Meet you at the cemetery gates!

I keep on my desk a small phial (yes, a phial!) of cemetery earth. I do this for two reasons: 1) it reminds me of my roots as a New England swamp Yankee and the happy times I spent kicking around the region’s many graveyards, burial grounds, and bone orchards and 2.) I’m not right. I mention it today, however for entirely different reasons. This is the last time we will speak, you and I, before October starts on Monday. October 1st is, as any major dude with half a heart will surely tell you my friend, the official start of the Halloween season. Some of us ghouls have started decorating already — hell, for most of us freaks, it’s never not Halloween — but Monday marks the start of that period of grace in which lovers of All Hallow’s Eve no longer have to brook the condescension of the normals and their infernal “Little early for Halloween, isn’t it?” Starting Monday, the answer to that nettlesome question is a resounding “No, jackass… it is not.” And in preparation for that clock stroke, I have my mind firmly planted in God’s acre.

The other day, Morlock Greg wrote about the delicious atmosphere of good horror movies. He was speaking generally, of course, of a sustained mood and feeling but I’d like to narrow the focus of that thought today to graveyards, exclusively. Talk about atmosphere! I’m a little morbid, I guess, but I’ve always been drawn to rolling country cemeteries and mossy kirkyards, to that shuddery juxtaposition of the natural and the man-made, to the setting of cold slabs of limestone, sandstone, granite, and marble against a backdrop of green grass, old growth trees, and big sky. These are, by and large, thoughtful, quiet places. Some might say lonely, and I guess I’m okay with that. I was a lonely kid, an imaginative kid, a morbid kid, and whenever a graveyard popped up in a horror movie I felt at home. In my happy place. My safe place. The graveyard is a key component of the horror genre and of the horror film. When horror movies were being born in Hollywood in 1931 with the two-shot of Tod Browning’s DRACULA and James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN, the boneyard got prominent placement.

The more messed up the graveyard, the better I like it. I don’t mean vandalized, I just mean to say that cemeteries are at their best when time and the elements have had their way with them and threaten to snatch the real estate away from modernity and rationality and order. And, really, look how simple it is, as demonstrated in this set-up from THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942). All you need is some ground fog, a few Celtic crosses and headstones jutting up out of the peat like snaggleteeth, add a couple of gnarly trees and it’s better than Disneyland. Seriously, if there were a theme park called Cemeteryland, I would go there. I would take my wife and kids. We would stay and eat lunch. We would all hit the gift shop.

I realize that I run the risk of seeming disrespectful. I don’t mean to be, but I certainly do understand that there are people who look at a burial ground and not see the Gothic possibilities and who might take exception to my fetishistic ravings. I don’t take death lightly. I have lost people close to me, old and young, from natural causes, sickness, accidents, murder, and even international terrorism. And yet… and yet… I forget all that when I go to the graveyard, in real life or in the movies. I put the horrific, or at least terribly sad, realities of life to one side and I find peace in the tranquility and queer symmetry. When a horror film sets a quiet scene in a graveyard, as in the grave rubbing business at the top of John D. Hancock’s LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971) or a bit of after school bike riding in Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s AFTER.LIFE (2009), I can appreciate, vicariously, the solitude… but when things get freaky, when vampires burst from their coffins and zombies tear their way up from their not-so-final resting places, well, I go for that, too. There are so many brilliant cemetery scenes in fright flicks: Ernest Thesiger’s lunch spot in James Whale’s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), the terror of a young woman locked inside a cemetery after dark in Val Lewton’s THE LEOPARD MAN (1943), the fiery comeuppance of the witches in the Whitewood Cemetery in John Llewellyn Moxey’s CITY OF THE DEAD (US: HORROR HOTEL, 1960), Clifford Evans’ odd yet oddly touching tribute to his dead daughter in Don Sharp’s KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1963), the nightmarish rise of the undead in John Gilling’s PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1965), the eruption through the snow of the aristocratic revenants in Roman Polanski’s THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS (1967), and the beginning of the end at the beginning of George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). For the horror hound, these are primal scenes.

