Malicious Myths: The Penanggalan

Penanggalanpic1Brace yourself, because this might be one of the most stomach churning segments of Malicious Myths we’ve ever done (quite literally). The Pennanggalan, also known as Hantu Penanggal, is a variation of the vampire myth that originates from Malaysia and is connected to a wider constellation of Southeast Asian horrors, from the Manananggal of Filipino folklore and the Leyak of Bali to the Krasue of Thailand and the Cambodian Ap.

So, if you’re planning on backpacking in Southeast Asia, make sure to double-check that your travel insurance covers “supernatural encounters”. “Penanggal” or “Penanggalan” in Malay literally means “to detach” or “to remove” and can be perhaps explained by the Penanggalan’s nasty habit of launching its head off of its body.

Unlike other vampiric creatures, Penanggalan are exclusively female and are able to masquerade as normal human beings during the daytime, transforming into their hideous counterparts only at night. They tend to prey upon pregnant women and new-born babies, which is why they often opt for professions as midwives. After all, sucking the blood out of helpless victims might sate your hunger, but it won’t pay the bills. By day, the Penanggalan largely goes about its business and cannot be distinguished from a normal woman.

At night, however, it twists its head off of its body and flies out into the night in search of blood. Like some awful harbinger of birth, the Penanggalan perches on the roofs of houses where women are in labour and lies in wait. As the woman gives birth, the Penanggalan will wriggle its invisible tongue into the house and begin draining the blood of the new mother. In some instances, it may even eat the placenta, drain the blood of the new-born, and feast on the flesh of its victims as well.

While the Penanggalan rarely drains its victims entirely, those who have been fed on by the Penanggalan will contract a wasting disease that is almost inescapably fatal. As if squeezing another human being out of your body wasn’t bad enough, now you have to contend with a blood-sucking pile of organs hanging outside your window. To add insult to injury, even if you escape the Penanggalan’s invisible tongue, you will still develop incurable open sores if you happen to be unlucky enough to be brushed by its hanging entrails.

d47f55dd94807ff8e691cf9ad8cdc603According to most folk legends, the Penanggalan flies through the air in search of food, although alternative accounts state that they can pass through walls and can even ooze up through the cracks in the floorboards of a house in order to get to their victims. In some instances, they are depicted as being able to use their intestines like tentacles and entangle their victims in a mushy web.

The organised Penanggalan will always keep a vat of vinegar in their house, as otherwise it would be impossible for her to return to her body. After a night of floating-head shenanigans, the Penanggalan will return home to immerse her entrails in this vat of vinegar so that they shrink and can fit easily into the empty husk of body she left behind. That being said, we don’t recommend preparing a vinegar bath for those days when you’re planning on struggling into your skinny jeans.

If you happen to be going into labour in Malaysia, the best way to protect against a Penanggalan attack is to scatter thorny leaves on the roof or loop them around windows. It is believed that this sharp shrubbery will trap or injure the Penanggalan’s dangling viscera as it flies by. In some cases, families will even plant pineapple trees under their houses months before the birth of a child, as traditional Malay houses are built on stilts and the prickly fruit will supposedly deter the Penanggalan from squishing its way through the floorboards. As an extra precaution, the pregnant woman will keep a pair of scissors or betel nut cutters under her pillow, as the Penanggalan is deathly afraid of these items. In short, the Penanggalan likes its betel nuts uncut and its draping entrails firmly intact.

Once an unsuspecting Penanggalan is ensnared on foliage or entangled in a forest of pineapple trees, it can be easily dispatched using machetes. An alternative way to kill the Penanggalan is to first find out where she lives. While they may appear like normal women during the daytime, there are a few key traits that will give the Penanggalan away. They will usually avoid making eye contact, will lick their lips hungrily when performing their midwife duties, and will perpetually stink of vinegar.

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The key is to follow your foul-smelling friend back to their house, wait until nightfall, and then casually break into their home. If your suspect is in fact a Penanggalan, then she should have left her headless body behind as she flew out into the night to feed. All you need to do is fill the empty body with pieces of broken glass and, when the unknowing Penanggalan attempts to reattach herself to her body, her internal organs will be severed. Denying a Penanggalan re-entry into her host body before sunrise or sanctifying the body by cremation will also result in her death.

If you need to prove your friend is a Penanggalan to win a bet, however, then you should simply flip the body upside down. According to the rich tapestry of Malaysian folklore, the Penanggalan is intelligent enough to lead a complicated double life, but not quite smart enough to recognise the front of her own body, so flipping her body will mean she inevitably attaches herself backwards. When she emerges from her house the next day, her head will be facing backwards and she’ll probably die of embarrassment due to how frankly ridiculous she looks.

Appearance

Penanggalanpic2During the day, the Penanggalan appears like a normal human woman. At night, however, this gruesome ghoul detaches its head and flies around of its own accord. As it flies, its internal organs dangle below it and are said to twinkle like fireflies as it glides through the moonlit night. Its long, tangled hair fans around it as it flies and its glowing red eyes pierce the darkness.

While the Penanggalan predominantly uses its invisible tongue to drain its prey, it is often depicted as having fangs. The number of fangs varies from region to region, with some describing it as having two, like the Western vampire, and others stating that the average Penanggalan is adorned with a mouthful of fangs.

Origins

minasako_himiju_by_broken_orange-d4s0lnvAccording to traditional Malaysian folklore, a Penanggalan is created when an old or young woman uses black magic in order to obtain everlasting beauty. The woman will typically make a pact with a demon and, as part of this pact, it is stipulated that the woman must not eat meat for 40 days. Apparently these women weren’t great at reading the fine print on their contracts, because breaking this pact results in them becoming a bloodthirsty Penanggalan.

This may seem like an insane lack of self-control on the part of the woman, but imagine going without bacon for over a month and we’re sure you’d crack too. In some instances, the woman either died during childbirth and transformed into a Penanggalan or was subjected to a powerful curse that was outside of her control, although this is far less common.

There is alternative Malaysian folktale that states the original Penanggalan was once a beautiful priestess. One day, this priestess was taking a ritual bath in a tub that originally held vinegar. As she bathed herself and entered into a state of deep meditation, a man entered the room without warning and startled her. Out of shock, she jerked her head up so quickly to look at him that the sheer force severed her head from her body and eviscerated her in the process, which is often known in Malaysia as the “overreaction of the century”.

Enraged by the peeping tom, the priestess flew after him and left her empty body behind her in the tub. In this version of the legend, it’s not entirely clear why the Penanggalan went on to target pregnant women and new-borns, although to be honest we’re willing to question the sanity of a woman who thought tearing her own head off was an appropriate response to anything.

Another more plausible version of this legend states that the original Penanggalan was an ugly young woman who had become consumed by bitterness at her single status and was feverishly jealous of all married women. Her unchecked rage eventually resulted in a murderous rampage, during which she murdered many innocent pregnant women. As punishment for her heinous crime, the people of her village hung her head from a tall tree and tied her legs to a bull.

