viernes, 3 de febrero de 2017


A few years ago, I talked about some mediatic childhood nightmare fuel of mine, but dropped the creepiest bits that still make me wince or shudder.
Note: I am still afraid of some of these characters and scenarios, so I'll give you a link to a webpage and the description in words.
After every single entry, I will mention how the Riddikulus charm would affect the character or scenario in question. And then it's up to your mind's eye to imagine the rest:

There was always this scene in the original animated Beauty and the Beast we had to fastforward past. The nuthouse, or Maison des Lunes, scene. I mean, Monsieur d'Arque, the director of the nuthouse, with those tiny irises and that hooked nose of his, as well as being sickly pale... (shudders) Plus the fact that he wants to keep Belle and Maurice locked for a lifetime in the Maison des Lunes. And that he sounds as sinister as he looks (keepy uppy, all those voice actors!)... To add even more tension, M. d'Arque is given a number named after his institution in the stage musical, and that Maison des Lunes song sounds really ominous.
Immediately, M. d'Arque's face will begin to swell, his eyes to become kawaii and his gaunt face to round up, as he gets a chipmunk voice and a strawberry cream cake splats on his changing features.
Post scriptum:
In the upcoming musical of this springtime, the sinister Monsieur d'Arque will be played by veteran British actor Adrian Schiller:
Just have a peek at his angular, gaunt face and agree that they've nailed the part --what will he look like in eighteenth-century clothes?
Actually, he looks far more like a flamboyant eccentric, definitely my cup of tea (to pun on the film). (Still, that plague doctor's mask in the Montmartre flashback would have equally scarred my child self...)

I was six when I went for just a month and a half in the autumn of 2008 to the Carmelite school in Castellón. And always in the hallway, to my left when I entered and to my right when I got out (though I couldn't tell left from right back then), there was the lifesize painted statue of a nun in black robes holding a young girl in a cobalt blue school uniform. I liked the girl, but the nun, looming over my little child self... Not only did this freakish penguin of female human face tower over the six-year-old me, but her piercing glass eyes seemed always fixed on mine, as if she were a predator. And, to top that, the inside of her mouth, her tongue, and her lips were the same bright shade of scarlet, which made it appear as if she had drunk freshly-shed blood and her intentions towards the innocent schoolgirl were not the best of them all. Like, "Let me kiss you on the throat..."

Nowadays, at 25, if the nun were off her pedestal, she would definitely reach at least to my collarbones. But add a child's first impressions, the way they painted her mouth, and that pedestal, et voilà. That was one of the reasons why I was glad to be sent to the Burrow.
The nun would become a kawaii penguin in a suit, the same height as the schoolgirl, and hug her. That would definitely be heartwarming.

At the chapel adjacent to that same Catholic school in the post above, there were more disturbing images of nuns (that become even more disturbing when seen through a fraidy six-year-old girl's eyes). These nuns were seen tended to ill and injured people during the Napoleonic Wars on some paintings to the left and right of the altar (their patients wore nineteenth-century clothes)... but the nuns did not only look like penguins with human faces, but more like penguins with humanoid faces straight out of the uncanny valley.

Alberto Guallart is still one of my favourite artists from my home turf, but just a peek at these nuns' faces, with narrow highlightless slits for eyes and smiles that look more like fixed expressions on their emotionless lips... and you'd get the message: RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!
The nuns in the paintings would also become kawaii penguins. And the people in civvies would also have animesque faces, definitely.

The first anime I saw (mostly Mons and Magical Girl Warrior) incorporated a new Monster of the Week every episode in their standard formula. Some monsters are adorable, others are impressive, others are quirky and kooky... and then there are those that still make my 25-year-old self wet her knickers, or at least freeze breaking into a cold sweat.
You know, I have always had a soft spot for cephalopods; this particular kind of seafood is in all of my favourite tapas since childhood. But there was one time that I just ate them with a lot of gusto as a pre-teen. Long before (well, at least a decade before) I got to know the real Cthulhu, the first Digimon season, Digimon Adventure, served me my very first entrée of cephalopod horror. The next time I was eating baby squid, I felt like the Count of Pappenheim during the storming of Magdeburg.
Well... Right... To put you in context: There was a season which had this "group scatters all over the place and needs to reunite" plot that allows each and every one of the seven leading characters to discover themselves further. You may call it the first half of the Myotismon arc, or the Demidevimon arc, or the Megaevolution arc because most of the Chosen Ones' partners got to megaevolve (the remaining partners would megaevolve in Tokyo during the Eighth Chosen One, or Gatomon, arc). And I was so impatient to see what had become of my favourite character of the season, Koushiro "Izzy" Izumi, the clever redhead who had nearly always an answer for anything and was very passionate about finding out new things.
Well, the answer I got in episode 24, the first Izzy-centric foray in what seemed like eons, was so graphic and so sinister that I still (INSERT THE SCREAM EMOJI).,_Please
Koshiro plummeted down a cliff into a dark room à la Alice in Wonderland and some wobbly teal thing surged so quickly out of his head that at first I didn't figure out. Then came (Kurtz voice) THE HORROR. There was this humanoid cephalopod with vertical pupils that looked like the bastard son of a Mars Attacks alien and Cthulhu, aside from an 18th-century wig and an uncannily shrill voice, in whose presence Koushiro suddenly became apathetic and like in a trance, similar to Kai in The Snow Queen (read below for more!).