In Jorge Grau’s Spanish (and entirely unauthorized) remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, titled NO PROFANAR EL SUENO DE LOS MUERTOS (aka THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE, aka LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE, aka DON’T OPEN THE WINDOW, 1974), there is an extended horror setpiece set in and around a beautiful and historic churchyard in Derbyshire, England. In many horror movies, the story progresses in and out of the cemetery far too quickly, mostly because cemetery sets are more decorous than practical. Working with the real thing, Grau lingers at the location for at least a full reel, as the hero and heroine try to track down the source of a string of strange attacks by whey-faced individuals and are repaid by their curiosity by a full-scale zombie revival. It gets graphic but before it does Grau allows his audience to indulge in a sense of wonder, to savor the lush and (at least to modern eyes) ancient surroundings, to feel the full complement of emotions, from awe and fascination to full-on terror and a gnawing (yeah, I went there) sense of futility. It’s pretty powerhouse. It doesn’t take much to lug camera equipment and actors to a cemetery but a real artist can create whole worlds within their wrought iron gates.

I don’t think any horror film director, worldwide, loved cemeteries more than Jean Rollin (who went to one of the best — Le Pere Lachaise in Paris — following his death in December 2010). From his first film, LE VIOL DU VAMPIRE (aka THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE, 1968) through his dozen or so personal projects (okay, he did a lot of porn on the side when the horror market bottomed out), Rollin took regular breaks from his trippy, dreamlike narratives to get in a little graveyard time. In fact, he set the whole of one of his films, LA ROSE DE FER (aka THE IRON ROSE, 1973) inside a cemetery in Amiens, France, where he was allowed to shoot from dusk until sunup. Never one to clutter his films with labyrinthine plotting, Rollin instead constructs via LA ROSE DE FER a meditation on that component of romantic love that can imagine no life beyond the plummy parameters of courtship and coitus and so courts death as (to borrow a phrase from William Shakespeare) a consummation devoutly to be wish’d. Not for nothing did the French nickname the orgasm le petit mort… the little death.

However I dread the thought of any harm befalling my loved ones, I have for myself no fear of death. I’ll side with Julius Caesar on this one: “It seems to me most strange that men should fear; Seeing that death, a necessary end, Will come when it will come.” Being an atheist, I have no concerns about the afterlife, about judgment, about meeting the requirements for getting into Heaven. I don’t care where I go when I die and a pine box in a country graveyard seems to me a most excellent reward for a life well-lived. With that inevitability looming in the distance, I’ve got a relaxed attitude about my own mortality. As I inch closer to la grande mort, I will continue to enjoy graveyards in their actuality (time and weather permitting) and in their fictive uses, as ground zero for the realization of our worst nightmares. And when I’m dead and buried, I hope you will come and visit me. I won’t bite, promise. Light candles, bring bread and cheese, play some good music. I’ll be grateful for the company. Hell, I’ll even provide the bier.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h03QBNVwX8Q&w=420&h=315]

Special thanks: Jonathan Rigby.

0 Response Meet you at the cemetery gates!
Posted By attic : September 28, 2012 3:39 am

Would you like someone hangin’ around your grave one day??, heheheheh :)

Posted By attic : September 28, 2012 3:39 am

Would you like someone hangin’ around your grave one day??, heheheheh :)

Posted By Bunny Moreno : September 28, 2012 9:24 am

Fantastic post! I, too find peace in a graveyard. Its both beautiful and morbid and a reminder that life is precious and short. I esp like going to ones that have been ignored or neglected and say a prayer to those who have long been forgotten. They really are beautiful places. Great selection of films-must find them somewhere LOL Great post and Happy Halloween!!! xox

Posted By Bunny Moreno : September 28, 2012 9:24 am

Fantastic post! I, too find peace in a graveyard. Its both beautiful and morbid and a reminder that life is precious and short. I esp like going to ones that have been ignored or neglected and say a prayer to those who have long been forgotten. They really are beautiful places. Great selection of films-must find them somewhere LOL Great post and Happy Halloween!!! xox

Posted By swac44 : September 28, 2012 10:12 am

Funny, on Monday I was wishing I had more time to spend in Brooklyn as I was on a subway train speeding past its massive Green-Wood Cemetery, en route to my first visit to Coney Island. I love wandering through historic cemeteries and wondering whose plot I might come across (in the case of Green-Wood, perhaps Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed or Horace Greeley). They even give guided tours there.

Famous cemeteries I have managed to visit include Glasgow’s picturesque Necropolis, high up on a hill overlooking the city, and Havana’s massive Christopher Columbus (Colon) Cemetery (which also offers an informative tour, in English), with many ornate monuments to Cuban notables, from poets to politicians, and members of the Buena Vista Social Club. I haven’t made many purposeful pilgrimages to famous gravesites, I only tend to visit these places when I’m in the neighbourhood, although I did make a point of visiting the grave of Louise Brooks when in Rochester. Some respects just have to be paid.