When the bull charged, her body was torn away and her severed head was left dangling from the tree with all of the internal organs still intact. While the people of the village celebrated their triumph over evil, they were less than pleased when they discovered that the severed head had gone missing later that night and that they had unwittingly unleashed a hellish demon on their small settlement.

Modern-Day Usage

The Penanggalan may not be as well-known as its other vampiric counterparts, but there are a few choice references to our floating foe:

  • There are numerous horror films that feature the Penanggalan, including Penanggal: The Curse of the Malayan Vampire (2013), Mystics in Bali (1981), The Witch with Flying Head (1982, also known as Witches with Flying Heads or Fei Tou Mo Nu), The Resurrection of Angel Eyes (1988), and Mystery of the Merry Widow (1991).

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    The exceptional poster for The Witch with Flying Head
  • In the comic Hellboy: The Troll Witch and Others, the titular Hellboy travels to Malaysia in 1958 and comes upon a village that is without a Bomoh shaman. In the Bomoh shaman’s absence, the village has fallen victim to a Penanggalan.
  • In the 2016 comic Cry Havoc, the character of Sri reveals that she is a Penanggalan.
  • The graphic novel Okko: The Cycle of Water features two Penanggalan as its main villains.
  • The short manga comic “Head Prolapse Elegy” by Shintaro Kago is centred around a Penanggalan.
  • The Penanggalan is set to appear as an enemy in the upcoming action RPG Indivisible.
  • Penanggalan feature as enemies in the living card game Legend of the Five Rings.
  • In the SCP series, it is heavily implied that SCP-1060 is a Penanggalan.
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Malicious Myths: The Penanggalan

Malicious Myths: The Bunyip

We’re heading Down Under for our latest instalment of Malicious Myths and delving into the murky history behind a mythical creature from Indigenous Australian folklore known as the Bunyip. Don’t let its adorable name fool you. After all, Australia has a long and noble history of giving ridiculously cute names to incredibly dangerous things, such as the dugite, a type of venomous snake whose bite can be lethal; the bluey, a slang term for the floating sacks of death that are the Portuguese Man o’ War; and the gympie gympie plant, whose sting is so painful that it drives people to suicide. In a country where even the plants are capable of waging psychological warfare and everything appears ergonomically designed to reduce the human population, you have to do something pretty special to stand out. So, if the Bunyip is capable of striking fear into the heart of a hardened Australian, you know it’s serious.

3124398The Bunyip is an amphibious lake monster that is said to inhabit swamps, billabongs, creeks, riverbeds, waterholes, and even household wells. It lays in wait at night for unsuspecting prey to pass by its territory and will happily devour any animal or person, although it has a particular fondness for the flesh of women and children. In other words, you may be the first one on the list to get a lifeboat, but you’re also top of the menu for the Bunyip. When the Bunyip approaches a hapless victim, it lets off a series of haunting howls to warn them of their imminent doom before swooping in for the kill. This is perhaps why the Bunyip is often less than successful in its ambush attempts, since announcing your presence to your prey is generally considered bad practice among apex predators. According to certain legends, the Bunyip is said to be very aggressive, very hairy, and has supernatural powers. Kind of like your mother-in-law, only not quite as terrifying.

When Europeans arrived in Australia, they took accusations of the Bunyip very seriously and early European settlers regarded them as just another strange animal to add to the roster. When you’re confronted with tiny creatures that poop out cubes (just Google “wombat poop”) or spiders the size of a household clock, you start to radically adjust your perception of “normal”. Some historians believe that, during the 19th century, these European settlers actually infused the indigenous Bunyip lore with that of the Irish Púca, a shape-shifting spirit found in Celtic folklore. In true colonial fashion, these settlers took it upon themselves to culturally appropriate even the unsavoury elements of Indigenous Australian mythology.

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Credit: Ben Ward

Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, Bunyip sightings became widespread throughout Australia and, in July 1845, the first written use of the word “bunyip” was made in a newspaper known as The Geelong Advertiser, which proudly announced that a collection of fossils found near Geelong belonged to a deceased Bunyip. From then on, the people of Australia were gripped by Bunyip fever. In January 1846, a peculiar skull found by the banks of the Murrumbidgee River in New South Wales was declared to be that of a Bunyip and was put on display in the Australian Museum for two entire days before mysteriously disappearing. The fact that this skull had already been identified as that of a deformed foal or calf by several experts apparently mattered to no one.

People flocked to the museum in droves to see the skull and finally speak out about their own personal experiences of the Bunyip, resulting in the formation of support groups like Bunyip’s Anonymous. Okay, so that last part might be a lie, but for a long time people truly believed that the Bunyip was real. In March of the same year, three men set out on a boat to capture a Bunyip that had been sighted sunning itself opposite the Custom House in Melbourne, only to discover with profound disappointment that it was actually just a large Platypus. Fast forward to the 1950s and the term “Bunyip” had largely lost its sting, being instead used as an Australian slang term to mean “imposter” or “humbug”. While the obsession with the Bunyip may have died down over the years, one thing has remained unchanged: if you go to Australia, something is gonna try to kill you at some point.

Appearance

Bunyippic1In spite of its tendency to warn its victims of its impending approach, the Bunyip leaves relatively few survivors, so descriptions of this mysterious creature vary widely and are largely quite piecemeal in nature. Writings by George French Angus indicate that, according to the Moorundi people of the Murray River, the Bunyip looked just like an enormous starfish, although this is by far the most unusual description. Most accounts list a number of common features of the Bunyip, including a canine face, a crocodile-like head, large glowing eyes, jet-black fur, an equine tail, and flippers or thick legs.

In some instances, it also boasted tusks like a walrus and a bill similar to that of a duck, with scales or feathers covering its body instead of fur. In many ways, the Bunyip can be perceived as uniting the characteristics of the emu and the crocodile, two of the most formidable animals that are native to the Australian outback. But emus are harmless, we hear you cry! They eviscerate people. Seriously. Look it up. We weren’t kidding. Everything in Australia will try to kill you, even the koalas.

When in the water, the Bunyip is said to swim like a frog, but chooses to stand on its hind legs and walk erect when on land, towering in at about 12 to 13 feet in height. In fact, some accounts state that the Bunyip was so colossal in size that it could easily pull trees out by their roots and carry one in each arm. While its paws are furnished with long claws, its preferred method of killing its prey is by hugging it to death. Because nothing quite compares to the soft caress of a Bunyip as you slowly suffocate.

Origins

The word “bunyip” is thought to have originated from the Wemba-Wemba or Wergaia language of Indigenous Australians living in southeastern Australia, although the legend of the Bunyip appears to be widespread among Indigenous Australian communities throughout the country. It roughly translates to mean “devil” or “evil spirit”, because apparently the name “hugging beast” was already taken.

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Who wouldn’t want a hug from such a majestic beast?

In 1933, the geographer and author Charles Fenner posited that Bunyips were actually just sightings of Australian fur seals, which were known to make their way up rivers and could often be found very far inland. After all, these seals have smooth fur, prominent eyes, and they are known to bellow loudly when trapped inland. Plus everyone knows seals subsist off a diet of fish and human children. The howl of the Bunyip has also been attributed to a bird known as the shy Australasian bittern or “Bunyip bird”, which emits a low-pitched booming sound during mating season. It might be shy, but it wants you to know when it’s horny.

