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Filtering by Tag: Sean Herman

My First Sight of Home, Friday the 13th Part VII, The New Blood

Sean Herman

I originally wrote this piece a few months ago, but I don’t think I realized what the piece had truly become.  I say it that way because this piece became incredibly personal to me as I was writing it.  I started writing about a horror film that was filmed in my area in the 1980’s, but as I dug deeper into my own history with the film, an underlying theme emerged, one delving into my own personal history with depression.  It took me a long time to get honest with myself and to really look at the monster I felt was within myself, one which became represented by the hockey masked creature rising out of the water.  It wasn’t until losing my best friend that I realized the dark fog I had lost myself in with swirling, negative thoughts.   He and I were so similar, he understood where I was coming from, and encouraged me in ways no one has, or ever will again. Unfortunately we both grappled with the same haunting monster inside, one I still deal with to this day.  My friend, my comrade, my brother, he made a choice, one that leaves a hole in my heart that will never be filled.  Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him.  The loss suffered opened my eyes though, and I was able to see through the fog and for a brief instant, long enough to see a light in the opposite direction, one to reach for.  Unknowingly this piece about Friday the 13th Part 7 became a reflection of ones struggles with depression and suicide, and the fact that there is always hope, there is always light, and the monster will recede back into the lake. We have republished this piece in correlation with www.openoureyes.org, an amazing group and resource for those struggling.  Thank you for reading, and remember, light will find a way.

-Sean Herman


“There's a legend 'round here. A killer buried, but not dead. A curse on Crystal Lake. A death curse. Jason Voorhees's curse. They say he died as a boy, but he keeps coming back. Few have seen him and lived. Some have even tried to stop him. No one can. People forget he's down there... waiting.”

-Walt Gorney, Friday the 13th Part VII

Cover to Friday the 13th Part VII, The New Blood (1988)

Cover to Friday the 13th Part VII, The New Blood (1988)

Friday the 13th Part VII, The New Blood (1988) Japanese movie poster

Friday the 13th Part VII, The New Blood (1988) Japanese movie poster

It was Christmas morning 1990 in snowy St. Paul Minnesota, and I received a gift that forever changed my life. Just like Ralphie in “The Christmas Story”, I ran to our Christmas tree, shaking boxes, when I heard that familiar sound of a VHS tape, clacking in a box.  At the tender age of 8, my foray into the horror film genre was about to truly began.  Like most kids, from a young age I had always been interested in the classic Universal Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf man, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon), but I was fortunate enough to grow up in the roaring 80’s, the golden age of the serial slasher genre in horror films.  In the pre-internet age, the only access a kid like myself had to this genre was the upper number pay-per view preview channels.  Back in the late 80’s early 90’s, pay per view was the way to catch the newest movies, after they left the theaters, but right before they would be released to video.  The stations would show extended previews for the movies and provide a 1-800 number to call so you could order the movie.  I remember staying up at night, watching the preview for A Nightmare on Elm Street part 5: The Dream Child.  I loved the dark, macabre environment of the genre, so I would watch what I could to see the most of it.  If only I could own one of these movies, I could watch them as much as I wanted.  Back to Christmas morning, 1990, and I unwrapped the VHS tape that changed all of that, and truly started my foray into the horror genre.  I peeled back the wrapping to reveal the iconic hockey mask that graces the cover of Friday the 13th, part VII.  Triumphantly, like at the end of a teenage underdog film, I raised my fist, movie in hand, in victory.  The montage music played, and I owned my own piece of the horror genre.  

 

Cover for The Monster Squad (1987)

Cover for The Monster Squad (1987)

*Let it be known, I do understand the repercussions of an 8 year old watching a rated R slasher film, and I am not advocating anyone having their children do this, but it was the 1980’s.  We children of the 1980’s were exposed to probably some of the most offensive, violent movies that have existed.  Movies and television shows made for kids at that time were probably worse than late night cable movies today.  Anyone remember “Monster Squad”?  We all remember it as a hilarious Halloween romp, but rewatch it, you will see what I’m talking about.  Single handedly one of the more offensive hours I have had in a long time. I am definitely not advocating a child watching Friday the 13th Part VII, or any movie in a similar genre, and I am completely aware of the effects of violence on kids, somehow I turned out somewhat sane, at least my wife claims so.*

 

Dock at Brynes Lake, present day

Dock at Brynes Lake, present day

Little did I know, living in St. Paul Minnesota as an 8 year old, that particular movie was filmed in the area I would be spending a majority of my life at, where I would discover the magic and meaning of tattooing, where I would meet my beautiful wife, and where we would raise our amazing daughter.  I could have never imagined, while watching Jason Voorhees battle a psychic girl on a rickety pier, that one day my life would revolve around the same body of water they were fighting in.  



The New Blood

 

Halloween (1978), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and Friday the 13th (1980) movie posters

Halloween (1978), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and Friday the 13th (1980) movie posters

In the late 1970’s and trailing into early 1990’s, the horror movie genre felt a resurgence with a string of successful slasher films starting with John Carpenter’s “Halloween” in 1978 (though some would argue, myself being one, that it truly began in 1974 with the release of what is now a timeless classic, Tobe Hoopers “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).  Soon more films followed like “The Toolbox Murders”,  “Prom Night”, and “Don’t Answer the Phone”.  With the “golden age” of slasher films then at full sprint, we get introduced to the now iconic film, Sean Cunningham’s “Friday the 13th”.  The success of the film, which grossed nearly $40 million at the box office,  inspired sequels, one almost every year, until the end of the 1980’s.  As you would imagine, a copy of a copy syndrome kicks in, and a decline in quality grows with each movie.  The main character of Jason Voorhees now evolving from a murderous psychopath teenager seeking vengeance into an unstoppable wall of super natural rotten flesh, killing campers one by one at Camp Crystal Lake.  Much to the studios avail, Voorhees could also not be killed off.  In every film Jason somehow came back, in a more supernatural fashion, once coming back from a lightening strike when he was stabbed in the heart to make sure he was dead.  That would be an irony, right?  
 

Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees, and Lar Park Lincoln as Tina Shepard

Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees, and Lar Park Lincoln as Tina Shepard

By the time Friday the 13th Part VII was being tossed around, the genre popularity had started to decline, and studios were doing whatever they could to get the movies out as quick as possible to capitalize on what was left of the genre.  Wanting to make one last push in the genre, the studios were planning on making this film a “Jason versus Freddy” piece, tying in the other most popular franchise in the genre, Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street”.  With negotiations not working out between studios, a new idea is introduced, the main character,  Tina, as a “Carrie-esque” teenager with psychic abilities, that would eventually face off with Jason at the end of the film, becoming his most formidable opponent yet.  With so much time lost to studio negations of the ill fated “Jason versus Freddy”, the production was now rushed into overdrive in order to fit the nearest release date of Friday the 13th in the next calendar year.  The original title became “Birthday Bash” and the entire production was scheduled, completed, and released within six months. Filming ran from October to November of 1987 in Bay Minette, Alabama, with a majority of the scenes filmed at beautiful Byrnes Lake. 

photo of Byrnes Lake present day

photo of Byrnes Lake present day

Still from Friday the 13th Part VII, showing Hwy 225, Bay Minettte, Alabama

Still from Friday the 13th Part VII, showing Hwy 225, Bay Minettte, Alabama

Byrnes Lake is part of the more than 200,000 acre Mobile delta, which is the most biologically diverse river system in the country.  A serene fishing spot, Byrnes Lake is a picturesque piece of nature that is found here in the South.  During the winter, Byrnes Lake becomes the epitome of Southern Gothic lore, with gnarled trees, reaching out of the water, the sky always being a tint of grey.  Byrnes Lake also connects to the Blakely River, the ghost town of Blakely lying on it’s banks.  Blakely is known as one of the most haunted places in the South, with paranormal investigators making regular trips to the ghost town. The Bay Minette area, where Byrnes Lake lies, was even more rural in 1987 than it is today.  The small crew that traveled across the country to film “Birthday Bash” learned the effects of late nights in rural Alabama first hand.

 

"Gator Man" himself, Mr. Leslie Buzbee

"Gator Man" himself, Mr. Leslie Buzbee

As someone who grew up in the Southern swampland, I find I take some kind of sick pleasure listening to people from other areas telling stories about visiting our gothic bogs and their fears of gators, snakes, spiders, ghosts, locals, and other Southern beasts.  In the book “Crystal Lake Memories” several of the actors from the film recalled the area being a “wild and untamed” location, with a constant fear of alligators and poisonous snakes. Now anyone from our area knows that October to November is prime time for these creatures, prime time for them to be hidden away asleep, not to disturb a soul.  Local gator wrangler Leslie Buzbee knew this when he was hired to be the “Gator Man” for the film.  He refers to it being a pretty sweet deal for “basically doing nothing but watching the lake”.  Actor Terry Kiser, best known as “Bernie” from the “Weekend at Bernies” films, portrayed the evil Dr. Crews in the Friday film.  According to an interview with al.com, Kiser doesn’t have such fond memories of his time here, he describes it as “probably the worst experience I had on a movie.” 

Actor Terry Kiser

Actor Terry Kiser

He goes on to talk about how much he liked the actors and the crew, his problem was lack of night life.  “There was nothing,” says Kiser, “ then, when you get to the set, I had a dressing room and couldn't go anyplace and you are in the middle of the swamp. They had an alligator and a snake wrangler to keep away the alligators and snakes.”  Insert a smiling picture of Gator Wrangler Leslie Buzbee here, and remember, he spent so much time fighting snakes at that time.  Kiser continues, “I felt like I was in prison or something… I didn't get any of the southern hospitality, I didn't go to the Mardi Gras that they had, and I didn't get to know anything about where I was. .. this was nothing ... I didn't do anything. That's why I'm giggling. Not at the production, but as a memory that I'm so glad to go home and go out at night and see someone and not worry about a snake looking at me or something. It was a very strange thing of not being able to enjoy the location of where you are.” 

 

Kane Hodder, who played Voorhees for the first time in the film, had a much different view point on the filming, where he often refers to the film as his favorite that he worked on in the iconic series (Hodder donned the Jason mask more than any other actor in the series).  One of my personal favorites is the story Hodder tells that happened late one night during filming.  Hodder’s trailer was about a mile and a half from set, which was a walk he was said to enjoy.  Hodder is somewhat of a method actor, and would walk back from set, in full makeup, alone.  As he walked, he would be more Jason, less Kane.  Late one night, around 2am, amidstan all night shoot, Kane decided to head back to his trailer.  In the middle of his trek he saw another person walking up the trail in the distance.  Once in sight he realizes that he doesn’t recognize the man, and with that he decides to stay in character, in full makeup, Hodder really enjoys scaring people.  Once close enough to speak, the man nervously asked in a shaky voice, “Excuse me, are you in the movie?”  Hodder, stood silent, looming over the man.  In the silence, Hodder’s only response was to slowly tilt his head.  Nervously he looks around, realizing they are completely alone in the Alabama wilderness, now more fearfully, the man quietly let out, “You, you, are with the movie…right?” With that as his cue, Hodder grunted and made a quick, short, lunge for him. The man ran, backwards at first, falling right over a tree.  With a stumble, he got up and ran, quickly, out of sight of Hodder.  Hodder never knew who the man was, but did hear an interesting story from the films director the next day.  The director said “Y’know we were supposed to have the local sheriff come out and visit last night (with the trail from Hodder’s trailer being the way to set), and I don’t think he ever showed up.”  Hodder just looked around and said, “Oh really.”  It takes a lot to scare of a Alabama Sheriff, Jason Voorhees seems to be that.

Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees (1988)

Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees (1988)

Autographed photo of Kane Hodder from the collection of Sean Herman

Autographed photo of Kane Hodder from the collection of Sean Herman

Years ago I met Kane Hodder at a horror convention I was tattooing at, and I knew I had to get a picture with him.  Until that point, I was completely unaware of the move he is known for when posing for pictures with fans.  Hodder is very polite, down right kind in fact, and he agreed to a picture with me.  Just as the camera was about to click, I felt two gloved hands tightly grab my throat, and complete fear came over me.  Just as quickly as started, it ended, and the product being a photo of myself, in a complete state of real fear, with Kane Hodder.  His love for scaring people is definitely not a lie, I have experienced it.  One never imagines they will have Jason Voorhees squeezing the life from their neck, all for the sake of fun.

 
 

This Gallery contains stills from Friday the 13th Part VII, showing the Stockton Fire truck used in the film.  Also, there are stills from the film along with photos of the same set locations now present day.  The final picture is of Lar Park Lincoln as Tina Shepard using her psychic powers.

 

Stills from Friday the 13th, Part VII, which held the record for longest uninterrupted on screen controlled burn in Hollywood history

Stills from Friday the 13th, Part VII, which held the record for longest uninterrupted on screen controlled burn in Hollywood history

Filming finished quickly, even with a few stunt mishaps, and a record for longest uninterrupted on screen controlled burn in Hollywood history.  The houses built for set were blown up for the end of the film, and everything was gone.  As quickly as Hollywood flew into Byrnes Lake, it flew out (it wouldn’t be until 2004 and the filming of “Frankenfish”) .  Unfortunately, Friday the 13th Part VII was heavily edited, including a change in ending.  All the original negatives, including the cut footage, was destroyed by Paramount on September 17th 1992.  It was ordered by executive Michael Hickney in a note to Jane Buffington that read, “Ok to junk the trims and out on this feature.”  With that, any chance of seeing an unedited version went up in flames.  “Friday the 13th Part VII” debuted at #1 for it’s opening weekend, at $8.2 million dollars, making more than "Beetlejuice" (which came out that same year) did on it’s opening weekend. By all accounts, Alabama’s time with a serial killing psychopath was through, but what if there was a story of one far before those fall nights on Byrnes Lake?