Posted By swac44 : September 28, 2012 10:12 am

Funny, on Monday I was wishing I had more time to spend in Brooklyn as I was on a subway train speeding past its massive Green-Wood Cemetery, en route to my first visit to Coney Island. I love wandering through historic cemeteries and wondering whose plot I might come across (in the case of Green-Wood, perhaps Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed or Horace Greeley). They even give guided tours there.

Famous cemeteries I have managed to visit include Glasgow’s picturesque Necropolis, high up on a hill overlooking the city, and Havana’s massive Christopher Columbus (Colon) Cemetery (which also offers an informative tour, in English), with many ornate monuments to Cuban notables, from poets to politicians, and members of the Buena Vista Social Club. I haven’t made many purposeful pilgrimages to famous gravesites, I only tend to visit these places when I’m in the neighbourhood, although I did make a point of visiting the grave of Louise Brooks when in Rochester. Some respects just have to be paid.

Posted By Doug : September 28, 2012 11:02 am

I witnessed something the other day which reminded me that death, the dead, can disturb.
There’s a skeleton in the physical therapy department of our local hospital,usually hanging from a hook,but it was missing when I went to exercise.
A gaggle of nursing aide students came in, one carrying the skeleton which she set back on its hook-as she turned to face the other students,she shuddered a few times, as if to say, “I did it, I carried that thing, but it freaked me out.”
She was in such a hurry to go that the poor boy’s head was swiveled around over his right shoulder-I set it right when I left.
I appreciate that quote from “Julius Caesar”-I imagine that the theater crowds leaving the first performance of “Hamlet” had much in common with the moviegoers of 1973 who had just seen “The Exorcist”.

Posted By Doug : September 28, 2012 11:02 am

I witnessed something the other day which reminded me that death, the dead, can disturb.
There’s a skeleton in the physical therapy department of our local hospital,usually hanging from a hook,but it was missing when I went to exercise.
A gaggle of nursing aide students came in, one carrying the skeleton which she set back on its hook-as she turned to face the other students,she shuddered a few times, as if to say, “I did it, I carried that thing, but it freaked me out.”
She was in such a hurry to go that the poor boy’s head was swiveled around over his right shoulder-I set it right when I left.
I appreciate that quote from “Julius Caesar”-I imagine that the theater crowds leaving the first performance of “Hamlet” had much in common with the moviegoers of 1973 who had just seen “The Exorcist”.

Posted By James : September 28, 2012 1:44 pm

It’s not a great horror movie, but One Dark Night (1983) is actually set inside a mausoleum, and does evoke some nice, spooky atmosphere. Unfortunately, it’s equally hampered by low-budget special effects in the final scenes. But that spooky feeling makes it worth seeing once.

Posted By James : September 28, 2012 1:44 pm

It’s not a great horror movie, but One Dark Night (1983) is actually set inside a mausoleum, and does evoke some nice, spooky atmosphere. Unfortunately, it’s equally hampered by low-budget special effects in the final scenes. But that spooky feeling makes it worth seeing once.

Posted By Dave Murphy : September 28, 2012 3:29 pm

Every year around Halloween, the local historical society does a “spirit tour” of the local graveyard. Actors stand at different tombstones and tell that person’s story in first person and period costume.

Posted By Dave Murphy : September 28, 2012 3:29 pm

Every year around Halloween, the local historical society does a “spirit tour” of the local graveyard. Actors stand at different tombstones and tell that person’s story in first person and period costume.

Posted By Winston : September 28, 2012 6:39 pm

I like the cemetery in the film, “Fiddler on the Roof (1971)”… Tevye’s illustrated dream he tells to Golde. From the first frame until after Fruma Sarah rises from her grave, it was richly rewarding to me, I was on the edge of my theatre seat, another lover of cemeteries. A great movie set!

Posted By Winston : September 28, 2012 6:39 pm

I like the cemetery in the film, “Fiddler on the Roof (1971)”… Tevye’s illustrated dream he tells to Golde. From the first frame until after Fruma Sarah rises from her grave, it was richly rewarding to me, I was on the edge of my theatre seat, another lover of cemeteries. A great movie set!

Posted By Dane : September 28, 2012 10:43 pm

“Seriously, if there were a theme park called Cemeteryland, I would go there. I would take my wife and kids. We would stay and eat lunch. We would all hit the gift shop.”

I’m in!

Lately I’ve been wondering what it is about Halloween that’s starting to feel stale, and thinking back to what I loved about it as a kid. And this week both you and Greg pinned it down just as I was figuring it out too.