Another theory suggests that the legend of the Bunyip evolved from the cultural memory of extinct Australian marsupials like the DiprotodonZygomaturusNototherium, or Palorchestes. Since Zygomaturus was quite difficult for people to pronounce, they opted for the far more accessible “Bunyip” instead. In-keeping with this theory, it is possible that the Indigenous Australians could have come across fossils of prehistoric creatures such as the Procoptodon, a gigantic kangaroo, and that may be how the legend of the Bunyip was born. Honestly, we’re not sure what’s more terrifying: a crocodile-emu hybrid with magical powers; or a 7-foot-tall kangaroo. Remind us never to go to Australia.

Modern-Day Usage

While the Bunyip might seem like a relatively obscure mythical creature, it has remained a staple part of popular culture in Australia for many years and can be found in media throughout the world. Here are just a few references to this cuddly child-eating critter:

  • The National Library of Australia continues to sponsor a traveling exhibition on the Bunyip and several Bunyip-related folk-tales can be found on the Australian government’s website. There was even an official set of four postage stamps that was issued with different artist renderings of the Bunyip.
  • The “Bunyip Aristocracy” was a derogatory term coined in 1853, which was used to lambast the attempts of certain individuals to establish an aristocracy in the Australian colonies.
  • A variety of names throughout Australia contain the word “Bunyip”, such as the Bunyip River, the town of Bunyip in Victoria, and a now disbanded Christian community in Clifton Hill that was delightfully named the House of the Gentle Bunyip.
  • Several children’s books contain references to the Bunyip, including The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek and The Ballad of the Blue Lake Bunyip. Hopefully they left out the part about it loving the taste of child flesh.
  • A number of novels also include Bunyips, such as Naomi Novik’s Tongue of Serpents and C. Robert Cargill’s Queen of the Dark Things.
  • During the 1950s, a horrifying puppet known as Bertie the Bunyip appeared as a
    220px-bertie_the_bunyip
    By far the most terrifying of them all: Bertie the Bunyip

    popular character on the children’s TV show Philadelphia.

  • In the video game Chrono Cross, the Bunyip is a boss monster that guards the Black Crystal in Another World’s Fort Dragonia.
  • The video game Final Fantasy X features enemy creatures known as Bunyips, which appear on the Djose Highroad.
  • The Bunyip is a character in the video game RuneScape and, as an homage to its origins, it speaks with a thick Australian accent.
  • Bunyips are portrayed as mystical and peaceful elders who inhabit a world known as “The Dreaming” in the video game series Ty the Tasmanian Tiger.

 

 

Malicious Myths: The Bunyip

Gotta Fear ‘Em All: Our Top 10 Creepiest Pokémon

Pokémon; those cute, cuddly super-pets that we all grew up with. I can’t even begin to count the number of nights I spent gazing into the flickering light of my Gameboy Colour, desperately trying to paralyse a wild Abra or frantically chucking Ultra Ball after Ultra Ball at a Graveler. It was a video game and television series that took up a large chunk of my childhood, and I hazard a guess that many readers will be able to relate.

So, in honour of Pokémon’s 20th anniversary this year, I thought it only fitting to dedicate an entire post to the Top 10 Creepiest Pokémon in the canon. And trust me, there are a lot of them. After four solid hours of sorting through the online Pokédex, I can proudly say that the list is finished and I’ve successfully staved off adult responsibility for yet another day. Thank you Pokémon, you saviour of 90s kids who simply can’t face the crippling thought of mortgages, career options, and a life outside of their parents’ house.

  1. The Original Child Catcher: #425 Drifloon, The Balloon Pokémon

250px-425drifloonAt first glance, Drifloon looks harmless enough. It’s basically just a purple balloon with a mop of whipped cream on its head and some tape on its face. Its vacant stare and cute, little heart-shaped hands don’t exactly inspire one with a sense of impending dread. But they totally should.

First of all, Drifloon is a Ghost-type Pokémon, which immediately raises it in status from “incredibly dangerous children’s pet” to “soul-sucking emissary of the damned”. Ghost-type Pokémon are invariably evil and filled with a deep-seated hatred for mankind, mainly because they’re the souls of dead Pokémon who kicked the bucket solely because a bunch of kids decided it would be a fun idea to engage them in a fight to the death.

Yet in the Pokédex it specifies that Drifloon is not just made from the spirits of dead Pokémon, but also from the souls of people who have passed away. In other words, that balloon that just floated past you could contain the soul of your recently deceased grandma. And that’s not the end of it. Supposedly it “tugs on the hands of children to steal them away” and “children holding them sometimes vanish”. So yeah, not only is this balloon possessed by the angry souls of those who failed to pass on, but its sole purpose on this earth is to kidnap children. Nice Pokémon, nice.

  1. Welcome to the Twilight Zone: #487 Giratina, The Renegade Pokémon

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Giratina is a legendary Ghost/Dragon-type Pokémon that wields almost inimitable power. With its ragged black wings, piercing red eyes, and copious array of decorative spikes, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that it resembled the harbinger of death himself. It’s known as the “Renegade Pokémon” because supposedly it was so violent that it was banished to a place known as The Distortion World, where common sense and knowledge have been warped beyond all recognition.

If that wasn’t weird enough, it silently gazes at our world through a portal and can only manifest itself in an ancient cemetery. There’s something oddly tragic and disturbing about the image of some huge, heaving creature, with power beyond the realm of comprehension, staring at us through the void and waiting soundlessly for the chance to be released.

  1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Insects: #292 Shedinja, The Shed Pokémon

250px-292shedinjaShedinja was one of those bizarre Pokémon that you sort of acquired, rather than actually caught. The only way to get one was to evolve a Nincada into a Ninjask while having a spare space in your party, and suddenly a Shedinja would just…appear.

It looks kind of like a sad, little ladybug with an adorable halo floating over its head, but don’t let its appearance fool you. It’s another Ghost-type Pokémon and, as such, its primary purpose is to straight up ruin your day.

Shedinja is essentially the hollowed out shell of an insect that has, for whatever reason, come to life. According to the Pokédex, it apparently “flies without moving its wings” and “does not breathe”, which I can imagine is pretty unnerving for those of us who are used to seeing things fly with wings and breathe. You know, like everything else on earth.

And it seems Shedinja is pretty sensitive about the fact that it’s…well…kind of dead. If anyone peers into the crack of its back, it is said to “steal one’s spirit”. So, in this case, curiosity isn’t going to just kill the cat; it’s going to have its soul sucked out through its eyes. Lovely.

  1. The Candle that Burns the Brightest: #607 Litwick, The Candle Pokémon; #608 Lampent, The Lamp Pokémon; and #609 Chandelure, The Luring Pokémon
250px-607litwick
Litwick wants to reduce its carbon foot-print, by burning your soul

This trio of terror may simply look like a bunch of household furnishings to you, but they’re more than just a stylish way for wealthy people to keep their homes lit. They form an evolutionary trio and all have two things in common: they are Fire/Ghost-type Pokémon and they all subsist off of the life force of mankind. I’m not even kidding.