 

Frank Hammonds, Alabama’s own Jason Voorhees?

 

Cry Baby Hollow, Hartselle, Alabama (present day)

Cry Baby Hollow, Hartselle, Alabama (present day)

Long before Jason Voorhees was stalking teenagers at a lake in rural Alabama, there was the story of Frank Hammonds and Cry Baby Hollow. (This was briefly referred to in my previous blog “Cry Baby Bridge”)   According to stories, Mr. Hammond’s murderous activities started in the year 1925 outside of Hartselle, Alabama, with the discovery of three dead bodies.  No killer was ever found, and the murderer still roamed the woods of Hartselle.  Dead bodies continued to be found over the years, and the stories continued to grow about a looming presence,  a killer abiding in that dark hollow, waiting to capture their next victim.  Stories tell us that in 1943, Mr. Hammond strolled casually into a local hardware store. Hammonds clothes were throughly stained with blood, and all he purchased was a rope and a hacksaw, nothing too suspicious.  With all of this, for some reason the local police followed him back to a dilapidated shack, an old barn some say, deep in the dark woods.  What the police discovered can only be described as a horrifying sight, one to that would inspire slasher films for years to come.  As the young officers looked around, they found human skins nailed to the walls, lampshades made from tanned human skin, and other odd homemade taxidermy pieces, some that one could only describe as “experiments gone wrong”.  The young officers knew that day it was a sight that would haunt there nightmares forever.  Hammonds was taken away, in chains, laughing the entire way.  It’s said that his laugh was forever ringing in the young officers ears.

 

Inside of convicted murderer Ed Gein's home, similar to what they said Frank Hammond's home looked like

Inside of convicted murderer Ed Gein's home, similar to what they said Frank Hammond's home looked like

Once Hammond was taken away, they tore the shack to pieces, searching for more evidence of his horrific crimes.  Seeing a loose floor boards, they began to rip up the rudimentary floor, and discovered a gruesome sight.  In his confession, Hammonds would brag about how he starved his poor wife, Loretta May, slowly torturing her, and eventually boarding her into the floor. Her decomposing face, forever frozen in fear, looked back at the officers, sealing Hammonds fate.  Hammonds was said to be a quiet man, until it came to his recalling of the events that led them up to that fateful day in the hollow.  Time and time again, he went into great detail about every victim, how he lured them to their death, and how he went about taking each ones life.  

In 1950, after spending years in a prison in Georgia, knowing he was to be sent to the electric chair, he supposedly took his own life, before the state could.  Reportedly his suicide note read, “For the family’s I’ve hurt, this is for you.  Now you can’t see me die in the chair.  The evil is ready to go home, and get you all.  It’s never over, it has just begun.”  Proposed as truth, I continued to research and found that no facts lined up, but that didn’t stop the story from spreading like wildfire. This fabricated creation of Frank Hammonds became a ghost that forever haunts Cry Baby Hollow, a place you are said to still hear the cries of his victims, but why?  Why the fabrication, why spread this story, why create this monster?  Could these monsters, and the monsters in horror films be created as a reaction to real life horrors that we don’t know how to process, confront, and deal with?  What is it that can make a person commit such violent, disturbing, and abhorrent acts?  What goes through the mind of a killer?


 

The Southern Gulf Coast’s has had its share of devils passing through

 

Patricia Krenwinkle circa 1969

Patricia Krenwinkle circa 1969

Patricia Krenwinkle was 22 when she was arrested in Mobile, Alabama, by then-Mobile police officers Billy McKeller and Sam McLarty in December 1969. She had relatives in the area and had attended Theodore High School in the 11th grade before returning to the Los Angeles area to complete her education.  It was in California in 1967 that she met Charles Manson, and joined his ill fated commune.  Krenwinkle was picked up by The Beach Boys drummer, Dennis Wilson, and was the one who introduced him to Manson, starting a relationship Wilson would always regret.  Manson’s commune was on it’s way to destroying the “summer of love.”

 

Krenwinkel was convicted along with Manson and two other female followers in the seven separate murders.  She admitted during her trial that she chased down and stabbed heiress Abigail Folger 28 times at the Tate home on Aug. 9, 1969, and participated in the stabbing deaths of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca the following night. Both homes were defaced with bloody scrawling. She was convicted along with Manson, Leslie Van Houten and Susan Atkins. Another defendant, Charles "Tex" Watson was convicted in a separate trial.  All were sentenced to death after a tumultuous 9-month trial. But their sentences were commuted to life when the U.S. Supreme Court briefly outlawed the death penalty in 1972.  Krenwinkle sits in The California Institution for Women in Chino, California, her paroled denied time and time again.

 

Ted Bundy on trial circa 1979

Ted Bundy on trial circa 1979

On February 15, 1978, shortly after 1 a.m., a Volkswagen Beetle was stopped by Pensacola, Florida by police officer David Lee on the out skirts of town (right outside of the Alabama/Florida state line). When the officer called in a check of the license plate, the vehicle came up as stolen. The driver then scuffled with the officer before he was finally subdued. As Lee took the unknown suspect to jail, the suspect said "I wish you had killed me." At his booking he gave the police the name Ken Misner (and presented stolen identification for Misner), but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement made a positive fingerprint identification early the next day. He was immediately transported to Tallahassee and subsequently charged with the Tallahassee and Lake City murders. He was later taken to Miami to stand trial for the Chi Omega murders.  In the end, the suspect, Theodore Robert Bundy, or Ted Bundy as he was known, confessed to thirty homicides in seven dates between 1974 and 1978, and was executed on January 24th 1989.

 

Donald Henry Gaskins, circa 1970's

Donald Henry Gaskins, circa 1970's

Perhaps the most frightening true story is that of Donald Henry Gaskins.  Gaskins was known as the meanest man alive.  At a year old he was said to have drank a bottle of kerosine, which caused his to have convulsions until the age of three.  Gaskins suffered from night terrors and severe abuse from his family, which shaped the entirety of his life.  Gaskins was in and out of jail throughout his life, developing a mindset that can only be described as pure evil.  Starting in 1970, Gaskins picked up hitchhikers throughout the American South, even passing through our area of the Gulf Coast following I-10.  These hitchhikers were never seen again, an action repeated for over five years.  When Gaskins was finally caught due to a confession of a business associate, he confessed to murdering, and even in some circumstances, cannibalizing the victims.  He confessed to over 100 homicides in this short time period.  In prison, Gaskins committed one last murder, with the victim being a fellow inmate.  Gaskins initially made several unsuccessful attempts to kill Rudolph Tyner by lacing his food and drink with poison before he opted to use explosives to kill him. To accomplish this, Gaskins rigged a device similar to a portable radio in Tyner's death row cell and told Tyner this would allow them to "communicate between cells". When Tyner followed Gaskins' instructions to hold a speaker (laden with C-4 plastic explosive, unbeknown to him) to his ear at an agreed time, Gaskins detonated the explosives from his cell and killed Tyner. Gaskins later said, "The last thing he [Tyner] heard was me laughing." Gaskins was tried for the murder of Rudolph Tyner and sentenced to death. Donald Henry Gaskins, the meanest man alive, was executed at 1:10am on September 6th, 1991, his last words were “I am ready to go.”

