Friday, January 30, 2009

The maddest scientist living!

Though the subject line might make you think I refer to an angry climatology scientist ignored by the Bush administration-- there were a lot of 'em, apparently--I actually refer to this guy, Dr. Gunther Von Hagens:

Von Hagens is the pathologist who invented plastination, a process that preserves animal tissue through the replacement of water in the tissue with polymer. This has led to the use of plastic dead people supplementing traditionally-preserved cadavers in anatomy classes in medical schools. More famously (or infamously, depending on your viewpoint), Von Hagen's silicone stiffs have been displayed as art and sent out on tours of exhibition.

[A note of caution: There are pictures below the text that follows which may be upsetting to those sensitive to gore and images of the dead. Do not scroll down much further if the pictures above were distasteful to you.]

Why do I post about Von Hagens now? Well, I'd recently posted a link to an article at the blog Oddee on the "Top 10 Mad Scientists in History," and was a bit surprised not to see a mention of Von Hagens. His exhibition of fractionated and posed bodies, and his public autopsy (controversially broadcast live in England) earned him the sobriquet "Frankenstein"-- and I'm fascinated by all things Frankensteinian. This apellational analogy he disputes. As reported by the BBC, VonHagens has said, "In all human history - except for the renaissance - the human body was always exploited for disgusting feelings. I'm doing the opposite. Those plastinates show the beauty of our body interior. I break with the tradition of Frankenstein." (Maybe-- but many folks do report "disgusting feelings" after viewing his post-mortem handiwork, though I'm not one of them.) And I post on Von Hagens now partly because I was trolling through old photo files in my computer -- and found the pictures used in this post. (I don't know where they came from, but will give credit if notified, or remove if requested by the owners of the photos.)

Also, as a modest collector of monster toys and collectables, I have a fascination with "plastic dead men," as fellow collector Joseph Fotinos (a/k/a Prof. Griffin) calls his monster figures. I have pondered, with mixed feelings, on the fact that Von Hagens has turned the human body into a kind of plastic toy for display to curious adults. (Some of the "plastinates" also remind me of jack o' lanterns; both have generic faces, and both have been carved up for show.)

Von Hagens, as a man who has often been called 'Dr. Frankenstein' in the press, has also vilified for making "monstrous" creations, as in these anonymously posted comments at a BBC website:

"Von Hagens has displayed his plastinates in a manner in which all internal organs - nerves, blood vessels and bones - can be viewed by the public, thereby giving an insight into the human body...Leonardo da Vinci and Andreas Vesal, the two outstanding anatomical artists of the Renaissance, used anatomical drawings to better understand the workings of the human body. Von Hagens is fascinated by their work, but wrote 'Neither illustrations nor models can convey the individual beauty of these structures to us, for the source of truth is in the originals' and so has taken their work a stage further. Salvador Dali's painting 'Burning Giraffe' portrays a woman standing on stilts with drawers in her legs and torso. Von Hagens has recreated Dali's nightmare in a grotesque manner as 'Drawer Man' using a stout male corpse. The recreation of Dali's work is exploiting the human body; it has resulted in something purely fictitious taken from Dali's dreams being made into something real. Although Dali's painting is disturbing there is something genuinely monstrous about von Hagens taking a real human body and creating a storage unit from it."

For some, this objectifcation of dead flesh is reminiscent of human souvenirs found at Buchenwald. But not all use of human flesh for making objects has been as widely condemned. There is a controversial precedent in the use of human tissue for mixed educational and artistic purposes: creating books from the skin of the dead. A number of prestigious libraries have several such books. (My wife might think that would be a good use for my shortened carcass when I have passed on. She can already read me like a book now!)

Do I object to the display of voluntarily donated plasticized bodies? Well, no, not strongly. I was raised by a physician father who told me anecdotes of his days in medical school and who had graphic textbooks and slides. His work conveyed to me the message that seeing the human body dispassionately and with curiosity (even damaged, malformed or dead ones) was not wrong, if one had compassion for others.

Besides, this is like some movie starring a Boris Karloff-type mad scientist crossed with the plot of House of Wax or Bucket of Blood--I can't help being intrigued by it all. (Speaking of House of Wax, it turns out that Von Hagens is not the first medically-trained man to find a way preserve bodies in a way that would allow for posed display; a man named Honore Fragonard was similarly controversial for preserving bodies with a special injected wax--and this was 200 years before Von Hagens!)