There was no mistake that Koushiro’s face grew more serene with each passing day. But his eyes… His eyes looked so blank. Nowhere in them could one that bright sparkle they once had, like when Koushiro was typing into his laptop with engrossed excitement, or within the empty well in the desert.
It was as if Koushiro wasn’t Koushiro anymore.
   In that moment, something white and circular that looked like a snake eating its own tail slip slowly out of Koushiro’s chest.
“This is the inquisitive heart. I will take good care of it.”
 Koushiro smiled a quiet, gentle smile, as though he was pleased to have achieved nirvana.
Koushiro did not wonder why he could understand. He had lost his inquisitive heart.
But seeing his own face reflected in the large beads of tears forming, but not yet falling, from Pabumon's eyes, Koushiro thought absentmindedly to himself, What an empty-looking face.
As if he could sense that, Pabumon’s eyes directed Koushiro to the laptop he was always carrying in his backpack. When Koushiro rested the laptop in his lap, he typed into the keyboard:
   >I’m sorry for making you degenerate.
   He did not know whether or not Pabumon could read Japanese. But as if his feelings had reached him, Pabumon jumped excitedly in place, speaking happily, “pabu-pabu-pabu!”
   >Since I don’t have my inquisitive heart, I’m not very sure about this… but I feel that I have been tricked.
To Koushiro’s ears, he could hear the nostalgic tinge of Kansai dialect in Tentomon’s voice telling him, “Of course, Koushiro-han!”
Without his inquisitive heart, Koushiro was unconcerned about who Vadermon was talking to but he knew that the heart that they were talking about belonged to him.
   I have to take it back, Koushiro thought, and opened the door.
   The room looked partly like a cheap saloon in a Western, and partly like a specimen room; behind the counter there were shelves lined with bottled hearts,
   Since Koushiro couldn’t talk, he showed by action. Determinedly he walked into the room and grabbed the bottle in front of the Digimon customer that contained his inquisitive heart. Holding it gently to his chest, he apologized to it inside of his mind, “I’m sorry for throwing you away, my inquisitive heart…” and opened the lid.
   The inquisitive heart returned to where it belonged, inside Koushiro. At the same time, the power of speech returned to him.
   “It was wrong of me to throw away my inquisitive heart. Not wanting to know isn’t who I am. I want to know everything. That’s me.”

The reveal came when Vaderm--- (shudders) I mean the Castrato Cthulhu explains how that solidified blob of teal jelly links to it all: it's basically Koushiro's psyche (the Spanish dub used "mente", "mind," but the original Japanese has "kokoro," which refers to all the inner world of a human that is not the physical body: passions, emotions, thoughts, memories, the heart, the spirit... which makes "kokoro" a pretty hard term to translate into any European language; but I think "psyche" would be the most accurate translation; the novel's fanslation has "heart" above).
To add one disturbing thing to another ("insult to injury" would not be the right expression), the Dandypus is revealed to basically have a storehouse full of psyches similar to Izzy's shelved in shelves, and it's revealed that he makes a living by selling them to evil Digimon. Yes, you've got not only a kokoro shop, but also a disturbing-looking and disturbing-acting kokoro seller who leaves the rightful owners as emotionless empty husks.
Only the kawaii form of Koshiro's partner, the Gerda to his Kai, manages to make him snap out of the trance, return his psyche back inside his head (then what about all the other psyches on those shelves?), and megaevolve to leave not a single trace of the 18th-Century Fop. Acta est fabula.
Later on, I would see Izzykins get even more depth in the Eighth Chosen One arc, when his so-called parents reveal that they're actually his aunt and uncle, and that he's an adopted orphan (in episode 38). I mean, that pushed the ante up even more; the boy who had his body turned into an empty shell now has an eye-opener that gives him the resolve to fight evil for good with a trusty virtual ladybug by his side.
After the Riddikulus charm, I think what would happen is that Vaderm--- the Foptopus would actually go, in that shrill voice: "APRIL FOOLS!" He'd take off his powdered wig and slit pupils, revealed to be a full-faced mask, to reveal the face of a girl who looks like resident girly-pink Mimi, Koshiro's moirail and the other half of my Digimon Adventure OTP; then she'd reveal that she's actually a Mimi clone gone a bit wrong and that all of those so-called psyches are actually glass sculptures she's actually done wrong, except Izzy's own kokoro; she throws it into his head like a hand grenade, making it sink back in, as she roars: "YOU DROPPED IT WHEN YOU FELL DOWN THE CHUTE, YOU TWAT!"

One thing some animes, like Sailor Moon, do well is putting a short preview before the title card. And SM always showcased the Monster of the Week du jour in such previews; thus, I knew what to expect from the episode. Sometimes the MotW was enough to make me shudder and watch the episode until the moment RIGHT BEFORE the MotW was coming (which is rather predictable having watched oodles of filler episodes of the anime in question), when I would turn the TV off and dash towards a TV-less room to lounge before some storybooks or crayons.
As a pre-teen, I knew nothing better when coming home from class than, on those cold autumn/winter nights that were actually dark and dire evenings, take my place at the sofa at granny's around seven pm and revel in Magical Girl Warrior badassery dubbed into Catalan. Both Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon were broadcast on Club Super3, at the very end of the Monday-through-Friday programming block. Now the fifth and last season of the latter series, Sailor Stars, may boast a lot of detractors, but, as I have said before, it's definitely my fave; after a brief Snow Queen-themed arc, the filler meat of the series features all the Sailor Warriors we know and love, a trio of pop star Sailor Warriors from another star system (and man, did I fangirl for ThreeLights!), a villainous Standard Evil Organization Squad of Sailor Warriors, and even Sailor Warrior Monsters of the Week. Long story short: Sailor Warriors all over the place!! The Sailor-suited Monsters of the Week were called Phages (apparently short for macrophages), translated as "Ninots" into Catalan (a "ninot" is both a doll and a Fallas burning effigy; the Mexican dub has "Zombis" and the Italian dub has "Automi"). For convenience's sake, I will refer to all of them as Phages.
The Phages were made from muggles whose Star Seeds weren't pure enough. The average Star Seed darkens after a short exposure to the elements. The scream of the victim struck in the chest has attracted freshly-transformed Sailors, and right then the cadre retreats in some kind of TARDIS as those black tendrils shoot up from the ground and wrap around the unconscious victim, enclosing them in a cocoon of darkness. TARDIS fades away, tendrils unwrap... et voilà (though we'd already seen the Phage of the Week in the preview segment)!
Now most of the phages were good-looking; either eccentric, stunningly sexy, or simply adorable. But there is one and only one that still today keeps on haunting my subconscious. Right, he even scared me out of a nightmare around eight... and I'm not a morning person! But I woke in a cold sweat, with my heart in my throat, checked the time, and I couldn't believe it! All that for some guy in opaque nerd specs and a surgical mask, with aubergine skin, pointy gill-like ears, a crucifix pendant, and a bloody big fat syringe for a right arm!
The episode in question, 185, was one that by the way did not need a Monster of the Week; there was lots of potential in the breakup/makeup scenario that Seiya and Taiki had a serious argument and made amends in the end. And yes, he got his hopes back from this subplot about a little girl due for open-heart surgery who had drawn the ThreeLights' princess, whom she had seen in her mind's eye while listening to the trio.

