I bet you missed it, didn’t you? How lucky you are. As I sit down to write this, I am indeed still wondering if fortune smiled down upon me whilst I was looking through the channels for programs to DVR and saw an Ancient Aliens episode flip across the scene, and somewhere, my brain caught the words “Civil War”. Ha! I thought. It must have just been something else. That is how my eyes saw it. As I continued to scan, I decided to go back, and sure enough there was the episode from this latest season titled, “Aliens and the Civil War”. I gasped. I laughed. Then, I cried. I decided to save it for a later date so I could sit there, laptop in hand, and devote my entire attention to a minute-by-minute blog of what was going on during the show. It was in 2011 when I took this same approach, after stumbling on “Aliens and the Old West”. It was this episode which tried to argue that Harrison Ford’s newly released Cowboys and Aliens might be more fact than fiction. If you think that previous post and this one coming up now are all part of some gigantic, three-weeks-late, history-nut April Fool’s Day joke, you are wrong. These episodes really did air. You can catch them on re-runs.
When the History Channel comes out with a preview of their next production, I no longer get excited. Instead, I cringe. When I heard that they would be releasing a Texas and Alamo themed mini-series this May, my heart almost stopped, because of the soft spot I have for the Alamo story and how I knew it would be butchered by this studio. Boasting a cast consisting of Bill Paxton, Brendan Fraser, Ray Liotta, Rob Morrow, and Kris Kristofferson, and directed by Roland Joffe, Texas Rising does not look as bad as I expected, but much worse. The series will cover the Texas Revolution and the formation and early years of the Texas Rangers. The Alamo siege and battle appears to only be slightly larger than a footnote, merely setting up the story, which is fine. However, in just a few fleeting glimpses of such scenes in the film, I am already mightily concerned about the historical accuracy of this production. After all, this was the network that gave us a documentary on Gettysburg and still managed to get things wrong, and in some cases, blatantly fabricate or exaggerate certain information. Now, we get to a project that contains creative license, and oh my, might as well come to expect a flying saucer to land in the Alamo’s courtyard.
It bothers me that Jesus has never once been portrayed actually looking like the real Jesus would have looked like two-thousand years ago. In every major Hollywood and otherwise film, we see a white man with white disciples preaching to white crowds. He would not have had light skin and flowing light-brown hair, and certainly would not have had blue eyes, Jeffrey. Jesus would have been dark-skinned—or very tan, to say the least—with dark hair, and would have been short, probably barely five-feet tall. His followers would have looked the same. Just take a look at what Arabic and Middle Eastern people look like today, and you would find what the majority of characters in the Jesus story looked like. It is also irksome that Jesus has never been performed by a Jewish actor, and from a storytelling point of view, not once have we seen a secular characterization of him as strictly a social and political revolutionary, not a religious figure. In this daring and politically correct world we live in, we can surmise that one or all three of these gripes will inevitably be fulfilled. That said, there certainly have been enough biblical films over the years to find some good ones, and for this essay, I chose to stay strictly to the ones about Jesus. Forgive me if there are any not on the list, and I did choose to go with films only in the sound era:
Nearly 150 years after his death, Abraham Lincoln remains a polarizing figure. To some, he is the greatest president the United States of America ever had, a man who freed the slaves and saved the Union. To others, he was a power-hungry tyrant, who invaded his own country and used back-room, sometimes scandalous politics to get what he wanted. No matter what one’s personal view of him, however, all can agree on two things: he was a master politician, and a deeply conflicted man, both internally and his public persona. No person of such high standing in American history has had his views gradually change to the point of nearly a complete reversal. No president has ever been in office in the midst of such terrible and chaotic internal strife.
It is difficult today to look back upon Abraham Lincoln and give him a singular label for what he should be remembered for, but almost always, it boils down to the slavery issue, and how he had the Emancipation Proclamation drafted and then his fight to get the 13th Amendment passed to free the slaves prior to the conclusion of the American Civil War. However, as is the case with many figures when studied through the looking glass back through history, people see what they want to see. Lincoln is a much more complicated figure to study, because at the same time this country was experiencing its single greatest moment of political dissent, Lincoln was dissenting against his own government and party, and sometimes, even himself. His views, which began as quite simple ones began to change and morph over time to what we know them as today, but to ignore the journey that he went through would be a disservice to both the man and the history of this nation.