Litwick supposedly shines its light and pretends to be a guide to those who are lost, but this is a clever ruse. It leads its victim into a dark corner before absorbing their life energy and using it as fuel. Evidently the roasted souls of the damned are a more economic option than oil. Lampent takes this whole deathly charade a step further and hangs out around hospitals, waiting for the moment of death and then siphoning off the person’s spirit like a hillbilly sucking on a gas hose.

250px-609chandelureYet, unsurprisingly, it is the big bad Chandelure that takes the cake for “most horrifying ceiling ornament”. It hypnotises anyone it comes across and sucks out their souls, leaving the discarded husk of a body behind like a crumpled soda can.

When they burn up a person’s essence for fuel, it is believed that their spirit will “lose their way and wander this world forever”. So, while the rest of us are basking in the comforting and totally not ominous flickering of those skull-shaped flames, some poor sap is wandering through purgatory wondering why it seemed like a good idea to have sentient chandeliers.

  1. I Wanna Be a Real Boy: #064 Kadabra, The Psi Pokémon

064kadabra_os_anime_2Now Kadabra is a Psychic-type Pokémon, meaning it wields telepathic powers that allow it to bend spoons, solve difficult puzzles, and induce unexpected, splitting headaches in passers-by. Why a creature that possesses the ability to move a car with its mind would want to serve a bunch of preteens as their pet-slave is beyond me, but Kadabra’s undeniably spooky qualities are not.

Supposedly, when a Kadabra is close by, clocks will start running backwards and shadows will begin appearing on television screens. Looking at either of these phenomena will cause the viewer to experience extreme bad luck. Yet perhaps the weirdest feature of this spoon-wielding sage is its origin story.

According to the Pokédex in FireRed, it says: “It happened one morning – a boy with extrasensory powers awoke in bed transformed into Kadabra”. Basically Kadabra is like some freaky reverse-Pinocchio. So if you find that your kid has taken a sudden liking to your cutlery drawer, I’d say keep an eye out.

  1. Let’s Lickety-Split: #93 Haunter, The Gas Pokémon; and #94 Gengar, The Shadow Pokémon

250px-093haunterGastly, Haunter, and Gengar are essentially legends in the Pokémon canon. They were the first and only Ghost-type Pokémon to be made available to us Gen 1 hipsters, so they hold a special place in many of our hearts. Yet, while Gastly is merely a ball of all-consuming noxious gas, his evolutionary forms are far more sinister.

Haunter is said to be from another dimension and has the capacity to pass through objects, but has a penchant for hiding in walls and jumping out at unsuspecting victims. It lurks in the darkest corners of rooms, waiting for children to pounce on and lick with its mighty tongue.

250px-094gengarIn fact, it’s considered such a threat that its Pokédex entry even comes with this warning: “Haunter is a dangerous Pokémon. If one beckons you while floating in darkness, you must never approach it. This Pokémon will try to lick you with its tongue and steal your life away”. Hey kids, have fun playing this children’s game, but just don’t approach this one Pokémon or it’ll straight up murder you.

Yet, not content with simply being another brick in the wall, Gengar opts for a different tact. It pretends to be your shadow and hides behind you, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. And, even if it doesn’t decide to kill you or if you manage to ward it off, it’s still capable of casting a curse on you. Because life just wouldn’t be worth living without the constant, impending threat of being hexed by a chubby demon.

  1. The Roofie Twins: #096 Drowzee; and #097 Hypno, The Hypnosis Pokémon

250px-096drowzeeLooking like a cuddly baby tapir and a piece of anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda, Drowzee and Hypno seem like an odd couple to have made it onto this list. Heck, they don’t even feast off the souls of the living. The only thing these cheeky chappies really like to eat are…our dreams.

Yep, these Pokémon use their hypnotic powers to lull people to sleep before gorging on their innermost fantasies. As if that wasn’t creepy enough, apparently Drowzee prefers to eat children’s dreams because they are “tastier” and, if you sleep next to a Drowzee for long enough, it will eventually show you some of the dreams that it has sampled. Kind of like wine-tasting, only with LSD.

250px-097hypnoAccording to the Pokédex, “if your nose becomes itchy while you are sleeping, it’s a sure sign that one of these Pokémon is standing above your pillow and trying to eat your dream through your nostrils”. I don’t know about you, but I’m really not okay with that.

And, while Drowzee’s just a fan of children’s dreams, there was supposedly an “incident” in which a Hypno actually hypnotised and kidnapped a child. Breaking-and-entering, stealing, and child abduction; all healthy ingredients for a successful children’s game.

  1. Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls: #355 Duskull, The Requiem Pokémon; #356 Dusclops, The Beckon Pokémon; and #477 Dusknoir, The Gripper Pokémon

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This is the second evolutionary trio to make it onto our list, and what a trinity of torment these guys are. With very little euphemism or sense of delicacy, it’s basically implied that these three Ghost-type Pokémon are essentially the Grim Reapers of the Poké-World. Duskull spends most of its time wandering around in darkness, using its one, beady red eye to strike fear into anyone who dares look at it. When it fixates on a target, it “will doggedly pursue the intended victim until the break of dawn” and it is rumoured that children who don’t listen to their parents will be spirited away by this skull-faced scamp. Oh, and let’s not forget that it “loves the crying of children”.

Dusclops, on the other hand, has a little less substance. Quite literally, since it’s effectively just a black hole with some bandages floating around it. As such, Dusclops is able to absorb anything into its body, but “nothing will ever come back out”. Its favourite pastime is to steal the soul of anyone who dares peer into its hollow body. Kind of a recurring pattern with these Ghost-types, don’t you think?

As the most powerful and most thinly-veiled euphemism of the three, Dusknoir has an “antenna on its head [that] captures radio waves from the world of spirits”, which it apparently uses to determine whose living soul it should harvest and drag back to the underworld. See what I meant about the whole “Grim Reaper” thing?

  1. All My Friends are Dead: #562 Yamask, The Spirit Pokémon; and #563 Cofagrigus, The Coffin Pokémon

250px-562yamaskIt would be almost pointless for me to try and explain why Yamask is so unbearably upsetting, since the Pokédex appears to have done the job perfectly already. This is the genuine, no word of a lie description of this “fun” friend and companion from a children’s game: “Each of them carries a mask that used to be its face when it was human. Sometimes they look at it and cry”.

These are the souls of dead people, who are doomed to wander the earth carrying a mask of their human face and serve any hapless child who happens to trap them inside of a Pokéball. Imagine spending the rest of eternity as a slave to some snot-nosed child, and you’ll understand why I find this particular Pokémon so horrifying.

250px-563cofagrigusAnd, when it comes to its evolutionary form, things only go from dark to darker. To be honest, I’m not sure whether it’s appropriate to have a coffin-themed anything in a children’s game, but I guess that’s why I’m not the one with the billion dollar game franchise.

Cofagrigus is an animated coffin that loves nothing more than to “swallow those who get too close and turn them into mummies”. That’s right kids. If you’re lucky enough to capture the wandering soul of someone doomed to weep at their lost humanity, be sure to train it up and you’ll be treated to a man-eating casket!