Peachy. There was enough drama with the terminally ill woobie fighting for her life and helping Taiki recover from his identity crisis; truly some cathartic symbiotic kindness... But another factor introduced fits the story back into the filler mould and into the mould of Dermarkian nightmares for good. To such a degree that there are no pictures of the MotW for this episode in this blog, but rather links to it:
Now the pre-teen woobie happens to be in a condition beyond the skill of Japanese medicine, so they had an Anglo cardio-surgeon brought from abroad especially for her sake. Peachy. The bloke could have not been attacked by Aluminum Siren and he would have performed that open-heart perfectly.
But you think this was going to happen seriously?
The answer is, quite honestly... No. Now comes (Kurtz voice) THE HORROR.
So yes, from the moment I heard they were going to bring that foreign specialist over, I saw it coming. I saw, from the very moment I heard the first mention of him, that this was the Victim of the Week who would get turned into that sinister pointy-eared purple-haired gremlin in a surgical mask and opaque glasses (completely scary form of face-concealing, eh?), with a crucifix pendant on his chest and a heck of a syringe for a right arm. (SHUDDERS. THE SCREAM EMOJI REPEATED AD NAUSEAM. TYPING INDEX FINGERS WAVER. SHALLOW BREATHING, GAPING LIKE A FISH. IMPRECATIONS TO THE WARRIOR AND TO THE LORD OF LIGHT. BACKGROUND MUSIC: PINK FLOYD, "RUN LIKE HELL").
This is one of the nightmare fuels here (there are some more with such high octanes!) that are beyond the scope of Riddikulus; the only cure appears to be switching off the TV and drawing something in
your room, or switching to another channel to watch a game show or a tennis match!

The first arc, the Kaori Night arc (Kaorina arc in Catalan), of Sailor Moon S (that's season 3) contains some graphic organic horror and paranoia fuel that are really worth describing. The Monsters of the Week this time are called Daemons (Demoníacs in Catalan) and made from inanimate objects. In the next arc of SMS, the 5 Witches arc, Prof. Tomoe uses some kind of dieselpunk easy-bake oven to speed up the process and produce daemons on a completely mechanized assembly line... but, in the Kaori Night arc, the whole process is done BY HAND and the result was at least a bit disturbing to me.
And it also proves that sunny side up eggs have become one of my favourite foods, like baby calamari, for a good reason.
The Daemon Eggs (Ous del Demoníac in Catalan, Daimon no Tamago in the original Japanese) truly give a sinister tinge to the glorious fruit of the noble hen. I mean, the way Prof. Tomoe, who then was nothing but a pair of opaque glasses and a blood-red Cheshire Cat grin, makes them in the Kaori Night arc, was enough to make me shudder. The recipe goes a little more or less like this:
Pour the fuchsia liquid containing the orchid pink naked-eye cell into a lab glass.
Pour the green liquid into the same glass.
The cell will react, quickly swelling, throbbing, shattering the glass as it expands, and finally becoming an orchid-pink striated ovoid the size of a chicken egg. Voilà; you've got a Daemon Egg!
Maintained in a dormant state within the carefully controlled environmental confines of a test tube in a pink liquid of unspecified - though presumably organic - composition developed by Kaolinite, a Daimon oocyte, when needed, would be removed from suspension and initially treated either by gentle heating or by injection with additional developmental fluid followed by swirling. The maturation process would then be initiated through addition to a preheated chemical bath of green liquid - also of unspecified composition - in a glass beaker that would cause the egg cell to increase explosively in both size and mass within a matter of seconds, ultimately leading to the formation of a striated ovoid body known as a Daimon Egg. Quite durable in nature, Daimon Eggs display at least a certain degree of rudimentary intelligence even at this relatively early stage of development in their ability to respond to simple verbal commands - such as being able to seek out suitable pure hearted individuals on command - and to navigate themselves during independent flight, for example.   
                 When in close proximity to an object of terrestrial origin - which is either usually inorganic or at least non sentient in nature and bears some general affinity to the current human target, though these standards are far from being absolute - a Daimon Egg will emit several slimy projections from its striations which will latch onto and subsequently draw it in towards the substrate, whereupon a fusion of the two will occur. The final step in the creature's evolution is then initiated during which it animates the object in question and assumes a vaguely humanoid female form as well as - owing, if not in whole then at least in part, to its having been raised in Kaolinite's special developmental fluid - various supernatural powers and/or weapons defined by a combination of the characteristics of the item with which the mergeance took place and the quality which most predominantly defines the inherant purity of heart of the victim. The resulting monster, the actual Daimon, normally possesses average human intelligence, the ability to speak (fluent Japanese) ;), and an instinctive knowledge of the proper use of its powers, though all else can vary greatly. 

