As the new millennium dawned, it was heralded by a wave of panoptic terror, cresting on a surge of globalism, fearful of the burgeoning unknown. Chris Carter’s timely television series Millennium explored themes, concepts, and styles that mirrored those anxieties, both real and perceived. Consumer technology’s proliferation, the spread of the Internet, uncertainties about safety, privacy, morality, and the threat of digital voyeurism were amongst the tangible threats evoked. “Real life” — and, at its core, the nuclear family — were constantly menaced. With an emphasis on the philosophical and psychological, a thoughtful protagonist in the form of Lance Henriksen’s Frank Black, atmospheric visual storytelling, and a penchant for transgressive subjects, Millennium was a stunningly prescient compendium of society’s nightmares.
Slasher stylings and the masked bogeymen of 1980′s horror cinema franchises had grown formulaic in their mindless slaughter of sex-crazed adolescents by the time the ’90s rolled around. Audiences were starved for psychological thrills, which is why the new decade’s serial killer phenomenon more than fit the bill. Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs ushered in the early 1990s with charismatic killer Hannibal Lecter, who resembled Millennium’s demonic Lucy Butler (first appearing in season one’s episode “Lamentation”). Lecter’s doctor and Lucy’s “nurse” demonstrated an omnipresent evil lurking amongst our caretakers and confidants while the world floundered in disquiet. It was potent.
Millennium’s pilot episode killer The Frenchman introduced the archetypal serial murderer of the show. Serving as a dark foil to Henriksen’s character, the antagonist reflected the grim side of Frank Black’s gift (or curse) with cryptic, poetic messages about a rising, blood-dimmed tide. “Lamentation,” however, was the show’s first authentic horror episode and a singular outing — even with its main character far away from home during the most crucial moments. Carter manipulated haunted house and slasher film tropes when Legion/Lucy, who stalked Catherine through the darkness, infiltrated the sanctity of Frank’s yellow house. Meanwhile, the abduction and literal dissection of serial killer Dr. Ephraim Fabricant toyed with body horror elements. Again, he was a figure reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter, though Fabricant traded antihero qualities with the beguiling Lucy Butler. Supernatural fright and the looming, biblical horror that tinted the series’ entire run was also nightmarishly palpable. The show’s creators turned another screw with the murder of Lieutenant Bob Bletcher. By killing off one of Millennium’s main characters — someone close to Frank’s inner sanctum — Carter reinforced the notion of all-pervasive evil. No one was safe.
Cementing Sarah-Jane Redmond’s role as a key player in the Millennium storyline was another solid horror episode. Season two’s “A Room with No View” found breathy seductress Lucy Butler turning her eye toward “ordinary” high school students to bend to her will. Her hunt reflected fractured American morality, societal pressures, and the underlying distrust of the country’s leaders during the 1990s that left people with little hope. The episode’s guidance counselor Teresa Roe was a despairing figure, demonstrating that even school officials had surrendered to ultimate corruption. The storyline made us wonder: with no strength of character and sense of conviction instilled in our children — thanks to the brainwashing of youth by an immoral “other” (Lucy) — who will lead us to a better tomorrow? This collapse of structure also mirrored the breakdown of the family unit — something signaled by the increase in divorce, and single or teenage parents during the 1990s. Lucy’s cruel, yet benevolent, treatment of her teen captives aroused questions about the idealized mythology surrounding nuclear families in the 20th century. The “cult of the child” transformed our treatment of the world’s youth during this epoch, particularly in America. Lucy’s abductee, Landon Bryce, dubs his mute cellmate “Ben Gunn” — a reference to the character in Treasure Island marooned on the titular isle by his crew, reinforcing the episode’s theme of isolation. It’s one of many subtle, smart references in the series that left a trail of breadcrumbs to bigger, entropic ideas. “A Room with no View” presented the terrifying realization that our collective apathy and deluded obsessions were actually the reasons for our downfall. Mankind sculpts its environment, but “A Room with no View” showed that, like Lucy, this construct threatens to turn on us and to extinguish the essence of humanity itself.
Taking the threat of social terror further, season two’s “The Mikado” played on our fears of the Internet as a reckless, all-consuming entity and blended it with horror motifs surrounding dark sexuality. The information superhighway promised us an almost godlike omnipotence: the world at our fingertips. In accordance with Millennium’s ongoing duality, however, we were quickly reminded that the world wide web also directly connected us to a clandestine enterprise that was still largely feral at the time: pornography. Another case for Frank, another serial killer — but writer Michael Perry’s decision to base “The Mikado’s” Avatar on the real-life 1970′s serial murderer known as the Zodiac Killer tapped into the wellspring of our anxiety. Using the framework of Zodiac’s unsolved, true crime case, coupled with the grim myth of an underground snuff cinema network exploited fears over the intangible — that which we cannot grasp or see. Refracting this anxiety back onto the audience, “The Mikado’s” voyeuristic opening (a theme carried throughout the episode) depicted a group of boys surfing the Net for sex shows, but instead facing the brutality of Avatar’s horrifyingly perverse website. The episode’s use of handheld video cameras, web broadcasts, and grainy, low quality videos further added to the gritty textural medley. Initially, Avatar’s heinous acts existed in the nebulous depths of cyberspace, frustrating Frank due to his inability to connect with the killer’s subconscious. With a lack of crime scene and physical evidence inhibiting Frank’s ability to see what we cannot, there’s a primal, authentic uneasiness about “The Mikado” that is forefronted.