But there has been a larger, legitimate concern: whether or not any of the bodies displayed were executed prisoners. Five years ago Von Hagens was criticized for not being certain that all his cadavers were voluntarily donated, and after some bad publicity about his Chinese plastination plant he did return a few bodies to the authorities that had bullet wounds to the head, and the bodies were buried. (He admitted he couldn't be certain they weren't prisoners.)

Some say exhibits like Von Hagens' desensitize people and make them less compassionate. Do they really? I don't know the answer to that. I had mixed feelings when I saw the rival Bodies exhibition that toured the U.S. last year. (I wrote about it here and here.) I felt some horror, but I've enjoyed movies that create similar feelings ever since I was small. I am wrong to have liked films like Psycho or Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte? I know they are fiction, but they depict violent acts that really do happen. Should people only view scenes that are uplifting? I say, "No."

Are pathologists just naturally an odder lot than their fellow physicians? Probably not, but when I think of Von Hagens, I also think of eccentric pathologist Dr. Jack Kevorkian, (a/k/a "Dr. Death"), the man on a mission to kill suicidal terminally ill people. Both are passionate about their causes (or, arguably, business, in Von Hagens' case), and both have demonstrated a love of odd headgear (Von Hagens is never seen without a black fedora, and Kevorkian once wore a powdered wig to his trial on second-degree murder charges.) But I associate the two mainly because I've wondered if the two shouldn't hook up--Kevorkian could "supply the meat", and Von Hagens could be "the boy who buys the beef"(to quote an old rhyme about body snatchers Burke and Hare and their customer, Dr. Knox.)

Finally, the photos and some related links:

Related links:

The Gunther Von Hagens website.

Marc Steinmetz Photography
: A collection of professional photos taken at Von Hagens' plant, along with the photographer's thoughts on what he observed.

A petition to stop von Hagens.

An interview with Von Hagens.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Finger-lickin' Good Food of the Gods!"

That's what I exclaimed when I took a picture of this mutant bird on a past trip to my home state of Arkansas.

With family and friends down there suffering from extreme winter weather and power outages, I only can only wish that it were as sunny and warm there now as it was then. Or that giant birds were there to fly people out!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

And speaking of family...

I have to be concerned about mine, because they all live in northern Arkansas, which is buried under ice and is without power. (Fortunately my parents have a generator.)

To give you an idea how bad it is there, my brother sent me a picture that a friend of his took, showing Severed's sibling digging out of his driveway:

It's all about family

Now that Jane and I are settled (more or less) into our new home, we are beginning to think of long-range plans for our lives. Jane was adopted as a baby, and so we've wondered if we wanted to adopt. Recently, at a hospital maternity ward, we saw the CUTEST baby, and we so wanted to have him as our own:

The baby even resembles members of my own family! Below, from the days before I was a drunken severed head, are pictures of a young cousin coming to visit me in my home in St. Louis. First, a photo of us being movie-watchin' couch potatoes:

And a pic of a farewell handshake:

Sadly, my cousin's wrist stitches were loose and his hand popped off in my palm! (I'm known to pop off on occasion myself-- especially after having Popov!) Luckily, Cuz's paw was later put back on by his doctor.

Apparently, losing body parts (hands, heads, etc.) runs in my family...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I can't believe I'm recommending this...

My spousal unit, Voodoo Queen Jane, has two fuzzy-faced feline familiars, Kiki and Monty. One of them must have some sort of unnatural influence over me, because I'm actually advising you to click on the photo link below:

Zombie cats

Lord, how this blog has fallen!

Friday, January 23, 2009

The first fly to come to the spider web

Jane and I had our first guest in today, a young co-worker named Meg who knew of my reputation for a love of all things horror. She asked for film recommendations. Instead I invited her over to watch movies with us, and she picked Bava's KILL, BABY, KILL , and the Japanese film JUON 2. (Both are about ghost children that bring horrible death.)

We also watched an episode of ONE STEP BEYOND called "The Clown"--because she has a clown phobia! She went home with more horror films on loan.

Meg enjoyed looking at some of my monster toys and collectables that are unpacked, too, which delighted me.

I really wanted to end the get-together with a screening of one of my comedy favorites, the Rondo-nominated movie THE NAKED MONSTER. (Click on the title to order the film from Netflix.) But I didn't dare. A cheapie among cheapies, star Kenneth Tobey hated it--but it gives him his last good role, as it does many other old stars of classic monster movies. Plus it has the luscious, glorious form of co-star Brinke Stevens!

