons. Unlike these other monsters, however, the windigo remains a viable component of the religious beliefs of many North American tribal nations. In other words, windigo beliefs have not been severed from their original cultural contexts as the monsters of urban lore and cinema have.” In this regard, the wendigo is similar to the Hispanic infanticidal ghost La Llorona in its pop culture depictions.

Wendigo Psychosis

There is a fair amount of literature on the wendigo. Psychologists and anthropologists have identified a disorder called Wendigo Psychosis, which “has long been regarded as a disorder specific to the people of the northern tribes of Algonkian-speaking Indians. This disorder is marked by the desire to eat human flesh—a desire to do something which is ordinarily extremely repugnant and horrifying to these people—but a desire which was gratified by more than half of the individuals whose cases have been reported,” according to Thomas Hay’s 1971 article in American Anthropologist

A deeper look at cannibalism is beyond the scope here, but it’s notable that Hay recognizes that eating the remains of the dead is more common than might be assumed: “Ritual consumption of the body of the deceased by his nearest relatives occurs in Australia, New Guinea, and the Pacific, and is relatively frequent among South American Indians. Participation in such socially controlled, ritual cannibalism is not generally regarded asevidence of psychopathology.” And it’s not just native peoples; indeed, “The belief in the efficacy of cannibalism for restoring a relationship with the dead in Western Civilization is evidenced by the symbolic cannibalism in the Communion ritual of the various Christian churches.”

In 1970 anthropologist Vivian J. Rorhl suggested that the genesis of the psychosis might be due in part to starvation experienced by the afflicted individuals, and therefore that eating animal fat would be considered part of the cure, a way to “exorcise” the spirit from the body. Others, however, including researcher Jennifer Brown the following year noted that employing Occam’s Razor it’s just as likely that better nutrition was instead given to address the body’s (obvious) starvation instead of the mind’s (presumed) wendigo possession. In other words giving the patient calories was part of a behavioral, not psychological, cure.

More recent research (e.g., Kolan et al. 2019) suggests that wendigo psychosis is rare, with 70 cases being reported in the 1960s, though firm data is elusive and much of it anecdotal. “The hunter Plains Cree from Alberta, known as Swift Runner, is held as a classical case of Wendigo psychosis. During the winter season in 1878 a series of tragic events took place. Due to the permanent hunger, the oldest descendant of the trapper from Alberta died. The next day a mother and five children, being close to a food repository in Hudson’s Bay, were suddenly attacked. The culprit was a father and a husband, Swift Runner. The murder was committed for the cannibalistic purpose. Because of the murder’s background, which was a short distance to the food supply and losing all members of the family, the man was diagnosed with Wendigo psychosis. He was sentenced to death in Fort Saskatchewan.”

The diagnosis of wendigo psychosis as a culture-bound condition has fallen out of favor as an explanation, and at any rate the decline of its incidence isn’t surprising. Various factors play a role: with modern food distribution, starvation is less common than in decades past, and even on chronically underfunded Native American and First Nations reservations, psychosis diagnosis and treatment has improved. 

Antlers and Wendigo

As for the wendigo in Antlers, it’s all well and good to use a creature as a metaphor for social ills; it’s been done before, for example the consumerism-satirizing zombies in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978). But translating folklore into cinema is a tricky task because once a menace is fixed in film it’s crystallized. The wendigo can be seen as a symbol of social and moral decay, in this case drug addiction, child abuse, poverty, environmental degradation, and so on. A folklorist or storyteller can evocatively describe what a monster “means” to the cultures that tell its stories. A filmmaker—and especially a visual effects supervisor—will reply, “Yeah, yeah, that’s great and all—but how do I show it on the screen? I can’t sculpt or animate an idea or metaphor. What, exactly, am I designing? What are audiences going to see and hear?” In the end, Antlers is a monster movie, and the monster is terrifying indeed, with effective special effects.

Working from the premise of the wendigo, as audiences are required to do in suspending disbelief, the question naturally come up: why now, in the context of the story? There’s nothing new about economic hardship or drug abuse, especially in small rural towns. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if that’s all it takes to create a wendigo, then why aren’t they commonplace? Why isn’t the community’s response a jaded “Oh, another one?” instead of “I’ve never seen anything like this before”?

