Christopher Lee’s Best Movie

I was genuinely saddened to learn that Christopher Lee died last Sunday. For some of us, he wasn’t just great talent, but an iconic figure from our childhood. I was a Monster Kid of the 1970s: raised on Saturday matinees, the 4:30 movie, Chiller Theatre on channel 11 (that hand!), and Famous Monsters of Filmland. I didn’t do sports and wasn’t much of a student. I did Karloff and Chaney and Cushing and Lee.

And he was the last. They’re all gone now. Lugosi and Chaney, before I was born. Then Uncle Boris, Vincent Price, Lon Chaney Jr, Peter Cushing, Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, Peter Lorre, John Carradine, all of them. And now the towering legend with the giant voice and those amazing eyes joins them.

house-of-the-long-shadows-group-picture

Reunion time?

Christopher Lee appeared in a couple hundred movies. I’ve sought them out and maybe seen less than half. A great many of them were crap, a number of them were quite good, and some were classics.

There are a few titles that fans would place at the top of their lists: The Wicker Man, of course. Horror of Dracula. Curse of Frankenstein. Lord of the Rings. Maybe Hound of the Baskervilles or The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes or Richard Lester’s Musketeers movies.

But one film many of fans, myself included, would single out as their favorite is The Devil Rides Out (1967), directed by Terence Fisher from a screenplay by Richard Matheson.

This was a pet project of Lee’s, and he had to push Hammer to get it done. Lee was tired of the pop-up scares of Dracula movies. He wanted to depict real evil and Satanism in a serious way. He wanted to show that the occult was dangerous, and treat it with intelligence. I just rewatched this film a week ago with the commentary track on, and was struck by how knowledgeable he was about the subject, and how much the film meant to him.

Jesus wins.

Based on Dennis Wheatley’s novel, the film stars Lee as Nicolas, the Duc de Richleau, a character who appeared in many other novels by Wheatley. Nicolas and Rex Van Ryn learn that a young friend, Simon, is being drawn into Satanism by a charismatic Aleister Crowley type played by Charles Gray. (Both Gray and Lee later played Bond villains.)

The film is notable for its accuracy and its sober depiction of occult practices and their dangers. Even more notable is its strong Christian message. Over and over, either God or Jesus is used to thwart evil. The final triumph (it’s not like I’m spoiling things here) is accomplished by the overwhelming power of the cross. Even when the good guys use an incantation, it hearkens back to Solomon. (In esoteric tradition, Solomon was able to control and cast out demons.)

A lot of horror has a winking quality: the audience understands this is a lark. The Devil Rides Out plays it straight down the line, and it’s stronger for it.

Lee clearly believe in the devil and the power of God to thwart him, and was adamant about the dangers of trifling with the occult, as he shows in this clip.

Lee himself was Anglo-Catholic. His noble blood line was traced back to Charlemagne, and I believe that he had a pope somewhere in his family tree. He was the one of the last men of a dying generation. He saw evil up close in the war, and he knew the devil’s power.

lee

Lee’s autobiography is great fun.

The Devil Rides Out is out of print on DVD, but you get all 11 of the original Wheatley occult novels in one Kindle collection

Get all 11 of the original Wheatley occult novels in one Kindle collection. Well-researched and good fun.

Out of print and expensive. Even when I needed money I wouldn't sell this one.

Out of print and expensive. Even when I needed money I wouldn’t sell this one.

The Most Important Book of the Year is Only $5 For a Limited Time

manual-spiritual-warfare-1043105Paul Thigpen’s Manual for Spiritual Warfare is a must-have. I hate the phrase “instant classic,” partly because it’s an oxymoron, and partly because time is fickle, but I can see this one being read and handed down and treasured a hundred years from now.

Thigpen’s book is a clear-headed and faith-filled look at the devil and his works, and the tools we have to fight him. My blogmother Julie D. has a review of it here. I hope to write a more considered appraisal of it in the future.

TAN books published it in a leather-bound prayer-book format meant to be carried around, but they blew through their initial print run so fast that people are having trouble getting a copy while TAN prints more.

Because of this, the’ve reduced the price of the Kindle edition to $5 for a limited time. At that price, just buy it. You will not regret it.

The Devil Tempts St. Benedict

Rule

This illumination showed up in my medievalist Twitter feed today and I tracked it back to the so-called Mettener Regel (1414), a manuscript of the rule of Saint Benedict as practiced at the Abbey of Metten. The manuscript is illustrated by moments in the life of St. Benedict.