It's been described as "AIRPLANE meets GODZILLA," but it didn't have half the budget either of those films did. Shot on Super 8 sound film and video (because various plans to produce it at major studios kept falling through for a variety of reasons), it's an amazing testament to the determination of director/screenwriter Ted Newsom. Created practically on sheer will and talent alone (did I mention how cheaply it was made?), it has some of the funniest (and most affectionate) gags in monster film history! As well as Forry Ackerman's best cameo!

If you know someone who enjoys j-horror, Bava and giallo films, AND the low humor of the hilarious NAKED MONSTER, give 'em my address!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

O happy day!

Well, it's a historic day here in the United States of America. I watched the inauguration of President Obama, as did millions of others. But as a fellow candidate for President last year, I could not help but feel wistful. IT SHOULDA BEEN ME!

I mean, how cool would it have been to have a talking severed head and a brain in a jar sworn in as President and Vice-President? Even if I weren't sober during the swearing-in, I couldn't have messed up the oath of office more than the President and Chief Justice did. And think of the potential for fun if I was given the oath: "Raise your right eyebrow and repeat after me...".

And how many of the others candidates would have entertained the gathered crowd with his impersonation of Dudley Moore from Arthur? Not damn many, I bet. Okay, only me! ONLY I WOULD HAVE DARED TO GO THERE! And isn't boldness what America needs now?

I coulda beena contenda!

Excuse me, I need to go cry in my beer now...

Monday, January 19, 2009


Yes, you can take a text-and-photo tour of my new house (that I spent a snowy New Year's Eve moving into) by clicking on the link below, which takes you to a page at the Universal Monster Army site (I help moderate there.) The tour begins after the first couple of postings, and then begins again on the following page of the thread:

Finally settling into Casa Cabeza

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stale weird news!

Or, "Not new news!"

I sometimes bookmark weird news items to share here, then forget them. (And why not? I drink to forget!) Anyway, here are news items that may be up to sixty days old! But you probably haven't seen them ALL (he said, defensively.)

Creative child discipline!

A 123 year-old living organ!

Top 10 maddest scientists!

A zombie illustrated man!

A man makes the Venus de Milo jealous!

Next best thing to brain transplants!

World's wildest "before and after!"

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A snowy day in a nearby graveyard

Got a hankerin' for gloomy photographs of a cemetery in winter? No? Well, take a look at the boneyard pictures below, anyway--with the dark sky, and lonely white expanses of the place, they're like views of a weird, other world of the dead. (Or maybe undead!)

Jane and I have been in our new house for just over a week, and and it is cold and snowy here. We live on top of a hilly ridge called Spring Hill, and on a hilltop a few blocks away is an old cemetery. A few weeks before we moved in, I snapped the photos below to share here. (Click on any photo for a larger view.)

I've always felt not enough horror movies take advantage of the eeriness of lonely, snowy settings. And as folks who like cemeteries, Jane and I were happy to find this steep hillside graveyard near our new home.

Not seen in the photos are the scores of ravens that live in this area. They were many at the cemetery when we visited, but they would fly away when you got within 20 to 30 yards; so only a few show up in the pictures.

A picnic at this site, when the weather is warmer, will be in order. A great place to munch sandwiches while reading Poe and poetry!

The final, fitting photo of the day: an angel left behind among the stones:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Oh, to be rid of winter clothes!

Buried as I am under a woolen cap to keep me warm, I dream of being as warm as model Bettie Page appears to be in the "nature study" photo at this link:

If the photo does not appear immediately, click on the name "Bettie Page" and you'll see Bettie in all her glory!

Recent weird news: Snowman of death!

Snowmen globes as burning death-ray weapons:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some 7,000 jumbo-sized snow globes were recalled by Hallmark Cards Inc. because the holiday decorations can act as a magnifying glass when exposed to sunlight and ignite nearby combustible materials, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said on Tuesday.

The snowman-shaped snow globes were sold in October and November at Hallmark Gold Crown stores nationwide for about $100 each. [At that price, customers must have had their money burning a hole in their pockets.]

The consumer agency said Hallmark has received two reports of the snow globes igniting nearby materials but no injuries have been reported.

Consumers who bought the snow globes, which measure 11 by 12 by 17 inches (28 by 30 by 43cm), should immediately remove them from exposure to sunlight and return to a Hallmark Gold Crown store for a full refund.

Details about the recall were posted at the government agency's web site at:

(Reporting by Julie Vorman; Editing by Bill Trott)


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