Type Three Daimons (Kaolinite's Daimons)        
Type Three Daimons were employed by Kaolinite during her attempt to locate and retrieve the three mystical objects collectively known as the Talismans. Created through the fusion of a Daimon Egg with an object of terrestrial origin - both located in close proximity to and being in some way symbolic of the intended human target - the resulting creature would have the appearance of a humanoid female and often possess supernatural powers and/or weapons reminiscent of both the object with which the egg had originally merged as well as the qualities which most predominantly defined the pure heart of the victim. Unique to this particular Daimon class was the presence of a black star-shaped mark somewhere on the monster's body capable of emitting a beam of black energy that would cause a person's Heart Crystal to emerge from his or her body after being focused on that individual's upper torso for a certain period of time.
So not only are the Daemon Eggs alien zygotes fertilized in vitro, but the way they merged with the objects in this arc was definitely disturbing -- the Eggs were sent flying over the streets of District 10, until they locked an inanimate object that the Victim of the Week cherished a lot, and then basically the Egg perches on the Object of the Week, secretes some kind of burgundy slime from its striations, these projections push the egg into the OotW gradually, the last glimpse we catch of the Egg inside said object is of a throbbing pink zygote. Then the whole Object of the Week throbs red and lays dormant until its transformation is triggered by physical contact from the victim. Some of these daemons were prime nightmare fuel mainly due to their tiny irises and shrill voices --the violin daemon and the swimming pool daemon -- thank R'hllor the preview before Sailor Moon filler episodes always shows the Monster of the Week du jour!
This is one of the nightmare fuels here (there are some more with such high octanes!) that are beyond the scope of Riddikulus; the only cure appears to be switching off the TV and drawing something in your room, or switching to another channel to watch a game show or a tennis match!

Ah, Brussels sprouts and Tarot cards. What better time than to talk to you right now on how Tarot cards (especially some of them, like The Star and The World, because the nipples on the characters' bosoms looked like extra eyes on their chests) were nightmare fuel to my child self (ditto The Birth of Venus and the Venus ceramic mural on the Torreón Bernad for the same nipples=eyes analogy). Well, the first arc of Sailor Moon R (Season 2) had tarot-card-based monsters of the week called Cardians (Cartianes in Catalan), summoned when male villain Alex (really good-looking in both alien and human form) played the Frederick-the-Great flute (the silver or concert flute) before his tarot cards. And, in every episode, he would have a chat with his sister-wife Anne about how to best drain humans of their life energy... You see, Alex and Anne are the last of their species, twin orphans left last man and woman (elflike humanoid aliens, actually) standing after their species dwindled to just the two of them due to warfare over resources, and they need the life energy of other organisms to survive; Homo sapiens, on Earth, are their preferred quarry. But there was TWICE I think they crossed the event horizon; right when I was in my pre-teens, about seven or eight. In episode 52, they targeted kids in preschool age, saying that they are far more full of energy than adults are. And in the next episode (that makes 53), they targeted even younger kids on the threshold of infancy, sending many of them, their teachers, and even one of their mums, into a coma in intensive care. I was in such a state of shock...

O2 NO...
That the villains have not enough with draining teens and adults and decide to target CHILDREN instead, even THREE-year-olds... all right, they did it for their own survival, but still it had not been fully explained until the arc finale, in which Alex and Anne (twin orphans and sole survivors of a species nearly extinct due to war within itself!), thanks to the latter taking a crushing (though not lethal) physical blow for the former, discovered that LOVE and SELFLESSNESS allowed them to produce that energy they vitally needed without leeching it off us unfortunate muggles.

Poor little waifs, the last of their kind...
Right, we finally understand the villains' agenda at the end of the series.
Why bother with so much filler and all its collateral casualties?
For the filthy lucre, at the cost of keeping us intrigued, enraged, and frightened.
But then there's another disturbing piece of nightmare fuel, and it's right when the aliens enter the picture. Not only does a Brussels sprout the size of a Porsche Cayenne crash from outer space right into District 10 of Tokyo... the sprout is revealed to be slimy and wriggles out of its impact crater like a grub. Ewwww. This is not so much fear as it is disgust. I am wincing and recalling that moment as I type these words down.
This is one of the nightmare fuels here (there are some more with such high octanes!) that are beyond the scope of Riddikulus; the only cure appears to be switching off the TV and drawing something in your room, or switching to another channel to watch a game show or a tennis match!

Almost any television series has an episode set in an amusement park, whether theme or fairground. Most of them are full of whimsy, satire... but then there are those with ominous parks, Amusement Parks of Doom, where the animatronics are ALIVE. My first experience of this phenomenon came as a toddler watching the original Scooby-Doo series's amusement park episode, Foul Play in Funland:
Mind that this was before I met 3PO or the fembot in Metropolis (who served as inspiration for both Charlie and 3PO). Mind that headlight eyes were then something that made my child self recoil... Later on, I would skip watching The Iron Giant (the WB film) for exactly the same reason...
This is one of the nightmare fuels here (there are some more with such high octanes!) that are beyond the scope of Riddikulus; the only cure appears to be switching off the TV and drawing something in your room, or switching to another channel to watch a game show or a tennis match!

Once more, there's this soothing light-and-soft feelgood anime (here, a Fenno-Swedish-Japanese co-production) that makes you feel good until a sinister character appears. For the Moomins anime that shaped my childhood, it was the Ice Lady (La Señora del Frío in Spanish, Isfrun in the original Swedish), the Andersenian Snow Queen reimagined by Tove Jansson: the personification of the winter cold as a regal and dignified female with piercing, sinister eyes. She basically freezes hyperactive tomboy Little My, my own avatar for the series, into a state of trance, requiring her friends' heart warmth to thaw her.
This was first in preschool, but later on, as a pre-teen, I discovered the Andersenian villainess that inspired Tove Jansson for creating her Ice Lady. And it was not through the beautiful, stunning Snow Queens imagined by Vladislav Yerko and Christian Birmingham, but through the classic 1960s Soviet animated film by Lev Atamanov. The Queen there looks as sinister and imposing as Jansson's Ice Lady.

Plunging a shard of her evil mirror of truth into Kai's heart to quench all that warmth and plunge him into an emotionless trance, and then spiriting him away to her icy Arctic fortress, which is essentially the Cocytus in Dante's underworld --a bleak land of darkness and ice-- all while Kai remains an empty shell without any emotions or personal thoughts... Thank the gods for Gerda; I was cheering on her all the way!

The Cathie Shuttleworth illustrations were my second contact with the story, this time on print in my first Andersen storybook.
No Riddikulus charm needed here. The warming of My's and Kai's hearts by their respective friends definitely tips the scales in favour of this decision.