At first, I thought this might be an illustration from the rule itself, with the devil depicted as a tempting woman with hideous talons:

Those garments of which he is divested shall be placed in the wardrobe, there to be kept, so that if, perchance, he should ever be persuaded by the devil to leave the monastery (which God forbid), he may be stripped of the monastic habit and cast forth.

That doesn’t fit, however, since the figure seems to be Benedict himself.

That’s when I recalled the grand collection of fascinating stuff that is the Dialogues of Pope St. Gregory the Great. Book 2 is Gregory’s Life of Benedict, which includes this passage.

One day, while the saint was alone, the Tempter came in the form of a little blackbird, which began to flutter in front of his face. It kept so close that he could easily have caught it in his hand. Instead, he made the sign of the cross and the bird flew away. The moment it left, he was seized with an unusually violent temptation. The evil spirit recalled to his mind a woman he had once seen, and before he realized it his emotions were carrying him away. Almost overcome in the struggle, he was on the point of abandoning the lonely wilderness, when suddenly with the help of God’s grace he came to himself.

He then noticed a thick patch of nettles and briers next to him. Throwing his garment aside he flung himself into the sharp thorns and stinging nettles. There he rolled and tossed until his whole body was in pain and covered with blood. Yet, once he had conquered pleasure through suffering, his torn and bleeding skin served to drain the poison of temptation from his body. Before long, the pain that was burning his whole body had put out the fires of evil in his heart. It was by exchanging these two fires that he gained the victory over sin. So complete was his triumph that from then on, as he later told his disciples, he never experienced another temptation of this kind.

Soon after, many forsook the world to place themselves under his guidance, for now that he was free from these temptations he was ready to instruct others in the practice of virtue. That is why Moses commanded the Levites to begin their service when they were twenty-five years old or more and to become guardians of the sacred vessels only at the age of fifty.

Thus, the picture shows the devil as both the beautiful tempting women Benedict remembered, and as the blackbird, merged into a horrible chimera to reveal the evil lurking below the surface of even the most pleasing temptation.

A Compilation of My Dark and Ghostly Posts

My first writing was in the horror genre, contributing to publications like The Horror Show and Cemetery Dance, and writing entries for the encyclopedia Supernatural Fiction Writers. I even worked for George A. Romero’s Laurel Entertainment film and TV production company for a little while. I think there’s value in exploring dark themes, fear, and even revulsion in art. The medievals certainly thought so, or they wouldn’t have produced so much of it.

I had fun with this month’s two series: Dark Country and Ghosts in the Church.

I’m not going to link all the individual Dark Country posts individually, but you can find all all them here, from “Eli Renfro” to “The Man Comes Around.”

I’d been thinking about ghosts for a while now, and wondering where they fit in the theology and life of the church. I didn’t get as much written as I’d hoped because we had a family medical crisis while I was working on it, but 10,000 words is plenty for now. A shorter article will be published by the National Catholic Register.

Here are all the posts in the Ghosts in the Church series:

Ghosts in the Bible

Ghostly Visions in the Early Church

Tertullian’s Deceiving Devils

Three posts on St. Augustine’s detailed consideration of ghosts:

St. Martin and the Thief’s Ghost

St. Gregory the Great’s Bath-house Ghost

St. Thomas Aquinas Believed in Ghosts (True fact)

Do You Believe in Ghosts? (In which I answer the question: “Sorta, sometimes”)

I’ve also written quite a bit about Satan and ancient burial customs. And Boris Karloff. And MR James.

Have a happy Halloween.

Frankenstein color (220 x 265)

North Carolina Satanist Killed and Ate Two Victims

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“Pazuzu Algarad” and accomplice Amber Burch

A North Carolina man named “Pazuzu Algarad” (he changed it to the name of the demon from The Exorcist) has apparently confessed to murdering two men and eating parts of their bodies during Satanic rituals. The men–Joshua Wetzler, age 37, and Tommy Welch, 26–were then buried in his backyard with the help of two women.

There was also indications of animal sacrifice during Satanic rituals, with “Pazuzu” boasting of eating the “still beating hearts” of animals. The Winston-Salem Journal has more details, and the strong content warning for this one should be obvious.

More details continue to emerge about the lives of Pazuzu Algarad and Amber Burch, the two people arrested on Oct. 5 and charged in the murder and burial of two men at their Clemmons home.

According to a friend of Burch, Algarad’s girlfriend, he claimed to get a high from eating the “still-beating heart” of a sacrificial animal and bragged openly about having killed two prostitutes.