Questions like these become even more relevant when the film concludes and the conflict is (seemingly) resolved; if the wendigo is indeed possessing people more or less at will then all is lost because it will never be destroyed. You can keep killing its hapless hosts, but that’s not really going to solve the fundamental problem as long as there’s still someone alive to possess. This leads to a bit of a contradiction (or plot hole, depending on your point of view) at the end. There’s also a bit of a red herring involving native American medicine bags, which are key to the plot because they make the connection between Frank’s death and the wendigo, but whose presence are never explained…

I strongly suspect that important material was cut for a leaner runtime of 99 minutes—a common occurrence in films. Around the sixth or tenth edit, and with pressure from theaters and distributors for films to be shorter to allow more screening per day, editors and directors often second-guess their decisions: Do we really need to have this dialogue in the film, or does another scene serve the same narrative function? How many scenes that have the same theme do we need to drive the point home? There’s no right or wrong answer—and finished films are inevitably the result of hundreds (or even thousands) of decisions and compromises made along the way—but it may explain the mediocrity of Antlers. I suspect that a longer director’s cut, if one is ever released, will offer a more satisfying storyline.

The considerable narrative power and potential is squandered a bit in the last act, which abandons its folkloric and social themes in favor of routine horror film cliches. There are a few bits of clumsy expositional screenwriting, such as when dialogue explains things the characters already know (early in the film Frank tells his son Aiden that they’re going to pick up “your brother Lucas,” in case Aiden wasn’t sure what his brother’s name was, or which of several Lucases they’d be picking up).

But it’s a low-budget horror film so let’s not get too pedantic because there’s a lot to be said for Antlers, starting with the cinematography and setting. You can feel the grey dampness of rural Oregon creep off the screen. The fog mirrors the gloomy bleakness of the town, shrouded with decay and secrets (a teacher grimly tells Julia that many children in the small community don’t attend school because their parents make methamphetamine and don’t want their kids to smell of it in class, thus triggering a mandatory police check). It’s an ideal setting for a gothic horror film, and it’s not surprising that that writer/director Guillermo del Toro is a producer on the film, as his cinematic sensibilities are (thankfully) everywhere onscreen. The special effects are impressive, in all their gory glory. The acting is effective, especially from the lead characters including newcomer Jeremy T. Thomas; unfortunately most of the other characters are underdeveloped. 

Like many horror films that end with a climactic battle with some supernatural presence (usually at night, for dramatic effect) and then a short coda or epilogue taking place the next day, I always have to wonder how everything that happened (homicides, monster carcasses, etc.) was satisfactorily explained to authorities. It’s one thing for outsiders to be skeptical of whatever astonishing claims the heroes are reporting until the climax, but the aftermath would typically leave mountains of incontrovertible proof that would raise more questions than answers. Antlers is a middling monster movie with missed potential, worth a watch on a dark night but wait for a director’s cut if you can.

 
A longer version of this piece appeared on my CFI blog; you can find it HERE. 

 

Apr 152021
 

I’ve been asked a few times if I’ve ever appeared on “Coast To Coast AM,” and always said no. So I was surprised to discover I had, back in 2018. I’d totally forgotten about it. I never talked to Art Bell but if I had I’d have reminded him about his role in the Heaven’s Gate suicide tragedy (and of course never been invited back, but oh well).

Apr 022021
 

There’s a lovely review of my new book Big-If True: Adventures in Oddity at AIPTComics: “The perfect book for anyone that loves diving into mysteries or enjoys a good investigation. It’s a very quick read, easily broken up into chapters, or even chunks at a time. Radford writes plainly and clearly; there are a few large concepts, but nothing that really requires a lot of in-depth scientific knowledge. Radford does an excellent job at introducing topics readers may not have heard of before, with all topics and explanations accessible to all readers.”

Read it HERE! 

Oct 302019
 

Halloween is coming up soon, and amid the make-believe witches, ghouls, and goblins, there are supposedly real-life villains who hope to harm on children October 31. News reports and scary stories on social media leave many parents concerned about protecting children from Halloween threats.