On Jaime I Avenue in Castellón, there was a shoe shop called Ñacos. Once upon the mid-nineties, that shoe shop had an animatronic gorilla at the very entrance, and said gorilla had a baritone voice that sent shivers down a little freckled and fair-haired girl's spine, no matter how good the apebot's intentions were.
"Hola, soy el mono". Cue me squealing like a piglet at the abattoir and running as if my feet had reptilian brains of their own!
The gorillabot would basically shrink into one of those stuffed apes that look like Aladdin's monkey in a military uniform playing the cymbals.

Right, so this scene does not induce as much fear in me as it's always induced disgust. REALLY INTENSE disgust, that makes you want to chuck your esophagus out. We're talking about the highest octane nausea fuel, like maggots in nasal sinuses and "passion fruit heels" (full of writhing larvae as well; if you dare to see what it looks like, just YouTube "calcanhar de maracujá", and keep an empty bucket --zinc or plastic, any bucket will do as long as it's large and empty-- close at hand).
The traditional Prussian eel-fishing technique shown in Günter Grass's novel The Tin Drum and its film adaptation is definitely something I'm maybe too faint-hearted to see in detail.
If you still have the guts to want to watch it, just YouTube "tin drum horse head" or "blechtrommel pferdekopf". And keep an empty bucket (zinc or plastic, any bucket will do as long as it's large and empty) close at hand.
So basically a fisherman is standing on the beach and pulling something large tied to a long rope out of the wintry Baltic Sea; when the object is finally on shore, it's revealed to be a decaying severed horse head, from which the fisherman pulls out countless juvenile eels that ooze out of its decomposing pharynx and cranial cavity. EEWWWWW. The interesting thing is that coastal Prussians have traditionally fished for eels using horsehead bait for centuries.
Well, if it has any effect, the eels may turn electric blue and smell like Rive Gauche, as well as the severed horse head they've been eating... I'm not saying that Riddikulus can exactly confront nausea fuel of this caliber.

Now we've come to really serious (as in Serious Black) nightmare fuel involving character deaths that filled me with as much fear as sorrow. Even with ANGST. Yes, the way it sounds. I even MOURNED these characters and developed issues due to their untimely demise, issues that still haunt me nowadays at 25. This is truly (Kurtz voice mixed with Palpatine voice) THE HORROR.


Seriously, I was too young as a toddler for the 1990s dark-and-edgy trend that permeated most animated series, including Gargoyles and the Batman animated version du jour. I gladly prefer the 60s version... "nananananananana BAT-MAAAN!!"
In comparison, the 90s animated series begins with a reassuring Warner title card, a fair-weather day sky and the initials of "Warner Brothers" in gold to the jaunty Warner tune... what can be more reassuring?

Then... WHAM. Quite unexpectedly, to really ominous background music:
Yes, that's a blimp, an airship, outfitted with search lights. But, seen from below at twilight, it looks like a head with glowing empty eyes (the search lights) for an only facial feature.
What's more, all you can make of the mooks in the opening is the SCLERA...

Then there are the often "reassuring" episode title cards (shudders):

Again... we have this sclera effect...

Ooooh... Ominous mask (not the Jabba shadow, but the mask itself)...

This was supposed to be a good guy. But oh the glasses.

No, thanks. Those sclerae, that grin... I think I'll spend it at mum's.

Good luck I never was afraid of needles... it was the face of the hand that held the needle that frightened me on screen!

Not only that much sclera; the pupil is a cranium as well...

Ominous Masks 2: Apt Pupil...

Ooooh, el Rey Reloj...

Though he looks far more ominous when he appears on screen...

Ominous Masks 3: All Good Things come in Threes

Deep Freeze. Looks pretty much like a film poster, doesn't it?

Long story short, I prefer the 60s version. Nanananananana BAT-MAAAN!