The later part of the ’90s saw the introduction of postmodern horror. Wes Craven’s Scream was a paradigm of self-aware parody, teasing horror’s clichés and amusingly deconstructing its metaphors for audiences. Season three’s episode “…Thirteen Years Later,” released only two years after Craven’s 1996 film, similarly interrogated spooky tropes. Knowing references to the fictional narrative twisting of Jorge Luis Borges’ Labyrinths — read by Special Agent Emma Hollis, who also served as the episode’s victorious “final girl” — and canonical fright flicks like Halloween, Psycho, and Friday the 13th abound. These allusions paved the way for a case that reflected back on the pilot episode’s killer and the horror genre itself.
Though these are notable examples, Millennium is a series haunted by horror. Clearly riffing on cinematic precedents, Carter’s parade of baddies exploited underlying societal tensions, perceptively rendering collective anxieties as figures of fear. Exacerbated by turn-of-the-century doom mongering, his cast of antagonists espoused a dire prophecy — a succession of harrowing “What ifs?” that played out bleak endgame after endgame. Certain malaise of the series is confined to its historic specificity — locked in a 1990′s time capsule of terror — but other moments linger. Public and private boundaries continue to merge in the digital crucible, with fragmented, fluid identities undermining the notion of selfhood. Millennium’s success, then, is a measure of its very pertinence — a resonant pop-cultural psychoanalysis that collectively diagnosed the angst of millions. Y2K calamity may have been averted, but the show’s longevity — and emergence as a cult phenomenon — proves that its recurring bad dreams have lost little of their unflinching insight. A dim mirror for mankind’s ills, Chris Carter’s art of darkness endures.
[This essay was written to support the release of Back to Frank Black: A Return to Chris Carter's Millennium featuring introductions by Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, and Lance Henriksen. Purchase your copy here.]
“In Britain, in recent months, two of the most sensational murder trials of the century have involved discussion of the same rental video; namely, Child’s Play 3. The first case was that of James Bulger, a toddler who was beaten to death by two ten-year-olds; the second case was that of Suzanne Capper, a teenager who was kidnapped, strenuously tortured, and finally set alight by a clique of young acquaintances. Child’s Play 3 has therefore been much in the news, and therefore much in demand. It, too, has been set alight, semi-ritualistically, by public-spirited managers of video-rental stores. When my two children (aged seven and nine) noticed Child’s Play 3 in its package, up on a high shelf, they regarded it with reverent dread. In their schoolyard voodoo, Child’s Play 3 was considered potent, venomous, toxic. It was like angel dust — a ticket to frenzy. So one afternoon I duly settled down to watch a routine little horror film about a children’s doll called Chucky that comes to life and starts killing people. The modicum of horror it inspires can be traced by to Freud’s definition of the uncanny: ambiguity about the extent to which something is, or is not, alive. Equally conventionally, such frights and shrieks as the film elicits have to do not with very scary things happening but with mildly scary things happening very suddenly. As the credits rolled on Child’s Play 3, I felt no urge or prompting to go out and kill somebody. And I also knew why. It’s nothing to boast about, but there is too much going on in my head for Chucky to gain sway in there. Probably the worst that Chucky could do to me is to create an appetite to see more Chucky, or more things like Chucky.
What we have to imagine is a mind that, on exposure to Chucky, is already brimful of Chucky and things like Chucky. Then, even if you mix in psychopathology, stupidity, moral deformation, dreams of omnipotence and sadism, and whatever else, Chucky is unlikely to affect anything but the style of your subsequent atrocities. Murderers have to have something to haunt them: they need their internal pandemonium. A century ago, it might have been the Devil. Now it’s Chucky. When the killers tortured Suzanne Capper, they chanted the catchphrase ‘I’m Chucky. Wanna Play?’ When the two ten-year-old boys began to throw bricks, James Bulger fell down and stood up again. ‘Just stand there,’ said one of the killers, ‘and we’ll get you a plaster.’ And then he threw another brick. This is Chucky’s way: the worthless joke, the worthless swagger. Here was a mind that had seen a lot of things like Chucky, and had nothing much in prospect but more things like Chucky. Perhaps, also, the child who spoke those words didn’t understand the meaning of earnest. As a result, he was all too ready to play.”
Amis and Chucky. Huh.
From The War Against Cliche: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 by Martin Amis, originally published in the New Yorker, 1994.