Interviews with Gaskin quote him saying that he had "a special mind" that gave him "permission to kill."

John Wilkes Booth and Devil illustration from Life Magazine

John Wilkes Booth and Devil illustration from Life Magazine

Could our interest in horror films and these true crime stories be something more deep rooted, something that lies deep within our own individual psyche?  From the earliest records we know that humans gathered around the fire and exchanged stories.  Humans created monsters like Humbaba from the "Epic of Gilgamesh", or the Golem from early Jewish folklore, the changeling’s of European folklore, and even the father of them all, the devil.  Each monster created can be traced to human actions that are considered violent, murderous or sometimes just misunderstood in the eyes of most human cultures. In the end, these monsters reflect our human condition.  We all grapple with the monster, fighting the ideas, the thoughts, the lies we tell ourselves and the battle to fight against committing actions that separate us from them, with the death being the final act.  Could the phone calls have been coming from inside the house all along?


Halloween, 1950

Halloween, 1950


“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”

-Stephen King


Dock at Brynes Lake, present day

Dock at Brynes Lake, present day

As I sit in my car, which is parked in the small parking lot at the end of a long country road, I stare out at Brynes Lake, watching the water slowly lap on the shore.  Trees rise up out of the water, writhing and winding, spinning up through the foggy mist floating on the shore.  This site of a horror film made almost 30 years ago, is actually one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.  Years ago my friend Aaron and I made the trek to find the site of the ruins of the house the first "Evil Dead" movie was filmed in.  There are a few memories that stay with me about that experience.  One being the "Twilight Zone" like experience of being lost in the Tennessee wilderness and ending up face to face with a trucker whom had no clue how he had gotten there.  The other was how beautiful the site the movie was filmed on was.  Maybe its the magic of a film we love being made there, or the scouting of an obviously good looking site, I honestly don’t know.  What I do know, is that as I sat in my car, looking onto one of the most beautiful sights I have been fortunate enough to see, I can hear my beautiful wife and daughter sleeping right around me, and a smile comes over my face. I began to think about the first time I saw that lake so long ago, on a scratchy VHS tape in St.Paul Minnesota.  

 

At 8 years old I knew I loved horror; the films, stories, imagery, all of it.  I had no real reason why at that age, I just knew I did.  I think horror became a way out of where I was at the time.  As a young kid I had seen and experienced a lot, with a parent suffering through mental illness, my only choice was to grow up quickly and create my own foundation and truth.  There were a lot of painful lonely nights, nights where sleeplessness and confusion were my only companions.  Trying to make sense of the actions, the words, or the complete lack of connection.  Truth and reality were a hard thing for me to find through family, so I worked to create my own, to create my own world.  Horror became my escape. Tragic events come along in life and change us, they leave a mark we will never fully understand, and death is one that creates the deepest scar.  Death leaves us searching for answers to why we won’t get to see those we love again, answers for why people suffer in pain, answers for why these horrific experiences can even happen at all.  Every human life is valuable, deep down we all know this, and that’s why we work so hard to create stories to a least find some sort of meaning to explain the reason this void is created in their absence.  If we can define the source of this pain, the monster, then we create the narrative of the situation, we can control what happens with the rest of the story.  No longer does the pain happen to us, we are no longer caught alone in the woods.  With story telling, the monster’s fate is now in the hands of the story teller.  The story teller can now direct the fate of the reader, and happily ever after can happen.  The monster, the pain, it was all a dream, and the hero made it through the night unscathed.  Unfortunately, this isn’t true in the act of living, and no one will get out unscathed.  Scars will exist, and the monster will never be found, only the destruction left in it’s wake.  Stories are just that, stories.

 

Watching light jumping back and forth on the lake I am reminded of that 8 year old kid, Christmas morning 1990.  The pain, the confusion, the loneliness all comes back to the surface, and for that brief moment I can feel them ripping at me again.  My heart skips a beat, I struggle to catch my breathe,  and I look out onto the water.  In a distance, through my blurred vision,  I can see what looks like a figure, rising out of the water and coming towards me.  The familiar demon I know all too well, making eye contact from a distance.  My heart begins to race, and just when I think I know what’s next, I hear the soft, goofy giggle of my daughter.  I look back at her, in her car seat, as she looks my way, eyes wide open.  A monster voice comes from my mouth, as I grab her feet, and she laughs hysterically.  That laugh pulls me out of the haze I was in, and as I turn to look back at the lake, my wife stretches, waking up, and asks, “Everything ok?”.  I look out onto the water, the fog now receded to reveal a crystal shine on the water, and the looming figure is gone.  The monster has also receded.  “Yeah, yeah, everything is good,”  and for once, it is. 

 

 Perhaps horror reminds us that its up to us whether or not we will let the creature we fear inside of us dictate what we do next.  Stephen King said that “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too.  They live inside us, and sometimes they win.” But sometimes, we win, and for that day, the monster sinks back into the lake.

Present day view of Brynes Lake

Present day view of Brynes Lake


This piece in written in memory of my beloved friend Jason Reeder, whose light shined so bright, it was impossible for him to see the brilliance it cast on the world around him. I am so grateful to have the memories with you that I do, and I will forever miss you.

Jason Bradley Reeder (Oct 20th 1979 - Aug 28th 2014)

Jason Bradley Reeder (Oct 20th 1979 - Aug 28th 2014)




God Don't Ever Change, It Will Be Alright...

Sean Herman

“Whenever I'm asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological. That is a large statement, and it is dangerous to make it, for almost anything you say about Southern belief can be denied in the next breath with equal propriety. But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner, who isn't convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.”  

-Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

John Wayne "Punkin" Brown during a church service

John Wayne "Punkin" Brown during a church service

Story by Sean Herman

Out in the dark

I’m going to let it shine

Oh, out in the dark

I’m going to let it shine

Hallelujah

Out in the dark

I’m going to let it shine

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine


    "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God," words rise from a lone voice, growing from the small country church congregation, lying deep in the heart of the American South.  The voice barely has a discernible echo, floating to the back of the room.  