Sheherazade (Princesse Shéhérazade), a franime (French animesque series) retelling various folk and fairytales with a unique 90s twist and a superb aesthetic, was one of the series that shaped my childhood.
But episode 40, known in France and the rest of the world as Anaïs and in the Germanosphere as Der König der Finsternis (The King of Darkness) was the first thing close to a horror film, and to psychological drama, that I ever experienced. And that when I was a pre-teen. Terrorism, tensions between generations, racism, the murder of close family members, and child sacrifice, coupled with vampires and what appears to be Satanism, all of that cramped within the confines of a usual 25-minute episode of an animated children's fairytale series! A Satanistic vampire queen grandmother/mother-in-law, a sinister court physician in cahoots with her, a child prince cruelly orphaned and then nigh-sacrificed on an altar to the ancient spirits of evil. What began as the average Parental Marriage Veto/Love-Obstructing Parents scenario defied with a marriage for love escalates, just as in Kubo and the Two Strings, to the point when the powerless orphan, fruit of these star-crossed lovers, is about to be killed by the same sinister, intolerant grandparent who took his parents' lives (but luckily spared). Not even Tywin Lannister or Marvolo Gaunt themselves crossed this event horizon.
To begin with: the tall, dark, and dashing vampire prince has chosen to marry the titular character, the fair and lovely, kindly Princess Anaïs (whose name being the title, just like in Shakespearean tragedies, foreshadows the fact that she is doomed from the start. First Law of Shakespearean Tragedy: the titular character/s will be dead at the end of the show). Unfortunately, the affably evil (think Dolores Umbridge in red and black and you get the idea) vampire queen disapproves of her only son and heir having tied the knot in secret with a muggle maiden, and such a noble-hearted one to crown it all! Add the fact that the happily married young royals have been blessed with a little boy-prince, which our matriarch sees as treason of the blood (just like in the case of the Gaunts or the Targaryens, inbreeding is much preferred to mixing bloodlines with the less worthy). And the consequences of all this are revealed half-way across the episode...
So it all begins pretty much with Sherezade and her genie sidekick Till arriving at the court of this kingdom to meet their friend Anaïs's little boy and her in-laws. And also because the love interest, scientist Nour, has been employed at this court as the child prince's tutor. Right from the start, everything seems peachy keen at the palace, with the child prince a cheerful and lively pre-teen who delights in pranks, his parents having got everything young people can ask for (health, wealth, youth, good looks, good nature, happiness, influence, love, honour: who could ever ask for more?). Doesn't it feel at least a bit too good to be true, and isn't there anything amiss? Yes, the above-mentioned sinister-looking court physician, a bald version of Monsieur d'Arque with scary shiny dark glasses and a Tywin Lannister/Charles Dance baritone voice. No wonder that the little prince --and yours truly as a kid-- are scared stiff of him!
In the nighttime, the royal couple rides through the streets of the towns in a carriage and keep these excursions secret, to themselves, unaware that Dr. Strangelooks and a ruby-eyed vampire bat are stalking them in the shade. Next day, it is revealed that all of the courtiers wear the same scary shiny dark glasses, the hefty queen wearing a lorgnette, except Anaïs, her child, and the foreign guests (the crown prince being absent). Then, suddenly, the queen commands in a contralto voice to draw the black curtains of the banqueting hall, for everyone to eat in the dark by candle-light. And so it is done: curtains drawn and candles lit. Then the queen takes off her lorgnette, revealing sinister tiny-irised eyes, and commands a servant to serve her the soup; a blood-red liquid is poured by soup-spoon into her bowl (OMINOUS MUSIC). She then chastises Till not to take the fruit until dessert as she hits him on the hand with her lorgnette. Then, at another command of the queen's, the room fills with smoke and dancing maidens for entertainment, as if she had just summoned them with her words alone. While Anaïs (and the guests too) looks suspicious, her mother-in-law just looks as smug as smug can be. Then, dancing young men appear out of the smoke, these ones flying through the air with their cloaktails like flying squirrels and wearing completely head-concealing pale Venetian masks that make them look bald and red-eyed (the whole eye-socket red, without any sign of sclera, iris, or pupil). Then a ballet ensues around the table: the young men embrace the frightened maidens from behind, wrapping the poor girls in their cloaktails, then retreat out of the hall as the smoke lifts. Everyone cheers except Anaïs (and also Sheherezade and co.), the sinister-looking queen being the one who cheers the most. Then the crown prince finally appears, and the sole sight of the young man makes his mother twitch and wince, the old queen's frown becoming more pronounced as he approaches and addresses his wife. Now the prince and Anaïs leave the banqueting hall together, as the Queen bashes a fist into the table in a fit of rage and, in the young people's absence, irately criticizes their marriage, finishing with a face-buried-in-hands cry with lots of sobs after insulting Anaïs. Outside it's already dusk and it's raining (so it's winter), as the prince and princess get into their carriage, leaving the palace gardens. Nour then explains to Sheherazade, in their bedchamber, that the crown prince's marriage and choice of bride caused a great scandal, among other things, due to her kindness towards the common folk. Enter the child prince, a bit worried and asking "where's mum?" but reassured by Nour that she is all right with a pat on the shoulder. In the middle of the night, Anaïs and her husband are, in the meantime, tending to the wounded and homeless who have lost their homes in the downpour... as, in the shadow of the ruins, Dr. Strangelooks clenches a fist in a fit of rage. We see the whole town or district was destroyed by the rains, left in ruins, and it's even left least the ragged child Anaïs is cradling deeply unconscious, in a coma. Even Till and Sheherezade help the damnified by lifting a rundown roof that had trapped two equally pale, anemic children in the rubble, thus setting them free and having them share an elated hug with their mum. So all of this establishes the fact that Anaïs and her husband care about their subjects, who are clearly muggles (aside from middling and furthermore damnified in this case). So the children's mother, like all the other damnified, thanks Princess Anaïs sincerely, and the blonde replies with a kiss and words of reassurance.
Meanwhile in his bedchamber, the little boy-prince is sleeping as soundly as innocently as all children do when Nour, after checking him, watches Dr. Strangelooks enter a chamber whose door is a dark blue leaning on black grapes... suddenly, close-up reveals that all five artificial nails on his right fingertips are hypodermic needles completely filled with blood (and the ones on the left as well, I presume?). Then he laughs this evil laugh after passing through the drape and descending down a winding underground staircase... (OMINOUS MUSIC). In the meantime, the royal carriage, driven by the crown prince, is driving the three anemic children to an orphanage to meet more of the young royals' little friends; Anaïs is reassuring them inside the carriage. When at last the royals, with the anemic kids and Till and Sheherazade in tow, reach the orphanage, the children sleeping soundly in their bunk beds are also surprised and elated at the royal pair's appearance; for Anaïs and by extension her husband after the marriage are regulars at the orphanage charities as well. Cue all the orphans squeeing and flocking around the royals as they embrace them: "Anaïs! Anaïs, Anaïïïs!!" It is revealed that the Queen does little to nothing for the orphans' sake. There, on the balcony of the institution, Anaïs reveals to Sheherazade that she is fearing for her own death."Like my first husband, my boy's father, died":
*cue flashback*
The late crown prince, an older man with a little goatee, wearing a dark pince-nez, is playing dice with his younger son. The dark eyes of both males look cheerful and shine with joy, and their smiles are the proof of happiness. Anaïs stands in the bedchamber as well, watching them full of content. Suddenly, the doors fly open and the Queen appears on the threshold, looking as sinister as she can. "My dears," she says, startling all three of them... She chides them, saying things like "my boy should know better," but her own son speaks against her, in favour of his wife and child, and the life he leads. There is a heated argument, during which Anaïs stands back embracing her little boy and stroking his back, as her husband defends his own choices against an imperious matriarch. As she retreats, the doors shut telekinetically, and the crown prince breathes a mournful sigh. "My darling," he says, holding Anaïs's hand, in a mournful tone, "I'm sorry." Anaïs reassures him, and at this point his pince-nez slips down his nose to reveal earnest black eyes, like those of his only son. Then, promising love to his wife and child come hell or highwater, he kisses her on the lips and him on the brow. "My boy, take good care of your mum. Now I must go," he says. "See you." Then, opening the doors with his own hands, he steps out into the balcony in the blazing summer sun; the light does not affect him the least and furthermore pleases him, so the young man finally takes off his black pince-nez for once and for all. A dazzling flash of light ensues and a startled Anaïs, watching him on the threshold, gasps in fear. "Oh, no!" she says, gasping and staggering: apparently, the light has disintegrated him and only his clothes remain.
*end of flashback*
"And, when I woke up, the Queen was..." She looks really sad, Anaïs. Apparently, then the late crown prince's younger brother and successor, the half-blood prince's uncle who shared his views, pitied the young outsider left alone at a hostile foreign court and a levirate marriage ensued. No surprise that she is worried about her family!
In the meantime, in a secret lab in the palace dungeons, before a retort full of blood, the court physician empties his artificial nail hypodermics into a test tube, gradually filling it with the same crimson liquid, as the Queen looks on. OMINOUS MUSIC, EVIL LAUGH. After emptying the blood into a fine Bohemian glass cup, he offers it to the royal matriarch, who drains her drink at one fell swoop, then moans in relish. After Dr. Strangeblood has informed her that Anaïs is with her consort at the orphanage, the old wicked queen has yet another fit of rage, throwing her cup agains the wall and dashing it to smithereens! As she imperiously commands that they have plans of their own for her own grandchild, she mentions whisking the little prince away to a fortress pictured in a painting on the dungeon wall: a sinister-looking keep, square-based and domed, on a clifftop across a rather deep chasm which can only be crossed on a fragile, treacherous rope-and-plank bridge... and that to turn him into a fully-fledged vampire...
"Count on me," Dr. Strangeblood requires. "We will set the realm right."
No mention that Nour is actually eavesdropping and has heard everything. So off he storms to the orphanage, and right as the princess is getting into the carriage, addresses her: "ANAÏS! The queen is taking the prince away... away to this fortress; and the doctor is... is in cahoots with her!" The fair-haired princess gasps in response and gets into the carriage, darting off before Nour can call on Till and Sheherazade. So now Anaïs is driving the carriage, whipping the horses good with a whip in her left hand (a left-handed heroine and right-handed villains...) She is hell-bent on saving her boy from what she knows her mother-in-law has got for an intent. When Nour and Sheherezade on Horse!Till have caught up with the carriage, Anaïs and her second spouse have already begun to cross the rope and plank bridge...
This being a kids' animated TV series, in which I hadn't noticed any such tragic events before, my child self was completely sure that this was as safe as rope-and-plank bridges generally are in animated series. And by "safe" I mean causing no lethal casualties.
Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, the bridge gives way, and the carriage, turning upside down, plunges into the surging rapids at least ten metres below. No one can survive this. Not even swimmers like Mireia Belmonte or Teresa Perales.
I was saying about the same as Sheherazade when the carriage was swallowed up by the stream and carried along with it. Due to Anaïs's death, our redhead has a disagreement with Till and Nour and storms on foot back to the orphanage on her own. But I was more worried about the little prince and what his granny might do...
It's raining and still dark night as Sheherezade comforts the grieving orphans. Breaking the news to them must have been painful indeed. At sunset the next day, when Nour arrives at the same orphanage balcony, he and our redhead reconcile, but I'm still reeling from the shock of Anaïs's untimely demise and the potential fate of her only helpless child. The breakup and makeup here are, in this summary, of little to no significance. So we see Nour and Sheherezade getting down to business to save the prince from a sinister fate... Speaking of which, off gallops past the orphanage a more ostentatious carriage... This one, however, crosses the miraculously repaired rope and plank bridge safely (vampire magic was definitely involved), and, once on the other side, as a certain raven-haired little boy curiously peers out and is ready to take a step, his grandmother restrains the poor lad and tells him to stay inside the carriage in that commanding voice. When Nour and Sherezade reach the bridge and run across it on foot, Dr. Strangeblood draws a sharp, sinister-looking dagger and cuts the bridge ropes; our two young heroes escaping miraculously by clinging to the rope railing and being brought across to the fortress side by Funicular!Till.
Inside the fortress stands a twilit altar (in dim torch- or rushlight) surrounded by statues of ancient gods. The writhing child prince, struggling to break free from the grasp of gorilla-looking royal guards, pale sturdy men in red coats and scary black glasses. At the Queen's command, each of the guards grabs the royal child by an arm and they pin him to the altar, forcing him to lie on his back. Dr. Strangeblood, in the meantime, opens a sarcophagus that is next to the altar to reveal a little jar topped with a cranium on the lid, a jar which emits some really sinister green light (recalling Maleficent's green light that led Aurora to the spindle...). The Queen opens the jar, revealing its glowing green content, a grey ash-like powder that glows with that sickly green light... as the guards pin the prince down completely... and she commands: "Let the ceremony begin."
Had not Woodpecker!Till flown into the altar room and clutched the jar, scattering the powder in the form of that grey smoke... I don't know what would have happened. Would the little child prince have breathed in the powder, or drunk it dissolved in blood, and either die poisoned or be drugged to oppose no resistance...? (*Shuddering*). Nour and Sheherazade kick guard ass and save the pre-teen dandy in distress... but then, as the prince buries his little head in Sheherazade's solar plexus, once bereft of their sunglasses, the guards, in a state of trance, become red-eyed (the whole eye-socket red, without any sign of sclera, iris, or pupil) and fanged mindless monsters. Even the Queen herself sports the same red eyes and prominent fangs. This surely means that they have breathed in the sacred powder intended for the prince, and the little boy would have become like this if he had inhaled it as well.
So our heroes are overpowered... and I wonder what would have happened if Till, still in woodpecker form, had not pecked at a column of the fortress, which caused said column and the ceiling to collapse, letting midday sunlight stream in, which makes all the vampires scream and writhe in agony. As the prince buries his little head in Sheherazade's solar plexus not to be affected, a bright burst of light ensues and, in the end, only the clothes of all the vampires -the Queen/grandmother, the guards, and Dr. Strangeblood- remain after they have disintegrated.
The episode ends with the child prince and his friends and rescuers following the funeral of Anaïs and her second spouse, whose bodies seem to have been found further downstream (if this is not a cenotaph); it's a middling affair without any windows draped in black or vast entourage; only the little boy and the leading cast following a modest wooden crate carried in a trap pulled by a mule. "She was a great lady," he sighs and says, mournfully looking down and shedding tears. As they cross the stone bridge near the orphanage, they find all the muggle subjects who are still thankful to Anaïs and her two husbands flanking the road on the left and right, throwing bouquets of fresh flowers on the modest coffins. There is a strong feel that life goes on here. Encouraged, the little prince finally smiles and decides to have some fun with his fellow orphans, those raised in institutions. "Long live Prince Zmary!" they cheer, and soon the other children, and the grown-ups, break into cheerful and sincere hoorrays.
So there is a happy ever after, but not before all the issues I have mentioned. Terrorism, tensions between generations, racism, the murder of close family members, and child sacrifice, coupled with vampires and ostensible Satanism, all of that cramped within the confines of a usual 25-minute episode of an animated children's fairytale series... Seriously, this episode needed a Snicket Warning Label.
This is one of the nightmare fuels here (there are some more with such high octanes!) that are beyond the scope of Riddikulus; the only cure appears to be switching off the TV and drawing something in your room, or switching to another channel to watch a game show or a tennis match!