  1. It’s More Than Just Child’s Play: #353 Shuppet, The Puppet Pokémon; and #354 Banette, The Marionette Pokémon

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When it comes to the stuff of Poké-Nightmares, this dastardly duo has pulled the strings and scraped their way to the top of our list. They’re an unholy combination of perhaps the two most terrifying types in the Pokémon Universe, Ghost and Dark, so it comes as no surprise that they’d have a befittingly unsettling backstory. Shuppet is basically just an animated puppet who feeds off dark emotions, such as jealousy or vindictiveness. Like a murder of crows, gatherings of Shuppets can supposedly be seen under the eaves of houses where people harbour these ill-feelings. So if you thought that was just mould under your gutters, think again.

Banette, on the other hand, is a whole other kettle of rotten fish. According to its origin story, it was supposedly a child’s doll that was abandoned and thrown in the trash. Its desire for vengeance was so strong that it eventually came to life and it is fuelled by an unquenchable hatred. It can be found roaming dark alleys and garbage dumps, searching for the child that threw it away so that it can finally exact its revenge. It generates powerful dark energy by sticking pins into its own body and it can never open its mouth, otherwise its soul would escape. In short, maybe next time you should consider putting your children’s old toys into the garage, and hope they don’t achieve sentience.

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I’m coming for your soul, kids

Honourable Mentions

When compiling this list, there were so many worthy Pokémon who just didn’t make the cut, so here are a few of our honourable mentions: Cubone, the Pokémon who wears the skull of its dead mother and perpetually cries over her loss; Cacturne, known as the Scarecrow Pokémon because it stays perfectly still during the day and only moves at night, chasing its victims down until they can no longer move; Phantump, a rotten tree stump that was possessed by the spirit of a child who got lost in the forest and died; Gourgeist, a gigantic pumpkin-like Pokémon that sings joyfully when it observes the suffering of its prey; and last but not least Yveltal, a legendary Pokémon that has the power to absorb the life force of all living creatures and essentially summon the apocalypse.

What did you think of our list? And which Pokémon do you think deserved a place on it? Please let us know in the comments!

Gotta Fear ‘Em All: Our Top 10 Creepiest Pokémon

Last Year in Fear: Our Top Picks for Horror Media in 2015

Even without the stellar horror releases that littered the media landscape, 2015 was a pretty terrifying year in of itself. France suffered the Paris Attacks; the US was subject to nearly 300 mass shootings; and large parts of England appear to currently be underwater. The outlook for the planet isn’t great and, since North Korea apparently decided to ring in the New Year by setting off a nuclear bomb, the fate of the world is hanging by an ever thinner thread. So why, in light of all these real dangers, should you be excited about media that was designed to scare us? Because it gives us an outlet, a way to release all of that pent up fear in one hour-long frenzy of pillow-hugging, squealing, and violent popcorn throwing. So, as 2016 gets underway, take the time to indulge in a few of last year’s horror titles and feel the terror slip away. Let’s just call it Shock Therapy.

Film

Although a lot of critics would disagree with me, I personally thought that 2015 was a strong year for horror in film. On the one hand, you had the numerous tacky sequels, reboots, and remakes like Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (yes, I really hate Paranormal Activity, thanks for noticing), Poltergeist, and Sinister 2. But, on the other hand, we were treated to some top quality horror titles reminiscent of 2014’s The Babadook and Oculus. Without further ado, here are my top film picks for 2015:

  1. It’s Behind You – It Follows

8385_poster_iphoneIt Follows was one of the most intelligent and impressive horror films that I’ve seen in decades. It combined an original story-line with a winning cast, stunning cinematography, and a soundtrack so provocative that I still get shivers down my spine when I listen to it. That being said, it tends to be one of those films that divides opinion. Some people, myself included, were willing to accept the film’s slow-pace and ambiguous ending because the journey was ultimately more important than the destination, while others were disappointed at the lack of closure and what they perceived as lazy “filler” scenes. For that reason alone, it’s definitely worth watching since, whether you like it or not, it’s sure to create a debate. For a broad perspective (and some spoilers!), we recommend reading Slash Film’s review, which you can find here, and Variety’s review, which you can find here. Alternatively you can read our review (with no spoilers) here.

  1. Who Needs the Summer of Love – Spring

9af64d532c3cdfe6304e627e2d210dfeSpring is a romantic sci-fi horror which, if anything, makes it reasonably unique in the horror community. Like It Follows, Spring tackles an unusual story-line and its success in doing so, or lack thereof, has similarly divided public opinion. The score is beautifully simplistic, the cinematography is undeniably opulent and visually nourishing, the acting is superb, but the strangeness of the story and the use of that age-old, hackneyed “scientific” explanation has disappointed many viewers. As such, it makes for another fantastic watch since it’s sure to stimulate your brain cells and leave you wanting more. We recommend reading The Missing Reel’s review here, or alternatively check out our review here.

  1. You Better Watch Out, You Better Not Cry – Krampus

krampus-2015-horror-movie-posterKrampus is one of those films that puts a smile on my face every time I think of it. And that’s a relative miracle, considering I despise comedy horrors. My major bone of contention with this subgenre is that they’re often just comedies. If you can just bung a few scary moments or horror tropes into an otherwise non-scary film and call it a “comedy horror” or a “fantasy horror” or (dare I say it) a “Disney horror”, then Scary Movie, A Nightmare Before Christmas, and Pan’s Labyrinth would all be considered horror movies. Where Krampus ultimately succeeds as an actual comedy horror is that the horror and comedy elements are perfectly balanced. The film is funny and scary in equal measure, leading to several moments where my brain became desperately confused as to whether I should laugh or cry (or wet my pants). Like Gremlins and Poltergeist, it’s the perfect gateway horror film for the younger generation and one that people of all ages are sure to enjoy. We recommend watching Red Letter Media’s video review here, or you can check out our written review here.

Honourable Mentions – Goodnight Mommy and Bone Tomahawk, both of which I have yet to watch but have been phenomenally well-reviewed.

Television

Unlike the horror film scene, which has gone from strength to strength, it seems that horror television has really let the side down. There were very few fresh or new series’, leaving us only with stale continuations of franchises that are doomed to (hopefully) burn out in the near future. Don’t get me wrong, I love American Horror Story and The Walking Dead as much as the next person, but sometimes it really does feel like they’re flogging an undead horse. I’ve caught myself yawning my way through whole episodes or, in one instance, falling asleep in an almost upright position. At this stage, if I fall and crack my head open while watching, I’m going to consider suing these guys for “risk of criminal boredom”.

  1. Let’s Get Groovy – Ash vs Evil Dead: Season 1

ash-vs-evil-dead-posterIn amongst horror television behemoths like TWD and AHS, Ash vs Evil Dead stood its ground as one of the most anticipated horror series to grace our television screens. The show sees the return of notorious horror hero Ash, played by the ever enigmatic Bruce Campbell, as he forgoes a much deserved retirement and returns to his one true passion: fighting off evil Deadites. As a comedy horror, the show mixes fun and fear in equal measure, with enough hilariously over-the-top gore to give any of the Evil Dead films a run for their money. What started off as an unexpectedly popular and incredibly low budget festival film has spawned into one of horror’s greatest legacies; and this latest edition proves to be one of the best yet. We strongly recommend you read The Missing Reel’s reviews, as they’ve been following the series episode by episode. You can find their summary review here.