“He’s filming women sitting at a table reading literature. The twist is the things going on below the table. I like these sorts of things… As I start reading, my disbelief is suspended. I forget what is about to happen… ”
Wear headphones, unless you’re home alone and have accepted that your cat thinks you’re a piece of filthy human scum. On a friend’s recommend that I might like the book, I added Necrophilia Variations by Supervert to my read pile. [via i'll tumblr for you]
Alongside the recently passed exhibition Selling Sex, SHOWstudio launched Fashion Fetish — a series of multimedia projects, films, and essays by industry women. Ruth Hogben, Daphne Guinness, Liberty Ross, Aimee Mullins, Asia Argento, and Dasha Zhukova were a few participants who commented on the “contentious and provocative” fusion of fetish and fashion. Although the exhibit is over, the website indicates new works will continue to be posted.
“Fashion Fetish hands the power entirely to female fashion professionals, asking them to address the notion of Fashion Fetish and examining their individual visions of women. In contrast with Selling Sex, which reimagines the female relationship with sex, Fashion Fetish focuses on a woman’s relationship with clothing. Although as fashion historian Anne Hollander has asserted, the nude in art always wears ‘The fashion of her time’ — fashion’s influence can be felt across the naked flesh, her body as ‘fashioned’ as a corseted ball-gown. Dressed or undressed, this project offers a clear field, a blank canvas and an open mind to a selection of some of the most important women working in fashion today — designers, stylists, models and image-makers — inviting them to present their own interpretation of Fashion Fetish. Their visual interpretations of the Fashion Fetish theme are then used as the inspiration for a host of female authors, journalists, and cultural commentators to ‘unpick’ fetish in a series of accompanying essays, each written to correspond with a particular piece.”
Supermodel Lily Donaldson channels seedy, amateur erotic footage in a film inspired by Furries.
Directed by founder and editor-in-chief of Garage magazine, Dasha Zhukova, starring Chloë Sevigny and fashion writer Derek Blasberg.
Asia Argento created a series of mesmerizing video diaries.
This weekend I attended a party where the drink of choice was communion wine. The standards for sacramental wine are different than consumer wine, which is why — perhaps naively — I didn’t think you could purchase it online. Apparently you can, but it’s really just wine made to altar wine standards — grapes only and “uncorrupted.” True altar wine is not sold to the general public. Angelica wine is the most popular altar wine. It’s a sweet, high-alcohol dessert wine that is believed to originate in Los Angeles, produced by Franciscan missionaries. You can buy a consumer variety over here.
At the same party, I ended up talking to a man who believes he’s a werewolf. So, that happened.
Sister Janet Mead rocks. [Spotted via David E. Williams]
The Colonial Theatre
I paid a visit to The Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, which hosted its first show in 1903. Scenes from The Blob were filmed there. The balcony is still open to patrons.
I’ve been writing a James Bond column for Movies.com and was excited to spot these Bond girl makeup tutorials from Sam and Nic of Pixiwoo fame. Their videos are always beautifully shot, and the artistry is admirable. I don’t wear nearly as much makeup (or smear glue stick on my face, ouch), but I always pick up a few things to try out and learn about new products. They love recreating theatrical pop culture looks.
This week I published New York artist Steven Hirsch’s mesmerizing photographs of alien abductees on Flavorwire. As I wrote, they’re eerily beautiful, and the stories that Hirsch was able to inspire his subjects to share really complete the pictures — as one of the accounts by HBO’s Cathouse star and Bunny Ranch prostitute Cami Parker proves:
“In my dreams I see strange men. You know I want to say men but they looked almost sexless, like not necessarily men but just beings, creatures that were poking me, examining me, almost like when I got my boobs done. They were looking at me, searching me and exploring me and it was very strange and honestly quite disturbing, but I felt like they had a higher knowledge of myself then I even had on my own.”
Hirsch shared another great photo series with me that he captured in Crystal, Nevada. The Cherry Patch Ranch is an abandoned brothel and apparently haunted — perhaps by the 1970s if the decor is any indication. A Google search shows that infamous Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss was going to be the “madam hostess” of Cherry Patch several years ago.
Click the images in the gallery to enlarge, and then visit Hirsch’s other great work over here.
“I took a second leave of my master; but as I was going to prostrate myself to kiss his hoof, he did me the honor to raise it gently to my mouth.”
—Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift
Culturcide’s Mark Flood has brought his “anarchic humor and disturbing visions” to New York City. The best way to discover his work is through the friends and people that have known him since “the hateful years” — also the name of his show at gallery Luxembourg & Dayan. The exhibition opens today and will be on view through September 12. I asked my friend and collaborator, Generack Butylstumpf of Rubber (() Cement — a follower of Mark’s since the ’80s — to share a few thoughts about his work. Big thanks to Luxembourg & Dayan for sending me a preview of the exhibit, which I’ve posted in the gallery below. (Click the images to enlarge.)
‘Sacrificial Eyecons in the Crosshairs of Dissonant Monsters’
Nadine Byrne, Evocation of my Demon Sister
This is a “filmbookette” mentioning the vampy Ingrid Pitt and her 1970 movie The Vampire Lovers in the January, 1976 edition of Famous Monsters of Filmland. (Here’s my ancient review of the film on Moviefone, then Cinematical.) I’ve created a downloadable PDF file, but if you have problems saving it, drop me an email for a copy. Enjoy!