But are they real or myth? Here are five scary myths and legends about the spookiest holiday

1) Halloween is Satanic

While many people see Halloween as scary and harmless fun some people, including many fundamentalist Christians, believe that there is sinister side to the holiday. They believe that underneath the fantasy costumes and candy-dispensing traditions there lies an unseen spiritual struggle for the souls of the innocent.

Christian evangelist Phil Phillips and Joan Hake Robie, in their book “Halloween and Satanism,” explain that the seemingly harmless costumes (such as witches, zombies and vampires) put children’s spiritual lives at risk by interesting them in supernatural occult phenomena–and, ultimately, on the road to Satanic practices. Of course it’s not just Halloween that these groups are concerned about–they have in the past protested against role-playing games, heavy-metal music, and even Harry Potter books.

Historically, however, there is little or no actual connection between Satanism and Halloween; for one thing the early pagan traditions that many scholars believe became part of what we now call Halloween had no concept of Devil. The idea of a Christian Satan developed much later, and therefore Halloween could not have been rooted in Satanism.

2) Beware Tainted Halloween Candy

The most familiar Halloween scares involve contaminated candy, and every year, police and medical centers across the country X-ray candy collected by trick-or-treaters to check for razors, needles, or contaminants that might have been placed there by strangers intending to hurt or kill children. Scary news reports and warnings on social media claimed that dangerous candy had been found, raising fears among parents and children. Many medical centers across the country,including in Harrisburg, Penn., are offering free X-raying of candy this Halloween.

This threat is essentially an urban legend. There have been only two confirmed cases of children being killed by poisoned Halloween candy, and in both cases the children were killed not in a random act by strangers but intentional murder by one of their parents. The best-known, “original” case was that of Texan Ronald Clark O’Bryan, who killed his son by lacing his Pixie Stix with cyanide in 1974. In essence he used this myth to try to cover his crime.

Yet the fear continues. There have been a few instances of candy tampering over the years-and in most cases the “victim” turned out to be the culprit, children doing it as a prank or to draw attention. Last year there were a few news reports about suspected tainted candy, and police determined that the incidents were hoaxes. In Philadelphia an 11-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy in who reported finding needles in their trick-or-treat candy admitted they made up the story for attention, and a 37-year-old father claimed to have found tainted candy in his kids’ loot; he later admitted it was a hoax and claimed that he put the needles in the candy to teach his kids a lesson about safety.

Fortunately, parents can rest easy: Despite the ubiquitous warnings on social media, there have been no confirmed reports of anyone actually being injured or harmed by contaminated Halloween candy from strangers.

3) Beware Halloween Terrorists

After the September 11, 2001, attacks, rumors circulated that mysterious Middle Eastern men were buying up huge quantities of candies just before Halloween. Many people were concerned that this might be part of a terrorist plot to attack America’s children, and the FBI looked into the case.Prompted by the public concern over potential terrorism, the FBI acknowledged that it was investigating the cash purchase of ‘large quantities’ of candy from Costco stores in New Jersey. A week before Halloween, on October 22, the FBI cleared up the rumors. It was one man, not two, who had bought $15,000 worth of candy, not $35,000. The man’s nationality was not revealed, so he may or may not have been Arab or dark-skinned or even had an ethnic name. As it turned out the man was a wholesaler who planned to resell the candy, and the purchase was a routine transaction that had nothing to do with terrorism.

4) Beware Sex Offenders on Halloween

Though the fears over poisoned candy (whether by malicious neighbors or foreign terrorists) never materialized, the reputed Halloween evil took a new form in the 1990s: sex offenders. This scare, even more than the candy panics, was fueled by alarmist news reports and police warnings. In many states, convicted sex offenders were required not to answer the door if trick-or-treaters came by, or to report to jail overnight. In many states including Texas and Arkansas offenders were required to report to courthouses on Halloween evening for a mandatory counseling session.

The theory behind such laws is that Halloween provides a special opportunity for sex offenders to make contact with children, or to use costumes to conceal their identities. This has been the assumption among many local politicians and police for years. Yet there is no reason to think that sex offenders pose any more of a threat to children on Halloween than at any other time. In fact, there has not been a single case of any child being molested by a convicted sex offender while trick-or-treating.