Sometimes there is a scene in a film or a play (the impact of both sight and sound of the audiovisual medium has no equal) that nails your worst fears, as if it would rip your ribcage open and tear your heart out string by string. And, if that scene happens right at the beginning of the film as the opening credits roll, the impact is so strong that you cannot enjoy the rest of the film, kept for as long as it lasts as if in sunken into the deep dark ice of Cocytus, and keep on haunted by its opening forever. Because it shows you the worst case scenario that could happen to you.
The opening of 1996 family film Fly Away Home had this effect on me when I was a kid.
Let's be honest: like heroine Amy Alden, I was an only child living with her divorced mum, who couldn't even remember her dad's face, only his name, and wondered what he would be like.
As the film opens one stormy winter's night on a Kiwi highway, Aliane Alden is driving and talking on the phone at the same time, with her daughter half-asleep by her side for a copilot. Nothing good can come out of it. Then a loud CRASH of shattered glass, then Amy waking up in a hospital bed, IV and all, being told that her mum didn't make it through, and that now she's got to live with her missing dad Thomas in Canada, right among strangers.
Imagine that. That my own mum got violently killed before my eyes and I had to go live with a stranger whose face I did not know, yet who people said was my father in spite of vanishing as if into thin air when I was but two years old.
That's a perfect way to start a movie that should not be watched by a sensitive little girl who happens to be an only child whose best friend is also her mum, and whose dad is a stranger to her life.
I didn't enjoy the goose-hatching plot; the death of Aliane Alden, like the possible demise of Elena Bufí Laviste, kept my whole psyche encased in Cocytean ice even way after the film had come to an end. I could as well have been Amy, and she could as well have been Aliane, and Sten Dermark could as well had been that Thomas guy whose name was one of the few things the little girl knew.
Another effect this death had on me was making me aware of how dangerous talking on the phone at the steering wheel is. Whenever I am a passenger left to a phone-talking (or intoxicated) driver, I always cringe and say a few prayers.
Seriously, this film needed a Snicket Warning Label.
This is one of the nightmare fuels here (there are some more with such high octanes!) that are beyond the scope of Riddikulus; the only cure appears to be switching off the TV and drawing something in your room, or switching to another channel to watch a game show or a tennis match!