    "No higher power," is proclaimed loudly by one single voice in front of a hungry crowd of worshipers.  The echo now fills the room. Head down, concentrating intensely, his movements look as though he is storing up a body full of potential energy.

    "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation,” say’s another voice rising eerily out into the room.

    "Whosoever resisteth the power of God," is echoed from the man, now circling, almost nervously, his energy building.

    "Come on, come on. Tell it,” a multitude of voices now filling the room, giving force and vigor to the man now circling the stage.

    "Those who resisteth receive damnation," proclaims the man, now breaking a sweat, as he circles the small stage once more.

    "Amen. Come on,” rises like an on coming wave in the distance from out of the crowd.

    Voices continue. "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same."

    "We're fixing to find out what the power was," loudly proclaims the man on stage, now starting to pour sweat, with the room beginning to fill with the energy he is manifesting with his proclamations and movements.

    Voices continue loudly. "But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil."

Silence.

    

Our stage master stops a movements, looks outward, posing a question to the congregation, 

"A what?"

 "A revenge,” surrounding voices proclaim.

    "A revenger,” as the words leave his lips, it gives signal for the rest of his body to now move, almost like the introduction to a dance with a veiled partner.  One lone guitar riff is strummed quickly and with a punch, echoing with feedback throughout the room.  The sound is like a roar of a distant wave, now approaching ever closer.  

Without warning, a deafening crash echoes throughout the room, halting almost all activity.

Silence that feels like a lifetime ensues.  Our speaker quietly murmurs words, gaining rhythm, growing into the final wave, about to pummel the shore.  With a thunderous crash, he proclaims from a deep, guttural voice, 

”You hear me good—heh. We better be scared of the terror."

    "Bring it on!" cries a lone soul in the crowd, almost challenging him, "Yeah. Come on."

   In one motion the man shoots up into the air, his legs dancing before they hit the ground, proclaiming proudly before them all,

"I'm ready to go," he says. "I ain't afraid to die. Heh. Come on down." 

The man is floating, almost dancing on the energy and air filling the room.

"You gonna be judged for the deed that you've done," he warns to an invisible defendant. "Heh. We need to be ready to go." He runs violently, as if his bones are trying to leave his skin, from one end of the church to the other, until falling to the stage, almost as if his body was broken from the dance. With his head down, he proclaims,  "Bless Your holy name, Jesus. Satan's shedding big ole tears." The flames of the spirit now created grow within the congregation, larger with each howl, each jerked movement.

"Bless you. Come on. Praise the Lord," these words rise in almost one voice in unison from the crowd.

    "He said ask

heh—

and you shall receive," 

says our energized preacher. 

"He said seek and ye shall find." 

 

As sweat pours onto his face,  he continues to proclaim,

 

”You people know I'm going to a better place.”

 "If the Lord didn't visit you, you wouldn't be here.”

 

A rattle can be heard in the distance.  Echoing through the old, dilapidated building.

    "Amen," says the chorus. "Think about it."

    "You can't have Jesus—heh—and hold on to the world." He points to the boxes that the rattle noise is coming from.  "When they go in this box and get bit, they got a good excuse. No matter how much they ridiculed the apostles—heh—they kept right on preaching.”  These words give him confidence, holding his faith steadfast.

His energy now overflowing, fills the crowd, like a high tide consuming the congregation.  As the water like energy hits, the people stand, one by one, arms stretched upward, as if reaching for a saving grace.   As the energy rushes inward once more, they fall back into their chairs, and the man on stage falls to the ground, waiting for the next wave.  He shoots up, and rushes to the now noisy boxes, and sticks his arm right in, as if performing a magic trick.  As his arm comes back out of the box, a large, yellow timber rattle snake, the size of a child, comes with it, coiled around, as if becoming one with the man.  The voices now rise, he has their attention as he holds up his new partner for the next act of the elusive dance they engage in.  At this sign, mothers quickly move their children to the back of the church, and so begins the ritual that brought them there.

Words flowed from his lips, creating a narrative that demonstrated to the masses a belief he wanted to hold so true.  With every step, holding the serpents ever close, he felt his faith must be strong, for now he had meaning.  With every dance he knew his Lord was moving close to him, on his right side, while he held his dance partner, the venomous viper, in his left hand.  Quickly his partner snaps towards his face, just missing his cheek.  Twenty two times he’s received that kiss, and fought off that venom, declaring an absolute faith, a truth stronger to him than the force of a thousand horses running wild.  Over twenty years of this dance has made his faith feel strong, though the cracks worked their way through the walls created, no matter how hard he fought them off.

“If they don’t bite, ain’t no need to be scared,” he screams confidently.   

The dance now intensifies, with the venomous rattler in his left hand, he circles the stage, to the crowd, and back again to the pulpit.  A delicate sway, a quick spin, his eyes upward searching for Zion, intent on fulfillment tonight.  As his gaze soared,  he was suddenly brought down by another quick caress from the serpent, this time making contact.  As he jolted his hand back instinctually, almost effortlessly, he continued his dance, as if it had all been one more move was added to the piece.  Those close to him, standing on stage, knew what happened, and a pensive unease filled the air.  

In confidence he southed their fears stating,

“God don’t ever change, it will be alright.”

As the warm poison coursed through his veins, sweat began to pour from his head. His vision became clouded by the blood he unknowingly wiped into his eyes, blood that poured from his finger, a gift from the enraged viper that had kissed him goodnight.  Out of the crimson clouds arose a vision of beauty, his love, his life he longed to have again, his Melinda.  She moved like smoke around him, embracing him, passing through him.  Memories poured out before his eyes.  An eternity passed in a second, a lifetime of devotion in a quickened exhale.  Lost in her gaze, those eyes, as it was for the first time, looking through him, to who he truly was.  Taken now to their first kiss, a time of embrace, looking at their life ahead as they sit atop a small country bluff.  For a brief moment, he had her again, he was alive.

With an agonizing thrust, he was torn from his beloved,  owed to the excruciating pain of the venom racing through his veins, on it’s way to the final port of call,  his enlarging heart.  Through his now tear stricken eyes, memories continued to move in and out of the foggy haze before him.   He saw the birth of his children, holding them close and feeling their heart beating in time with his own.  They were one again, united flesh and blood, they were complete.  Reaching for one more touch of her pale skin, he was hurled violently again, writhing in agony, as the venom made it’s way closer to the finish.  

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As he fell to ground behind the pulpit, he found himself in a familiar place.  As he looked up he was with her again, where he had been only a few years ago.  He watched as his love danced in front of him, spinning, her hair and dress encircling her, creating a water like motion moving through the sky. She too was kissed, from the bite of a black timber, rattling a deafening beat.  Tears streaming, he reached to embrace her one more time.  To feel their hearts beating in tandem, to feel complete.  The pain of the emptiness left was almost as horrific as the venom now shredding his fragile veins.  For a moment, he was there again, with her, begging her to go with him to the hospital, to save her from the same poison that now flowed through him.  He looked into her ghostly eyes, begging, pleading to rescue her, to think of her children, but she refused.  She danced, faith never wavering, claiming to feel as she had never felt before, she was euphoric, she was doomed.  The serene gaze from her eyes begins to enrage him, causing his heart to pump more quickly, moving the venom ever rapidly to fill his heart.