  1. You Can Count on the Countess – American Horror Story: Hotel

8d2a54303c3a74432a9b91af4b1b142fAfter the crushing disappointment of Freak Show and the looming threat of Wes Bentley’s soul-suckingly dull return, my hopes for Hotel and for American Horror Story in general were all but dashed. In many ways, my misgivings were well-founded. Wes Bentley did in fact prove to be one of the worst leading men that the series has ever championed and, like Freak Show, it seemed that the season would largely depend on a sequence of unconnected, exploitative scenes that were designed to shock rather than create a coherent and interesting story-line. That being said, thanks to the superlative acting of Denis O’Hare, Evan Peters, and Kathy Bates, coupled with the intriguing character of the Countess (Lady Gaga) and the eventual development of a solid and stimulating storyline, the season seems to have turned its luck around. It’s certainly not one of their best, but it’s probably not their worst. Probably. We recommend you read Nouse’s episode by episode reviews here, but be forewarned that they are full of spoilers.

  1. A Netflix Unoriginal – Scream: Season 1

tumblr_ngjisf4r8v1u4whbwo1_500Let me be candid here, just because Scream has made it onto my top 3 list does by no means indicate that the series is good or that I liked it. It was simply the lesser of several evils. Scream is one of my all-time favourite movie franchises, and the thought of watching an abortive televised attempt to bleed it dry troubled me deeply. Particularly since beloved horror director Wes Craven tragically died last year, leaving behind an illustrious legacy that could be deeply marred by such an unnecessary reboot. Yet marred it was not. To me, this Netflix original series (which was actually and unsurprisingly produced by MTV) was kind of like a well-choreographed train wreck; it was awful, but I somehow felt compelled to keep watching. In fact, I watched the entire first season in less than two days. It essentially copies several major story elements from the original films, but the key to its success is that it never takes itself too seriously. It makes no claim to be as good as its predecessors; it’s just grade-A TV schlock for teenagers. And, as such, it’s ultimately entertaining, so long as you take it with a pinch of salt. We recommend you read Bloody Disgusting’s incredibly well-balanced episode reviews here, which are chock full of delicious spoilers.

Honourable Mentions – The Walking Dead: Season 6 and Penny Dreadful: Season 2

Video Gaming

2015 may not have been the most prolific year for horror gaming, but lack of quantity was definitely made up for by superb quality. Although the Top 3 games I’ve chosen for 2015 may have been some of the only ones to come out, they certainly made an impression on me and are worthy of any top list, regardless of their release dates.

  1. The Butterfly Effect – Until Dawn

ce3aa35b3dac605f3b543700356c89f8Although it only represented about 8 hours of solid gameplay, Until Dawn was one of the best horror games I’ve ever played. Within the first few weeks of owning it, I had already played it through three times, which goes to show just how little I value my free time. The key to the game’s brilliance is in its Butterfly Effect dynamic. The choices you make in-game will drastically affect the outcome of the story, so much so that certain characters will either live or die. What I loved about Until Dawn was that it inverts your expectations, toying with the behaviours that you will have learnt from other games. When a character dies, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve “failed”; just because the game is telling you to do something, doesn’t mean you should automatically do it; and sometimes exploring the whole area for clues and opening that cellar door simply because “it’s there” isn’t always a good idea. For an ultimately negative but still well-rounded view, we recommend reading Polygon’s review here. If you want something a little more positive, check out our review here.

  1. Let’s Get Digital – Soma

150922094246490097From the makers of the outstanding horror titles Penumbra and Amnesia comes Soma, a sci-fi survival horror about the ramifications of developing AI (Artificial Intelligence). It’s been far too long since we’ve seen a good sci-fi horror game and, in 2015, it seems horror fans were in for a real treat. And what a treat Soma was. As character Stephen Garrett, you find yourself trapped in a submerged research station known as PATHOS-II. The game’s underwater vibe is reminiscent of Bioshock, a game that didn’t exploit its horrific elements nearly as much as it could have done, and its futuristic facility setting evokes scenes from Dead Space. However, like the Amnesia series, the point of Soma is not to fight, but to hide. What follows is a subtle yet disturbing exploration into humanity, providing deep and probing layers of fear that go far beyond what you experience at face-value. We recommend you read Game Rant’s review here.

  1. It’s Like I Have ESPN or Something – The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

eathan-carterFor all of you citizens of the PC master race, I realise that The Vanishing of Ethan Carter technically came out in 2014, but for console plebs like myself it wasn’t playable until 2015. The game follows paranormal investigator Paul Prospero, who receives a worrisome fan-letter from 12-year-old Ethan Carter and is prompted to visit Ethan’s home in Red Creek Valley. The game’s graphics are stunning and the world that surrounds you evokes imagery of the New England countryside, making you feel as though you’ve just been dropped into a Stephen King novel. And the similarities to King’s work don’t end there. Like the fictional town of Derry, Red Creek Valley is a beautiful place with a dark secret. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter might not be the scariest horror game in the canon, but the intrigue it produces in the player is undeniable. As you become more wrapped up in the fate of Ethan, you feel yourself slowly disappearing down a rabbit-hole that may have no end. Playstation Lifestyle’s review, which you can find here, describes these elements in far more detail.

 

Last Year in Fear: Our Top Picks for Horror Media in 2015

Malicious Myths: The Churel (चुडैल)

The churel may sound like a delicious (hopefully cinnamon-flavoured) pastry, or perhaps some colourful bird of paradise, but we can assure you it is not. Churels are the vengeful spirits of women who return to earth in order to drain the blood, virility, and even the semen of male victims, transforming them from sperm-filled youths to dusty old men. They go by numerous alternate names, including the churail, chudail, jakhin, mukai, and nagulai, and originate from South Asian folklore, enjoying enduring popularity throughout North India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

They will typically target their own relatives, specifically male members of their family, and will usually attack them in order from youngest to oldest, or from most-loved to least-loved. So, for once, being a young, attractive, well-liked man is not a good thing. Go figure. They are commonly found in places associated with death and filth, such as graveyards, abandoned battlefields, crossroads, toilets, and the male changing rooms of any gym. Once they have sated their blood-lust with their own family members, they can often be found trawling the darkened highways, seducing lone travelling men to accompany them before sucking them dry. Innuendo totally intended.

In some legends, the churel will keep the young man captive until he grows too old, or repeatedly boinks him until he withers, dies, and joins the spirit in her sexy vengeance (essentially death by snoo-snoo). In other accounts, if a young man is seduced by a churel and simply eats food she has offered to him, he will return to his village at dawn an elderly man. Basically if you get attacked by a churel you have two options: death by a crushed pelvis or instant retirement. In Hindu folklore, churels may transform into dakinis, horrifying god-like creatures that serve the goddess Kali and join her in feasting on human flesh and blood. Because, after subsisting off a diet made up almost entirely of sperm for however long, human flesh probably starts to look quite appealing.