The atmosphere! The feeling that anything at all could happen to you out in that cool dark October night, the mystery of what was out there. The cemeteries in black and white movies, with all the fog; the abandoned buildings so spooky they almost tip over into caricature.

I am trying to find movies, literature, art, etc. that works for me on that level this year and to ignore the rest. “Carnival of Souls,” which Greg mentioned in his article (and you and I discussed briefly elsewhere) and “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death,” which you mentioned, are among my favorites.

Posted By Dane : September 28, 2012 10:43 pm

“Seriously, if there were a theme park called Cemeteryland, I would go there. I would take my wife and kids. We would stay and eat lunch. We would all hit the gift shop.”

I’m in!

Lately I’ve been wondering what it is about Halloween that’s starting to feel stale, and thinking back to what I loved about it as a kid. And this week both you and Greg pinned it down just as I was figuring it out too.

The atmosphere! The feeling that anything at all could happen to you out in that cool dark October night, the mystery of what was out there. The cemeteries in black and white movies, with all the fog; the abandoned buildings so spooky they almost tip over into caricature.

I am trying to find movies, literature, art, etc. that works for me on that level this year and to ignore the rest. “Carnival of Souls,” which Greg mentioned in his article (and you and I discussed briefly elsewhere) and “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death,” which you mentioned, are among my favorites.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : September 29, 2012 2:16 am

Dane, you seem to do it right every year, by actually getting out into the graveyards and finding the strange beauty there. I live vicariously through your trips and what you find and share. Too many people think Halloween is sitting around and watching movies but there’s so many other ways you can augment your Halloween season. Music, poetry, art, literature, pulp fiction… it’s all good for you and great for Halloween. Why, I have a volume of Arthur Machen’s The White People and Other Weird Stories right here at my elbow. Not so very far from my phial of cemetery earth. And my water. And a bunch of broken toys my kids expect me to fix. And the change purse with my laundry quarters.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : September 29, 2012 2:16 am

Dane, you seem to do it right every year, by actually getting out into the graveyards and finding the strange beauty there. I live vicariously through your trips and what you find and share. Too many people think Halloween is sitting around and watching movies but there’s so many other ways you can augment your Halloween season. Music, poetry, art, literature, pulp fiction… it’s all good for you and great for Halloween. Why, I have a volume of Arthur Machen’s The White People and Other Weird Stories right here at my elbow. Not so very far from my phial of cemetery earth. And my water. And a bunch of broken toys my kids expect me to fix. And the change purse with my laundry quarters.

Posted By DevlinCarnate : September 29, 2012 7:58 pm

Horror Hotel aka City of the Dead has the best and most iconic graveyard scene in cinema history…and is also the foggiest movie ever made,it surpasses The Fog in that particular sub-genre…i suggest the remastered version released a few years ago,with Christopher Lee in a major role,and not a Hammer film..a real Halloween treat

Posted By DevlinCarnate : September 29, 2012 7:58 pm

Horror Hotel aka City of the Dead has the best and most iconic graveyard scene in cinema history…and is also the foggiest movie ever made,it surpasses The Fog in that particular sub-genre…i suggest the remastered version released a few years ago,with Christopher Lee in a major role,and not a Hammer film..a real Halloween treat

Posted By D.B. McWeeberton : October 2, 2012 2:55 pm

My favorite Hallowe’en celebration ever was spent with my wife in Paris, during our honeymoon. We actually celebrated it on Sunday the 30th, since most shops were closed that day, and we wanted to plan accordingly (no DVD shopping for me!). We went down into the Paris Catacombs amongst the millions(!) of skeletal remains, then toured the Montparnasse Cemetary, and that night we went to see The Corpse Bride, which had just been released (with French subtitles). It was a delightfully ghoulish day!

Posted By D.B. McWeeberton : October 2, 2012 2:55 pm

My favorite Hallowe’en celebration ever was spent with my wife in Paris, during our honeymoon. We actually celebrated it on Sunday the 30th, since most shops were closed that day, and we wanted to plan accordingly (no DVD shopping for me!). We went down into the Paris Catacombs amongst the millions(!) of skeletal remains, then toured the Montparnasse Cemetary, and that night we went to see The Corpse Bride, which had just been released (with French subtitles). It was a delightfully ghoulish day!

Posted By Dave Murphy : October 9, 2012 3:17 pm
Posted By Dave Murphy : October 9, 2012 3:17 pm

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