A 2009 study confirmed that the public has little to fear from sex offenders on Halloween. The research, published in the September 2009 issue of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, examined 67,307 non-family sex offenses reported to law enforcement in 30 states over nine years. The researchers wanted to determine whether or not children are in fact at any greater risk for sexual assault around Halloween: “There does not appear to be a need for alarm concerning sexual abuse on these particular days. Halloween appears to be just another autumn day where rates of sex crimes against children are concerned.”

5) Beware Scary Clowns

In the wake of the scary clown panics across the country, several national stores including Target have removed scary clown masks from their shelves, and both kids and parents are asking children to both beware of people in clown costumes and to not wear scary clown masks. Several counties have banned scary clown costumes and masks this Halloween. As one writer noted, “A Kemper County, Mississippi’s Board of Supervisors voted recently to make it unlawful to wear a clown costume in public. The ban covers all ages and includes costumes, masks or makeup. The ban –which will expire the day after Halloween –comes at the request of the county sheriff… It comes after a series of reports from around the country and Alabama that spooky-looking clowns were threatening children and schools. Some of those reports were later debunked and a few led to arrests with concerns over the creepy clown phenomenon growing as Halloween approaches.”

Clown masks have also been banned from some New Jersey schools; as “USA Today” reported, “The West Milford Police Department has said there is no specific threat against the community. Still, there have been spotty and unsubstantiated reports on social media about people in scary clown masks lurking around township school yards in recent weeks.”

Fortunately so far there are no confirmed reports of children being seriously injured, abducted, or killed by anyone dressed in scary clown masks over the past few months. Most of the reports are hoaxes and copycats, usually by teenagers who have fun scaring people or seeing themselves on social media.

Halloween is scary enough on its own, between overpriced candy and sugar-sated kids.  The real threats to children don’t involve tampered candy, Satanists, scary clowns, terrorists, or sex offenders; instead they include being hit by a car in the dark, or wearing a flammable costume, or injuring themselves while walking on curbs because they can’t see out of their masks. Most kids are very safe at Halloween, and the average child is far more likely to die of a heart attack or be hit by lightning than be harmed in some Halloween-related menace.

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange! 

Apr 182018
 

In the latest in a series highlighting past episodes and archives of Squaring the Strange, here’s a look back at a show you might have missed…

 

Ben and Pascual begin with a nod to the band Shriekback, who provided our podcast’s theme music—see them if you can, they will be touring soon! Pascual examines an ad for the positive healing energy of “arumites” and discusses different types of actual frequencies and radiation. Then Ben reads feedback from a would-be ghost hunter and runs through a list of methodological problems, and an EVP sample prompts Pascual to explain what compression does to sound. In our main topic this week, the guys discuss the phenomenon known as sleep paralysis. From the clinical descriptions (first classified as a type of seizure) to the folkloric explanations (succubus, “the old hag”) to ghostly experiences and alien abductions, sleep paralysis can be interpreted as any number of strange experiences. Ben and Pascual discuss the 2015 documentary The Nightmare and relate their own unsettling experiences with sleep paralysis. Ben recounts a recent study that categorizes three different types of sleep paralysis depending on what neural functions are impacted, and we find that sleep paralysis is something we all experience regularly as we drift into REM sleep—just, when something goes wrong, we end up consciously remembering it. Sleep paralysis is also often accompanied by feelings of dread and hallucinations, which by definition seem absolutely real to the person experiencing them. On that note, sweet dreams everyone!

 

You can listen to it HERE.

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange! 

Jul 182017
 

A researcher claimed that the chupacabra can be traced back to legends of the nightjar bird. I respectfully disagreed, which he then responded to, and which I then replied to. If you want to see two educated adults (one of them right and one of them wrong) kick each other’s intellectual and metaphorical shins like kids on a playground over folkloric details of a mythical monster’s naming and origin, here’s your chance!

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo, and please check out my podcast Squaring the Strange! 

Oct 302016
 

Halloween is just around the corner, and amid the make-believe witches, ghouls, and goblins, there are supposedly real-life villains who hope to harm on children October 31. News reports and scary stories on social media leave many parents concerned about protecting children from Halloween threats.

url

But are they real or myth? Here are five scary myths and legends about the spookiest holiday

1) Halloween is Satanic

While many people see Halloween as scary and harmless fun some people, including many fundamentalist Christians, believe that there is sinister side to the holiday. They believe that underneath the fantasy costumes and candy-dispensing traditions there lies an unseen spiritual struggle for the souls of the innocent.