A Dakini about to straight up murder this unfortunate guy

According to most legends, there are three different types of churel: soshi churels, poshi churels, and toshi churels. Soshi, Poshi, and Toshi may sound like members of the Spice Girls but don’t let that fool you, these are hideous, blood-sucking monsters we’re talking about. Oh wait.

The Soshi Churels are the most common and return to seek vengeance on their family for having neglected or abused them in life, focusing entirely on draining the lifeblood of all their male family members. They sometimes wait besides fields and call out to their relatives as they return home from work. If you answer the churel’s call, she will haunt you until your eventual death, but ignore her and she’ll…well…just keep shouting at you. Maybe just buy a pair of earplugs?

The Poshi Churels were women who had no real sexual desire in life and so focus their sexual deviancy and bloodlust on children. They can only be brought to heel by the man they once loved in life, to whom they are still subservient. The Toshi Churels are the rarest of all and represent women who were closely bonded with their husbands. They will return to their capacity as dutiful wives and, in a bizarre twist, serve only to protect their family.

Appearance

The churel is often depicted as a grotesque and emaciated creature, with long sagging breasts, unkempt hair, a pot belly, and claw-like hands. They sometimes roam around completely naked with their matted pubic hair visibly exposed, kind of like Courtney Love on an average Saturday night.

They have unnaturally long, thick black tongues surrounded by broad, rough lips, although in some accounts they are said to have no mouth at all. In rare cases, they are reported to have pig-like faces with large fangs or human faces with sharp tusks. Yet the most common and unique feature of the churels are their feet, which face the wrong way round with the heel at the front and the toes at the back.

In this form their sex appeal is doubtful at best, so they conveniently transform into beautiful young women in order to seduce their prey. In this guise, they carry a lantern, partially cover their face, and usually wear a long red or white sari that covers their legs. Although in this state they appear almost exactly like a human woman, their feet are still pointed backwards and so they take great pains to hide them. Once they have ensnared a lusty lothario, they will reveal their true form and engage in the freakiest, nastiest sex you could possibly imagine.

Origins

When a woman dies either during childbirth, while pregnant, or while menstruating, there is a strong possibility that she will become a churel. Normally she will rise from the grave because she wants vengeance for her deceased child, because her family treated her badly in life or because they did not care for her properly during her pregnancy. So, when in India, be really nice to pregnant women or risk facing death by semen extraction.

When a pregnant woman dies during the five-day Hindu festival of Diwali, it is believed she will come back as a particularly powerful churel, while in Western India they believe that any woman who died an unnatural death will become a churel. Originally it was believed that only low-caste women could turn into churels, although it seems bloodthirsty revenge is a dish best served to people of any class background. In short, all churels are created equal, and are all equally as terrible.

The only way to completely avoid a churel is to prevent her creation in the first place, so extra special care must be taken when dealing with pregnant women. Should they, through some awful circumstance, die anyway, there are a handful of things the family can do to hopefully prevent their return and thus protect their precious nads. Forgoing the Hindu tradition of cremation, a potential churel should be buried face down. Songs and prayers in remembrance of her should be sung at her funeral, while all rites and rituals must be performed with the utmost care.

During the funerary procession, the corpse should be carried out of the house through a side door rather than the front door, so that hopefully the churel does not find her way back into the house. Because, after all, it’s not like she lived there for an extended period of time and probably knows the layout of the house or anything. Sometimes family members will sprinkle mustard or millet seeds around the grave and even the whole village, because it is believed that the churel must count every single seed before returning home. This isn’t a sure-fire way to stop her, but it’ll certainly slow her down and make that second mortgage you took out on your house to buy mustard seeds worthwhile.

In order to tie the churel to the burial site, four nails are normally fixed to the four corners of the grave and red flowers are planted upon it. In extreme cases, the corpse may even be bound so that the churel’s movement is restricted when they finally rise from the grave. In Punjab, they take this restriction to a whole new level by nailing the hands and feet of the corpse to the coffin, shackling its feet in chains, and smearing red pepper in its eyes to hopefully blind the waking churel. In some cases, they will even break the deceased’s legs, chain the big toes together, or turn the feet backwards.

Hindu priests are regularly called to perform exorcisms, pray, burn incense, or make offerings to the deceased’s burial site in an attempt to ward the churel off, but this is not a permanent solution. In spite of all these precautions, churels are known to return home months or even years after their death. So if you thought your family get togethers were bad, at least old Auntie Sue isn’t trying to drag you away to her sex dungeon.

Modern-day Usage

Outside of South Asia, the churel isn’t a particularly well-known creature and thus rarely makes an appearance in pop culture. That being said, we’ve managed to scratch together a scant few references to our horny hag:

  • The Indian B-movie Chudail: The Witch (1997) directed by P. Chandrakumar is about a woman who develops supernatural powers by draining the life-force from male victims.
  • The novel Vampire Wives Tales – India: The Churail by Douglas Werner is about an Indian woman who dies in an airplane crash and becomes a churel.
  • The Churel features several times in the video game series Shin Megami Tensei.
  • There is a Chudail Trail in the Indian village of Kuldharanear Jaisalmar, where visitors can walk through this supposedly haunted place and learn about the legend of a woman named Nandini.
Malicious Myths: The Churel (चुडैल)

Float Like a Butterfly: A Review of Until Dawn

Release Date: August 25th 2015

Developer: Supermassive Games

Platform(s): PS4 exclusive

Playtime: Approximately 10 to 15 hours, but with great replay value

In the style of games like Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls comes that slasher film you never wanted to be a part of (but secretly kind of did), Until Dawn. This interactive survival horror game follows eight hapless protagonists, who have made the trek to their friend’s mountain lodge for a weekend of sex, booze, and horrifying violence. The game utilises a Butterfly Effect dynamic, whereby all of the choices you make directly affect whether any given character lives or dies. These choices can be anything from slapping an angry wolf to backing a friend in an argument, so be wary. As the great, albeit completely fictional, Andrew Ryan of Bioshock once said: “We all make choices. But in the end, our choices make us”.

I have to say, I approached Until Dawn with not just a little trepidation. Although I absolutely loved Heavy Rain, it sometimes felt as though I was playing one long cut-scene rather than a fully formed video game. The experience was undoubtedly fulfilling, and the positive critical response the game garnered was well-deserved, but it inevitably felt like something was missing. I worried that Until Dawn would fall into the same trap, dooming the player to a series of QTEs (Quick Time Events) and a handful of choices that only marginally affected the outcome of the story. Having started my third playthrough of the game this week, I can happily say that I was horribly wrong.

In many ways, Until Dawn masterfully surpasses its predecessors. For one thing, the game involves you taking the helm far more often than you may like. It practically inundates you with choices, making it hard to tell which ones will affect the outcome and which ones won’t. What felt like major decisions in the game turned out to be inconsequential, while certain smaller choices led to pivotal events. Should I hide or should I run? What happens if I take that pair of scissors? Will anyone notice if I make out with this ice sculpture? In Until Dawn, the possibilities are as endless as they are endlessly horrifying.