I cried when Mufasa fell down the cliff. I broke into tears when Gaston and Lefou shot Bambi's mum in the fog and whisked her away. I also mourned Zoisite dying in Kunzite's strong, warming arms. But all of these reactions are second to the Serious Black trauma that kept me off the Potterverse until I turned about 20. Siriusly, I rooted for him all along, for the innocently accused bad boy who, as a persecuted runaway, now did everything for the benefit of his orphan godchild and awkward friends. He gave Harry (and, by extension, Ron and Hermione), a cloak, a map, advice, tonnes of gold, everything the Golden Trio needed to ace every year's adventure with flying colours. A hot-blooded, impulsive badass who surely was the hero of his own story, Padfoot was the cool badass uncle or older brother --oniisama-- I'm sure anyone of us has wished for.
Then came The Order of the Phoenix and Bellatrix Lestrange.
The Scream emoji is too weak an expression to describe what I felt.
(Right, Cedric Diggory had been offed one book/film before, but his footprint in others' lives was not as deep as Padfoot's.)
This is one of the nightmare fuels here (there are some more with such high octanes!) that are beyond the scope of Riddikulus; the only cure appears to be switching off the TV and drawing something in your room, or switching to another channel to watch a game show or a tennis match!
I MOURNED Sirius for FIVE years. I was so distraught with the loss of him that I was completely blinded by the tears to realize Luna Lovegood was and is a kindred spirit of mine.
Only now I realize the fatal flaw I share myself with Padfoot --overconfidence-- was what Siriusly caused his demise in the first place. Just as you should never get involved in a land war in Russia, you should never go against Bellatrix Lestrange when death is on the line. I don't know whether he was more of a reckless hero like Gustavus Adolphus at Lützen or of a foolhardy idiot like Charles XII at Poltava. At least both Gustavus and Sirius went down with the ultimate sacrifice for their ideals and inspired future generations to follow in their footsteps and reach the final victory when peace came. Bellatrix was definitely the Wallenstein du jour; a worthy opponent who cleverly took advantage of her enemy's overconfidence.
Then Bella, revealed as the torturer of Neville's late parents, would go on with disposing of Remus and Tonks, the latter being with child, as well as Fred Weasley (before old Trix herself was blown to smithereens), but the death of Sirius now felt like a swine flu shot against such kind of grief. Ditto for Finnick, for Prim, for Commander Lyme. Ditto for Renly, for Oberyn, for Ygritte. For Vladimir Lensky. For Enjolras and his crew of freedom-fighting friends. Their deaths all shocked me, but not to that extreme of five-year mourning. Without Padfoot being shoved down that chute into the underworld, the demise of any Sacrificial Lion would have been a sternum-crushing blow to me.

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