Christian evangelist Phil Phillips and Joan Hake Robie, in their book “Halloween and Satanism,” explain that the seemingly harmless costumes (such as witches, zombies and vampires) put children’s spiritual lives at risk by interesting them in supernatural occult phenomena–and, ultimately, on the road to Satanic practices. Of course it’s not just Halloween that these groups are concerned about–they have in the past protested against role-playing games, heavy-metal music, and even Harry Potter books.

Historically, however, there is little or no actual connection between Satanism and Halloween; for one thing the early pagan traditions that many scholars believe became part of what we now call Halloween had no concept of Devil. The idea of a Christian Satan developed much later, and therefore Halloween could not have been rooted in Satanism.

2) Beware Tainted Halloween Candy

The most familiar Halloween scares involve contaminated candy, and every year, police and medical centers across the country X-ray candy collected by trick-or-treaters to check for razors, needles, or contaminants that might have been placed there by strangers intending to hurt or kill children. Scary news reports and warnings on social media claimed that dangerous candy had been found, raising fears among parents and children. Many medical centers across the country,including in Harrisburg, Penn., are offering free X-raying of candy this Halloween.

This threat is essentially an urban legend. There have been only two confirmed cases of children being killed by poisoned Halloween candy, and in both cases the children were killed not in a random act by strangers but intentional murder by one of their parents. The best-known, “original” case was that of Texan Ronald Clark O’Bryan, who killed his son by lacing his Pixie Stix with cyanide in 1974. In essence he used this myth to try to cover his crime.

Yet the fear continues. There have been a few instances of candy tampering over the years-and in most cases the “victim” turned out to be the culprit, children doing it as a prank or to draw attention. Last year there were a few news reports about suspected tainted candy, and police determined that the incidents were hoaxes. In Philadelphia an 11-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy in who reported finding needles in their trick-or-treat candy admitted they made up the story for attention, and a 37-year-old father claimed to have found tainted candy in his kids’ loot; he later admitted it was a hoax and claimed that he put the needles in the candy to teach his kids a lesson about safety.

Fortunately, parents can rest easy: Despite the ubiquitous warnings on social media, there have been no confirmed reports of anyone actually being injured or harmed by contaminated Halloween candy from strangers.

3) Beware Halloween Terrorists

After the September 11, 2001, attacks, rumors circulated that mysterious Middle Eastern men were buying up huge quantities of candies just before Halloween. Many people were concerned that this might be part of a terrorist plot to attack America’s children, and the FBI looked into the case.Prompted by the public concern over potential terrorism, the FBI acknowledged that it was investigating the cash purchase of ‘large quantities’ of candy from Costco stores in New Jersey. A week before Halloween, on October 22, the FBI cleared up the rumors. It was one man, not two, who had bought $15,000 worth of candy, not $35,000. The man’s nationality was not revealed, so he may or may not have been Arab or dark-skinned or even had an ethnic name. As it turned out the man was a wholesaler who planned to resell the candy, and the purchase was a routine transaction that had nothing to do with terrorism.

4) Beware Sex Offenders on Halloween

Though the fears over poisoned candy (whether by malicious neighbors or foreign terrorists) never materialized, the reputed Halloween evil took a new form in the 1990s: sex offenders. This scare, even more than the candy panics, was fueled by alarmist news reports and police warnings. In many states, convicted sex offenders were required not to answer the door if trick-or-treaters came by, or to report to jail overnight. In many states including Texas and Arkansas offenders were required to report to courthouses on Halloween evening for a mandatory counseling session.

The theory behind such laws is that Halloween provides a special opportunity for sex offenders to make contact with children, or to use costumes to conceal their identities. This has been the assumption among many local politicians and police for years. Yet there is no reason to think that sex offenders pose any more of a threat to children on Halloween than at any other time. In fact, there has not been a single case of any child being molested by a convicted sex offender while trick-or-treating.