2014 was a busy year for us at Haunted Travels, a web-series I co-founded along with Jake Reid in September of 2013 which would consist partly of ghost stories, myths, folklore, and also actual paranormal investigations. In the last twelve months, we have managed to film 25 episodes, visit 10 locations, host four public investigations at our regular stomping grounds at Strauss Mansion, give nine lectures on paranormal activity at historic sites in New Jersey, see me have my first book published, welcome in some new crew members, and of course, happen upon an untold number of stories at each and every location, some of which do not make it into our videos or appear on our social media. This write-up is a recap of our adventures during the last year, some of which you have seen, and others which you have not. Please check out the hyperlinks to be redirected to relevant additional content such as videos and investigation reports.
And I’ve seen ’em all, or at least a few episodes of every one of these series which happens to blare across my television screen in the late afternoon hours as I try to get some time in on my exercise bike. It was by this chance misfortune that I am able to review Amish Haunting for you, the latest and greatest paranormal-themed show from that treasure trove of goodies that are not good enough to make the Discovery Channel, yes, the graveyard of sub-par entertainment reality known as Destination America. In order for me to adequately describe Amish Haunting, I would need a thesaurus and a glass—no, a bottle—of Johnnie Walker Red, if I had to watch an episode in its entirety, as the shows slaves away and harps on centuries old traditions of evil within the seemingly peaceful Amish culture, located mainly in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and parts of Ohio. This show, which comes on with a tour-de-force opening credits and disclaimer, giving it the illusion of being something groundbreaking, is a laughable, disgusting mess that fails to scare, except by way of how scary the acting is. These are the stories of ghost stories within the Amish community, the ones you would not get while sitting down for a $5.99 country breakfast at Diener’s Buffet in Ronks. The opening credits mention how these stories have always existed, but only now are the Amish ready to tell their story! But wait, there’s more!
This might be the most difficult list I have ever compiled. As an avid horror film enthusiast, I had to narrow down my top ten of all-time, out of the 177 horror movies I have seen to date, according to my IMDB account. For good measure, I added three honorable mentions to get us to a lucky 13. When it comes to horror, generally I like older films; those campy, cult-classics or ones that make you think, even if they are not really scary. Very rarely do I see one nowadays and actually enjoy it. Horror has always been a rewarding genre because you can take so much from them: you can be scared or mystified, which is the goal, but if one is so bad, you can get some humor by making fun of how deplorable it was. But on this list, there are no such films. These are my absolute favorites, for various reasons. The ones I could watch over and over again!
Honorable Mention 1: The Pit and the Pendulum (1961; Roger Corman)
Honorable Mention 2: In the Mouth of Madness (1994; John Carpenter)
Honorable Mention 3: Vampyr (1932; Carl Theodore Dreyer)
10. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971; Robert Fuest)
There is only one word needed to describe this film: bizarre. There can be no other film like it—it is that unique. It plays out like an acid-trip set to organ music from start to finish, as we follow the post-resurrection life of Dr. Anton Phibes (Vincent Price), who was possibly killed but definitely horribly disfigured in a car accident many years earlier. Dying in the crash was his beloved wife, who he is still madly in love with, and whom he seeks vengeance for. Also, a biblical scholar in addition to being a world-renown organ player, Phibes begins to murder every doctor and nurse who worked on his wife after the crash and failed to save her. Each death would be a variation on the different biblical plagues. Everything about this movie is outrageous. The costumes, sets, and music. Everything! It is a one of a kind film that you have to see to truly know how unique it is. If some of the murders and, uh, daily habits, of Phibes do not make you squirm, his self-embalming in a glass coffin to a brass band tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the finale will certainly leave you comically uneasy. The first time you watch it, “What the hell did I just watch?” comes to mind, but with each viewing you will realize that this is a hidden gem of horror film-making.