The battle raged on within, a feeling of abandonment by his love, while left alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating blood that now burned his worn eyes.  Panicked thoughts sped through his mind, just as they painfully had years before.  He held his arm upward, outstretched to grasp her face, and as his fingers grazed her cheek, the ghost evaporated into the air before him, becoming one with the maroon clouds that filled his sight.  

As he hung his lonely head, a phrase echoed.  

 

“Eli eli lama sabachthani… “

 

As the congregation watched, waiting for him to arise from behind the pulpit he had stumbled behind only seconds ago, he sat motionless.  

“Eli eli lama sabachthani…”

“My God…”

“My God…” 

“Why have you forsaken me?”

“Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?”

“O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.”  

The cracks of doubt had worked their way through the great walls created to demonstrate his steadfast love.  The loss of his companion, created a loss of his completion.  Who was he?  Where was his guide and protector?  The vines pushed their way through the cracks in the wall, creating a garden of doubt around him.  As he prayed, his sweat bled down his face, staining his skin in crimson. 

Isolated and alone in his garden, his veins shredded now throughly with the poison from the serpent, he realized his last kiss was from the fork tongued partner he had danced with so many nights before.  Even more of a realization now became all to apparent.  

In agony, and his throat closing up, he uttered his last words.

 

 “No matter what, God’s …still… God.”  

 

With that, his vision blurred to a blinding reflection of what was, as he fell in reverse, descending for what seemed like an eternity.  The roars of the church seemed to move away, like the out going tide.  “Praise His Name” repeated over and over, with each word growing further distant from the last.  The venom now embraced his heart, holding it tightly, constricting as one last beat pushed out of it.  As he fell, his blood pooling in his chest, he felt comfort in the venom’s embrace.  Descending, he felt the arms of his love take hold of him, and that last heart beat from his enlarged heart was in unison with her,  destroying the barrier of time, and finally fading everything away into nothing, for eternity.  

The dance was finished.  From behind the pulpit, the serpent slithered away, with a kiss never fulfilled.

Within five minutes of being bitten, John Wayne “Punkin” Brown had perished.

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;

The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:

Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;

Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:

For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.


—William Shakespeare



John Wayne "Punkin" Brown, pictured above, died on Oct. 3rd, 1998

John Wayne "Punkin" Brown, pictured above, died on Oct. 3rd, 1998

John Wayne “Punkin” Brown died in Macedonia, Alabama October 3rd 1998.  The official amended autopsy report signed by Pustilnik on October 5, 1998, reads as follows: 


"Decedent John Wayne Brown, age 34, race W, sex M, length 69 in., weight 223 lbs. 

Autopsy Findings: 

    1    Puncture wounds on left third finger with soft tissue hematoma of the left third finger. 

    2    Visceral congestion. 

    3    Cardiomegaly (500 grams). 

    4    . Bilateral pulmonary consolidation. 

    5    . Cerebral edema, mild (1450 grams). 


Cause of Death: Snake bite to hand. 

Contributory Cause: Hypertensive cardiovascular disease. 

Manner of Death: Accident."


    The report concludes,

"The postmortem examination demonstrated apparent puncture wounds on the left third finger associated with soft tissue hematoma of the left third finger. An abrasion on the dorsum of the left hand was suspicious for a bite mark without evidence of puncture wounds in that area. Also identified was cardiomegaly with mild atherosclerosis. Also identified was bilateral pulmonary consolidation and mild cerebral edema. Visceral congestion was also seen. Toxicology demonstrates no arsenic, strychnine, lead or mercury.”


Melinda Brown, pictured here with her daughter, passed away on Aug. 6th, 1995

Melinda Brown, pictured here with her daughter, passed away on Aug. 6th, 1995

On August 6th, 1995 Punkin’s bride, Melinda Brown was bitten by a black timber rattler during a church service, resulting in her passing.  Melinda was only 28 years old, and the mother of five children at her death. To this day, Melinda and Punkin's son is deathly afraid of snakes, craving a safety he may never have, from two star crossed parents who fell in love with the dance of the serpent.

Exorcism in Memphis...

Sean Herman

“Whenever I'm asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological. That is a large statement, and it is dangerous to make it, for almost anything you say about Southern belief can be denied in the next breath with equal propriety. But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner, who isn't convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.”  

-Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose


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by Sean Herman

As I sat and watched in horror, I could hear nothing but the consistent thud and crunch on the concrete as the man smashed his head, repeating “But what now?” over and over again, yelling in a distorted voice that sounds like, not just one, but a group of people.  His forehead was now gathering blood, dripping down to collect in his eye socket, the scrawled homemade tattoos that covered his body now exposed, he appeared more undead than alive. My eyes cut to the stranger, whose unfamiliar eyes are cutting through the man on the ground, repeating louder and louder, “In the name of Jesus, get out…”  The phrase was shouted over and over, with the thud on the concrete growing louder and harsher, intensity reaching a boiling point.

“In the name of Jesus, get out…”

“In the name of Jesus, get out…”

“In the name of Jesus, get out…”

 

Until the thuds stopped. There was silence.


 

Exorcism in the American South

Exorcisms in the American South are far more common than you would think.  In Alabama alone, you can find an Exorcism Healing Deliverance School, along with plenty of people on call to perform the rituals for you, like Reverend Mark Renfoe, or Reverend Bill French.  

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Reverend Bill French was a pastor in Irondale, Alabama, who started Advocate Ministries in 1974.  He was an evangelical exorcist and claimed to cast hundreds of demons out of people.  French’s methods were less akin to the film “The Exorcist”, and more a laying of hands and authoritative prayer, the more evangelical southern way.  Though French did once say, “I've seen everything that was in the movie 'The Exorcist' except somebody's head turning all the way around."  His son, the Rev. Michael French, said. "He dealt with people most folks wouldn't want to stop and talk to.”  Those typically consisted of people with multiple personalities, some manifesting as growling voiced demons, sometimes becoming violent. His son recounts one situation:

"He was praying with a lady coming out of witchcraft. They were sitting in folding chairs. She was about 5'2", 120 pounds. He was six feet tall, 220 pounds. She flicked her foot and kicked him 10 feet into the wall."