Yet this alone isn’t enough to make the Butterfly Effect dynamic work. Sure it’s clever, and it made me think a lot about my actions, but I wouldn’t have cared quite so much about my choices if I’d been put in charge of, let’s say, the members of One Direction. While I’d happily watch Harry Styles be chased by a knife-wielding maniac, I came to care about several of the characters in Until Dawn that I was charged to protect. And this is where the game ultimately succeeds, not just as a survival horror game but as a video game in general. The eight main characters felt incredibly real and fleshed out, causing me to love some of them and abjectly hate others.

This meant that, regardless of how scary the game actually was, I felt terrified simply because I didn’t want my reckless decision-making to endanger the people I’d come to care about. It induced in me a sort of trembling paranoia that caused me to nearly snap my controller in half more than once. On top of this, the game is visually stunning and many of the scenes are incredibly well-realised, looking as though they’ve just been cropped from a big budget blockbuster. This, coupled with the effective use of music, combined to create an effectively oppressive atmosphere.

So, as with all survival horror video games, here’s the rub; is it scary? The game is like a bizarre amalgamation of every horror movie you’ve ever seen and ever horror game you’ve ever played. There’s a sprinkling of Saw, a dollop of Friday the 13th, some hints of Silent Hill, and a huge steaming helping of meta-commentary à la Scream. You’d think stuffing a game full of so many horror clichés would be a bad idea, but Until Dawn somehow manages to make it work.

My greatest criticism of The Evil Within, another survival horror game to have recently graced next-gen consoles, was that it relied far too heavily on clichés without having a substantial storyline to justify them. Until Dawn does just the opposite and uses these horror tropes to great effect while still maintaining a level of self-awareness. At certain points the game even directly confronts you, asking why you are doing this and what you think you might get out of it.

By making you complicit in the survival and/or death of the characters, it begs the question; why do we want to watch these people be terrorised? It is every horror movie you’ve ever seen, and in being so it forces you to ask yourself why you would ever watch a horror movie in the first place. What joy do we get out of a genre that necessitates and advocates the suffering of others? Well, that’s a debate for another day. But let’s just say the game is scary, in more ways than one.

Please don’t force me to make adult decisions. Please.

Gameplay: 8/10, for those of you who despise QTES, it may not be the one for you, but the game contains a lot more playable portions than its predecessors

Storyline: 9/10, the Butterfly Effect dynamic is mind-blowing, and becomes even more so on a second or third (or tenth) playthrough

Fear Factor: 8.5/10, the game uses just the right amount of gore, jump scares, and atmosphere to make it pretty damn scary, coupled with that most terrifying of things: a sense of responsibility

Overall: 8.5/10, in spite of having played “Alien: Isolation” and “The Evil Within”, this has to be my standout survival horror game of 2015

Float Like a Butterfly: A Review of Until Dawn

Fantastic Phobias: Swinophobia

Ever had the sneaking suspicion that animals may be plotting against you? Maybe it was that squirrel who gave you a funny look, or that pigeon who appeared to coo derisively as you walked past. While many people love our furry counterparts, still more are terrified of them. Whether it be due to a traumatic event, or just generalised paranoia, the thought of certain animals is enough to fill some people with the deep down tremblies. So it comes as no surprise that several of the most common phobias are related to specific or non-specific fears of various animals.

Swinophobia, a fear that is currently on the rise, refers rather unsurprisingly to the fear of pigs. Its name is derived from the word “swine”, which in turn originates from the Old English word “swīn”. It is not only a general fear of pigs, but can sometimes extend to a disliking of or even a paralysing fear of pork. Let us all take a moment of silence for those swinophobes out there, who are trapped in a horrifying world without bacon. Unlike many phobias, which usually originate from a traumatic event involving the object of fear, swinophobia usually stems from an extreme dislike of the animal, with particular reference to their reputation as dirty and unhygienic.

Though many people, such as George Clooney, find our snub-nosed snufflers practically irresistible, the developing swinophobic usually regards them as a repulsive beast to be avoided at all costs. The incidence of swinophobia appears to be more common in those who follow the Jewish or Muslim faith, as these religions both prohibit the consumption of pork. Followers are encouraged to believe that pigs are the unholiest of animals, so it is unsurprising that many of them fear and/or hate them. To add insult to injury, films like Hannibal and Snatch habitually imply that all pigs want to do is munch on our delicate little faces.

The mere sight of a pig is enough to plunge the swinophobe into a series of panic attacks, with characteristic symptoms such as trembling, profuse sweating, shortness of breath, and a rapid heart rate. More extreme responses like nausea and vomiting are not uncommon, particularly if pork is accidentally ingested. So don’t even try to get facon (fake bacon) past these wary individuals because at best they won’t eat it and, in the worst case scenario, you’ll end up with baconnaise coloured vomit all over your carpet.

As with all phobias, the best way to conquer swinophobia is by treating both the symptoms and the source. Techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises will ease the passing of an anxiety attack, while desensitisation to the object of fear over time will cure the phobia itself. This can range from looking at photographs of piglets (preferably in wellingtons) to a jaunty scream-filled trip to the local petting zoo. For those with a deeply embedded phobia, use of talk therapy, psychiatric counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy or even hypnotherapy may be needed to deduce the source of the phobia and in turn combat it.

Dr. Chris P. Bacon, talented psychiatrist and champion truffle sniffer

Sometimes the road to recover may seem long, and it’s a real pig getting to the end, but we should all remember that fear is our daily constant; it is what connects us and what threatens to consume us. Whether it be a fear of pigs, flowers, or chainsaw-juggling clowns, in some way we all have fear and we will always have fear, for time immemorial. So next time you open a packet of bacon and your new housemate starts violently retching, have a little compassion.

Famous Swinophobes

That’ll do, Bloom

Unfortunately our much maligned yet delicious squealing chums have been the target of a lot of negative press lately, worst of which being Orlando Bloom’s outburst on the set of Kingdom of Heaven. As a closet swinophobe, Bloom thought his secret remained firmly hidden until a rogue pig got loose during filming and he “ran like crazy” to get away from it. To Bloom, a horde of charging orcs is a walk in the park, but one lumbering pig is enough to send him into a fear-induced coma.

In the popular MMO Final Fantasy XIV, there is a side-quest called “Swinophobia”, in which the player must cull five wild boars as their population has gotten out of control.

In 6th episode of American Horror Story: Murder House, Ben is enlisted by client Derrick to help him overcome a fear of urban legends, or specifically one urban legend known as “Piggy Man”. In the story, a butcher from Chicago wears the skinned face of a pig in order to creep up on the unsuspecting swine before butchering them. One awful day, in 1893, Piggy Man slipped over in the pen while approaching the pigs and was subsequently eaten alive. Evidently the “pigs love human flesh” stereotype is a popular one. Looking into a mirror and whispering “here piggy pig, pig” will supposedly conjure the Pigman, who will then dismember you. So you can go ahead and add that to the list of “things I won’t be doing tonight…or ever”.

Fantastic Phobias: Swinophobia