A 2009 study confirmed that the public has little to fear from sex offenders on Halloween. The research, published in the September 2009 issue of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, examined 67,307 non-family sex offenses reported to law enforcement in 30 states over nine years. The researchers wanted to determine whether or not children are in fact at any greater risk for sexual assault around Halloween: “There does not appear to be a need for alarm concerning sexual abuse on these particular days. Halloween appears to be just another autumn day where rates of sex crimes against children are concerned.”

5) Beware Scary Clowns

In the wake of the recent scary clown panics across the country, several national stores including Target have removed scary clown masks from their shelves, and both kids and parents are asking children to both beware of people in clown costumes and to not wear scary clown masks. Several counties have banned scary clown costumes and masks this Halloween. As one writer noted, “A Kemper County, Mississippi’s Board of Supervisors voted recently to make it unlawful to wear a clown costume in public. The ban covers all ages and includes costumes, masks or makeup. The ban –which will expire the day after Halloween –comes at the request of the county sheriff… It comes after a series of reports from around the country and Alabama that spooky-looking clowns were threatening children and schools. Some of those reports were later debunked and a few led to arrests with concerns over the creepy clown phenomenon growing as Halloween approaches.”

Clown masks have also been banned from some New Jersey schools; as “USA Today” reported, “The West Milford Police Department has said there is no specific threat against the community. Still, there have been spotty and unsubstantiated reports on social media about people in scary clown masks lurking around township school yards in recent weeks.”

Fortunately so far there are no confirmed reports of children being seriously injured, abducted, or killed by anyone dressed in scary clown masks over the past few months. Most of the reports are hoaxes and copycats, usually by teenagers who have fun scaring people or seeing themselves on social media.

Halloween is scary enough on its own, between overpriced candy and sugar-sated kids.  The real threats to children don’t involve tampered candy, Satanists, scary clowns, terrorists, or sex offenders; instead they include being hit by a car in the dark, or wearing a flammable costume, or injuring themselves while walking on curbs because they can’t see out of their masks. Most kids are very safe at Halloween, and the average child is far more likely to die of a heart attack or be hit by lightning than be harmed in some Halloween-related menace.

 

You can find more on me and my work with a search for “Benjamin Radford” (not “Ben Radford”) on Vimeo.

Jul 222015
 

A new study finds that self-described vampires are, not surprisingly, reluctant to disclose their sanguine ways to mental health professionals. My closer look at people who claim to be (and sometimes believe themselves to be) real-life vampires can be found HERE. 

Jul 102015
 

An audio recording of me reading the first chapter from my book “Tracking the Chupacabra” is available for free on my web site HERE. Did they edit out my profanity and overheated Shatner-esque delivery? Find out!

Feb 012015
 

A Chilean farmer recently found a pair of partly mummified animals in a wine cellar. Of course the obvious explanation is “chupacabra,” though as I explain it’s almost certainly not… yes, the little vampire beastie just won’t die. You can read the story HERE.

Sep 182014
 

On Saturday Sept. 20 I’ll be giving a free talk at the Taylor Ranch Library in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from 2-3 PM. I’ll be discussing my research into (and solving the mystery of) the Hispanic vampire beast El Chupacabra. I’ll also be talking about and signing copies of my new book Mysterious New Mexico: Mirackes, Magic, and Monsters in the Land of Enchantment. So stop by and check it 0ut!

Oct 182013
 

The second-largest hospital in the Southern African country of Swaziland may be operating a black market in human body parts used in magic spells, according to claims made by a reverend and others.

Weird, creepy, and not really surprising if you understand the magical beliefs in the region. You can read my piece on LiveScience.com HERE.

Jun 182013
 
Vampire leader miniature for Undead Apocalypse game.

Vampire leader miniature for Undead Apocalypse game.

As you may know, I have created and designed a new board game called Undead Apocalypse. It’s a cool mashup up zombies, werewolves, vampires, and humans, all battling it out in a post-apocalyptic world.

 

What’s the game about? This:

The year is 2060. After World War III the people of Earth thought it couldn’t get any worse; they were wrong. The nuclear devastation was bad enough, reducing once-great cities to rubble and forcing hardy survivors to scavenge for resources. But soon—whether the result of radiation, toxins, or supernatural wrath—ancient evils long thought mere legend awoke and took hold in the real world.