French was performing exorcisms during the heyday of “Satanic Panic”.  In 1985 an ABC-TV "20/20" show about satanism set off waves of panic and media attention that culminated in Geraldo Rivera's "Devil Worship" special in 1988. Other "Geraldo" segments in 1988, 1989 and 1991 followed up. Sally Jesse Raphael did episodes on "Baby Breeders" in 1989 and "Devil Babies" in 1991. Oprah Winfrey did programs on the subject in 1986, 1988 and 1989. Canadian psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder wrote a book in 1980 about women bearing children for satanic sacrifice, called Michelle Remembers, the first satanic cult survivor story. Maclean's Magazine in Canada did an expose on Michelle Remembers, interviewing relatives who lived with Michelle Smith during the period she described but that were never mentioned in the story.

"I believe there are frauds, but they've reached some wrong conclusions," French said at the time. "There are frauds here and there. That doesn't take away from the real incidents that are taking place all over this country."

 


“All possessions were sacred dramas. They were performances. The demoniacs and the exorcists, who were trying to drive out the devils, were following scripts that were encoded in their religious cultures. And these scripts were widely known, you have some of them in the Bible, but you also have all these accounts of other possessions that people read at this time. And once it was suggested that someone might be demonically possessed, you know they had fits or something like that, they would follow that script. […] Certainly the anxiety was real, and they are responding to it.”

Brian Levack, The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West

 


You Would Be a Great Evangelist

As a transplant to the South, I didn’t grow up with a religious background.  We weren’t the family going to church,  it wasn’t part of any upbringing I had experienced.  Once I moved to Alabama, I was met with constant questions about my “relationship” with Jesus.  I was befuddled and confused, and for a long time.  I just smiled awkwardly and went on my way.  Eventually I became involved with a church through skateboarding with a close friend of mine.  They began to encourage my ability for public speaking and my interest in research.  “You’d be a great evangelist,” I would hear, which led me to believe that this was the road I wanted to be going down.  I always struggled with the idea of a connection with the God that I read about, but I loved the idea of positive public speaking, and working to help a community.  In high school I started working for a local church and eventually moved to Memphis, Tennessee to do mission work with inner city missions.  

Myself, Melinda, Rashaun in Memphis, TN 2000

Myself, Melinda, Rashaun in Memphis, TN 2000

We would walk through the neighborhoods that typically you were warned about, going door to door, and letting people know that we were with “such and such” church and that we were doing summer programs for their kids.  Most families viewed it as free babysitting, which was fine with me.  I was glad it was a guaranteed meal for these kids, as I was all too familiar with ignoring stomach pains by going to sleep.  I found myself now being a confused teenager, trying to constantly work to prove my faith to myself, constantly searching for concrete answers to questions that I grappled with.  I would read in the Bible that to be closest to God you would need to serve others.  Easy enough, so on my off days I would go downtown and overzealously “spread the gospel” to the men and women that called the parks and benches home.  One by one, I would approach groups of people, and come face to face with them about their religious beliefs.  In my ignorant zeal, I thought this was helping people get closer to “God” and closer for myself to finally find some answer about my relationship with the divine, and my lack of feeling connected to it.  This was where I found myself one July morning, on a gazebo in rundown park in Memphis.  

The man had been sitting, knees bent up, head tucked down, when I walked up to the concrete gazebo.  I started with some ambiguous greeting, followed by silence on his part.  He was quietly mumbling to himself, repeating the same phrases at different varying speeds, all while never looking up.  I tried to make small talk, to no avail, and began with the gospel push, thinking that would crack his shell.  No real exchange was happening, me jabbering on and him uttering under his breath.  When he finally looked up, it was more out of nowhere than any response to my words.  His hair was matted, with tones of grey, and wiry like a horse’s mane.  His mouth gaped open, exposing teeth just filling in random spots.  His skin was poked and marred with the scars of time, and his eyes were empty.  He looked at me, more through me, the whites of his eyes greyed over, never blinking, as if I wasn’t there.  Real life hit me for an instant, and then I heard the brakes of a bike squeak next to me.  

A clean cut man, probably in his late 30’s, dressed what would be considered somewhat young and hip, was parking his bike.  He had a Bible in his hand (one of the “modern” translations that were covered in neon and probably said “rad” somewhere on it).  We exchanged a few words, realizing we were there for somewhat the same reasons.  He attempted to get a response from the man in front of us, but there was none.  The man continued to stare through us, mumbling under his breath.  After some time of engaging in more of a monologue than a conversation, he began to look towards us and finally said the first words meant for our ears, “your god sounds wonderful, but he is not here”.  These ominous words completely went over my head, thinking he was referring to the fact we weren’t in a church.  He then looked up at us, and said, “That is all well and good”, referring to the message being preached to him by the two of us, continuing, “but these, what will your god do about these?”  He ripped his tattered shirt open and exposed a body covered in homemade tattoos, all consisting of scrawled words, covering his entire front torso and spots on his arms.  It was obvious he was the one who had done these to himself, with some being upside down, and only in places he could reach.  The tattoos were just words, all words that he then claimed were “the devil’s names, his names are on me…they are me”.

I had gotten myself into a situation that was escalating in uncertainty, and I had no clue what my next move would be.  I found myself dumbfounded and silent, lost in an empty gaze with a man that stared through me, one that wasn’t operating on the same plane as myself. I was in a dangerous situation, and out of the mouth of the bicycle preacher I heard, “He’s possessed, we are going to have to drive that demon out.”  WHAT?!?  Drive that demon out?  That wasn’t part of the program that I knew, that wasn’t in my Christian vocabulary.  We would discuss the theological theories on possession, but that wasn’t something that was a reality.  The words came out of his mouth as simply as if he were to say, “Looks like we are going to have to get you a new pair of shoes.”  I was now face to face with a world I had no comprehension of, and no idea of what perils it could cause.  

 


You Have to Be Strong

In 1998 the Open Door Church outside of Birmingham, Alabama was destroyed by a tornado.  Members proclaimed a miracle on sight, saying they were saved by angels holding up parts of the crumbling building.  The Rev. Rick Cooper is the pastor of the church, and often speaks on demon possession.  

"I believe there is mental illness," Cooper said. "The brain is an organ like any organ. Also I have met people where there was definitely a force behind the things they did. If Jesus believed in it, we need to believe in it. There is a spiritual warfare going on. There are demons and entities that stand against us."

Cooper continues saying, ”In some cases it is; in some cases it's a presence of evil," Cooper said. "It takes a very special person to deal with such hard mental and spiritual problems. You have to be strong."



I Want To Be Free...

We began praying, with the bike man claiming to have identified the name of the demon, stating it by name, and telling it to be gone. I found myself, confused, befuddled, and in over my head.  I went along with what he said, and began saying the same words, feeling like it was the only possible action to take.  We put our hands on the man’s shoulders, and told this demon to leave him.  I could feel the dirt and insect life that resided on the man as my hand touched his bare shoulder, scarred with home made tattoos.  With every prayer and chant he seemed to almost be coming out of a haze.  He said, “I wish…I want to be free…I want…”  and with that he threw himself back and then forward,  slamming his head hard into the concrete.  Crying out, he continued to beat his skull, over and over, almost as if not under his own control.  