That friend visited the house in 2009 where the couple lived on Knob Hill Drive in Clemmons. Algarad and Burch are each charged with murder in connection with the deaths of two men whose remains were found recently in the couple’s backyard.

As a front-end loader scooped up tires, lawn mowers and other debris from the couple’s yard Thursday morning, Burch’s friend told about conditions inside the house that were so bad she thought she might vomit.

“It reeked of feces and urine,” said the friend, whose identity was confirmed, but who spoke with the Journal only on condition that her name not be used. Her identity has been confirmed with other people the Journal has interviewed in the last two weeks. “You didn’t get a good feeling walking into that house at all. It was dark. It was like a lifeless house. It was creepy.”

When the friend first arrived to visit Burch in 2009, Algarad was completely naked and never put on any clothes during the visit. The excrement on the floor might have been both animal and human, the friend said.

“He was on all kinds of drugs and drink when I got there,” she said. “I’m pretty sure I witnessed him peeing in the corner.” The friend said Algarad’s behavior was “very sexual, very provocative.”

“He commented on a number of occasions that he was trying to get in my pants,” the friend said, adding that Burch “was all for it. I made it clear that that it was not going to happen.”

Burch’s friend said she was only a teenager when she visited the couple’s house on several occasions during those months in 2009, and that the atmosphere was one of partying, loud metal music and drugs.

“At that time I was experimenting with different drugs, and all I knew was, ‘Hey, it’s a party.’ Granted, it took a lot not to throw everything back up.” The one night she actually spent the night, the friend said, “I was woke up numerous times with Pazuzu over me trying to mess with me.”

Burch told her friend that she and Algarad had met through a mutual friend.

“She was living with him for a long time, and she kept telling me about this really weird but super-great guy that she was with. He wasn’t the average person that she would be with. Amber was always a very clean-cut person. After about a month, she quit taking showers. She started to dreadlock her hair. She filed her teeth down to points. She quit shaving. It was not Amber at all.”

Walking into the house, trying not to step in excrement, Burch’s friend saw Satanic sayings written on the walls and filthy dishes piled up with “bugs crawling all over them.”

Algarad bragged about killing two prostitutes, the friend said, adding that neither she nor Burch really believed he had done it.

“The facial tattoos, the Satanism, I never gave it much thought,” the friend said. “I figured he was just trying to psych everybody out.”

The friend said she never saw anyone from the Winston-Salem area at the couple’s house when she was there, and doesn’t know anything about Joshua Wetzler and Tommy Dean Welch, who have been identified as the two men buried in the backyard. She said she and her friends have been wondering about the victims — who they were, and how they might have ended up at the house.

Demon Worship on the Man-Eating Mountain

“Outside the mine we are Catholics,
and when we enter the mine, we worship the devil.”

This jarring quote is found in an excellent story on BBC News about the grim working conditions on Bolivia’s Cerro Rico mountain, where men and boys scratch out a precarious living in the place known as the Mountain That Eats Men. The article reports that an average of 14 women are widowed each month and life expectancy is about 40.

Cerro Rico has been mined for 500 years, and the mountain is a lethal honeycomb of tunnels and shafts where the poor try to scratch out the last bits of silver in order to make a meager living.

Local superstition holds that El Tio, lord of the underworld, rules the mountain. In order to appease him, the miners make regular offerings and prayers:

The men and boys all chew coca leaves, saying it helps filter the dust. They also make offerings of these coca leaves along with alcohol and cigarettes to El Tio – the devil god of the mines.

Each of the 38 businesses running mines on the mountain has a statue of El Tio in their tunnels.

“He has horns because he is the god of the depths,” says Grover, Marco’s boss.

“Usually we gather here on Fridays to make offerings, in gratitude because he gave us lots of minerals, and so that he will protect us from accidents.

“Outside the mine we are Catholics, and when we enter the mine, we worship the devil.”

The story, derived from an upcoming BBC show on the miners, makes for disturbing reading for both the wretched conditions faced by the poor miners, and the terrifying superstitions that still have a hold half a millennium after the population was Christianized.

 

Satan is Just a Little Blond Girl in Pigtails Handing Out Fruit

The Temptation is much easier to understand when you look at it this way:

Although, yeah: the snake body thing should have been a dead giveaway.

Think about it, though: we have nasty visual images of Satan in our mind because artists need to convey evil visually, but Paul tells us that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.

Or, as Frodo observed, “I would think that a servant of the Enemy would look fairer and feel fouler.”

H/T Eric Kwakkel