Sometimes it’s good to step away from the big screen and discuss some other aspect of horror. For me, a fine place to do that is the Chrysler Museum Of Art. I spend a fair amount of time there since it’s less than five minutes from where I live, and I thought I’d take this opportunity to go over a handful of the pieces I find, well, a little unsettling.
I’m starting here because this is may only seem creepy to me. It’s not the picture or the sheep or the background or any individual element that’s disturbing. The whole, however, is greater than the sum of its parts. For reasons I can’t rationally explain, something about this painting reminds me of Lovecraft’s “The Rats In The Walls,” one passage specifically. “I seemed to be looking down from an immense height upon a twilit grotto, knee-deep with filth, where a white-bearded daemon swineherd drove about with his staff a flock of fungous, flabby beasts whose appearance filled me with unutterable loathing.”
I know. There’s nothing in the painting like that. Hey, I said I can’t explain it. Moving on.
I recently watched The Ruins. Not a bad flick at all. As is often the case, however, there was a fatal flaw. Early into their journey, the college kids happen across two children near a poorly hidden path. The college kids go up the path anyway. Clearly they’ve never seen Deliverance or The Shining, or they would have known. Children in non-childlike contexts are inherently creepy. The Bad Seed. Children Of The Corn. The Omen. Village Of The Damned. That’s just the short list. Before that, there was stuff like this. And this kid’s head is completely out of proportion. I feel like I saw her in season four of American Horror Story. On top of it all, the dog looks like it’s fixin’ to go for one of those little sausage fingers of hers. I probably would too.
This was an enormously popular subject in its day. The printing press was still relatively new in the human history, literacy was not massively widespread, and Martin Luther hadn’t been excommunicated yet. This was still part of the church’s religious instruction of the laity. The catch was, most people were more than likely damned. In other words, this was the church’s way, as Chancellor Sutler said in V For Vendetta, of reminding everyone, “why they need us!” That’s enough to make the image chilling. The demon at bottom center just clinches it.
I’ve already established the creepy children factor. That’s not all that’s unnerving here. First, given my particular sensibilities, it’s impossible to for me to avoid wondering, “What if the people on top of the cake are real?” That in turn makes the looks on the kids’ faces even more chilling. Second, the taller one looks just a little too uncomfortably like Chuckie.
I saved the best (maybe “best” is the wrong word) for last. This thing is scary as hell for any number of reasons. First, children. Again. Second, 1500 BCE. That makes this is the kind of artifact people find in Lovecraft stories, start having relentless nightmares, and go insane. Third, this, uh, creature is supposed to be an infant. That’s what the Official Museum Placard says. Infant. Look at the choppers on this little sucker! And finally, Trilogy Of Terror. Tell me this thing doesn’t get out of its case and run around the museum at night.