Like a horrid beating drum, he hit his head into the ground. He screamed “No!”, in a voice that sounded like a group of distorted voices, all escaping his throat at the same time.  This sound followed every wail, like an abusive fight inside of him.  He would gaze upward, greyed eyes staring up into a bare sky, his body trembling, and now blood began to trickle from the wound he was creating on his forehead.  Almost like music to the same beat, he would look up, cry out, convulse, and slam his damaged head into the ground.  With every beat, we increased our phrasing intensity, never ceasing, continuing over and over, “In the name of Jesus, demon be gone…”.  Over and over this continued, intensity increasing, his cries growing thunderous, the distorted voices growing louder, taking over all sound that broke free of his withering body.  My pounding heart was growing louder and louder in my ears, almost to the same beat as the abusive thud of his head meeting the concrete.  

Then, it stopped.  

Silence.  


 

Those Were Lost in the Battle

The cover of the infamous film "The Exorcist"

The cover of the infamous film "The Exorcist"

Exorcism has caused a number of real-world tragedies over the years, including several ending in death.

Pentecostal ministers in San Francisco pummeled a woman to death in 1995, as they tried to drive out her demons.

In 1997, a Wisconsin woman successfully sued her psychiatrist after he diagnosed her as diabolically possessed, and having 126 personalities, including the bride of Satan and a duck.  She later claimed that the experience left her suicidal.(1)

In 2015 in Russelville, Alabama, four people were arrested after what Sheriff Shannon Oliver called “an exorcism gone bad”.  When deputies arrived, they found the front door wide open, with a Bible lying on the front porch and saw a brawl inside. There they learned about the dispute when George and Wahl accused their mother, Diana Brewer of being Satan.  Officials said that the daughters held a mirror in front of Brewer and told her to look in and see that she was Satan, and that they were going to perform an exorcism to drive Satan out. (2)  

 

Anneliese Michel prior to her "possession"

Anneliese Michel prior to her "possession"

One famous example of an exorcism case is that of Anneliese Michel, which the films “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”, “Requiem”, and “Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes” were based on.  Anneliese Michel was born in Germany on September 21st, 1952.  By the young age of sixteen, Anneliese Michel already had a history of epilepsy and mental illness, resulting in treatment at a psychiatric hospital.  Anneliese became suicidal in 1973, but what followed was far more than what her family was used to seeing from her.  Anneliese began to hear voices, followed by drinking her own urine, and having severe contempt for religious artifacts. (3) When medicine could not change the situation, young Anneliese is said to have begged her family to bring in a priest, for she believed she was possessed by demons. Young Anneliese was a devout Catholic, coming from a family that was somewhat extreme in their Catholic faith.  It was here that things took a tragic turn.  Though the exorcism was rejected by the church, two local priests, Father Arnold Renz and Pastor Ernst Alt, began treating her with exorcism rites in secret.  At the same time, her parents ceased all treatment of her epilepsy and mental disorders.  Annelise said that Judas, Nero, Hitler, Cain, Lucifer and others were inside of her.   She fought this “battle” with demons for eight tragic years, during which they performed 67 exorcisms, all reportedly condoned by Annelise.  After suffering from severe malnutrition and dehydration, she finally passed away on July 1st, 1976. (4)


 

Silence...

There was nothing but quiet, as the man’s body slumped over onto the ground, arms out stretched, bits of blood around his head.  As we sat for a moment, I was overcome with panic and thought to myself, “He’s dead, we have driven this man to his death.”  Then, out of nowhere, he slowly looked up at me, now eagerly making eye contact with me.  I looked in disbelief and noticed that the grey in his eyes had turned white, they were now clear, crisp even.  His mouth opened and quietly, in a clear single voice, one I had yet to hear come out of him, he said, “Thank You.”  He got up, his actions now smooth, not jerky and weak like before.  This was not the same man, everything was different.  He spoke clearly, made eye contact, moved with assurance.  Was this all an act, what just happened?  

The bike exorcist told the man and myself that he worked at a Christian camp, and that the man could have a job if he wanted to come with him right now.  With that, they walked off into the distance.  Just as quickly as I met these people, they were gone, forever.  I stood dumbfounded for a moment.  What happened?  Was this “the power of God” exercised in human form I had studied about?  If this was true, if I had been in the presence of divine, where was the connection I had read about, the assurance?  I now felt even further away from the answers I was searching for before, lost in a world that was now even more unreal to me.  I thought to myself, “I just wanted to help…”


I Just Wanted to Help

When speaking about his father, Michael French said, "There was something that stirred in him, caring and loving people.  That gave him the strength for the deliverance ministry that he did. One of the things I learned from him was it's more important to help other people reach their destiny than your own. He always saw what people could be."

French wrote a book to explain what he did. "He wanted to say, 'This is why it's real. This is why not to be afraid,'" Michael said. "There are imbalances in the brain. Everything is not a demon. But there can be combinations. Some people are sick. Some things are demonic. He believed in psychiatry and psychology too. He helped a lot of people. It was a joint effort between the medical and spiritual community."

At the time of her passing, Annelise Michel was starved, bruised, disfigured and deranged. She had completely quit eating shortly before, thinking it would lessen the demons’ grip on her.  Later, her death was labeled as negligent homicide, with access to the horrific recordings of forty-two of the exorcisms being given at the trial. The jury was forced to see the effects of the “battle” that lasted six years.  Was Annelise suffering from a possession all that time, or did her epilepsy lead to symptoms of schizophrenia, along with an already diagnosed dissociative disorder? In the end, was she just sick, or was it a combination of the two “demons” haunting young Annelise? In 2013, a fire broke out in the house where she lived and although the local police said it was a case of arson, some people attributed it to this case.


So I found myself alone, sitting in a park in Memphis, being beaten by the late morning July sun.  I ran over all that had just happened, trying to make sense of something that seemed unreal.  A suffering man was now supposed to be free, but at what expense? Were we to blame for contributing to a mental breakdown, creating a demon that will forever haunt him?  Or was this man now free of the demons that haunted and tormented him for so long?  I look down at the red blotches on my hands as I touched the pavement and realized that in the throws of the exorcism, while the suffering man was uncontrollably beating his head on the concrete, bits of his blood must have landed on me.  

I sat, lost in a daze, staring at my now blood stained hands, and find myself left with no explanation. 


 

  1. 1. http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=92541&page=1
  2. 2. http://www.theknightshift.com/2012/02/four-arrested-following-botched.html
  3. 3. http://www.spiritscienceandmetaphysics.com/6-fascinating-real-life-exorcism-demonic-possession-cases/#sthash.f2GTLQBr.dpuf
  4. 4. http://www.historicmysteries.com/the-disturbing-exorcisms-and-death-of-anneliese-michel/