First it was vampires—bands of merciless undead who roamed the land, sucking the blood from whatever could not defend itself. Then came the relentless zombies, the rotten flesh-eaters who staggered through ruined cities in search of brains and other organs. Then savage werewolves suddenly emerged, springing from now-overgrown forests to feed on humans, zombies, and vampires alike. Leaders of each group arose—including half-human mutations with intelligence and feral cunning—to scavenge food and weapons, including chainsaws and machine guns, left behind in the wasteland.

Though undead ravaged the Earth, hope for mankind was not lost: Clans of humans remained scattered around Europe in small enclaves, trying to rebuild civilization. While the fearsome monsters had brute strength and supernatural powers capable of transforming humans into their kind with a mere bite, human scientists developed a vaccine capable of transforming the undead back into living humans.

Rumors soon spread of unholy grimoires—ancient magic books—hidden among the ruins that could be found and assembled to achieve even greater power. Using science and magic, these four groups are now engaged in the final war in Earth’s history. This would become known as the Undead Apocalypse: War of the Damned.

 

Please check out the Kickstarter campaign HERE, and consider donating to the campaign so we can make this game become a reality! And tell your friends–even if you’re not into board games or monsters, you probably have friends who are, and would appreciate the chance to be part of this!

Thanks!

Jun 102013
 

A new special edition of MonsterTalk is now out! Blake Smith and I discuss my new monster-themed board game Undead Apocalypse, which launched on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.com earlier this week, and also talk to artist Jeff Zornow, who did the art for the game, about zombies.

Check it out HERE!

May 312013
 

A Kickstarter campaign for my new board game, Undead Apocalypse: War of the Damned, will go live in a few days. I’ve been working very hard on it, and I hope you’ll support it, and/or tell your friends. Even if you’re not interested, you probably have friends who might, so please let them know. I’ll post a link to it once it’s up.

You can check out the nifty teaser video at the board game’s web site, HERE!

What’s the game about? Well here’s the scenario:

 

The year is 2060.

After World War III the people of Earth thought it couldn’t get any worse; they were wrong. The nuclear devastation was bad enough, reducing once-great cities to rubble and forcing hardy survivors to scavenge for resources. But soon—whether the result of radiation, toxins, or supernatural wrath—ancient evils long thought mere legend awoke and took hold in the real world.

First it was vampires—bands of merciless undead who roamed the land, sucking the blood from whatever could not defend itself. Then came the relentless zombies, the rotten flesh-eaters who staggered through ruined cities in search of brains and other organs. Then savage werewolves suddenly emerged, springing from now-overgrown forests to feed on humans, zombies, and vampires alike. Leaders of each group arose—including half-human mutations with intelligence and feral cunning—to scavenge food and weapons, including chainsaws and machine guns, left behind in the wasteland.

Though undead ravaged the Earth, hope for mankind was not lost: Clans of humans remained scattered around Europe in small enclaves, trying to rebuild civilization. While the fearsome monsters had brute strength and supernatural powers capable of transforming humans into their kind with a mere bite, human scientists developed a vaccine capable of transforming the undead back into living humans.

Rumors soon spread of unholy grimoires—ancient magic books—hidden among the ruins that could be found and assembled to achieve even greater power. Using science and magic, these four groups are now engaged in the final war in Earth’s history. This would become known as the Undead Apocalypse: War of the Damned.

May 162013
 

It’s about time to give everyone a glimpse of a top-secret project I’ve been working on: a monstery new board game called Undead Apocalypse!

You can check out the spiffy site HERE, stay tuned for more details!

 

Oct 312012
 

I’ve been writing a lot recently, especially for the great web site LiveScience.com, discussing the truths, myths, history and lore of some of the world’s most famous monsters. Below are recent pieces about vampires, zombies, and werewolves… Enjoy!

 

Vampires: The Real History

http://www.livescience.com/24374-vampires-real-history.html

 

Werewolves: Lore, Legend, and Lycanthropy

http://www.livescience.com/24412-werewolves.html

 

Zombies: The Real Story of the Undead

http://www.livescience.com/23892-zombies-real-facts.html

Oct 232012
 

I was recently interviewed by the guys on the Project:Archivist podcast, discussing sex demons in world folklore.

You can hear the interview HERE. 

Aug 162012
 

FOR DECADES, legends of a giant sexually-assaulting bat-creature have trickled out of Zanzibar. In this episode of MonsterTalk Drs. Stollznow and Atlantis interview me about my investigation of the creature and the role that the monster called Popabawa has played in culture and politics in the United States.

 

You can read the show notes and listen to the episode HERE.  

Aug 112012
 

Ranchers in Colorado are on edge following the latest of a series of bizarre attacks on horses and livestock… Aliens, Satanists, or something else?

My skeptical investigation appeared on Discovery News; you can read it HERE.

Feb 012012
 

In the latest episode of MonsterTalk, Blake Smith and I interview witch Emily Carlin about her book Defense Against the Dark, on how to protect yourself from evil spirits. It’s an interesting and respectful skeptic-versus-believer discussion; you can listen to it HERE.

Oct 102011
 

The Journal of Folklore Research, a peer-reviewed publication of the Folklore Institute at Indiana University, was established in 1961. It is dedicated to promoting international scholarly dialogue about the world’s traditional creative and expressive forms. A review of my recent book Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore appeared in the Journal. Below is an excerpt of the review, by Virginia S. Fugarino of Newfoundland’s Memorial University:

Benjamin Radford’s work, Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore, sets out to present an in-depth analysis of the elusive “goat sucker” in order to determine the plausibility of its existence. To date, few books have been dedicated to taking a serious look at this creature, and Radford puts forth a well-researched and approachable study that seeks to fill this gap. Radford’s research spans five years and includes a variety of approaches, such as an analysis of news media surrounding chupacabra reports, a survey of popular culture items either influenced by or potentially influencing chupacabra stories, discussions of interview material, and Radford’s own travels to Nicaragua to search for the creature.

The book is split into four parts that explore different aspects of his study. Part I provides a concise historical overview of chupacabra reports, ranging from Puerto Rico (the location of the original report) to Mexico, Chile, Brazil, and the United States. This section also includes some of the theories about the creature’s origins, ranging from the belief that the chupacabra is the result of governmental conspiracies to the belief that chupacabras are simply familiar predators. The second chapter of Part II deals with the variety of ways the chupacabra has made its way into popular culture. Radford begins with an analysis of tabloid and news media coverage of the creature, coverage that aided in the spread of chupacabra stories. He also discusses how the chupacabra has surfaced in other popular media, including film, literature, and exhibitions at fairs and museums. This chapter is particularly interesting in that it provides an array of examples of how the chupacabra, a relatively recent monster, has become internationally known.

Overall, Radford’s book is an engaging study. Although at times he takes a dismissive tone toward individuals who believe in the creature, his prose is clear and well presented. The use of pictures and diagrams throughout the book enriches the discussion and helps to clarify some of his points, especially when he is examining the attacks on the livestock. This book offers a serious study of the phenomenon of the chupacabra, and it will be interesting to see if other researchers follow in his path. Researchers interested in issues of belief may find avenues of study to follow from Radford’s research. Radford states near the close of his book: “There is nothing left to explain, no place left for any mystery to hide. The beast is gone—in fact never was—but the myth will continue” (177). One wonders whether believers may attempt to counter his claims.

It’s nice to see a skeptical, investigative book being seen outside of skeptic circles. The chupa really is one of the highest profile “mysteries” of the past 15 years, and I hope the public sees that if someone can work hard to solve this mystery, then maybe all the other “unexplained” mysteries are also solvable with science and critical thinking.

 

 

Oct 062011
 

I will be attending the American Folklore Society’s conference in Bloomington, Indiana, Oct. 12 to 14. I will be on a panel titled “Fairy Animals, Demonic Beasts, and Fantastic Creatures in International Tradition.” My topic will be “Folklore of the Chupacabra,” based on my New Mexico Book Awards-nominated title Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore. Anyone interested in folklore and/or monster traditions should attend!

Sep 022011
 

Everyone knows how to kill a fictional vampire — a stake through the heart — but does that apply to “real” vampires as well?

With so many different claims about vampires, what’s a wannabe Buffy to do? The most important issue is to know some of the “rules.”  Read about how to kill different types of vampires around the world HERE.